Humanitarian Justice Goldstone Becomes Honorary Poet

Friday, April 25, 2008

On April 24, Richard J. Goldstone, Justice of the South African Constitutional Court, spent the day at Whittier College, meeting with students and ending his visit by delivering the 2008 Feinberg Lecture. Preceding the lecture, Goldstone was awarded an honorary degree from Whittier College in recognition of his work in the development, protection, and preservation of human rights in countries such as Rwanda, Kosovo, and his native South Africa. 

Goldstone began his day at Whittier College speaking to a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from Broadoaks Children's School. In recent weeks, the young students had been learning about different types of governments and listened attentively as he described life under apartheid.

"Whites and blacks could not go to the same schools, the same hospitals, the same beaches—even the same lines at the post office," he told them, patiently explaining the concept of segregation. Following the talk, Goldstone was peppered with a number of questions, asked everything from what he considered are the qualities of good leadership to his thoughts on the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

Goldstone next spoke to Professor Mike McBride's Model United Nations class about the inner working of the United Nations (U.N.). The class had just returned from the Model U.N. Conference in Northern California and were eager hear his stories. Obliging, he discussed South Africa's transitional period leading to the election of Nelson Mandela as first democratic leader of South Africa. "The U.N. played a crucial rol [Justice Goldstone speaks about apartheid with students from Whittier's Broadoaks Children's School.] e in ending apartheid," he told the class. "But also, the U.S. was looked up to as an example of how democracy should be done."

In a more informal lunch with Model U.N. Secretariat, and later with students and faculty from Whittier Law School, he spoke of his relationship with Nelson Mandela, who he painted as a humble, humorous, and straightforward man.

In fact, he said, it was a personal call from Mandela that convinced him to take the position of criminal prosecutor for the ICC tribunals. "Really, I wasn't qualified. I knew nothing about international laws. And, I knew close to nothing about the former Yugoslavia." But, he said, "It shows, if you apply yourself, you can accomplish things [most] unexpected."
Delivering the public Feinberg Lecture that evening, Goldstone focused on the crucial role the United States played in establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the state of international criminal justice today. "The international community is truly indebted to America," he said, adding that without U.S. economic and political pressure brought to bear, the ICC would not have been as successful in its early days.

At the same time, he cautioned that for the system to remain both fair and effective the United States must continue to support the ICC—support that has largely been lost over the last decade due to changing U.S. policy led by the past two presidents. Looking ahead to another shift in presidential leadership, he is optimistic for an ameliorated relationship between America and the international court. He noted, "It's significant that all three presidential candidates have made public statements that the U.S. should provide active support in those cases that [closely align with] U.S. foreign policy."

Concluding the Justice's visit, he was honored by the president of Whittier College's Jewish Student Union, and by the president of the Whittier Law School student body, both of whom thanked him for his work on the world stage and his willingness to teach others by example and through education and discussion.

*Established by the late Sheldon Feinberg, former trustee of Whittier College, and his wife, Betty, the Feinberg Lecture Series was created to invite major scholars to the College to discuss broad historic, religious, and political issues in a changing world.