Paul van Zyl, who started teaching transitional justice at NYU in 2000, and who long directed the Law School’s Transitional Justice Project, has announced that he will be stepping down at the end of this academic year. “Paul’s contribution to NYU has been extraordinary,” said Philip Alston, co-director of the Law School’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Van Zyl came to the Law School having already served as Executive Secretary to the path-breaking South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1995-1998. Within three years, he and Alex Boraine who was then teaching at NYU co-founded the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), which soon became the leader in this rapidly growing field. “Paul was one of the pioneers in this area, despite his relative youth, and he proved to be a brilliant and much-respected teacher,” said Alston. “A generation of students have learned from him and a great many of them have gone on to work in the area of transitional justice.”
NYU’s Transitional Justice Program combines teaching and research with conferences, student field placements involving work on criminal trials, truth commissions, the design of institutional reforms, and reparations programs in transitional democracies. Paul van Zyl’s courses and seminars examined the conceptual underpinnings of the transitional justice field and explored case studies of particular transitional societies. His teaching received high praise from his many students over the years, and the significant numbers of students competing to take the classes testified to their popularity. Professor Meg Satterthwaite, Faculty Director of NYU Law School’s Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights commented that “Paul van Zyl’s experience and mentorship have provided an invaluable contribution to the Law School and our students.”
Paul van Zyl’s success at NYU reflects his extensive experience in the transitional justice field. He grew up in South Africa during apartheid and zealously fought for justice in his country, including his work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With the ICTJ and in other capacities, van Zyl has worked in more than 35 countries furthering accountability in transitional societies. He also worked as a researcher for the Goldstone Commission, as a department head at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg, and as an associate at Davis Polk and Wardwell in New York.
Van Zyl’s achievements have been recognized in numerous awards and accolades for his work. In 2009 he and Juan Méndez received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, an award bestowed on individuals who eschew the status quo and innovatively address some of the world’s most pressing problems. He also received the 2009 Recent Graduate Award from NYU School of Law, and the Alexander Prize by the School of Law at Santa Clara University. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008, a TED Fellow in 2007, and was listed among the “Top 15 lawyers under 40” by New York Lawyer Magazine in 2001.