Tributes to Professor Sir Nigel Rodley

  • Date

    Wed 25 Jan 17

Professor Sir Nigel Rodley working for Amnesty International

The global human rights community has been paying tribute this week to Professor Sir Nigel Rodley KBE, Chair of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, 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 Rachel Murray, Fellow of the Human Rights Centre at Essex and Founder and Director of the Human Rights Implementation Centre at the University of Bristol, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Nigel. He was a warm, encouraging and inspirational figure in human rights and will be greatly missed by myself and I am sure many others around the world. A huge loss to the human rights community. My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues."

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."

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Juan Méndez reflects on working with Sir Nigel: "His wise advice…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.

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

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."

Waleed Sadi, Chair of the UN Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, said: " I was so sad to hear of Nigel’s death. He was a giant in the human rights processes. I first got to know him when I was chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights back in the early eighties. Since then I had worked alongside w him, he in the Human Rights Committee and I in the parallel Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

"He was a cherished friend and a dear colleague and a source of inspiration for all of us who are engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights.We shall all miss him."

Francesca Klug, Chair of Freedom from Torture added: "Professor Sir Nigel Rodley influenced and inspired generations of human rights advocates and scholars. I was lucky to be one of them. I have known Nigel since I was a Research Fellow at Essex Human Rights Centre in the mid 1990s and more recently benefited from his advice and encouragement when I became Chair of Freedom from Torture last year. Nigel was a Patron, and former Trustee, of Freedom from Torture and his legacy is reflected in all aspects of our work, as our tribute to him testifies."


Professor Sir Nigel Rodley KBE came to Essex in 1990 and was Chair of the Human Rights Centre at the time of his death.

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).


Image: © Jean-Marie Simon/Amnesty International