Remembering Suzan Shabnam Davies 1975–2019

By Professor Katy Barnett

Suzan Shabnam Davies was one of the inaugural editors of the Melbourne Journal of International Law. Professor Katy Barnett pays tribute to her life in the law and education.

The first thing anyone noticed about Suzan Davies (LLB 2000, BA(Hons) 2003) was her vivacious personality, intelligence and compassion. She made a great contribution to the law as an educator, and as an inaugural editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law.

Suzan Shabnam DaviesSuzan Shabnam Davies was one of the founders of the Melbourne
Journal of International Law. Image supplied.

Suzan and I both undertook and completed arts/law degrees at the University of Melbourne in the mid-to-late 1990s. Suzan and some other Melbourne Law School students, Peter Henley, Kalika Jayasekera, Amanda Rologas and Tracey Whiriskey, noticed the need for an international law publication in our region. They became the inaugural editors of the Melbourne Journal of International Law. As they explained in the first edition of that journal, they saw a shortage in academic material dealing with international law in the Asia-Pacific region. The Melbourne Journal of International Law represents a lasting and valuable contribution to the legal academic world, to Australia, and to Melbourne Law School. Next year will be its twentieth anniversary.

Suzan also undertook a Masters degree in International Law at the London School of Economics, completed her articles at Russell Kennedy in Melbourne, worked at the United Nations in the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs, and was associate to the late Justice Hely of the Federal Court of Australia. Later, she became a much-loved teacher at Fintona Girls’ School and then Camberwell Grammar School, where she taught subjects including history, commerce and legal studies.

Suzan’s passion for international law and justice was born from her childhood experiences. She was born on 13 August 1975 in Tehran, Iran, the eldest child of Mahineh and Nouri Aftasi, into a loving and progressive family. Reflecting the views of her parents, Suzan and her brothers, Sam and Cyrus, were raised to be tolerant and open-minded. In 1983, when she was seven years-old, her family fled Iran’s theocratic regime and emigrated to Australia. Her father chose Australia after his experience of studying in the US convinced him that Australia would be a safer place in which to raise his children.

Suzan’s teenage years saw her shuttling back and forth between England and Australia. In 1990, she attended the British School in the Netherlands. It was there that she met her future husband, Paul Davies. Tall, quiet and red-headed, Paul is Suzan’s opposite in many ways, but they made a perfect couple. They were blessed by the arrival of their twins, Yasmin and Dylan.

Suzan’s accomplishments were all the more amazing because of the health problems she suffered throughout her life. When she was 15, Suzan was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given only weeks to live. She underwent aggressive treatment and survived. It recurred again in her 20s, but once Suzan had recovered, she married Paul in London. Unfortunately Suzan then developed breast cancer as a result of previous treatment. She faced her illness with the same bravery she’d faced it with before. The breast cancer metastasised in 2011, but she persevered for the sake of her family and her students. Suzan was determined to see her twins’ thirteenth birthday, and achieved that goal. She spent the remaining few weeks of her life at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where every effort was made to keep her comfortable.

Suzan was an amazing human being, whose passion for the law, learning and justice shone from her. We are all the richer for her contributions to legal learning and knowledge. She is survived by her husband Paul, her children Yasmin and Dylan, her parents Mahineh and Nouri, and her brothers Sam and Cyrus and their families.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 21, June 2019