Human rights US activist gets honorary doctorate from School of Advanced Study

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Gay J McDougall (left), a leading international human rights activist, scholar and lawyer is to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of London in this year’s School of Advanced Study’s graduation ceremony.

Currently vice-chair and member of the UN treaty body that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Fordham University School of Law in New York, she will receive a Doctor of Laws honoris causa at Senate House on 7 December.  

Also the chair of the International Council of Minority Rights Group International, an international NGO, Ms McDougall’s extensive UN experience and commitment to justice for minority communities is unparalleled. From 2005 to 2011 she was the first UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues. Between 1997 and 2001, while a member of the treaty body on racial discrimination, she negotiated the adoption of ‘General recommendation XXV on the gender dimensions of racial discrimination’, which requires governments to report explicitly on the situation of women suffering racial discrimination.

She played a special role in securing the release of thousands of political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia and was appointed to the electoral commission that ran the first democratic elections in South Africa that ended apartheid and installed Nelson Mandela as president. In 2015, the Government of South Africa bestowed on her their national medal of honour for non-citizens, the Order of the Companions of O.R.Tambo, for her extraordinary contributions to ending apartheid. From 1980 until early 1994, during the apartheid era, Ms McDougall was director of the Southern African Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It supported thousands of political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia. 

Among Ms McDougall’s many international roles was as Special Rapporteur on the issue of systematic rape and sexual slavery practices in armed conflict for the UN Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (1995–99). She also played a leading role in the third UN World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. From 1994–2006 she was executive director of the international NGO Global Rights, which worked with human rights groups in more than 10 countries.

‘I am thrilled to receive this honour from the University of London’ says Ms McDougall, who has an LLM from LSE and whose achievements are celebrated in the University of London’s Leading Women campaign.

Her recent academic positions include the Faculty Member, Master’s in International Human Rights Law Programme, University of Oxford, Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor in International Law at Fordham Law School (2013), and Professor in the annual Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University (2010 and 2012). From 2011–12 she was the Robert Drinan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Washington’s Georgetown University Law Center.

Ms McDougall holds honorary doctorates from the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), Emory University, Georgetown University School of Law, City University of New York Law School, Pomona College, Agnes Scott College and Kalamazoo College.

‘The School of Advanced Study and the University of London are delighted to offer Gay an honorary doctorate,’ says Professor Rick Rylance, the School’s dean and chief executive.

‘Her academic distinction speaks for itself, and her record as a tireless champion of human rights is outstanding by any measure. Her work on the international stage is an example to all. The School is particularly delighted as her work chimes so well with the School’s own Human Rights Consortium and Refugee Law Initiative. It is an honour to welcome her.’


Notes to Editors:

1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653  /

2. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 786 research fellows and associates, held 2,007 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 24.4 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 194,145 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

3. The University of London is a federal university and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the university is recognised globally as a world leader in higher education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, and nine research institutes. Learn more about the University of London at