Some good friends have urged me to become cognisant of the modern world of technology, and to do this webpage. Yousuf Khan and Douglass Hansen, both law grads and both strongly committed to human rights, are helping set up this website – I am grudgingly being dragged by them into it. The most recent major updates to the site were on 30 October 2013, and I have promised to work with both Yousuf and Douglass to add more content, and to create a pictorial record of my work over the years. This will include a more personal side that I will be sharing with my friends and followers, next to the academic side that will include my publications and other UN and international contributions. So, this is where I am. But, first let me thank you for your interest in following up on me, and for taking the time to do so. This will be an opportunity for me to also keep in touchwith many friends and former students, and people whose paths I have crossed.
As many of you know, I have formally severed the umbilical cord with DePaul University, after 45 years of teaching and three more years during which I remained in my office with the hope of continuing to serve the students of the College of Law and the various causes to which I am dedicated. I decided to leave my office in the College of Law on 15 December 2012, and many of my former students and friends will probably wonder why? The answer is that the new administration of the College of Law was not making use of me, and I had no reason to remain just for the benefit of having an office. This will of course sound strange to anyone in legal education and in the legal profession, but that’s the way it is.
The International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul, which I founded with the support of then-Dean John Roberts and Professor Douglass Cassel (now a Professor at Notre Dame University) was basically put on hold and, for all practical purposes, left to wither away since 2010. None of this had anything to do with me or my relationship to DePaul, or to the College of Law, but it was based on poor management decisions by the then-Provost of the University and by the person he entrusted the Institute’s management to. Since then, the College of Law has receded in the US News Rankings of Top Law Schools from 89th to 109th. This drop came on the heel of the University’s firing of a popular Dean, the hiring of an interim Dean for two years (a judge with no academic experience, and over the objection of most of the faculty), and then the hiring of a new Dean who was not the faculty’s first choice and for whom this is his first decanal experience. Nevertheless, Dean Gregory Mark seems committed to the College of Law, and is doing everything possible to improve its academic standing in what is undoubtedly a very difficult climate. Admissions to law schools are dropping, jobs in the legal profession are scarce, academics are mostly out of touch with the legal profession, and the prospects of legal education throughout the country are not bright. All of this contributes to a reduction in fundraising, particularly when a venerable institution such as DePaul’s College of Law, now in its 100th year, has slipped so much in the ratings and its graduates have so many difficulties finding even entry-level jobs in the practice of law. National and local issues combine to make things difficult, but hopefully the dynamic new Dean and the number of newer and younger faculty members will contribute to the College of Law’s turnaround in the years to come. The reactivation of IHRLI will surely be one of these factors. The Institute is the best reflection of the University’s values and the commitment of the College of Law to the higher values of the legal profession.
I continue to direct the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC), which in December 2012 celebrated its 40th anniversary. The ISISC is probably the institute that has done most in the field of international criminal justice and human rights. Over the years, it has hosted and trained close to 37,000 jurists from 146 countries, and worked in cooperation with the world’s leading IGOs, as well as 97 NGOs. It has published 143 books in the fields of international criminal justice and human rights. More particularly, its yearly seminars for young jurists focusing on ICL have allowed young law graduates from over 100 countries to establish links and to network with future generations. Those who attended the first such seminar in 1976 have since become Chief Justices and Justices of Supreme and Constitutional courts of their countries, and a few have become judges at international tribunals and at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Succeeding generations of those who attended the Institute’s activities have advanced the cause of international criminal justice and international human rights in all parts of the world, and more particularly in the Arab world. This is simply to tell you that I am continuing with the work of ISISC as well as other international law work.
During the two years of 2011-12, I served as Chair and Member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, established by the UN Human Rights Council, and as Chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). This brings my number of Commissions and UN assignments to investigate post-conflict situations to five, including the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, and Libya.
With respect to Iraq, I directed several projects at IHRLI and ISISC funded by the US Department of State, which involved the rebuilding of the Iraqi judiciary, and reopening three law schools, namely those of Baghdad, Basra, and Sulaymaniyah. I also worked with the Department of Justice on the establishment of the special tribunal to prosecute Saddam Hussein and prepare the statute of the Court. The ISISC trained the judges of the special tribunal, both in Siracusa, Italy and in Baghdad. Also under my direction, IHRLI provided technical assistance to the Iraqi parliamentary committee that drafted the new Iraqi constitution. We created for the committee a book which assembled all Arab world constitutions, comparing their provisions with international human rights treaties so as to advance the level of human rights protection in the Iraqi constitution, and hopefully in future Arab constitutions.
In Afghanistan, ISISC trained for over two years the entire Afghani judiciary, including over 450 judges. I was personally instrumental in getting Afghanistan to open its door to 50 female judges.
All of that is to say that a lot of work continues to be done at ISISC under my direction, and that I continue to be active in the same arenas I have always been involved in, though regrettably I was unable to remain involved with DePaul College of Law, for the reasons mentioned above. I however remain close to DePaul University, and hopefully in the near future IHRLI will be back on its feet, and DePaul students can once again benefit from the opportunities that IHRLI can offer.
In the meantime, life goes on. My best gratification is to see my grandchildren grow, as well as my former students move up in their careers. It is so gratifying to hear from them or see them occasionally. Maybe it is a sign of ageing and maturing that one comes to the realisation that human contacts are more important than anything else. As all philosophers have taught us, the pursuit of power, wealth, glory and other assorted material pursuits are ephemeral. What really counts in the end is what one has been able to give others, and also what one has learned how to receive from others. And, even though I am still going as strong as I can, notwithstanding my many heart problems, I do intend to continue to plow ahead. I realise that my time is likely to be closer. My hope, when that time comes, is to be able to say that I did my best. Outcomes are seldom in our hands to be achieved. But, what we can and must do — and if everyone tries — is something to make our humankind a little better. It is in our power to do so.
Let’s keep in touch,
M. Cherif Bassiouni
3 July 2013