In passing: Christopher Keith Hall

Christopher Keith Hall

Christopher Keith Hall
Photograph: Amnesty International

It is with sadness that I report that Christopher Keith Hall, a much admired and highly effective advocate for international justice, passed away on 27 May after a long illness.

Over the last 20 years or so, Christopher – a Senior Legal Adviser at Amnesty International – made a remarkable contribution to the development of international justice mechanisms aimed at ending impunity for the most serious crimes under international law.  A brilliant human rights lawyer, Christopher is widely recognized for his contribution to the drafting of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, For example, his five volume series of legal papers for Amnesty International, The International Criminal Court: Making the Right Choices, were widely read and used by government delegates and civil society during the negotiations and helped shape a number of the positive outcomes evident in the Statute.

Once the Statute had been adopted, Christopher switched focus to ensuring that states ratified and implemented the Statute. He established Amnesty International’s International Justice Project and launched a global campaign, which, under his leadership, significantly contributed to more than 50 successful national ratification campaigns in partnership with national and international civil society partners.

Convinced that complementarity – the principle that national authorities have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law and ensure full reparation for victims – was the biggest prize achievable under the Rome Statute system and that poor legislation in most countries was a major cause of impunity, Christopher developed Amnesty International’s Checklist for effective implementation of the Rome Statute and oversaw technical advice and comments that improved draft legislation in scores of countries.

Christopher was also a highly respected and published commentator on the ICC’s work in its first decade. He consistently maintained that the ICC can do much more for victims, advocating in particular for the ICC to embrace more ambitious investigations, be even handed in its pursuit of justice, ensure that gender-based crimes were not ignored, and push harder for states to fulfil their complementarity obligations.

His vision for international justice though went far beyond the International Criminal Court. Driven by his involvement in the Pinochet case, he led Amnesty International’s calls for more states to accept shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law by exercising universal jurisdiction and developing better systems of mutual legal assistance. He often pointed out that countries have adopted much better systems for tackling piracy than for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.

In addition to his enormous contribution to the development of law and practice in this field, Christopher was also instrumental in mobilising civil society to work together to end impunity and was a founding member of the Coalition of NGOs for the International Criminal Court (CICC). In the wake of the International Law Commission’s 1994 proposal for a permanent international criminal court controlled by the UN Security Council, Christopher foresaw the potential of civil society groups to influence the process and ensure the establishment of a much better and independent court if they joined forces, and the highly successful and influential CICC was born.

A man of strong principled convictions who pursued the highest standards, Christopher was also warm and kind with a continual flow of good cheer, even in the face of formidable adversity. He described himself as a human rights activist and had endless ideas of how to strengthen human rights and international justice. His enthusiasm, willingness to share his knowledge and sincere dedication to ensuring justice for victims attracted many volunteers, from experienced lawyers to recent graduates, whom he mentored and supported carefully. In this way, he ensured that another generation of talented and dedicated activists and lawyers will continue his work and, in fact, many did go on to establish highly successful careers in this field.

Christopher achieved much more than can be stated here. In the minds of many, including those who were fortunate enough to know him and work with him, he was one of the greatest human rights lawyers of our generation. His death is a real loss to the human rights movement and he will be sorely missed. But he leaves the legacy of a much stronger human rights framework, a large group of people he inspired and trained to work for human rights and a clear vision for achieving a world without impunity that his colleagues and the global movement he helped to found and inspire will continue to pursue.

He leaves behind a wonderful wife, Francoise, and two lovely young daughters, Olivia and Catriona.

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