Andrea Durbach


Growing up, being educated and practising law in apartheid South Africa made me very aware of the strained relationship between law and justice, despite their alleged connection. Coming to live in a solid democracy (Australia), I was amazed, perhaps naively, that the law was still used to undermine justice and strip people of their rights. And so the challenge for me continues - to remind law of its ‘noble aspiration’ and through my work, to nudge it closer to justice, hopefully changing lives for the better.

Andrea Durbach

Born and educated in apartheid South Africa, Andrea practised as a political trial lawyer and human rights advocate, representing victims and opponents of apartheid laws.  In 1988 she was appointed solicitor to 25 black defendants in a notorious death penalty case in South Africa and later published an account of her experiences in Upington (Allen & Unwin 1999) which was short-listed for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction Award.  In the case of the Upington 25, the judge (there being no jury system in South Africa) applied the ‘common purpose doctrine’ and convicted 25 accused of the murder of one man, a black policeman; 14 of her clients were sentenced to death and her barrister, Namibian human rights advocate, Anton Lubowski, was assassinated a few months later. Soon after Anton’s murder, Andrea came to live in Australia returning to South African to conduct the appeal of the 25 in 1991; 21 of the 25 murder convictions were overturned and all the death sentences were commuted. The story of the Upington 25 has been made into a documentary, A Common Purpose, which won the 2011 Sydney Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary. Since arriving in Australia, Andrea has continued her fight for the rights of others, through her involvement and leadership in many organisations including: the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal and the NSW Law Reform Commission, and as Director of UNSW’s Australian Human Rights Centre. She is currently a member of the board of the NSW Legal Aid Commission, the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Human Rights and the Advisory Council of Jurists of the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. In May 2011, Andrea took up a 6 month part-time appointment as Deputy Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Photographer: Diane Macdonald
Location: University of New South Wales

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