Henigsons endow visiting professorship in Human Rights

During the 30th anniversary of the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program, Professor Gerald Neuman ’80, co-director of the Program, announced the establishment of the Henry J. Steiner Visiting Professorship in Human Rights.  The Law School will invite annually for one semester a professor, judge or advocate who is from and works within a developing country and who engages with human rights issues. These faculty visitors will offer academic courses on human rights.

Robert Henigson ’55 and his wife, Phyllis, endowed the professorship and designated its name in late 2013. Robert Henigson died two months later. For over two decades he had contributed generously to HRP, and was one of its leading supporters.

Henry Steiner ’55 is now the Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law, Emeritus. He founded the Human Rights Program in 1984 and directed it until he became professor emeritus in 2005.  He is a cousin and classmate of Robert Henigson.

Henigson practiced law at the Los Angeles firm of Lawler, Felix, and Hall, where he became a prominent practitioner and the firm’s managing partner. Holding two degrees from Caltech, he came to know organizers of a number of start-up companies, some related to scientific inventions that piqued his interest. His investments in a few of them led to enduring relationships through his service as an adviser, director or board chairman.

After retirement, his concern for public-interest issues and related philanthropic endeavors became the major focus of his work. In addition to human rights, the areas of his concern included affordable housing, the performing arts, the protection of undeveloped land for public access, and everything from childhood education to college scholarships and endowed professorships.

Steiner, who described himself as deeply thankful and honored by the Henigsons’ recent gift, said: “In my view, this professorship holds multiple promises for the school and HRP. I believe this opportunity to teach and study at Harvard will become widely known and sought within the human rights communities of the developing world. It will strengthen the law school’s reputation within those communities as a major center for human rights studies for serious and able students.   The visitors themselves should benefit from encountering different and challenging ideas as well as educational methods.

“From Harvard’s  point of view, the professorship will lead us to become more familiar with developing countries’ rising thinkers and advocates as we consider whom to invite.  These visitors from diverse cultures and strikingly different backgrounds and perspectives on the human rights movement should engage our students and faculty to the educational benefit of both groups. Today we realize that the problems, beliefs and conduct of countries of the developing world must figure importantly in any educational institution seriously exploring human rights. We thereby help to realize a major goal stressed by all our recent deans: HLS should become a more international school.”

Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, who had served as a highly valued adviser to the program for a number of years, said: “By fostering scholarship, engagement with pressing issues, and training in human rights advocacy, Henry Steiner has worked for decades to educate students who have become leaders of the human rights movement. Thanks to Bob and Phyllis’s generosity, this visiting professorship will continue Henry’s legacy by helping to cultivate sustained work in and both critical and constructive perspectives on efforts to advance human rights.”

The Henigsons had earlier funded a postgraduate fellowship program, now in its 13th year, administered by HRP.  The fellowships have helped to launch the careers of former HLS students as human rights scholars, academics, and activists.  Thus far, 35 alumni – two or three annually – have held Henigson Human Rights Fellowships and worked for a year with NGOs located in developing countries around the world, including  Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India and Uganda. Stipends today are in the neighborhood of $27,000.

Henigson Fellows were asked by HRP to reflect on how their fellowship experiences related to their later, ongoing human rights work. Here are some excerpts from their comments:

[The fellowship] has been incredibly important in helping individuals like myself launch their careers in human rights. Perhaps more important, though, is that the fellowship has directly helped the victims of human rights abuses. … I am very sorry to hear about Bob Henigson’s passing, but he will live on through all the amazing work he made possible.

The fellowship was a “tremendous gift and opportunity. It opened a door of possibility for me — I walked through and have never looked back.”

Through the fellowship, “I built relationships with leaders at the forefront of examining and prosecuting gender crimes in the context of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. I’ve been able to apply what I learned at the ICC in my work on women’s rights and human rights in Myanmar.”

“My fellowship allowed me to work on critical human rights issues in [the country] Georgia with local advocates, and to launch my career as a human rights advocate….During my fellowship, my Georgian colleagues were touched that a private donor would support their work in this manner.”

The fellowship gave me ”invaluable experience working in a country grappling with how to deal with human rights abuses perpetrated in a prolonged armed conflict. I have now started down a career path that would not have been possible without Bob and Phyllis Henigson’s support.”

“Bob Henigson’s legacy stretches across the world…. [His] commitment to social justice and equal opportunity has left an indelible impact on young human rights lawyers like me and allowed us to further these values in communities around the globe.”

“After five years of working on human rights and environmental litigation in Latin America, I have recently returned to pursue a PhD in political science at Columbia University. Yet the experience and insights I obtained from my work [as a Henigson fellow] continue to guide and inform my research and career even today.”