International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2012 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law


Rene Cassin (France) (1897 -1976)

Rene Cassin

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

The contributions of Rene Cassin to the cause of international law, particularly international human rights law, are enormous. Probably no single man in history has been associated with so many significant international law and human rights institutions and organizations. His name is associated with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, with the League of Nations after World War I, with the founding of the United Nations, with the operations of UNESCO, with the creation of the European Declaration of Human Rights, with the organization and beginnings of the European Court of Human Rights, with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and with the Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 1968 at the age of 81.

He was born Rene Samuel Cassin in Bayonne, France in 1887, the son of a merchant. He was a star pupil in his high school in Nice, then attended the University of Aix-en-Provence, where he received two degrees, one in the humanities and one in law. In 1914 he was awarded a doctorate in juridical, economic, and political sciences.

His legal career, begun in Paris in 1909 where he was counsel to the Court of Paris, was interrupted by World War I. He was severely wounded in 1916 by shrapnel, and survived his wounds only by the intervention of his nurse mother, who forced doctors to perform surgery on him at a field hospital where she was serving. Recovering from his wounds the same year that he received them, he soon married Simone Yzombard from Marseilles, and moved to Aix-en-Provence to begin a teaching career that lasted until 1960. His legal education career soon took him to the University of Lille and then to the University of Paris. During his legal academic career he lectured widely both in France and in other countries and wrote numerous scholarly articles on various matters of French substantive law.

Cassin also had a judicial career in France as well as in Europe. In France, he served on the Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) which is the highest administrative appellate court, and on the Constitutional Council, which passes on the constitutionality of laws passed by the French Parliament.

During World War II Cassin served as a senior advisor to Charles de Gaulle and participated in the drafting of the Churchill-de Gaulle agreement establishing the legitimate Free French forces headquartered in London before the Allied invasion of France in 1944. He held significant positions within the Free French establishment, including permanent secretary of the Council of Defense of the Empire, National Commissioner of Justice and Public Instruction, president of the Juridical Committee of the Provisional Government, vice-president of the Upper House, and chairman of the legislative committee for the Consultative Assembly in Algiers (government in exile).

After the War Cassin was busy with many international posts. He was a member of the United Nations Commission on Inquiry into War Crimes. He was on five occasions the French delegate to the Assembly of the United Nations, as well as a delegate to UNESCO between 1945 and 1960.

He was also active in the international movement to promote education and the law, serving as president of the French branch of the World Federation of Democratic Jurists, the Society of Comparative Legislation, the International Studies of Administrative Sciences, the International Institute of Diplomatic Studies and Research, and the French Association for the Development of International Law.

Long an advocate of human rights and in particular a forceful advocate for the international status of human rights law, he was the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. He served on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from its beginning in 1946 until 1960. During that period he was both chairman and vice-chairman (twice) of the Commission, serving with Eleanor Roosevelt for part of that time.

He also served as President of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for ten years, and as President of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for two years. The ECHR building in Strasbourg is named after him.

Rene Cassin was associated during his entire adult life with the great humanitarian causes of the 20th Century: the forces of law and the rule of law, disabled veterans, human rights and human rights law, disarmament, international arbitration, and international peace and security. He is not only a leading figure in international law, he is the leading figure in international law in the last century.

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© 2012 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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