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Book tells remarkable story of Professor Kevin Boyle, human rights defender

Former Human Rights Centre Director's influential role in human rights movement

  • Date

    Mon 17 May 21

A new book tells the remarkable story of Professor Kevin Boyle, former Director of our Human Rights Centre and “one of the world’s great human rights lawyers.”

The book, Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement, will be celebrated with an event on Wednesday afternoon featuring its author, Mike Chinoy, alongside former friends and colleagues.

Emeritus Professor Kevin Boyle, who died in 2010, was an internationally respected human rights lawyer, activist and academic and Director of our Human Rights Centre from 1990 to 2001 and again from 2006 to 2007.

Prior to his arrival at Essex, Professor Boyle was among the most important figures in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. He was co-founder of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the People’s Democracy, the driving force behind the rent and rates strike that paralysed Northern Ireland after the introduction of internment in 1971.

He proposed the civil rights march in Derry that became Bloody Sunday, and played a crucial role as a mediator during the IRA hunger strikes of 1981. His ideas provided much of the intellectual underpinning for the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, in turn a crucial foundation for the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.

Professor Boyle was also the lead lawyer in the case that decriminalised homosexuality in Northern Ireland, a reform which inspired similar moves in a number of countries. As Director of Article 19, he initiated a high-profile campaign on behalf of Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses had resulted in a fatwa from the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He later served as chief advisor to former Irish President Mary Robinson when she held the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Author Mike Chinoy was a foreign correspondent for CNN for 24 years, and has won Emmy, Peabody and Dupont awards for his journalism. He reported from Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s and knew Professor Boyle for almost 40 years.

Mike Chinoy said: "Kevin Boyle was arguably one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 70s. Moreover, as a lawyer, advocate, and scholar, he played an enormously influential role in the emergence of a broader international movement to expand the protection of human rights - using international law on behalf of victims of torture, unjust imprisonment and discrimination, and in defence of freedom of expression, belief, and association.

“He also pioneered the idea that human rights should be a central feature of legal education - highlighted most vividly by his role in building the Human Rights Centre at Essex. But his greatest love was teaching, and I would say his greatest legacy are the students he trained and inspired, who today continue to work on human rights issues around the world."

Dr Andrew Fagan, Director of the Human Rights Centre, said: “Kevin was a giant in the global human rights field and a much loved and hugely respected colleague.

“Kevin's influence upon the Human Rights Centre was immense. Not only was he one our founding parents, but he also played a crucial role in fashioning the distinctly interdisciplinary character of our teaching and research. Without Kevin, we would not be what we have become: a world leader in the academic field of human rights."

Professor Boyle joined the School of Law in 1986. In 1998, he and his Essex colleague Professor Françoise Hampson were named lawyers of the year, an award made by the advocacy group Liberty and the Law Society Gazette to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mike Chinoy will be speaking at Wednesday’s event, along with some of Professor Boyle’s former friends and colleagues: Professor Hurst Hannum, Professor of International Law Emeritus at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, worked with Boyle on a landmark case concerning mistreatment of detainees in Northern Ireland; Aisling Reidy, a fellow of the Human Rights Centre who has served as senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch since 2006, was a student of Professor Boyle’s and later worked with him on numerous cases before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the Kurds in southeast Turkey; Tom Hadden worked with Kevin Boyle for over 40 years - together they produced books, and research reports that played an influential role in creating the intellectual framework for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement is published by Liliput Press. The panel discussion, open to all, is on Wednesday 19 March from 4pm to 5.30pm.

Photos: Belfast - Buzz Logan/Estate of Buzz Logan/Linen Hall Library, Belfast; ECHR - courtesy of European Court of Human Rights