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The Advocates Mourns the Loss of David Weissbrodt

November 12, 2021

The Advocates for Human Rights mourns the loss of one of our founders, David Weissbrodt, an international human rights advocate, law professor, mentor, and friend. David has had an extraordinary impact on the international human rights movement, and he was a leader in developing Minnesota's reputation as a global center of human rights activism.

David was instrumental in the creation of The Advocates for Human Rights, originally called the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee. Board Chair, Jim O'Neal, said, "Few people leave legacies as strong and meaningful as Professor Weissbrodt's." In addition to The Advocates, David had a hand in cultivating several important human rights organizations in Minnesota and around the country.

David has also been a mentor to countless students, lawyers, and advocates. Many well-known and well-respected human rights leaders around the world credit David with giving them their start in human rights. Many of The Advocates' staff members were privileged to be his students. They talk about what a great teacher he was, how he inspired a whole generation of human rights activists, and how he is legendary for his effective use of the Socratic method. Amy Bergquist, Senior Staff Attorney at The Advocates and David's former student said, "David's reach was wide not only because of his intellect and legal talents, but also because of his integrity and kindness. He was unceasingly generous with his mentoring, advice, and guidance to students."

David made an indelible impact at the United Nations. He was the first U.S. citizen to chair a UN human rights body since Eleanor Roosevelt, serving on and subsequently chairing the UN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. He later served as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of non-citizens and as a trustee for the UN Trust Fund against Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

But he also understood that human rights here, in small places close to home. Executive Director Robin Phillips remembers, "David not only did the exciting work of starting organizations, he rolled up his sleeves and did the hard work of keeping them going. He never shied away from a difficult challenge. It is no exaggeration to say that The Advocates for Human Rights would not be here without both his vision and his commitment to real world human rights advocacy."

"David opened my eyes to the tremendous impact that international advocacy can have in protecting and promoting human rights," said Jennifer Prestholdt, former student and research assistant, now a Deputy Director at The Advocates. "Through the U of M Human Rights Center, he made it possible for many law students like me to get first-hand experience working with the human rights mechanisms at the UN Office in Geneva. Later, he supported The Advocates' advocacy within the UN human rights system. Almost every time I've been at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, someone has asked me to greet David for them. David had a huge impact on the development of international human rights law, from developing human rights standards for businesses to training UN staff on best practices for human rights." 

"David's work on the rights of non-citizens, monitoring of prison conditions, and trial monitoring guides our work every day," said Michele Garnett McKenzie. "I was introduced to the field of international human rights as an undergrad, when my professor used the first edition of David's textbook and invited him to lecture. When I applied to law school, it was to study human rights at the U of M." 

In addition to these many accomplishments, David won several awards in the human rights arena. These awards include the Twin Cities International Citizen Award (1998), the Outstanding Community Service Award (1999), and The Advocates for Human Rights' Human Rights Award (2003). Such honors have been earned through hard work and reflect David's singular leadership and borderless dedication to both education and human rights.

Amy Bergquist summarized his legacy with a call to action, "David made us better, kinder people, and showed us how we can and must serve the greater cause of human rights. We will continue to honor his legacy by dedicating ourselves to playing some role in advancing that cause."