Choose a news category:

Remembering Professor Rhonda Copelon

Posted on: Friday, May 6, 2011

Keywords: Activist, Haiti, Guatemala, Women Human Rights Defenders

Today, MADRE remembers our friend and long-time ally, Rhonda Copelon, the wonderful women's human rights lawyer and activist who died one year ago, at the age of 65.

Today, May 6th, is the one-year anniversary of a tremendous loss for the CUNY School of Law community. Last year, founding faculty member Rhonda Copelon died after a valiant fight against cancer. We send this memorial note to take a moment to remember her legacy and to share some of the recent work of the International Women's Human Rights (IWHR) Clinic here at CUNY Law, which we know would have made Rhonda proud.

As you know, Rhonda established the IWHR Clinic in 1992, at a time when few other law schools offered clinics devoted to women's rights worldwide. IWHR continues to flourish with the intellectual and adventurous spirit characteristic of Rhonda herself. In fact, one of the clinic's most recent projects in Haiti builds on the work that Rhonda led in 1994 when Haiti suffered from a surge in sexual violence due to political instability. In response, Rhonda brought together a group of advocates to file a brief with the Organization of American States (OAS), calling attention to the violence happening in Haiti and to the notion under international law of rape as a form of torture when committed by government actors.

In keeping with her vision, IWHR Clinic students, along with CUNY Law Professor Lisa Davis, recently traveled to Haiti on fact-finding missions to document gender-violence in camps for those needing shelter in the wake of recent devastating earthquakes. CUNY Law students visited several different sites, including camps in Martissant and Champ de Mars, and met daily with local grassroots women's groups. These facts students gathered provided the supporting evidence for a petition that IWHR and partner attorneys submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission issued an unprecedented decision granting their legal request that the Haitian government and the international community take immediate measures to prevent violence against women and girls in Haiti.

As many of you know, of the hundreds of requests for precautionary measures the Commission receives each year, few are granted. Out of these, only a handful have been granted to protect individuals from rape, and those have been in response to rape committed by state actors - never by private actors. This precautionary measures decision is the first ever to recognize that Haiti, like all states, has a responsibility to prevent violence against women committed by those who are not state actors and builds upon the work started by Rhonda and IWHR in codifying rape as a form of torture under international law.

In addition, IWHR students, in collaboration with the New York-based women's rights organization MADRE, recently returned from Guatemala, where they conducted a fact-finding investigation focused on labor conditions for women, femicide, and the rights of indigenous women. Our students conducted interviews in several different communities in El Quiche and Guatemala City in order to gather information for a shadow report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body charged with enforcing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The students working on the Guatemala Project also submitted a brief late last year to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and urged the Committee to request that the Guatemalan government address women's human rights violations in its investigation.

Under Rhonda's leadership, CUNY Law's IWHR Clinic enabled students and activists around the world to participate in a range of precedent-setting legal and advocacy campaigns. We continue her vision today, working with community-based partners to make innovative and fundamental change around the world.

In her last months of life, Rhonda established the Copelon Fund for IWHR to enable the next generation of IWHR students to continue to have the opportunity to gain important international advocacy experiences. If you would like to support the Copelon Fund, please click here.

Thank you for remembering Rhonda's powerful legacy.

To read the original version, click here


« Back to "Press Room" Next Article »

Article Tools
Increase Font Decrease Font Reset Font Print Page Email Page


"Press Room" Home November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001


Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444

To sign up to receive MADRE media alerts, click here.

Bring MADRE to You

MADRE & Our Partners Make News