American University Washington College of Law Community Remembers Arthur Chaskalson

A great friend and colleague to many at the law school, Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who was South Africa’s premier jurist in constitutional and human rights law and a visiting professor at the law school in 2010, passed away last weekend in Johannesburg, South Africa. Arthur Chaskalson was in 1963 one of Nelson Mandela’s lawyers in the Rivonia or treason trial and was a founder and director (1978-1993) of the Legal Resources Centre, which mounted public interest litigation against the apartheid regime. In 1994 President Mandela named him the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, a position he held until 2001. Thereafter, he was Chief Justice of South Africa from 2001 to 2005.

“Arthur Chaskalson was a towering figure in the fight against apartheid and a role model for all of us,” said Claudio Grossman, dean, American University Washington College of Law. “Those of us who had the privilege of meeting and working with him appreciated his tremendous humanity and kindness. We are devastated by this loss.”

Read his Obituary in Business Day: Chaskalson Gave Life to a Constitutional Vision

From 2005-2008, Professor Robert Goldman worked very closely with Arthur Chaskalson as one of the 8 members of the Eminent Jurists Panel (EJP) on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, an initiative of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), whose mandate was to assess the compatibility of laws, policies and practices adopted by governments in all regions of the worldwith their human rights obligations in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Justice Chaskalson was then both president of the ICJ and chairman of the EJP. The EJP finished its work in December 2008 with the publication of its report, Assessing Damage, Urging Action.

 “I feel both blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity to have worked so closely with and learned from Arthur,” said Professor Goldman. “During our trips together for the EJP, I saw first-hand the esteem, if not reverence,with which he was held by, among others, the Law Lords in London and members of Canada’s Constitutional Court. Never have I known a person who had achieved so much, yet was so humble. He was one of those very exceptional persons who come along only so often. I, like so many others, have lost a beloved friend and mentor.”

Justice Chaskalson came to American University Washington College of Law as a visiting professor in the fall of 2010 and jointly taught an innovative course with Professor Goldman on Terrorism and Human Rights. That fall he delivered a special lecture at the law school on "Dignity as a Constitutional Value: A South African Perspective." Watch a webcast of the lecture.

Sean Flynn, associate director of the law school’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, had the honor of clerking for Justice Chaskalson at the South African Constitutional Court.

“Justice Chaskalson was a hero to the cause of democracy, human rights and the rule of law for the entire world," said Flynn. "He was a legend of our time, and yet was completely unassuming and always gracious. Perhaps his most important skill was his ability to bridge divides and create consensus. It was in large part due to that skill that many of the most important decisions of the Constitutional Court under his leadership were unanimous. He was respected by all sides in a country that has a great number of sides motivated by deep convictions and often painful experience. We all have much to learn from his great life.”

Watch a webcast of "Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson: Celebrating the Life of a Transformational Lawyer and Judge," an event held at the law school in March 2013.