Helfer elected as U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law Laurence Helfer has been elected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Committee for the 2023-2026 term.

The Department of State named Helfer in December 2021 as the U.S. nominee for a position on the international monitoring body. He won the seat in an election at U.N. headquarters in New York on June 17.

“I am honored to be elected to the Human Rights Committee,” Helfer said following his election. “I look forward to serving on an international body that has improved the protection of civil and political rights worldwide. I hope to build on its existing strengths and help to address the challenges it faces.”

The committee is comprised of 18 independent experts charged with monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an influential human rights treaty ratified by 173 state parties. Adopted in 1966, the ICCPR protects universally recognized civil and political liberties and fundamental freedoms including the right to life, liberty, and physical security, the right of due process, and freedom of expression and association.

“Professor Helfer is one of the world’s foremost scholars of international law and human rights, and he has devoted his academic and legal careers to helping safeguard the freedoms of individuals around the globe,” said Sally Kornbluth, then the provost of Duke University, at the time of Helfer’s election.

“His deep expertise in our system of international human rights will be a tremendous asset to the committee and its mission to hold governments accountable for their commitments to protecting civil and political rights.”

Speaking at a June 6 campaign reception for Helfer, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, praised Helfer’s “impeccable” credentials, calling him “one of our country’s brightest and most righteous legal minds.”

“Over the course of his career, he has advanced international human rights law without ever losing sight of why it matters. It’s not only about what is written on paper, he says, but also how people actually experience their rights,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“He stands for what’s right and what the law says — no matter what.”

Helfer is an expert in international law and institutions, international adjudication and dispute settlement, human rights, and international intellectual property law and policy. He has spent his professional career engaging with the international human rights system as a practicing lawyer, scholar, and teacher.

He is co-director, with Jeffrey and Bettysue Hughes Professor of Law Rachel Brewster and Richard Allen/Cravath Distinguished Professor in International Business Law Timothy Meyer, of the Center for International and Comparative Law. A permanent visiting professor at the iCourts: Center of Excellence for International Courts at the University of Copenhagen, he recently completed a four-year term as co-editor-in-chief of the American Journal of International Law.

Helfer is the author, co-author, or editor of six books and author or co-author of more than 100 other publications. His extensive scholarship on international human rights law includes: “Rethinking Derogations from Human Rights Treaties,” 115 American Journal of International Law 20-40 (2021); “Closing International Law’s Innocence Gap,” 95 Southern California Law Review (2021) (co-authored with Duke Law professors Brandon Garrett and Jayne Huckerby); “Walking Back Human Rights in Europe?,” 31 European Journal of International Law 797-827 (2020) (with Erik Voeten); and, with Clare Ryan, “LGBT Rights as Mega-Politics: Litigating Before the ECtHR,” 85 Law & Contemporary Problems 59-93 (2021).

As the principal body monitoring implementation of the ICCPR, the U.N. Human Rights Committee meets three times a year in Geneva. Its main responsibilities are reviewing periodic reports from the state parties, evaluating communications from individuals, and issuing interpretive guidance in general comments.

Extending congratulations from the State Department, which launched a campaign in February 2022 backing Helfer’s election, spokesperson Ned Price said Helfer will bring to the committee “a determined passion to protect and promote civil and political rights.”

“The Human Rights Committee is an important treaty body established under the ICCPR, and the United States views it as a key venue in which American values and perspectives are indispensable,” Price said. “Professor Helfer is known globally as a tireless advocate for human rights, and the United States applauds his election.”

Share this article:

Magazine Cover -- Man sitting at desk on a zoom call on exercise ball with a dog curled up beside him

Spring 2023
Volume 42 No. 1