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William J. Butler Medal of Human Rights Awarded March 11

“I can think of no one who better captures the values and ideals for which the William J. Butler Medal of Human Rights was established,” said Professor Bert Lockwood, Director of the Urban Morgan Institute,  of this year’s medal winner Paul Hoffman.  A partner at Los Angeles, CA law firm Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, Hoffman has been involved in virtually every significant case suing foreign torturers in United States courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act, including the principal case argued before the Supreme Court.

The Butler Medal Awards Ceremony and Conference will be held on March 11. The event includes a two hour seminar (2 CLE credits) with Hoffman in the afternoon at the law school (2:00-4:00pm, Rm. 118). Called “Life at the Forefront of International Human Rights Law: An Interview with Paul Hoffman,” it will be a conversation about Hoffman’s career in human rights. He will be joined by Dina Haynes, a former Urban Morgan fellow who clerked for Hoffman early in her career. The event will conclude that evening with the awards ceremony at the Cincinnati Museum Center. There, Hoffman will receive the award from Al Gerhardstein, a leading civil rights attorney in Cincinnati who, interestingly, was in the same study group with Hoffman during their three years at New York University School of Law. 

Meet Paul Hoffman

For years, Hoffman has played a key role with Amnesty International (AI), chairing the organization’s U.S. and international boards. In fact, he was one of the principal individuals involved in persuading AI to broaden its focus to include economic rights.  Earlier in his career, Hoffman also served as the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, and he is also the author of the international human rights course book that is currently being used in the human rights seminar being taught at the College of Law this semester.  Prior to joining his current firm, Hoffman established and led his own firm for many years. His practice has been in the areas of constitutional and civil rights litigation, including First Amendment, discrimination, and privacy litigation, and general business litigation, including copyright and trademark litigation. In October 1998, he was named one of the 100 most influential attorneys in California by the Daily Journal and in February 1999 one of the top trial lawyers in Los Angeles County by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Currently, he is involved in the next generation of cases involving the Alien Tort Claims Act: suing domestic corporations for their roles in aiding and abetting human rights abuses abroad.  He recently had success in reaching a settlement with Unocal Corporation for its activities in Myanmar, and is now involved in several cases that will likely reach the United States Supreme Court. These cases remain notorious, not only because of the controversial issue of using U.S. courts to sue foreign perpetrators of human rights abuses abroad, but also because the recent suits are being brought against corporations, rather than the torturers themselves.

More about the William J. Butler Medal of Human Rights

The Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights established the William J. Butler Medal of Human Rights in 1999 to recognize outstanding individuals who have contributed to international human rights law. The medal is named after William J. Butler, a prominent New York lawyer who has had a significant impact on international human rights over a long career.  Currently serving on the advisory board of the Urban Morgan Institute, Butler has had a long-standing relationship with the ACLU, the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists, of which he is president, and several other rights-based organizations.

Learn about the Good Work of Former Recipients

The first recipient of the Butler Medal was Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who was serving as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1999.  “Mary Robinson was aggressive and energetic in her role,” said Professor Lockwood.  “She was popular with the community of nongovernmental organizations because she challenged governments on their records of human rights abuses.”

The second recipients of the award, presented in 2001, were four individuals instrumental in the establishment of the International Criminal Court: William Pace, Philipe Kirsch, Hans Corell, and M. Cherif Bassinouni.  The Court is one of the most significant new institutions in the human rights field. By presenting this award to the group, the Urban Morgan Institute had opportunity to recognize and bring attention to those who represented the different constituencies that came together to make it happen. Those constituencies included the creating and drafting bodies, as well as the coalition of nongovernmental organizations that pushed for the Court.

Several years later in 2005, the Butler Medal was bestowed on Radhika Coomaraswamy, who served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women for nine years.  In her reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Coomaraswamy focused on violence, specifically violence in the family, violence in the community, violence against women during armed conflict, and the problem of international trafficking.

In 2008, the medal was awarded to three attorneys who played key roles in the defense of the Guantanamo Bay detainees in Rasul v. Bush and Boumediene v. Bush.  Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, received the award for serving as co-counsel in the cases. Thomas Wilner, Of Counsel at Shearman & Sterling, LLP, was one of the first attorneys to come forward and volunteer pro bono services.  Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley received the award for her work on the cases as well.  “Military defense lawyers are the real unsung heroes in these cases,” said Professor Lockwood.  “In many cases, they were told to back off, but they risked their careers to continue pursuing them to bring about justice.”