Friday, May 14, 2010

From LACWHN, Chile

A Tribute to Our Sister, Rhonda Copelon

Well-known feminist lawyer Rhonda Copelon passed away in New York, on May 6, 2010, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Despite her serious illness, Rhonda had continued her dedicated efforts to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls and to reject all forms of sexist violence, regardless of its source.

Rhonda Copelon Rhonda shared her experience and wisdom with many human rights projects that made history in the defense of the status of women. She helped write the first draft of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women (the Convention of Belem do Pará) and thanks to her tireless efforts the International Criminal Court (ICC) included sexual and gender crimes as being part of its jurisdiction.

For over three decades, Rhonda taught law at the City University of New York, training thousands of lawyers with a perspective of gender justice and an understanding of universal human rights. She was also the Vice-President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S. organization that defends and promotes civil rights. In the United States, Rhonda is recognized for her key role in a civil suit in the early 1970s that paved the way for victims of human rights abroad to be able to seek justice in U.S. courts. She was also a steadfast supporter of the right to freedom of reproductive choice and fought for the health system to cover the cost of abortion procedures.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Rhonda supported the struggles of women to live free from violence. She worked closely with many well-known feminists of our region, including Alda Facio, María Suárez, Ana Elena Obando, and with our colleagues at Radio Internacional Feminista/Feminist International Radio Endeavour, who have planned a special virtual tribute to their lifelong friend.

This is a very sad moment for the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network. We have lost a close friend who generously collaborated with our publications, the Women’s Health Journal and the Women’s Health Collection, sharing her knowledge and opinions on the ethical, philosophical and political value of sexual and reproductive rights in many articles and interviews. Since the earliest days of the Network, Rhonda had been a very dear friend of Amparo Claro, LACWHN’s first General Coordinator.

On her last visit to Chile, Rhonda gave a special lecture on human rights law. Her visit coincided with the session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear testimony in the suit against Mexico for the cases of feminicide committed in a cotton field outside of Ciudad Juárez. In her usual calm but relentless style, Copelon testified as an expert in the case, arguing that the longstanding failure to investigate, prosecute or prevent the crimes in this case violated Mexico’s obligations under international human rights law. The final ruling on the Campo Algodonero case found Mexico responsible and clearly reflected the arguments set out in Rhonda’s testimony.

The memory of Rhonda Copelon will live on in all those who are committed to human rights and gender justice.