Tribute to Madiba: A Smile that Called for Transformation

This post originally appeared on December 10, 2013, and is reposted now with minor editorial changes.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.—Nelson R. Mandela, 1964

           Madiba is at peace.  Our thoughts are with those he loved and with the people of South Africa for whom he gave his freedom and mandela votinglife.  Lawyer, revolutionary, civil and human rights advocate, political prisoner, master political strategist, statesman, democratic political leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate–a salute and gratitude to him for having dedicated his life to making positive social change for the people of South Africa and for the world.  Yes, a single individual, working with dedicated social movements, can begin to change the world.  His greatest legacy will be the continuing struggle for justice carried on by its peoples. We are not really ready for him to leave now. But we celebrate his extraordinary life and his singular impact on the world, nevertheless.  Nothing more can be asked of him; a life truly well-lived.

          We remember the violence and racism of the apartheid regime and the many who gave their lives and freedom to end it.  But because of Mandela and other great leaders and activists, there are also all those unforgettable moments of inspiration and hope:

  •  Protests and arrests outside the apartheid regime’s embassies.
  • Shantytowns on university campuses in solidarity with the people of South Africa.
  • Free South Africa movement signs on the lawns of religious institutions across the globe.
  • Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid and millions singing “Free, Nelson Mandela!”
  • The U.S. Senate Override of President Reagan’s veto of the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act.
  • The Free South Africa Movement organized by TransAfrica and other groups in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
  • Freed political prisoner Nelson R. Mandela and anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela walking hand in hand as Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment..
  • The 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa, with miles-long lines of African people who had never previously been allowed to vote.
  • President Mandela taking the oath of office.
  • President Mandela stepping down from his term in office.
  • The recognition and elaboration of social, economic, and cultural rights; the prohibition on the death penalty.
  • The voices of ordinary witnesses testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Mandela advocating for HIV/AIDS prevention and accessible treatment.
  • Madiba and freedom fighter and lawyer Graca Machel finding friendship, political engagement, love, and companionship as he retired from public life.

 Then, there was that smile.  Some commentators interpret Mr. Mandela’s famous light up the room smile as “harmless” or “conciliatory.”  To me it was a smile of joy at finally being able to spend time with his children and grandchildren and a smile at his own wry sense of humor that helped sustain him and his fellow prisoners for so many years.  It was also a smile of expectation and transformation.  For this iron-willed man, that smile challenged his former enemies, comrades, and admirers alike not simply to continue as before, but to transform–to become our best selves.  It was a smile that said, “anything is possible, why don’t you try?”

God bless Madiba. God bless Africa.  Amandla! Awethu!

(photo credit)

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Mandela’s greatest gift

mandela00026-4_3_rx513_c680x510_0Each of us will remember Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95, in our own way. Powerful for me is the memory of Mandela’s almost incomprehensible forgiveness – his setting-aside of violence in order to bring to all of his people the promise of peace. (credit for 1994 photo)

But I will also remember what a judge from Burundi once told me was Mandela’s greatest gift:

‘He was the first African leader to leave office after a single term, to permit a peaceful transition of power. He showed us the way.’

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

Farewell, Madiba

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Heartbreaking to learn that Nelson Mandela passed today. It’s hard to express in words the influence this lion of a man has had on South Africa and the world; suffice to say that he was one of a handful of true heroes of our time.  Mandela’s humility and humanity together with his smarts and determination revolutionized his nation and set standards for political leadership that few others in our lifetime will achieve.  Our hearts are with South Africans as they mourn the loss of the founder of their post-apartheid state.  We are all a little bit poorer today for this loss, but so much richer for the many contributions Mandela made during his lifetime.   Amandla!

(photo credit)

In Passing: Justice Amos Twinomujuni

Friday, November 15 marked the passing of Justice Amos Twinomujuni of the Ugandan Supreme Court.  Judge Twinomujuni was appointed to the Supreme Court in June of this year, but was unable to serve due to health issues.  Prior to this appointment, Twinomujuni was a justice on the Court of Appeals of Uganda, which also convenes as the Constitutional Court.

Twinomujuni was well known for his Constitutional Court opinions and dissents, many of which were very progressive on women’s rights and other human rights issues.  In 2004, Twinomujuni wrote the opinion of the Constitutional Court finding that sex discriminatory provisions of the Divorce Act violated the rights of both men and women, in contravention of Uganda’s constitution.   In 2010, he notably dissented from the Constitutional Court’s refusal to find the practice of demanding payment of bride price unconstitutional, arguing that, “the practice no longer serves any useful purpose in society.  It has now become purely commercialized and highly exploitative and humiliating to women.”  Twinomujuni instead supported the emergence of practice of a marriage payment that “is voluntary…is not demanded…does not humiliate the bride and…is never refunded when the marriage breaks down.”   Twinomujuni has also authored opinions upholding the guarantees associated with the right to a fair trial, declaring the custom of female genital mutilation unconstitutional, and protecting freedom of speech while delineating the limited circumstances under which the government may limit a fundamental constitutional right.

His presence on the court will certainly be missed.

Françoise Burhenne-Guilmin: In Passing

ImageSadly, Françoise Burhenne-Guilmin has died. She was a tremendously influential figure in international environmental law, through her work on international agreements, her many years as Head of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, and her contributions to capacity building in this field. From the IUCN tribute:

Françoise was instrumental in drafting and elaborating a number of international conventions, agreements and instruments, such as the African Convention for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora –CITES; the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals; the World Charter for Nature; the ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Her real passion was the development of technical capacities through access to information on environmental law and policy. That is why already in the 1970s, she initiated the Environmental Law Information System (ELIS), presented at the Stockholm Conference, which over the years evolved into the far more sophisticated online information system ECOLEX, the Gateway to Environmental Law.

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.

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