John Dugard was raised in South Africa by parents who had been teachers on a missionary school station, his father a headmaster at a school attended by Nelson Mandela. From an early age, he was taught to believe that people of all races deserved respect. At school and in the environment in which he grew up, respect for one’s fellow citizen was essential. Holding degrees in law from Stellenbosch University and Cambridge University, Professor Dugard served from 1978 to 1990 as director of the University of Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which seeks to promote human rights in South Africa. He was an outspoken critic of apartheid and, through his writing and teaching, helped challenge the injustice of apartheid law. He was influential in the development of a cadre of young human rights lawyers who went on to represent victims of apartheid, challenge apartheid laws, and help assert the rule of law and respect for constitutionalism in post-apartheid South Africa. He participated in the constitutional negotiations that led to the adoption of a constitution based on human rights.
Since the collapse of apartheid, Professor Dugard has remained active in human rights issues internationally. He became a member of the UN’s International Law Commission in 1997 and served as its Special Rapporteur on Diplomatic Protection from 2000 to 2006. He also served as Judge ad hoc in the International Court of Justice (2002-8) and Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories (2001-8). Professor Dugard sees much cause for pessimism in this region of the world but recalls that, in South Africa, it was thought that only a civil war would solve its problems. Then, however, Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk reached an agreement that led to a democratic South Africa. Professor Dugard believes that one of the difficulties facing the Middle East is an absence of leadership on both sides – a requirement for achieving a solution through direct talks. In general, he sees the most serious human rights problem in the world today as no longer being race but rather the growing divide between Islam and the West. He believes it essential, and not at all impossible, that common ground be found. What it will require is greater understanding on the part of both the West and the Islamic states and a willingness to acknowledge the tensions that exist and do all that can be done to overcome them. Professor Dugard sees the United Nations as an important player in the human rights movement but adds that it needs to be perpetually concerned about lapses in respect for human rights in different parts of the world and particularly concerned about the double standards employed by both the West and the developing world in protecting their own member states at all costs.
An academic and a writer, Professor Dugard was Chair of Public International Law at the University of Leiden from 1998 to 2006 and is currently a Professor of Law in the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria. He was Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Witwatersrand and has held visiting faculty positions in Australia and England and at several universities in the United States, including Princeton, Duke, UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Dugard also holds several honorary doctorates of law from schools such as University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and University of Witwatersrand. He has written several books on apartheid, human rights and international law, and has coauthored textbooks on criminal law and procedure and international law. His publications include Human Rights and the South African Legal Order (1978); The Last Years of Apartheid: Civil Liberties in South Africa, with Nicholas Haysom and Gilbert Marcus (1992); and International Law: A South African Perspective 3rd Edition (2006). Throughout his career, he has championed the development of international law, including international human rights law, and is widely respected around the world.