Law professor re-elected for U.N. human rights position

by Ada Simanduyeva

Before he took a course in international human rights at the University of California-Berkeley in 1968, David Weissbrodt did not know the United Nations even had a subcommission for human rights. Now, the University law professor has been re-elected for a second four-year term at the organization.
The Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights consists of independent experts who conduct studies on human-rights issues, investigate allegations on human-rights violations and make recommendations to higher United Nations bodies.
It is composed of 26 members who come from five different United Nations’ regions. Weissbrodt is a member of the Western European region, which includes such countries as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, countries of Western Europe and the United States.
“Much of the work of the subcommission is done in the context of studies, so they would want somebody who is capable of doing good scholarly works,” Weissbrodt said.
In order to be a member of the subcommission, one has to be nominated by the government. The Clinton administration nominated Weissbrodt for his first four-year term in 1996. This April he was re-elected and a fellow Minnesotan, University law professor Barbara Frey is his alternate.
“I’ve been working in the human rights field for 15 years and I followed the work of the United Nations with great interest, and it’s a great honor and a privilege to be elected to the subcommission to work on these issues for the United Nations,” Frey said.
Thirteen alternates exist for the subcommission’s 26 members. An alternate usually fills in to vote when a member is not there. Weissbrodt and Frey, however, said they will divide the workload between them.
“David is one of the most well-respected international human rights scholars in the world,” Frey said. “He probably has the broadest portfolio of anybody working in this field.”
Frey said she thinks Weissbrodt is fully competent in all aspects; he is an activist, a scholar, a policy-maker and a mentor.
Weissbrodt established the University’s Human Rights Center and helped established its library on the Internet. He served on such organizations as the Center for Victims of Torture, The Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and Amnesty International.
He is also a member of the American Law Institute and the American Society of International Law, and he is the author of several books and articles on international human rights law, immigration law and other subjects. He received his juris doctorate degree from the University of California-Berkeley.
Weissbrodt first attended the subcommission meeting in 1981, while being a representative of a non-governmental organization. He said he learned how the subcommission functions by sitting at the back of the room, studying breaking issues.
“After sitting in the back of the room for so many years, I thought it might be fun and worthwhile to try to sit in the front of the room and do things,” Weissbrodt said.
He said he wanted to get re-elected because he feels he needs to finish several projects, which he is interested in continuing. Last year, he was asked to prepare a paper on Human Rights Code of Conduct, which focuses on such issues as sweatshops. Although it’s in a beginning process, it could affect the sale of shirts at the University in the future.
Bret Thiele, former University student and currently Weissbrodt’s assistant at the subcommission, said he thinks Weissbrodt is one of the more active members of the subcommission, and it benefits from his experience.
“I consider him a mentor,” Thiele said. “He goes out of his way to help students, and he helped me immensely careerwise.”

Ada Simanduyeva covers international perspectives and welcomes comments at [email protected]