Biographical Sketch of William J. Butler

William J. Butler

With his contributions spanning over half a century, William J. Butler's name has become synonymous with Human Rights. After his ship was sunk in the Normandy invasion, William Butler met Jane Hays, a volunteer at the center where he was recuperating, and they married shortly thereafter. Ms. Hays' father, the noted civil rights attorney, Arthur Garfield Hays, was to have an enormous, life-long influence on the young William Butler.

William Butler completed his studies at Harvard University in 1946, and three years later received his law degree from New York University. Immediately after law school, he served as Staff Counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, where he worked closely with Roger Baldwin, the organization's founder. Over the course of a distinguished legal career, Mr. Butler twice argued and won landmark civil rights cases before the United States Supreme Court (Engel v. Vitale (1962), "the school prayer case" and Kent v. Dulles (1958), "the passport case."), and represented Sarah Lawrence University before the United States Senate's Jenner Committee formed to conduct an inquiry into governmental loyalty.

Beginning in 1977, Mr. Butler convened annual meetings of the principal human rights officials of Western governments to discuss issues of common concern. As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he was best known for his long association with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), where he served as Chairman of the Executive Committee, and as President of the American Association of the International Commission of Jurists. On behalf of the ICJ, he led human rights missions to Iran, the Philippines, Guatemala, Palau, South Africa, and Uruguay, and he represented the ICJ at the United Nations Social Summit in Copenhagen and the Rome Conference establishing a permanent International Criminal Court. Mr. Butler also served as an ICJ Observer at the Pinochet hearings before the House of Lords and represented the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the trial of Kurdish leader Ocalan in Turkey. In 2000, Mr. Butler was named as the High Commissioner's Special Regional Advisor on Human Rights for North America. In 2001, he convened a worldwide meeting of experts which resulted in the issuance of The Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction.

William Butler served on many other distinguished boards and committees, among them the Urban Affairs Commission of the American Jewish Congress, the New York civil Liberties Union, the International League for Human Rights, the League to Abolish Capital Punishment, and the human rights committee of the World Peace through Law Center in Geneva. He was the founder of the Center for the Independence of Lawyers and Judges. Mr. Butler's impact on the academic world included co-founding the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program at New York University Law School, and founding the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Throughout his career, William J. Butler epitomized the traits of the quintessential human rights lawyer-courage, creativity, and tenacity. It was in recognition of these traits that the Urban Morgan Institute established the William J. Butler Human Rights Medal, the first of which was awarded to Mary Bourke Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on March 9, 2000. On November 10, 2001, the second Butler medal was awarded to four of the major contributors to the creation of the International Criminal Court which came into force on the sixtieth state ratification, in April 2002: Hans Corell, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel of the United Nations; M. Cherif Bassiouni, chairman of the drafting committee, Philippe Kirsch, chairman of the committee of the whole; and William Pace, convenor of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

Selected Publications

Butler, William J. , Bert B. Lockwood, O.A. Solbert and Joseph Tomain. The New South Africa : the Dawn of Democracy : Report of a Mission on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists (New York : American Association for the International Commission of Jurists, 1994)

Butler, William J. , George C. Edwards, and Michael D. Kirby. Palau, a challenge to the rule of law in Micronesia : report of a mission on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists (New York : The Association, 1988)

Butler, William J. and Edwards, George C. Guatemala, a new beginning : report of a mission on behalf of the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists (New York : American Association for the International Commission of Jurists, 1987)

Butler, William J. , John P. Humphrey, and G. E. Bisson. The decline of democracy in the Philippines : a report of missions by William J. Butler, John P. Humphrey, G. E. Bisson (Geneva : International Commission of Jurists, 1977)

Butler, William J. and Georges Levasseur. Human rights and the legal system in Iran : two reports (Geneva : International Commission of Jurists, 1976)