On January 7, Gay McDougall, distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice and Center for Race, Law and Justice, was presented with the inaugural Nelson Mandela Award at the 2023 Association of American Law Schools annual meeting.
The award, presented by the AALS’s Section on International Human Rights, recognizes “an outstanding law teacher or teachers, or other individuals who, in the course of their career, have made an exceptional contribution to international human rights.”
“Few embody the values and spirit of Nelson Mandela as does Professor McDougall,” read an announcement from the AALS, noting McDougall’s work on apartheid law in South Africa.
After graduating from Yale Law School and receiving her LL.M. from the London School of Economics in Public International Law, McDougall’s work brought her to South Africa in the 1990s. There, she led the Southern African Project for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and was appointed to South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, which successfully organized the country’s first post-apartheid elections, in which Mandela was elected president.
McDougall has worked on public interest law and international human rights law issues with numerous organizations, most notably the United Nations. She has held positions such as special rapporteur to the UN Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, independent expert on minority issues for the UN Human Rights Commission, and member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which she was renominated last year by President Biden and elected by 144 member states of the UN General Assembly.
Since 2014, McDougall has been a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Fordham Law, and was previously the Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Law. She has also taught at the Oxford University LL.M. program in Human Rights, Georgetown University Law Center and American University’s Washington College of Law.
McDougall’s work in international human rights has been recognized with numerous awards, including the coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1999, the Butcher Medal from the American Society of International Law in 2011, the Louis B. Sohn Award for Public International Law from the ABA International Law Section in 2021 and the Order of O.R. Tambo Medal, South Africa’s national medal of honor for non-citizens, in 2015. She has received nine honorary degrees.
“I am thrilled to have been chosen to receive the inaugural Nelson Mandela Award from the international law section of the AALS,” said McDougall. “During the 20 years that I worked against apartheid with South African lawyers, it never occurred to me that I would ever meet Nelson Mandela and have an opportunity to work with him as I did. And it certainly never occurred to me that many years later, I would receive an award that identifies me and my work with all that his name symbolizes. This, to say the least, is humbling.”