Krzysztof Skubiszewski

Krzysztof Jan Skubiszewski (October 8, 1926 – February 8, 2010)

Krzysztof Jan Skubiszewski was born in Poznań on October 8, 1926, the son of Ludwik, anatomic pathology professor at the University of Poznań and Aniela nee Leitgeber, who came from a prominent Poznań family of booksellers, publishers and entrepreneurs. Krzysztof Skubiszewski had a younger sister Maria (born 1925), an economist, and brother Piotr (born 1931), a history of art professor.

Before the breakout of World War II, Krzysztof Skubiszewski spent his freshman year at Karol Marcinkowski High School in Poznań. In November 1939, he as well as the rest of his family were displaced from the Region of Wielkopolska by the Germans. From 1940 to 1944, he lived in Warsaw where he attended a clandestine school in the former Private Boy’s High School of the Mazovian Region Society which the German occupier turned into a vocational school. He took his matriculation examination in 1945 at J. I. Kraszewski High School I in Biała Podlaska.

University education and research

Upon his return to Poznań, Skubiszewski enrolled in a law program offered by the Faculty of Law and Economics of the University of Poznań. He completed his course of studies in 1949 earning a Master’s degree with a thesis on immunities and privileges of member state citizens in the League of the Nations and the United Nations (its publication was denied). During that period, he befriended Jerzy Łukaszewski (subsequently Polish ambassador to France), Olgierd Baehr (a state court judge in the Third Republic of Poland) and Janusz Ziółkowski (Polish senator and head of Lech Wałęsa’s presidential office after 1989).

Krzysztof Skubiszewski obtained his doctoral degree in 1950 with a dissertation entitled “Terms of Poland’s membership in the United Nations” (accepted for publication by the Poznań Society of Friends of Learning, but never actually published due to opposition from the communist authorities). In 1960, his book entitled “Money in the Occupied Territory. A study of International Law with a Focus on German Practice” earned him the post-doctoral habilitation degree. He supplemented his education by studying abroad: he enrolled in a law program in 1956 in which he attended lectures at The Hague Academy of International Law; a program of Centre Européen Universitaire of Nancy (in 1957) leading to his degree of Diplôme d’Études Supérieures Européennes; and a law program in the academic year 1957/1958 as a student of the Harvard Law School of Cambridge, Massachusetts where he received his Master of Law degree.

Even during his studies, in 1948, he began teaching at the University of Poznań as volunteer assistant at the Faculty of International Public Law which employed him in 1949-1973 in the successive posts of assistant, adjunct, substitute professor and finally assistant professor. From 1956 to 1957, Skubiszewski took additional employment at the Poznań Institute for Western Affairs. Between 1961 and 1963, he was Vice Dean at the Faculty of Law of Adam Mickiewicz University. His statements on the illegality of the 1968 invasion of the Czech Republic by Warsaw Block countries and Poland’s position on West Germany as well as his criticism of the Polish communist government, and particularly its anti-Semitism, barred Krzysztof Skubiszewski from obtaining professorship and led to his transfer, in 1973, to the Institute of Law of the Polish Academy of Sciences where he served on an International Law team until his retirement in 1996 (he took a leave of absence from the Institute upon becoming Foreign Affairs Minister in 1989).

Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Vice Dean of Faculty of Law at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, October 1961
Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Vice Dean of Faculty of Law at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, October 1961

Krzysztof Skubiszewski became Associate Professor in 1973 and Full Professor in 1980. He did research at the request of various foreign institutions and universities, among them The Hague Academy of International Law and the Centre for Studies and Research (1960). He was visiting professor at All Souls College, Oxford (1971/1972) and Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken (1983). Skubiszewski lectured at foreign universities and institutions, including, as professor, at Faculté Internationale pour l’Enseignement du Droit Comparé in Strasburg (1971); as visiting professor at the School of International Affairs, Columbia University, New York (1963/1964); as visiting professor at Université de Genève (in 1971 and 1979), taking part in the Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lectures at Cambridge University (1985); and as lecturer at the annual international law course organized by the Institute of International Public Law and International Relations in Thessaloniki (1988).

Skubiszewski also gave dozens of lectures at the invitation of universities and research institutions in Europe, America, Asia, Australia and Africa, some of them in such institutions (as part of lecture cycles) as Oxford University (Cyril Foster Lecture), Oxford University, All Souls College; Lord Wilberforce Lecture, London; Hugh Gaitskell Lecture, Nottingham; Collège d’Europe, Bruges; Harvard University, Club of International Law; Max-Planck-Institut, Heidelberg; Universität Wien, Institut für Völkerrecht und Internationale Beziehungen; Universität Graz; Institut des Hautes Études Politiques; Université de Paris-Sorbonne; Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London; University of Jerusalem; University of Johannesburg and The Hague Academy of International Law (Jubilee Lecture 1998). He was a speaker at great many conventions, congresses and symposia in international law, he regularly attended the sessions of the Institut de Droit International held every two years.

Krzysztof Skubiszewski’s main research interests and lecture focus were the theory of international law, especially relations between international law and the internal law of states, relations between Poland and Germany, particularly with respect to the Polish-German border after World War II; international organization law, law of war, human rights, the unification of Europe and the policies of Central and Eastern European countries after the fall of communism. He published eight books and over 100 articles in academic journals as well as collective works and chapters in several international law textbooks. His book “Zachodnia granica Polski” (“The Western Border of Poland”), which the censors in 1969 cleared for publication only as a manuscript, helped the Polish authorities negotiate the Treaty of 1970 with the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the basis for normalizing their mutual relations.

He was a member of many academies, societies, scholarly and law organizations and institutions, including the American Society of International Law (1957; honorary member since 1991); the Poznań Institute for Western Affairs (1958); the International Law Association, Polish Group (1958, honorary member since 2007); the Poznań Society of Friends of Learning (1962); Jan Gotlib Bloch International Society (1987, honorary member since 2003); Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Walther-Schücking-Institut für Internationales Recht, Wissenschaftlicher Rat (1988); Gray’s Inn, London, Honorary Master of the Bench (1990); Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze Sociali (2002); Institut de France, Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, correspondent member (1995); the Polish Academy of Science, correspondent member (1989); the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, correspondent member (1994), Institut de Droit International (1971, First Vice-Chair in 1995-1997); the Hague Academy of International Law, member of the Curatorium (1993); Société Française pour le Droit International; Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht; and Oxford Society.

Skubiszewski received honoris causa doctorates from Rijksuniversiteit te Gent (1989), Université de Liège (1990), Universit à degli Studi di Torino (1990), Universität Mainz (1991), Université de Genève (1992), and the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw (2002). The University of Bucharest conferred upon him the degree of honorary professor (1993). His Alma Mater, Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań, held an official renewal of his doctorate in 2004.

Political activities

In 1981-1984, Prof. Krzysztof Skubiszewski was a member of the Primate’s Social Council, from 1984 to 1989: a representative of the Secretariat of the Polish Episcopate – the Steering Committee of the Polish-German Forum. In 1986, he was invited to serve on the Consultation Council advising the Chairman of the Polish Council of State which he did for the following three years. Skubiszewski founded the Wielkopolska Political Club “Order and Freedom” (1988 until its dissolution in 1990). He was also a member of the Social Committee for the Restoration of the Historic Monuments of Kraków (from 1990).


From September 12, 1989 to October 25, 1993, he was Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Appointed to serve in Poland’s first non-communist government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, he continued work in the successive administrations of Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, Jan Olszewski, in the first Waldemar Pawlak administration and in Hanna Suchocka’s government. During this time, he turned Poland’s foreign policy around achieving a reset in Polish-German relations. His work began with the decision to allow safe emigration to Germany to East German refugees who at the time resided in Poland. Krzysztof Skubiszewski co-authored and carried out Poland’s sovereign policy towards Germany: he drew up and signed the Polish-German Border Treaty which settled border-related issues between the two countries (1990) and the Treaty on Good Neighborly Relations and Friendly Cooperation (1991). He decommunized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reformed its structures. He restored diplomatic relations with Israel. As Head of the Polish Diplomatic Corps, he took part in dissolving the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact and played a decisive role in concluding bilateral treaties between Poland and all of its neighbor states. He sought Poland’s admission into the Council of Europe (1991).


During his term, Poland accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and acceded to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which allowed Poland to join states which defend individual human rights before the European Court of Human Rights. The year 1991 marked the conclusion of the Association Agreement between the Republic of Poland and the European Communities, followed by the conclusion in 1993 of a concordat with the Holy See. Together with Roland Dumas and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski initiated the establishment of the Weimar Triangle. He also took part in negotiations concerning a visa-free regime for travel to countries of Western Europe. He authored draft amendments to the Constitution of 1997 on international treaties.

Work in courts of law and international organizations

On December 4, 1993, Krzysztof Skubiszewski was appointed arbitrator of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal of the Hague in which he served from February 16, 1994 until his death. He was also an ad hoc judge in the International Court of Justice in the Hague in the East Timor case (Portugal v. Australia, 1991-1995) and the Gabčikovo-Nagymaros case (Hungary v. Slovakia, 1993-1997). He chaired the Arbitration Court in the Hague in a case re. the contamination of the Rhein between France and the Netherlands (2000-2004). From 1994 to 1997, he was a member of the Steering Committee in the International Country of Arbitration.

Krzysztof Skubiszewski also served in other capacities, among them as member of the Board of Trustees, the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva (since 1993) and a judge of the OSCE Court of Conciliation and Arbitration (1995-2000).

Awards and distinctions

The Poznań scholar received the State and Law Award for best second-degree dissertation (habilitation) (1962); the 1st Prize of the Polish Institute of International Relations for best academic paper on contemporary international relations (1969); the personal 2nd Degree Award of the Minister of Education (1970); Forschungspreis der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Bonn–Bad Godesberg (1984); Rev. Idzi Radziszewski Scientific Society of the Catholic University of Lublin (1992); the Organic Work Award of the Głos Wielkopolski daily, Poznań (1992); Wartburg-Preis, Die Wartburg-Stiftung Eisenach, received jointly with the other architects of the Weimar Triangle, Rolandem Dumas and Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1992); the Polish-German Award for special contributions to the development of Polish-German relations, received jointly with Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1999); Pomerania Nostra, Ernst Moritz Arndt Universität Greifswald (2005); Adam Mickiewicz Award (Adam-Mickiewicz-Preis), Komitee zur Förderung der deutsch-französisch-polnischen Zusammenarbeit, “Weimarer Dreieck”, Weimar, received jointly with the other founders of the Weimar Triangle: Roland Dumas and Hans-Dietrich Genscher (2006).

Krzysztof Skubiszewski received the following state distinctions:

Polish distinctions: the Golden Cross of Merit (1977); the Grand Cross of the Order of the Restoration of Poland (1993) and the Medal of the White Eagle (1999), of whose Chapter he was a member;

foreign distinctions: Magna Crux Equestris Ordinis Piani, the Holy See (1991); Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur, France (1991); La Gran Cruz de la Orden al Merito de Chile, Chile (1991); Das Grosskreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Germany (1991); Gwanghwa Medal – Order of Diplomatic Service Merit, South Korea (1991); Didžiojo Lietuvos Kunigaikščio Gedimino Ordinas, 2-ojo laipsnio ordinu, Lithuania (2001); Das Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst I. Klasse, Austria (2002); A Magyar Köztásasági Érdemrend Közékresztje A Csillaggal, Hungary (1994).

In 1999, he was distinguished with the Robert Schuman gold medal, Fondation Robert Schuman, Paris.

Krzysztof Skubiszewski died in Warsaw on February 8, 2010; he was buried in the Temple of Divine Providence.

On December 12, 2014, the Poznań Institute for Western Affairs opened the Study of Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski.