Celebrating a rights champion at Rutgers-Camden

Posted: May 02, 2012

During more than 40 years as a professor and practitioner of international law, Roger S. Clark has occasionally asked himself this question.

What’s a little boy from Wanganui doing here?

Wanganui (wong-a-noo-ee) is the New Zealand city where Clark, 71, grew up. And “here” could be his office at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden, the United Nations headquarters in New York, or the International Court of Justice in the Hague, where he once got 30 minutes to make a case against nuclear warfare.

“I’ve written a lot of stuff and I’ve spoken a lot of places,” explains Clark, who lives in Haddonfield when not traveling the world in the cause of victims of genocide, torture, and war crimes.

“I’m a teacher, mostly. The rest of it comes with the package.”

Coming from someone who has earned six degrees and written 10 books, the modesty is striking.

Perhaps it arises from a modest background; Clark, whose father ran a bacon factory, was the first member of his family to go to college.

After earning a law degree from Victoria University of Wellington, he worked as a “very young attorney” in the foreign affairs office of the New Zealand government, then for the United Nations.

Eventually, his work on behalf of the government of Samoa helped to establish the International Criminal Court, which cited some of his writings in the court’s historic first conviction, of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, in March.

“We have to make a statement that certain things are bad, and we’re not tolerating them,” Clark says.

A lanky, affable fellow with a pungent Kiwi accent and a robust laugh, Clark was named a Rutgers Board of Governors Professor for his teaching and research contributions in 1998.

And in April, colleagues, alumni, friends and family — Clark’s wife, Amelia H. (“Amy”) Boss, teaches law at Drexel University — celebrated his 40th anniversary of teaching at the law school. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), a former student, was among the 200 guests.

“Roger has displayed exemplary commitment to teaching, community service, and research,” says Rayman Solomon, dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Camden.

“I admire tremendously Roger’s combination of tenacious advocacy for human rights, careful legal analysis, and humor. He has been a wonderful colleague,” says Beth Stephens, a professor of law at Rutgers-Camden and the keynote speaker at the gala.

“It seems I’ve been around here the longest and 40 has a nice ring to it,” Clark says.

When he arrived in Camden in 1972, the law school “was basically new.” So was the notion of teaching about international human rights.

Despite the horrors of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, there was not yet a global consensus, much less a body of law, about prosecuting violations across international borders.

“Organizations like Amnesty International were aggressively pursuing international campaigns on such topics as torture and the death penalty,” notes Clark, who insisted such issues be included in Rutgers’ law school curriculum.

“It was an exciting time to be here,” he recalls. “We wanted to be the Berkeley of the East, or the Columbia of the South. We didn’t quite make it, but we’re a fine public institution.”

He finds the proposed merger with Rowan University troubling, particularly because it seems so “casual” in nature.

He does believe a better proposal will emerge.

“I’m a negotiator at heart,” Clark says. “I’m always convinced there’s a deal to be made.”

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists’ blog, “Blinq,” at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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