McGeorge School of Law

International law, human rights scholar to be McGeorge School of Law commencement speaker

March 2, 2020

Harold Hongju Koh

Harold Hongju Koh

One of the nation’s leading legal minds in international law and human rights, Harold Hongju Koh, will be the keynote speaker for University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law’s 2020 commencement.

Koh is a former dean of Yale Law School and currently Sterling Professor of International Law, the highest academic rank at Yale. He also served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under President Bill Clinton and the State Department Legal Adviser under President Barack Obama.

“Professor Koh is among the most prominent legal advocates for human rights and the rule of law in the United States,” said Michael Colatrella Jr., interim dean of McGeorge School of Law. “Having him here to speak to McGeorge’s Class of 2020 and their guests for commencement is very exciting and a great honor, because he has worked from grassroots projects to the highest level of policymaking to influence U.S. and international policy to ensure freedom and dignity for everyone, wherever they are and whomever they are.”

Koh began teaching at Yale Law School in 1985 and served as its 15th dean from 2004 until 2009.

He returned to Yale Law School in 2013 after serving as the legal adviser for the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2013, a service for which he received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award. From 1993 to 2009, Koh was the Gerard C. & Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. And from 1998 to 2001, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Before joining Yale Law School, Koh served as a law clerk for Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Malcolm Richard Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before that he worked as an attorney in private practice in Washington, D.C., and served as an attorney-adviser for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Koh has been recognized for his legal and human rights work with 17 honorary degrees and more than 30 awards, including awards from Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association for lifetime achievements in international law. He has written or co-written eight books, published more than 200 articles and testified before Congress. He has also litigated international law cases in the United States and before international tribunals. Koh, a member of the Council of the American Law Institute, is also a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oxford University, and earned his law degree at Harvard Law School, where he was an editor on the Harvard Law Review.

McGeorge’s commencement is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento.