A tribute to former ICJ Commissioner José Zalaquett by current ICJ Commisioner Alejandro Salinas Rivera (Chile).
After a prolonged and agonizing illness, our beloved José (Pepe) Zalaquett has passed away. Pepe, as his friends used to call him and as he was widely known, was a leading lawyer and professor of international human rights law.
However, he was much more than that. At heart, he was a gentle man, a curious and pleasant human being, very sensitive to the expressions of art.
As a lawyer and later as a law professor, he was characterized by his deep commitment to justice and respect for human rights.
This commitment also brought adverse consequences in his life, as he suffered persecution, jail and exile, during the Chilean dictatorship.
While in exile and away from his homeland, he joined Amnesty International, and soon after became the president of its board of directors.
Upon returning to Chile after 10 years of exile, he headed the Chilean section of Amnesty International, in what were strenuous times for the country.
Once democracy was re-established in Chile, he became part of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, known as the “Rettig” Commission. However, it should have been called the “Zalaquett” Commission instead, since he was the architect of the initiative which was later emulated in South Africa, El Salvador and other countries, which initiated similar processes.
Pepe, because of his strict commitment to justice and his veritable concern for the protection and promotion of human rights, was not confined in dogmas or prejudices; he was so generous, open and free minded that he would not settle for anything less than the best. This at times made him a quixote, facing solo against windmills.
Pepe was a lover of life, a sensitive soul and an art aficionado. He had an opinion over almost all artistic disciplines. He regularly wrote art columns and his reviews were very reputed.
Pepe was one of those humans who are scarce and yet essential for our society. He was a complex and wholesome personage, who left his mark after his demise.
He left behind a generation of spirited students and disciples trained at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Chile, of which he was a co-Director, who will undoubtedly continue his legacy in human rights.
But even more, he left an impression, a way of doing things, an impalpable legacy that is quintessential for the times to come. Intellectual honesty, sensitivity and empathy towards the victims along with ethical austerity and geniality, are part of the legacy that Pepe leaves behind after passing through this life.
The ICJ feels privileged as an institution to count Pepe Zalaquett among its commissioners. His departure indisputably, is an irredeemable loss, but at the same time we are proud and grateful to have shared a common cause with him.
José, Pepe, thank you very much …