Friday, May 21, 2010

From Navenethem Pillay, South Africa

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, former International Criminal Court Judge and President of the Rwanda Tribunal

Rhonda Copelon was a tireless and inspiring champion of human rights. She was at the forefront of the movement that ensured that the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were translated into practice for women everywhere.

Hers was a life of knowledge, passion and courage, as well as friendship and warmth. Rhonda's talent, expertise, and advocacy led to the successful conclusion of Filartiga v. Pena Irala, a landmark case which provided victims of gross human rights abuses with access to United States courts. She co-founded the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School which under her guidance provided amicus briefs for the United Nations international tribunals for cases involving the worst human rights abuses.

As a former President of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, I can testify to the profound importance of this work in defining rape and other gender-based crimes as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Rhonda's efforts through the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice were instrumental in ensuring that the Statute of the nascent International Criminal Court would include a gender sensitive perspective. Before her death, Rhonda created the Rhonda Copelon Fund for Gender Justice at the Center for Constitutional Rights in order to channel the legacy of her gender advocacy.

She will be mourned with profound affection, respect and admiration by many friends, activists and road companions around the world.

Navenethem Pillay
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights