Gabrielle Kirk McDonald

Doctor of Laws

One of the most influential judges of our day, you have fought for the highest standards of justice in war and peace, at home and internationally. As president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, you oversaw the first court to hear war crimes cases since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after World War II. In presiding over the first international case to define rape as a war crime, you helped create legal precedents for how the world deals with violence against civilians.

"Some people," you have said, "find it hard to understand why we should spend our limited time and resources on atrocities committed half a world away." Yet, you argue, the same hate and intolerance "can lead to such heinous acts anywhere." In one of your last acts as chief justice of the international tribunal, you chastised the U.N. Security Council for ignoring its responsibility to compel Serbia and Croatia to turn over suspected war criminals.

The first African-American to hold a federal district court judgeship in Texas, and the third African-American woman in the nation to hold such a position, you built your reputation at the state level for being tough on hate crimes. During one high-profile case, brought by immigrant Vietnamese fishermen against Ku Klux Klan harassment, you and your family endured death threats and were sent one-way tickets to Africa.

First in your class at Howard University Law School, you joined a crusading young band of lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, winning one of the first legal victories against employment discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In your current position as consultant on human rights with Freeport-McMoRan, an international mining enterprise, you have focused your deep convictions on protecting workers' fundamental freedoms, recognizing that multinational corporations can be powerful agents of positive change. Amherst honors you for your steadfastness in the cause of justice.

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