Gay McDougall

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Gay J. McDougall (born August 13, 1947 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA) was Executive Director of Global Rights, Partners for Justice (from September 1994 to 2006). In August 2005, she was named the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, serving until 2011.[1]

Early years[edit]

As a child, Gay McDougall was banned from many public places in Atlanta. When she finished high school, McDougall was chosen to be the first black student to integrate Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Looking back on the experiences of her early years, she said “We believed then that our situation was uniquely tragic ... We often looked to the international community with the hope that somehow the world beyond this country operated on different rules…We were both right and wrong.”[2]

Private law career[edit]

After graduating from Yale Law School, she joined the New York City corporate law firm of Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons & Gates.

Non-profit career[edit]

McDougall was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1999 for her "innovative and highly effective" work on behalf of international human rights. In 1998, she was elected to serve as an independent expert on the United Nations treaty body that oversees the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). She was the first American to be elected to the body of 18 international experts who oversee compliance by governments worldwide with the obligations established under the treaty.[3] At its 1996 session, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights elected her to serve a four-year term as a member (alternate) of the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Human Rights commission.

She also served as Special Rapporteur on the issue of systematic rape, sexual slavery, and slavery-like practices in armed conflict, in which capacity she presented a study to the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights that called for international legal standards for prosecuting acts of systematic rape and sexual slavery committed during armed conflict. As Special Rapporteur she also toured Sierra Leone with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to assess the devastating impact the civil war had on civilian populations.

Prior to joining Global Rights, Gay McDougall served as one of five international members of South Africa's 16-member Independent Electoral Commission which successfully organized and administered that country's first non-racial elections. During southern Africa's apartheid era, she was director of the Southern African Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 1980 until early 1994 and gave direct assistance to the defense of thousands of political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia by financing the defense and collaborating with attorneys.

In 1989, McDougall founded the Commission on Independence for Namibia, a bipartisan group of 31 distinguished Americans who monitored in detail the year-long process to independence mandated by the U.N. The Commission intervened to force modifications in critical legislation, such as the voter registration and election laws, which as drafted, threatened the fairness of the election process.

McDougall received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1990.[4]


Gay McDougall earned her JD at Yale Law School and her LLM in public international law at the London School of Economics and Politics. She earned her BA in social science from Bennington College in Bennington, VT.

Other positions[edit]


  1. ^ Website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,, accessed 16 November 2009
  2. ^ "National Human Rights Depend on International Action, Says U.N. Expert",, accessed 16 November 2009
  3. ^ "National Human Rights Depend on International Action, Says U.N. Expert",, accessed 16 November 2009
  4. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 2". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 

External links[edit]