A Human Rights Heroine: Rhonda Copelon
by Peter Weiss
A HUMAN RIGHTS HEROINE: Rhonda Copelon died on May 6 after a four year battle with ovarian cancer. She probably would have died earlier if she had not researched her condition in the same way that she researched her briefs: Thoroughly, creatively and passionately, leaving no stone unturned and no theory unexamined.
In her forty year career, first as a litigator at the Center for Constitutional Rights, then as a professor and founding head of the Women’s International Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School, she established herself as a world class pioneer in the use of law as a tool for exposing grievous wrongs and, sometimes, redressing them. Her work encompassed the whole mottled landscape of human rights, with an emphasis on gender issues. A panorama of her activities would include arguing against the Hyde Amendment in the US Supreme Court, lobbying for the inclusion of rape as a war crime in the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, testifying at the “comfort women” tribunal in Tokyo and at the Interamerican Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.
She was the warmest of friends to her large entourage and the steeliest adversary to establishmentarians who did not recognize basic human rights, or, worse in her opinion, recognized them in principle while claiming that the time for their implementation was “not yet”.
She accomplished the impossible: She made justice look easy.