Passionate Human Rights Advocate Passes
Rhonda Copelon, a human rights attorney and City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law professor who helped convince United States federal courts and key international tribunals to recognize gender-based violence and international human rights violations as illegal forms of torture, has died of ovarian cancer.
During her 40-year career, Copelon worked on a range of legal cases involving gender-based violence, racial discrimination, government wiretapping, employment discrimination, and women’s reproductive rights.
“Rhonda Copelon was a passionate and powerful legal advocate for victims of gender-based violence in the United States and around the world,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “She dedicated her life to helping women who suffered human rights violations. It would be impossible to overstate her impact on how courts deal with these atrocious crimes. She was an inspiration to so many of us. We feel this loss deeply and pledge to continue Rhonda’s tireless work.”
Copelon co-founded the CUNY Law School’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHR). Under her leadership, the clinic enabled students and activists to participate in a range of precedent-setting legal and advocacy campaigns. Working with these students, she filed briefs before the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that contributed to recognition in international law that rape is a crime of genocide and torture. Copelon told The New York Times in 2002 that, until then, “rape was considered a kind of collateral damage” and “seen as part of the unpreventable, fundamental culture of war.”
IWHR’s work with the United Nation’s Committee against Torture and other international bodies contributed to worldwide recognition that gender crimes, including domestic and other forms of violence, can constitute torture under the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Copelon was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1944. She graduated from Bryn Mawr with a degree in history and political science, and received her law degree from Yale. Copelon was 65 years old.
For more information on Rhonda Copelon’s life and legacy, click here.