Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Obituary::Father of international criminal law

Cherif Bassiuoni (1937-2017)


Al-Ahram Weekly

Cherif Bassiuoni, the Egyptian-American champion of human rights, died on 25 September at his Chicago home. He was 79.

Bassiuoni, perhaps best known for his role in the creation of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), was a reputed scholar and writer in the field of international criminal law.

In a paper published in 2004 in the bi-annual journal Revue internationale de droit penal Philippe Kirche, the ICC’s first president, lauded Bassiuoni who authoured numerous books and articles on the subjects of international criminal law and an international criminal court long before the court became a reality. For many years Bassiouni’s writings kept alive the demands of the international community for a permanent institution to succeed the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. His work, wrote Kirche, facilitated the development of the substance and procedure of international criminal law as well as related fields such as international humanitarian and human rights law.

When the United Nations began serious efforts towards establishing the ICC in the 1990s Bassiouni was involved in the process at the highest level, chairing the drafting committee that wrote the Rome Statute — the treaty that established the court.

Born in Cairo in 1937, Bassiouni graduated from Cairo University before emigrating to the United States in 1962. He was emeritus professor of law at DePaul University where he taught from 1964 to 2009 and a founding member of the prestigious International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University. In 1972 he was one of the founders of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC) located in Siracusa, Italy. He served the institute first as secretary-general and then as president, a post he held until his death.

Bassiuoni also served as chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry established in 2011.

His impressive career — Bassiuoni taught at universities in the United States and across the world and was appointed to 22 United Nations positions — was little known to his countrymen, many of whom became familiar with his outstanding achievements and international reputation only after the flood of eulogies that greeted news of his death.

Bassiouni served as a consultant to the US Department of State and Justice on projects relating to international traffic in drugs (1973) and international control of terrorism (1975 and 1978-79). He was also a consultant to the Department of State (1979-1980) over the Iran-US hostage crisis.

In an illustrious career Bassiuoni’s work in investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s stands out.

In 1992 he was appointed a member of the UN Commission of Experts investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Despite the commission’s mandate being the broadest of its kind since Nuremberg it faced opposition from Security Council members who tried to hamper its work through bureaucratic and political chicanery.

In his book Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences British journalist and author Christopher Bennet documents how Bassiouni, a Muslim professor of law, was the most qualified candidate for the post of prosecutor, had his appointment blocked by Britain and France because “they feared he would do too good a job.”

Bassiouni was, however, able to compile a war crimes data base with donations from the Soros Foundation.

In an obituary shared on Facebook Ahmed Rehab, a friend, former student and member of the Council on American Islamic Relations, described Bassiouni’s tireless efforts to single-handedly investigate war crimes in Bosnia, a monumental undertaking that included documenting mass killings, human rights abuses and 67,000 cases of rape and which resulted in the prosecution of hundreds, including Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. At a ceremony honoring him at the Bosnian Islamic Centrer Rehab relates how Bassiouni gave them his grandfather’s prize possession, a Kiswa (cover) for the Kaaba.

Mohamed Bassiouni, his grandfather, was a judge and leading figure in the anti-British resistance. A street in central Cairo is named after him.

In 1999 Bassiuoni was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He wrote 38 books and edited 48 more and is the author of 255 articles on a wide range of legal issues including international criminal law, comparative criminal law, human rights law and US criminal law.

His work has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, English, Persian, French, Georgian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian and Spanish. His publications have been cited by the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the United States Supreme Court, the United States Appellate and Federal District Courts as well as by various State Supreme Courts.

Bassiouni spoke seven languages.

He is survived by his wife Elaine, and his daughter Lisa.

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