Pro­fes­sor Sir Nigel Rod­ley

Hu­man-rights lawyer who cam­paigned against tor­ture and the death penalty

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

ONE OF the most in­flu­en­tial and highly re­spected in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights lawyers, Pro­fes­sor Sir Nigel Rod­ley, has died in Colch­ester af­ter a short ill­ness, aged 75, In sev­eral United Na­tions roles, most re­cently as chair of its Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee, he helped shape mod­ern in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights law. As a teacher and scholar, he was piv­otal in es­tab­lish­ing The Hu­man Rights Cen­tre at the Univer­sity of Es­sex as a lead­ing cen­tre of hu­man­rights schol­ar­ship and ed­u­ca­tion.

Nigel was born in Leeds into a Jewish fam­ily which, like many oth­ers, had es­caped per­se­cu­tion. His fa­ther, Hans Rosenfeld, came to Eng­land from Ger­many in 1938 when he was 18. Soon af­ter his ar­rival Hans mar­ried Rachel Kan­torowitz. Hans’s younger sis­ter, Ruth, came to Eng­land on the Kin­der­strans­port, when she was 11. Other mem­bers of the fam­ily died in the con­cen­tra­tion camps. Ruth later moved to Is­rael where many of Nigel’s rel­a­tives now live.

When war broke out, Hans joined the 21st In­de­pen­dent Para­chute Com­pany, an élite corps that in­cluded a num­ber of Jewish refugees from Ger­many and Aus­tria, and was trag­i­cally killed in 1944 while on ac­tive ser­vice in the Bat­tle of Arn­hem. Nigel never knew his fa­ther.

Rachel, now a widow and in poor health, con­sid­ered it best to send Nigel to board­ing school. Nigel went to Clifton Col­lege, Bris­tol, on a schol­ar­ship be­fore go­ing on to study law at Leeds Univer­sity, and then Columbia and New York uni­ver­si­ties.

Nigel was pro­foundly in­flu­enced by the Nurem­berg tri­als and no doubt also by the ex­pe­ri­ences of his own fam­ily. Early in his ca­reer, he chose to con­cen­trate on in­ter­na­tional law and the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights, an area of law then in its in­fancy. He quickly de­vel­oped two mu­tu­ally sup­port­ing ap­proaches to the law. One was based on schol­ar­ship and fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing un­der­stand­ing of how law can pro­tect peo­ple from state power. The other was more prag­matic and in­volved de­sign­ing sys­tems of le­gal pro­tec­tion and their prac­ti­cal use. The fu­sion of schol­ar­ship, ed­u­ca­tion and prac­tice con­tin­u­ously de­fined Nigel’s ap­proach.

Nigel was ap­pointed Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s first le­gal of­fi­cer in 1973, a post he held for 17 years. Dur­ing this time, he used his knowl­edge of the law, and his con­sid­er­able abil­ity to carry peo­ple with him, to sup­port many of Amnesty’s cam­paigns. Typ­i­cally, Nigel fo­cused on the most fun­da­men­tal hu­man-rights is­sues of the day. Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant of these were the cam­paigns against the death penalty and the wide­spread use of tor­ture by states, mat­ters that con­tin­ued to be cen­tral to Nigel’s work.

He was in­flu­en­tial in es­tab­lish­ing the cur­rent in­ter­na­tional law pro­hibit­ing tor­ture, and played a key role per­suad­ing the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly to adopt the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Pro­tec­tion of All Per­sons from be­ing sub­ject to Tor­ture. In 1984 this was given le­gal force by the United Na­tions’ Con­ven­tion against Tor­ture, to which more than 160 states are sig­na­to­ries. In 1987, he pub­lished the first edi­tion of The Treat­ment of Pris­on­ers un­der In­ter­na­tional Law, the defini­tive text on the sub­ject.

In 1990, Nigel joined the School of Law at the Univer­sity of Es­sex. He was quickly pro­moted to Pro­fes­sor and served as Dean from 1992 – 1995. At Es­sex, his schol­arly in­ter­ests flour­ished. Work­ing with other distin­guished hu­man­rights lawyers, he helped to es­tab­lish the Hu­man Rights Cen­tre at Es­sex as a world lead­ing cen­tre for this study. Gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents ben­e­fited from their con­tact with Nigel and have gone on to work across the globe in non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­ter­na­tional bod­ies, and in gov­ern­ments.

From 1993 un­til 2001 he served as the UN’s Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on Tor­ture, a par­tic­u­larly tough post that he per­formed with great dis­tinc­tion, draw­ing on his con­sid­er­able in­tel­lec­tual qual­i­ties, his ab­so­lute per­sonal in­tegrity, and his seem­ingly in­ex­haustible en­ergy.

Nigel Rod­ley was knighted in 1998 for ser­vices to hu­man rights and in­ter­na­tional law, an honour he was in­tensely proud to re­ceive. From 2001 to 2014 he was a mem­ber of the UN’s Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee, serv­ing as its chair from 2013 to 2014. In 2012, he was elected Pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Ju­rists.

Nigel was ded­i­cated to work­ing in the most dif­fi­cult fields of law where he was daily con­fronted by the chal­lenge of per­suad­ing those with power to al­ter their prac­tices — purely on eth­i­cal grounds. His work saved, and im­proved, the lives of un­known num­bers of vic­tims of state op­pres­sion. By any mea­sure, this de­manded many skills. It also re­quired stead­fast op­ti­mism. He of­ten re­ferred to work­ing to fur­ther hu­man rights as be­ing akin to the im­pact of wa­ter drip­ping on stone.

While Nigel was not re­li­gious, he was closely at­tached to his Jewish iden­tity and was very close to his fam­ily in Is­rael, where he had con­tacts with sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties and in­sti­tu­tions; he served as co-ed­i­tor of the Is­rael Law Re­view.

He mar­ried Lyn Bates,the Byzan­tine art spe­cial­ist in 1967 whom he had met at Leeds Univer­sity. They were to­tally de­voted to each other. They greatly en­joyed en­ter­tain­ing their many friends. All who knew Nigel will miss his con­ver­sa­tion and his in­tel­lec­tual bril­liance. We will also miss his in­fec­tious, shoul­der-heav­ing chuckle.

He is sur­vived by his wife Dr Lyn Rod­ley.

PRO­FES­SOR MAU­RICE SUNKIN

Pro­fes­sor Sir Nigel Si­mon Rod­ley: Born De­cem­ber 1, 1941/ Died Jan­uary 25, 2017

PHOTO: UNIVER­SITY OF ES­SEX

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