CIP Board of Directors
  • William J. Butler

    William J. Butler chairman, executive committee, International Commission of Jurists

William J. Butler completed his studies at Harvard University in 1946, and received his law degree three years later from New York University. He has served as Staff Counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, where he worked closely with the organization’s founder Roger Baldwin. Mr. Butler twice argued and won landmark civil rights cases before the Supreme Court (Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Kent v. Dulles (1958), and represented Sarah Lawrence University before the Senate’s Jenner Committee, formed to conduct an inquiry into governmental loyalty.

From 1977 to 1999, Mr. Butler convened annual meetings of the principal human rights officials of Western governments to discuss issues of common concern. As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he is best known for his long association with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), where he has served as Chairman of the Executive Committee, and as President of the American Association of the International Commission of Jurists. On behalf of the ICJ, he led human rights missions to Iran, the Philippines, Guatemala, Palau, South Africa, and Uruguay, and he represented the ICJ at the United Nations Social Summit in Copenhagen and the Rome Conference establishing a permanent International Criminal Court. Recently, Mr. Butler served as an ICJ Observer at the Pinochet hearings before the House of Lords and represented the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the trial of Kurdish leader Ocalan in Turkey. In 2000, Mr. Butler was named as the High Commissioner’s Special Regional Advisor on Human Rights for North America.

William Butler has served on many other distinguished boards and committees, among them the Urban Affairs Commission of the American Jewish Congress, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the International League for Human Rights, the League to Abolish Capital Punishment, and the human rights committee of the World Peace through Law Center in Geneva. He is the founder of the Center for the Independence of Lawyers and Judges. Mr. Butler’s impact on the academic world includes co-founding the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program at New York University Law School, and founding the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Throughout his career, William J. Butler has epitomized the traits of the quintessential human rights lawyer – courage, creativity, and tenacity. It was in recognition of these traits that the Urban Morgan Institute established the William J. Butler Human Rights Medal.