Samuel Pisar: A Tireless Champion of Human Rights

by | Jul 28, 2015

Tributes are flowing from across the globe to Samuel Pisar, a tireless defender of human rights, whose death was announced this morning. His was an extraordinary life: after a youth of terrible suffering in the midst of the most tragic events of the twentieth century, he went on to a brilliant international career, characterised by a commitment to peace and to the human dignity of all.

Samuel Pisar was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1929. During the Nazi occupation he was sent to a series of camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. He was among the youngest of those who survived the Holocaust; his parents and sister were among the millions who perished. After the war, with the help of relatives in France and Australia, he resumed his education, earning a degree at the University of Melbourne, and later doctorates at Harvard and the Sorbonne. He worked at the United Nations and as a foreign policy advisor to President Kennedy, and then for decades as an international lawyer of renown, with a global practice and many high-profile clients.

Throughout his career, Pisar sought to further the causes of peace, international cooperation and human rights. During the Cold War, he helped to build stronger cultural and commercial links between East and West and provided support to Soviet dissidents and human rights campaigners like Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. From 2012, he was UNESCO’s Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education. He was also a highly respected author; as well as books on international relations and trade policy, he wrote an acclaimed memoir, Of Blood and Hope, and a libretto, “Kaddish: A Dialogue with God” for Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No 3.

A human rights fellowship in Samuel Pisar’s honour was recently established at Oxford, funded by a generous donation from Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing. The Samuel Pisar Travelling Fellowship in Human Rights will provide support each year for an Oxford graduate student to undertake human rights related work in a developing country. The first fellowship was awarded this month to Elena Butti, a DPhil student at Oxford, who will intern at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in Bogota, Colombia, where she will work in the reparations section providing advice on the complex reparations process in Colombia, focusing on the rights of children. The fellowship will provide a continuing means to commemorate Samuel Pisar and his life of scholarship, advocacy and service.

The Oxford Human Rights Hub and Oxford Pro Bono Publico send condolences to Samuel Pisar’s family, and joins in the tributes to this remarkable man. May we be inspired by his example, and play our part in working towards a better world.

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