Juan E. Méndez Speaks on the Connection of Human Rights During Henkin Lecture


Jose Mendez

Juan E. Méndez

In the recent lecture, "Human Rights and Democracy in a New Era," at the Ninth Annual Henkin Lecture on Human Rights, a former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan E. Méndez, spoke on the connection of human rights to everything from climate change to American foreign policy to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Watch the recorded lecture here.)

The lecture explored how the inauguration of a new administration – but more significantly the dramatic events that preceded it – gives rise to new opportunities to promote and protect human rights and democracy as a central element of United States foreign policy.

“It is a chance, as Lou Henkin would put it, for the United States to become if not a pillar, at least a flying buttress of the cathedral that we call international human rights law,” Méndez said. While human rights will not always win the day in the Biden administration, “we should celebrate that now we have an arena to argue the pros and cons of what we propose in rational and values-oriented debate, hopefully not drowned out by demagoguery and authoritarianism.”

Méndez is a professor of human rights law in residence at American University’s Washington College of Law, where he is faculty director of the anti-torture initiative, a project to WCL's Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. He is the co-author of "Taking A Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights."

The former commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, in Geneva, Switzerland, Méndez is a former member of the selection committee to appoint magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Truth Commission set up as part of the Colombian Peace Accords. He has held positions on crime prevention at the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. He was also president of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Concurrent with his duties at ICTJ, the Honorable Kofi Annan named Méndez his special advisor on the prevention of genocide.

"Miami Law is a rich and vibrant hub of human rights theory and praxis," said Professor Caroline Bettinger-López, director of the Human Rights Clinic. "Our faculty have long been at the vanguard of cutting-edge research, scholarship, teaching, and networks that use a critical lens to connect the local, national, and global. And our students have engaged in the study and practice of human rights on campus and around the world, through academic pursuits, clinical work, internships, and post-graduate employment in the private and public sectors.”

The annual lecture is named for the prominent law professor at Columbia University School of Law, one of the founders of the academic study of human rights who inspired a generation of human rights lawyers, scholars, and activists, including some of Miami Law's professors. In 2011, Miami Law created the lecture series in Louis Henkin's memory.

"The annual Louis Henkin Human Rights Lecture reflects our law school's commitment to honoring the legacy of a human rights giant who, both directly and indirectly, influenced many members of our law school community, and whose ideas are just as relevant today as when he first shared them over a half-century ago," Bettinger-López said.

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Watch the full, recorded lecture here