Columbia Law School professor emeritus Louis Henkin passed away on October 14, 2010, at the age of 92. He was a great scholar and a great speaker. Though I never formally met him, he was "Lou" Henkin to me and many others. I enjoyed attending his panel sessions at American Society of International Law (ASIL) meetings every year. He was the epitome of an international law scholar and human rights activist.
Louis Henkin co-authored one of the leading human rights casebooks. He also authored Foreign Affairs and the United States Constitution; How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy; The International Bill of Rights; The Rights of Man Today; The Age of Rights; International Law: Politics and Values; and Right v. Might: International Law and the Use of Force. He co-edited (with Albert Rosenthal) Constitutionalism and Rights: The Influence of the United States Constitution Abroad. He was chief reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law of the United States. A 1997 Festschrift titled Politics, Values and Functions: International Law in the 21st Century (Jonathan I. Charney, Donald K. Anton, & Mary Ellen O'Connell eds.) celebrated his influence.
In 1978 he, with others, founded the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, which later became Human Rights First. He also helped establish the Center, now Institute, for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) at Columbia University that same year. Several decades later, he co-founded the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. He taught human rights to generations of lawyers at Columbia Law School. He also taught a seminar for judges at the Aspen Institute's Justice and Society Program, directed by his wife, Alice Henkin.
Louis Henkin worked as a consultant with the United Nations Legal Department. He played a key role in the negotiations for the 1951 Refugee Convention. He served as a U.S. member of the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). He clerked for Justices Learned Hand and Felix Frankfurter. He served with the Department of State in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. He wrote an amicus brief with other law professors supporting the petitioner in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (548 U.S. 557 (2006)(trying Guantánamo Bay detainees before military commissions).
I will miss seeing him at ASIL each year. We in the human rights research community will all miss him.
*Louis Henkin, How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy 47 (2d ed. 1979)
Here is a selection of notices, memorials and tributes to Lou Henkin:
- Louis Henkin: Preeminent Scholar in Constitutional and International Law (Columbia Law School)
- Louis Henkin (1917-2010)(Harold Hongju Koh, Opinio Juris Blog)
- Remembering Lou Henkin, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2 (Donald K. Anton, Australian National University College of Law)(links to many other tributes, including a video honoring Professor Henkin's 50th anniversary at Columbia)
- Louis Henkin, Leader in Field of Human Rights Law, Dies At 92 (William Grimes, New York Times)
- Updated: Louis Henkin (1917-2010)(International Law Prof blog)
"Lou Henkin, who died today, was my hero. He was one of the few truly great men I have ever met. During his six decades at the State Department, Penn, and Columbia Law School, Lou shaped modern international human rights law. In his years as an international lawyer, there was no important issue on which he did not take a stand. One measure of his influence is that every human on this planet has found some shelter or affirmation in his ideas." - Harold Koh