M. Cherif Bassiouni was a champion of human rights
who fought torture, war crimes and genocide around the globe.
A longtime DePaul University law professor, Mr.
Bassiouni died Monday at his Streeterville home. He was 79 and had
Over the years, he held 22 United Nations
appointments, and he assisted on the Camp David peace accords,
according to Daniel Swift, a lawyer who worked with him.
Benjamin Ferencz, who at 98 is the last surviving
prosecutor from the Nuremberg war crimes trials, said Monday that
Mr. Bassiouni “was a real contributor to international criminal law
and the rule of law to protect human rights.”
Bianca Jagger, founder and president of the
London-based Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, called Mr.
Bassiouni “a champion of justice.
“Cherif Bassiouni was one of the most courageous,
knowledgeable and determined people I have ever met . . . someone
who went after and investigated what happened in Bosnia and
Srebrenica,” Jagger said.
In Bosnia, Mr. Bassiouni worked on a “monumental
effort that documented mass killings, human rights abuses. . . . and
resulted in the prosecution of hundreds including” Serbian President
Slobodan Milosevic, said Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American
In a 1999 Chicago Sun-Times interview, he said he
thought his work contributed to a 1995 heart attack. For two years,
he spent two weeks out of each month at a U.N. field office in
Geneva and a week conducting field operations in the former
Yugoslavia. His team identified 151 mass graves.
“Emotionally, it was devastating,” he said,
“especially as a result of the interviews that we conducted with the
Born in Cairo, he was the son of Ibrahim
Bassiouni, an Egyptian diplomat to India. His grandfather, Mahmoud
Ibrahim Bassiouni, helped lead the 1919 revolt against British rule,
according to Swift. Mr. Bassiouni served in the Egyptian army in the
1956 Suez War.
He was educated at the University of Cairo,
received a law degree from Indiana University, did further legal
studies at John Marshall Law School and got a doctorate of law from
George Washington University. He was a founding member of the
International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul, where he started
In 1972, he helped found the Siracusa
International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in
Italy. “His vision of international justice inspired students and
teachers throughout the world,” Ferencz said.
Though serious, Mr. Bassiouni showed a lighter
side in Siracusa when he faced off against other professors and
students in a badminton game. Mr. Bassiouni’s team kept winning,
Ferencz said, because “he brought in some ringers from the Chicago
He was a consultant to the State Department on the
American hostages held captive by Iran in 1979 and 1980.
He is survived by his wife Elaine
Klemen-Bassiouni, stepdaughter Lisa Capitanini and two
grandchildren. A public memorial is being planned, Swift said.
Ferencz held Mr. Bassiouni in such high esteem
that he bestowed on him a medal which once belonged to Vespasian
Pella, Romanian ambassador to the League of Nations who in the 1930s
called for an international court for criminal cases.
“When Pella died, I was still in Europe working on
the Nuremberg trials and compensation for the victims,” Ferencz
said, “and I visited his widow, and she gave me a medal” belonging
to Pella. “I accepted it, but when Cherif ended his tenure at the
International Association of Penal Law, I flew down to Budapest and
gave him the medal.”
“I said, ‘Let the one who has done the most for
international law have this medal.’ ”