As a law student at johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, Richard Goldstone confronted apartheid head-on, becoming an outspoken leader in the battle to keep race segregation off the country's campuses. Two decades later, Goldstone faced a moral quandary: he was offered an appointment as a Supreme Court judge charged with enforcing the laws of the land. He decided to take the job and fight apartheid from within. If he couldn't change the law, he would find legal ways to challenge it.
Challenge it he did. In 20 years as a judge in South Africa and an investigator into human rights abuses there and in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, Goldstone has used the law to unearth, punish and occasionally seek reconciliation for some of recent history's most heinous misdeeds. Last month Goldstone published a memoir, For Humanity: Reflections of a War Crimes Investigator (Witwatersrand University Press; 152 pages). It may not include much drama and violence, but a lot happens.
Take Goldstone's November 1982 ruling that people of color could not be ejected from a designated "white" residential area if they had no alternative accommodation; the decision effectively demolished a pillar of racial segregation. In another decision, he ordered the security police to return seized material to the Release Mandela Campaign, which was regarded by the police as a front for the banned African National Congress. He also insisted on visiting thousands of political activists in detention without trial — probably saving many of them from assault or torture.
In the period that the South African government was negotiating a new political dispensation with Nelson Mandela and the A.N.C., Goldstone headed a commission of inquiry into public violence and intimidation that proved beyond doubt the involvement of the security forces in "third force" activities aimed at aborting the peace process. The Goldstone Commission produced enough evidence of human rights abuses during the final apartheid years to justify the establishment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As the Truth Commission in South Africa was unearthing the horrors of apartheid, Goldstone took his crusade for justice farther afield. From 1994 to 1996 he was chief prosecutor of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and last year he headed a new, independent inquiry into the Kosovo crisis.
Now a judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court, Goldstone says his greatest ambition is to see the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court that will put perpetrators on trial for crimes against humanity. He has lots of other thoughts on the subject. Goldstone spoke to Time at his Cape Town home.
On the Goldstone Commission: "Obviously it only scratched the surface of what had been going on. But it was sufficient to take the rug out from under the feet of the De Klerk government in opposing the establishment of a Truth Commission. They could no longer say there was nothing to investigate."
On the Truth Commission: "There were some imperfections and room for criticism. But its greatest achievement was that it has written a single history for South Africa. That is what South African children are going to be taught."
On the U.N. tribunals: "They proved that international courts can hold fair trials and that they can advance humanitarian law. They also showed that there is no longer impunity for war criminals."
On establishing an International Criminal Court: "It's going to happen in two or three years at the most, even though it's going to be seriously weakened by the nonparticipation of the United States [which fears malicious prosecutions against U.S. citizens]. It's a sort of schizophrenia in the U.S. that it doesn't mind putting other people in an international criminal court but not its own citizens. I think the U.S. will eventually come on board. It will be a bumpy road, but it's going to be covered."
On Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic: "He's been indicted as the person most responsible for the terrible things that happened in Kosovo. It disappoints me deeply that the international community has allowed Yugoslavia back into the U.N. without making it a condition that all criminals be handed over."
On war crimes: "You've got to separate them from other forms of criminality. War crimes clearly have to be rooted out and people have to be brought to justice. What I'm very strongly against is closing the book on the past and pretending it didn't happen."