Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Virginia Leary honored with Goler T. Butcher Medal for contributions to human rights

Virginia Leary (left) is evidence of the truth in the adage that one person can make a difference. As the American Society of International Law recently noted, she has done “path-breaking work as a lawyer, scholar, teacher and activist in international law and human rights, particularly in the areas of international labor law and workers’ rights.” Countless numbers of us have been profoundly inspired by her.
This week at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the American Society of International Law is honoring Virginia Leary with the Goler T. Butcher Medal for her outstanding contribution to human rights. It seems so fitting that she receive the medal pictured below right and named for my IntLawGrrls transnational foremother, Goler Teal Butcher. That's because both Virginia and Goler worked on economic and social rights as human rights long before many other rights activists in the U.S. did. And both have been leaders globally and mentors locally.

About Virginia Leary

Lawyer and professor. A former Vice-President of the American Society of International Law, Virginia Leary earned her J.D. degree from the University of Chicago, a doctoral degree from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, and the diploma of the Hague Academy of International Law.
After working for an international women’s organization in Geneva, the Intercultural Cooperation Association, she worked for the International Labour Organization until joining the faculty of the State University of Buffalo and then the University of California-Hastings. Now that she is retired from full-time teaching and living in Geneva, she serves on the Advisory Board of the Program for the Study of International Organizations at the University of Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies, where she recently directed a project on the social aspects of trade liberalization.
Lawyer-Activist. Virginia Leary was a founding member of the Geneva-based International Council for Human Rights Policy, whose studies and reports I consider among the most useful work produced by a human rights organization. She has undertaken human rights missions on behalf of Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and Human Rights Watch, and has been a consultant to the World Health Organization and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She serves on the Boards of several organizations, including the Centre on Housing and Evictions (COHRE), Human Rights Advocates, and the International Labor Rights Forum, and previously served on the Board of Human Rights Watch Asia.
Scholar. A prolific scholar, she has written books, book chapters and articles on international labor law, workers’ rights, the right to health, child labor issues, and international trade and human rights. She recently co-edited the book Social Issues, Globalization and International Institution: Labour Rights and the EU, ILO, OECD and WTO.
Mentor and role model. Virginia Leary’s contribution to human rights also includes mentoring countless women and men in international human rights the world over, a role she has undertaken with care and energy reminiscent of Goler Teal Butcher.

About Goler Teal Butcher

When I first met Goler Butcher back in the mid-1980s, she was a member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International-USA (AIUSA) as well as Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law. I had the good fortune to work with Goler over the years on international legal issues as well as AI policy issues. It was when we roomed together for a week in Yokohama at Amnesty’s biennial policy-making meeting in 1991 that she shared some stories of her experiences as an African-American woman in the very white male world of international law in the early 1960s. I also learned from watching her in action at the Yokohama meeting, engaging with Amnesty delegates from around the world.
Goler Teal Butcher graduated in 1957 from the Howard University School of Law – where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Howard University Law Review. She was the only woman in her class. She earned her LL.M. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School the following year. She clerked for the first African American judge on a federal appeals court, the renowned William Henry Hastie.
After working for a law firm, she joined Office of the Legal Advisor at the Department of State in 1963, the first African-American lawyer to serve in that office. She then served as counsel to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, where she earned a reputation for strong leadership. (In the photo at right, she's with U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.); she was his 1st staff counsel for Africa when he resigned "from the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1971 to protest Nixon administration support for South Africa and Portuguese colonialism.") Under President Carter, Butcher served as U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) director for Africa, and some years later, she headed the Clinton-Gore transition team for the agency.
Goler also devoted much care to her students and to her colleagues in the NGO community. She herself created the Goler Teal Butcher Award to attract students to the study of international law at Howard University. Today, the university honors her through its Goler Teal Butcher
International Moot Court Team, which this past year won the award for Best Complainant Submission in the Fourth Annual WTO Competition in Geneva.
She also touched us through her publications, which addressed U.S. foreign policy, apartheid, the relationship of law to the problem of hunger, discrimination in employment faced by women and by African-Americans, and issues of the United States and International Court of Justice advisory opinions, among other topics.
When she died in 1993, her successor to her position at USAID wrote:
Africa has lost a great champion. Washington has lost a giant.


Naomi Norberg said...

Thank you Stephanie for this very informative post!

Marjorie Florestal said...


This is a belated comment--somehow, I didn't see this post until today. But I wanted to thank you for a fantastic post! We are all too aware that the contributions of women--particularly women of color--are under (or un) reported at best. And even more so in international law. I have never heard of Goler T. Butcher, but you can bet I now plan to get hold of anything I can read about her. Thank you!