Human Rights Leader Gay McDougall Joins Center on Race, Law & Justice as Inaugural Senior Fellow and Distinguished Scholar in Residence


The Center on Race, Law & Justice at Fordham Law School is pleased to announce that human rights leader and attorney Gay McDougall has joined as its inaugural senior fellow and distinguished scholar in residence.

A recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award, McDougall has spent her entire career working on issues of race, equity, and justice in the global context.

She has been a leader on human rights within the United Nations for more than three decades, holding several important positions, including as the first UN independent expert on minority issues. She currently serves as vice chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. She also was special rapporteur on the issue of systematic rape and sexual slavery practices in armed conflict for the UN Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights from 1995 to1999, and played a leadership role in the UN Third World Conference against Racism.

McDougall was a member of the South African governmental body created to administer South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial elections in 1994, which resulted in the historic election of President Nelson Mandela and the abolishment of apartheid. Prior to that appointment, she served for 15 years as director of the Southern Africa Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, working closely with South African lawyers to secure the release of thousands of political prisoners from jail. In 2015 the Government of South Africa bestowed on her their national medal of honor for non-citizens, the Order of O.R.Tambo Medal for her extraordinary contributions to ending apartheid.

McDougall received a J.D. from Yale Law School and an LL.M. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has honorary doctor of law degrees from nine universities including Georgetown University Law Center, Emory University School of Law, the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the University of London.

In addition to the MacArthur, McDougall’s years of service and instrumental role in human rights advocacy has been recognized by honors such as the Butcher Medal of the American Society of International Law for outstanding contributions to human rights law and the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. McDougall is currently a member of the faculty of the Oxford University Master of International Human Rights Law Program. She has also served as the Father Robert F. Drinan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Georgetown University School of Law, and the 2013 Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor in International Law at Fordham Law School.

Since 2013 McDougall has been distinguished scholar in residence with the Leitner Center on International Law and Justice, a position that will be synergetic with the work of the Center on Race, Law & Justice.

In her role as senior fellow and distinguished scholar, McDougall will provide critical expertise and insights as a world-renowned human rights leader and attorney on the Center on Race, Law & Justice’s mission of promoting public discourse, research, scholarship, and understanding of issues of race and structural inequality across the globe.


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