Human Rights: A Tribute To Professor Sir Nigel Rodley ( 1941-2017 )

Former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Juan Méndez, Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at Washington College of Law, pays his tribute to friend and colleague Professor Sir Nigel Rodley.

by Professor Juan Méndez

( January 26, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) So many of us grieve the loss of a friend, a mentor, a rigorous scholar and a world-renowned champion of human rights.

Although I had known and admired Nigel for many years and considered him a dear friend, it was in my capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (2010-2016) when I felt the full influence of his experience, his generosity of spirit and his wisdom.

He had blazed a trail for international protection of human rights when he had occupied the same Rapporteurship between 1992 and 2001, among other things by writing the ultimate treatise on the rights of persons deprived of liberty under international law.

He had also been responsible for much of the sophisticated normative framework with which international law addresses torture and ill-treatment in all its forms, including contributions to the drafting of the UN Convention Against Torture, in his previous capacity as Legal Counsel for Amnesty International.

As the UN Special Rapporteur he also advanced normative developments as he joined many others in crafting the Istanbul Protocol on the forensic detection of torture and medical and psychological treatment of survivors; most recently he had committed to participate in the process of strengthening its implementation worldwide.

During my tenure, he contributed extensively to our consultations that eventually shaped our thematic reports in important subjects like the death penalty and the absolute prohibitions on torture and ill-treatment, and the review of the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, now revamped and named the Nelson Mandela Rules.

His wise advice on such issues was only surpassed by his dedication, commitment and willingness to roll up his sleeves and do the work during long hours of negotiation and fine draftsmanship.  In all of these tasks he was generous with his time and energy and never insisted on claiming credit for his contributions, even though credit was always certainly due.

Throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur I felt I was on the right track every time I heard Nigel’s comments on our initiatives.  Needless to say, I sought his comments frequently and always found them frank and honest to a fault, and invariably constructive and encouraging.

I am also indebted to Nigel on other areas of international human rights law beyond torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.  Very early on he inquired into the field that we now call transitional justice, by finding in treaties and custom room for an affirmative obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish certain egregious crimes, while never failing to see the important political, ethical and legal ramifications of that duty of States, or the daunting difficulties posed by it to societies emerging from dictatorship or conflict.

As we express our condolences to Lynn and to Nigel’s many friends and colleagues, we also thank him very deeply for his many contributions.

We will be better defenders of human rights if we pledge each day to try to be a little more like Nigel.

Read Here the Tributes for Professor Sir Nigel Rodley by the University of Essex, London 

It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the death of human rights pioneer Professor Sir Nigel Rodley KBE, who has died at the age of 75.

Sir Nigel was one of the founding fathers of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, a generous colleague and a wonderful friend. He leaves his mark all over international human rights law and institutions, in particular at the United Nations.

He dedicated most of his life to combating torture and other serious human rights violations and was a beacon of hope to victims of such atrocities. He will be greatly missed by colleagues at Essex, those around the world who have worked with him and by the many students he has inspired over the years.

Dr Clara Sandoval, Acting Director of the Human Rights Centre, paid tribute: “Today is a very sad day. The human rights movement has lost one of its founding fathers. The School of Law and the Human Rights Centre have lost a brilliant and unpretentious colleague, an inspiring and generous human being and a wonderful mentor and friend.

“He was the living heart of the Human Rights Centre at Essex; he will always be remembered for his brilliant legal mind, for his admirable professionalism, for talking truth to power and for his integrity. It is comforting to know that his legacy will endure in the many people he taught and worked with. He was a dear friend and mentor who taught me more than I can say. We will miss him dearly.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: “Professor Sir Nigel Rodley was a global champion of human rights – writing influential books on international human rights law while also undertaking incredibly important work on behalf of the United Nations. He had a huge impact on the University over the past 25 years and was absolutely central to establishing Essex as a world-leading centre for human rights. He was an inspiration to many, many students and colleagues. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, Executive Dean (Humanities), said: “Professor Sir Nigel Rodley was a giant in his field, globally recognised as a tireless campaigner for human rights and widely respected for his intellectual leadership. He will be warmly remembered for his kindness. Colleagues and students across the University are deeply saddened by his loss.”

Wilder Tayler, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists of which Sir Nigel was President, said: “Sir Nigel was a stalwart of the human rights movement and his firm commitment to the promotion of human rights and rule of law has had a deep and lasting impact that will continue in his absence.”

Professor Christof Heyns, a former colleague of Sir Nigel’s from the UN Human Rights Committee, and Professor of human rights law at the University of Pretoria, added:  “I am deeply saddened by the news about Nigel. As legal advisor to Amnesty, as Special Rapporteur, as a member of the Human Rights Committee, as an academic, as council to younger people like myself when they entered the human rights world and in so many other capacities: he was a giant in the quest for a more humane world.”

On behalf of the Association of the Prevention of Torture, Secretary General Mark Thomson added his tribute:  “Let us not only mourn the loss of our dear friend and inspirational mentor. Let us also carry forward together the struggle for justice that Nigel so profoundly defended with such rigour and impressive effect”.

Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “All those who work in the area of human rights treaty law will always remember Nigel as a pillar of their community, an inspired and inspiring authority on the subject matter and a sincere defender of human rights in so many incarnations of his successive mandates.”


Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS, said: “All of us at REDRESS are devastated to learn of Nigel’s death. He was a patron of REDRESS, but most importantly, our mentor and our friend. Nigel’s breadth of knowledge was unrivalled; he was tenacious in his pursuit of the prohibition of torture and other human rights causes he championed. He was also extremely sensitive to the devastating human cost of torture on the survivors.

“Nigel was hugely sought after for his expertise but he always made time, he was always there to give advice, to help and to keep us and many others in the human rights movement on the right track.

“To say that he will be missed is a real understatement; he leaves an amazing legacy to learn from and he will continue to inspire our work.”

Professor Malcom Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, added: “He was a giant of human rights protection who was – and who will remain – an inspiration to so many.

“I counted him a friend, and felt it a real privilege of being able to do so. It will always be a privilege and a pleasure to have known him and particularly to have worked alongside him on issues concerning the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the topic to which he devoted so much of himself and which he has so greatly shaped.

“I have learnt so much from him, yet knew there was always so much more that he had to teach and from which I could learn. We know him to be a leader of the leaders of global human rights protection, and – yes, why not? – to be a ‘father’ of the prohibition of torture. There will be time for reflection and commemoration, and celebration, of all his achievements and contributions, but now it is right to have a time for sadness at the passing of a truly great man.

“You are all in my thoughts.”


Professor Sir Nigel Rodley KBE came to Essex in 1990. Previously he had been Legal Adviser at Amnesty International from 1973 onwards – the founding Head of Legal and Intergovernmental Organisations Office. He became a Professor of Law at Essex in 1994 and was Dean of Law from 1992 to 1995.

From 1993 to 2001 he served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. From 2001 to 2016 he was a Member of the UN Human Rights Committee, serving as its Chairperson from 2013 to 2014. He was President of the International Commission of Jurists at the time of his death.

In 1998 he was knighted for services to human rights and international law. Other honours included an honorary LLD from Dalhousie University. He was also a joint recipient of the American Society of International Law’s 2005 Goler T Butcher Medal for distinguished work in human rights. In 2008 he was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians.

His many books included The Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law (co-ed. with Scott Sheeran, 2013) and The Treatment of Prisoners under International Law (3rd ed 2009, Oxford) (with Matt Pollard).

The University of Essex has created a page where tributes may be shared.


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