Laureation Address – Justice Edwin Cameron
Justice Edwin Cameron
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Dr Michelle Burgis-Kasthala
School of International Relations
Thursday 21 June 2012
Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Justice Edwin Cameron.
Justice Cameron is a truly inspiring individual to us all, who, in his personal and professional work, has demonstrated an unceasing commitment to the rule of law as well as progressive social change.
After pursuing an illustrious academic career as a student of Classics and Law, including as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Justice Cameron served at the bar between 1983 and 1994 – a time of significant change that saw the demise of apartheid in South Africa.
Both during and after the apartheid era, Justice Cameron has championed the rights of some of South Africa’s most silenced subjects, including gay and lesbian rights campaigners, AIDS survivors, victims of land seizures and displacement, ANC activists charged with treason as well as individuals persecuted for religious and conscientious objection. It was only after this era of profound racism and inequality, however, that human rights work could bring about substantial institutional and social change, especially within the framework of South Africa’s new constitution. Justice Cameron is a strident supporter of the power as well as the responsibility that judges have in being able to speak for those most marginalised. Thus he tells us ‘that the assertion of legal rights, and their vindication by the courts, can fundamentally alter the framework, the terms and the weight of public debate. That in turn enables changes in public policy and decision-making.’
Justice Cameron has fulfilled this mandate amply through almost twenty years in service both as a senior council barrister and a judge. Justice Cameron has sat on South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal, its High Court of Appeal and since 2009, the Constitutional Court – the country’s highest and the forum in which judges have had the greatest successes in contributing to their nation’s legal and moral regeneration.
Despite such an exhaustive and inspiring judicial career, Justice Cameron has managed to find the time to continue many charitable and political causes. Perhaps most important has been Justice Cameron’s indefatigable efforts to bring awareness to his nation’s leaders and policymakers about the reality of AIDS and the many positive medical advances available even to the nation’s poorest. His book, Witness to AIDS, is the memoir of an AIDS survivor and champion of life-saving and life-changing anti-viral drugs, Justice Cameron. It is an example to us all – as students and scholars – of the powerful effect that words can have as spoken both professionally and personally. Indeed, Justice Cameron’s life and work is a reminder to us here today sitting in these privileged confines about the responsibility embodied in the pursuit of education, regardless of the subject.
Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the field of international human rights law, advocacy for AIDS awareness as well as the struggle against apartheid, I invite you to confer on Justice Edwin Cameron the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.