A Tribute to Lou Henkin

 A Tribute to Lou Henkin
(Left to right) Juan Méndez,  Prof. José Alvarez, Prof. Louis Henkin, Dean David Schizer, Alice Henkin, Hon. Rosemary Barkett, and Harold Koh
On September 21, 2006, colleagues and admirers celebrated University Professor Emeritus Louis Henkin’s 50-year affiliation with the Law School and recognized his contributions to the study of human rights and international law. Facilitated by Professor José E. Alvarez, the event featured a panel discussion titled “The Future of Human Rights Law: A Tribute to Lou Henkin” with remarks by Hon. Rosemary Barkett, Harold Koh, and Juan Méndez, as well as written remarks of Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger ’71. Here are some highlights:


Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy José E. Alvarez is the founder and director of the Law School’s Center on Global Legal Problems. Prof. Alvarez also serves on the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law and the Journal of International Criminal Justice and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Department of State Advisory Committee on International Law.
“… [Prof. Henkin is] the “father of human rights”…. He taught generations of Columbia law students that the law had something to say about the use of force – before and during Vietnam, Grenada, or Iraq….He [is] the model of today’s legion of academics-turned-activists who teach students by day, advise NGOs at night, and write amicus briefs in the wee hours.”
Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed associate justice to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1993. She previously served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before taking the bench, she taught at Rutgers University School of Law and Columbia Law School, where she became the first tenured woman professor and co-authored the first casebook on sex discrimination law.
“…Lou Henkin has been my teacher, my colleague, my adviser, my cherished friend. Countless times, when struggling with a trying case involving a question of constitutional law or of international law, I looked to his writings for counsel…. Lou’s writings sometimes clarified ‘what the law really is,’ but other times lucidly developed ‘what the law ought to be.’ Accounting for his reasoning in simply beautiful prose, he has powerfully influenced legions like me.”
Lee C. Bollinger was named Columbia University’s 19th president in 2002. Shortly after earning his J.D. from Columbia, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School, where he became dean in 1987 and university president in 1996. President Bollinger teaches Law School courses on free speech and First Amendment issues.
“…Lou’s scholarship and teaching transcend the walls of the Law School and the University – and even the lives of his students and colleagues. He has played a key role in shaping international human rights law and in helping other countries incorporate human rights standards into their constitutions and laws. He has literally created lawyers and activists, working daily to preserve elemental human decency on a local, national, and global scale.”


Judge Rosemary Barkett sits on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Prior to her appointment to the 11th Circuit in 1994, she was the first woman justice on the Florida Supreme Court, sitting as an associate justice from 1985-1992, when she was chosen by her colleagues to become the state’s first woman chief justice of that court.
“[Prof. Henkin] has been quoted by [U.S.] Supreme Court justices and cited by almost all federal courts of appeal. He has been referred to in a case as ‘the preeminent constitutional scholar in the area of international law’.… I cannot think of another human being who has had a greater or even close to equal influence on an entire branch of government. The judges of this country know that they owe a great debt to Louis Henkin, and, for a more educated judiciary, the people of this country are likewise in his debt.”


Harold Hongju Koh is dean and professor of international law at Yale Law School, where he has served since 2004 as the 15th dean. From 1998-2001, he served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1985, he practiced law at Covington & Burling and at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.
“…What makes Lou Henkin a genuine hero is not just his brilliance and his scholarly achievement, but his absolute integrity and incorruptibility. If Lou says it, it must be right – not just because there is no one smarter, but because there is no one more honest…. In the years I’ve been lucky enough to work in these fields, there is no issue on which he has not spoken; there is no issue on which he has not taken a stand.”


Juan Méndez is president of the International Center for Transitional Justice and UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners in his native Argentina, he was arrested and subjected to torture and administrative detention for a year and a half during the Argentinean military dictatorship. He was forcibly expelled in the late 1970s, and he moved to the United States, where he became active with Human Rights Watch and has taught international human rights law at several universities.
“…[Prof. Henkin’s instincts] on the prohibitions on torture and extrajudicial execution… have been taken into account now over the years by decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights many times, but also in many parts of Latin America by domestic courts that maybe don’t cite Lou Henkin’s writings but do inherit the thinking behind them….The new horizons of human rights…only highlight the need to go back to basic human rights law.…And all of those are insights we learned from Lou Henkin early on, and they have decisive meaning today and will continue to have meaning as we develop even newer hori­zons of human rights protections in the future.”