Vale Dr Samuel Pisar AO

The Melbourne Law School community is mourning the loss of alumnus and champion of human rights Dr Samuel Pisar AO (LLB(Hons) 1954) whose death on July 27 was announced this morning.

Sir Zelman Cowen with Dr Samuel Pisar AO

Sir Zelman Cowen with Dr Samuel Pisar AO at a Melbourne Law School event in 2007. Photo credit: Rillon/SIPA

A renowned international lawyer, Dr Pisar's drive to defend the rights of others was born out of his experience as a child prisoner in Nazi death camps.

Dean of Melbourne Law School Professor Carolyn Evans said Dr Pisar's death would be felt far beyond the walls in which he formed the basis of his legal education.

"Dr Pisar's influence and reputation in the international sphere of human rights law and advocacy is as deserved as it is inspiring. To overcome such barriers of his childhood and then succeed is his relentless petition for justice for those less fortunate is remarkable."

"The Melbourne Law School wishes to send its condolences to his family and friends and pay tribute to this extraordinary man."

Born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1929, Dr Pisar witnessed his parents and younger sister die at the hands of Nazis before suffering two years of Soviet oppression and four years of Nazi slavery in Majdanek, and later Auschwitz and Dachau.

He survived the Holocaust by escaping during a death march at 16, and in the rubble of post-war Europe was sent to Melbourne to live with family a year later.

He attended George Taylor and Staff School (now Taylors College) before earning a scholarship to obtain a law degree from the University of Melbourne, where he met and was mentored by the great Sir Zelman Cowen.

Following this, Dr Pisar left Australia to earn doctorates at both Harvard and the Sorbonne.

In 2012, reflecting on his time in Australia, Dr Pisar said, "I owe a tremendous debt to the University of Melbourne, Taylors College and all my relatives and friends in that blessed country."

Later in the 1950s, Dr Pisar became Australia's intern at the United Nations in New York, and then worked as legal counsel at UNESCO in Paris.

In later decades, he was granted US citizenship following work on President John F Kennedy's Task Force on Foreign Economic Policy, before opening a highly successful law office in Paris where he practised as an international lawyer specialising in multinational corporations.

His work also included strengthening cultural and commercial links between the East and West and providing support to Soviet dissidents and human rights campaigners.

He was nominated and short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, and continued to work as a defender of freedom and human rights, representing minorities and other oppressed groups across the world throughout his career.

His life's work was recognised by leaders including former US President Bill Clinton and former French President Jacque Chirac, and in 2012 he was made a UNESCO Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education.

Fifty-five years after his graduation from Melbourne Law School, in 2008, Dr Pisar was conferred with one of the University's highest honours, the Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).