Tribute to James Lawson

It is with deep sadness that HURIDOCS has to announce the unexpected passing away on 11 February of James Lawson.

By Bert Verstappen on

James presenting a HuriSearch pilot to CC (Board) members (right to left), Judith Dueck, Kofi Kumado, Aida Maria Noval, ED Manuel Guzman, Aurora Javate De Dios and Jonathan Kuttab.

James had a leading function in the field of information management in the Council of Europe.  In addition, he devoted a huge amount of time and energy to HURIDOCS.

James was a visionary who introduced new tools and techniques for human rights information handling to the HURIDOCS network. He was keen to share his enthusiasm for developments in the field of information management that could and should benefit human rights organisations. He was convinced that, in the age of the Internet, librarians continue to play an important role as information sharers.

A major initiative taken by James was the multilingual human rights search engine HuriSearch. He planned HuriSearch from 1998. HuriSearch provided a singular point of access to information published on over 5’000 websites of human rights organisations worldwide. HuriSearch indexed and crawled about 8 to 10 million web pages.

 It was publicly available from 2003 until 2016.

James was an active and committed member of the HURIDOCS Continuation Committee – as its Board was called for many years. He served on the CC from 1992 to 2009. He was HURIDOCS Treasurer and as leader of the Task Force on Software Development oversaw the development of HURIDOCS’ tools and techniques.

James was also the Coordinator and Chairperson of a large number of meetings of the European Co-ordination Committee on Human Rights Documentation. During these meetings, he introduced advances in technology such as the use of metadata and the eXtended Markup Language XML.

James also provided various trainings on human rights documentation on behalf of HURIDOCS. Among other activities, he trained NGOs in preparing evidence for the Truth Commission in South Africa and was the main resource person in a training for French-speaking African trainers in Senegal. He also held HURIDOCS trainings with local human rights organisations in Burkina Faso, the DR Congo, Georgia, Ghana, Haiti, Indonesia and other countries.

At the personal level, James was kind and generous. He was a good friend, and he had a special temperament that made him easy to be and work with. He was also fun!

HURIDOCS thanks James for his engagement and expertise. We wish strength to Hanne and his daughters.