A tribute to Professor Sir Nigel Rodley from Juan Méndez

  • Date

    Thu 26 Jan 17

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.

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.