Faculty, Fellows, Alumni Pay Tribute to Robert L. Bernstein

This year’s Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium included a special, surprise tribute to Bob Bernstein, for whom the Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Fellowships and Bernstein Symposium are named.

Yale Law School faculty, former and current Bernstein fellows, colleagues, alumni, and Bernstein family members gathered for the tribute to Bernstein—a man who has devoted his life to the defense of freedom of expression and the protection of victims of injustice and abuse throughout the world.

The founder and former chair of Human Rights Watch, Bernstein has been a leader in the development of the international human rights movement. In the words of Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Bernstein is “a happy warrior, a visionary leader, and a political genius.”

“Few have expanded the frontiers of human freedom as Bob Bernstein has,” Yale Law School Dean Robert Post ’77 added at the tribute dinner. “He is an American hero, whose remarkable life and generosity are simply beyond description.”

Bernstein served as chairman of the Association of American Publishers (1972-73) and was the founder and chairman of its Committee on International Freedom to Publish (1973-76). He founded the Fund for Free Expression in 1975 and was its chairman until 1990, when he became founding chairman. Bernstein played a leading role in the campaign to protect Soviet Jews. More recently, he has been a strong advocate for respect for human rights in China and is chair of the board of the organization Human Rights in China.

Bernstein’s tremendous contribution to the human rights movement has been complemented by his prominent career as a publisher, which began in 1946 at Simon & Schuster after he graduated from Harvard and served three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He joined Random House in 1957 and became its first vice president in 1962, president in 1966, and chief executive officer one year later. In 1975, he was named chairman of the board and served as chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Random House until 1989. Since 1990, he has been publisher-at-large of John Wiley & Sons and also serves as a publishing consultant to the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Public Library.

The Bernstein Fellowship was established at Yale Law School in 1997 to honor Bernstein as a tireless champion of human rights. Started by Bernstein’s wife Helen and their three sons, Peter, Tom, and William, the fellowship is supported by Bernstein’s family, friends, and colleagues and administered by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.

“For nearly two decades, these programs have been a vital part of the life of our community, carrying forward the causes that have defined this law school since its founding and that have given us an enduring purpose: the ideal of human rights, the value of the rule of law, and, above all, the necessity of service,” Dean Post said.

Watch a video tribute to Bob Bernstein.

View photos of the tribute dinner.