Tributes flood in for human rights defender Jonathan Cooper OBE, one year after his death

Jonathan Cooper OBE

Tributes have been flooding in for human rights defender Jonathan Cooper OBE, one year after he died suddenly at just 58 years old.

Cooper, an international human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers and former director of the Human Dignity Trust, died suddenly while walking in Scotland with his husband Kevin Childs on 18 September 2021.

Childs marked the anniversary of his late husband’s death by returning to Scotland with loved ones and creating a cairn in his memory, where in future a memorial will stand.

Throughout his career, Cooper fought relentlessly to defend the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, spearheading the 2012 landmark case that challenged Jamaica’s colonial-era “buggery” laws in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, representing a lesbian couple in their battle to legalise same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands, fighting against horrific homophobic laws in Uganda, and pushing for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church of England, among endless other achievements.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, the founding head of Doughty Street Chambers, said in a statement: “We in his chambers at Doughty Street and the human rights community at large will need no reminding that this Sunday (18 September) is the anniversary of the death of our dear colleague, Jonathan Cooper, a great champion of all Human Rights.

“I know from talking with friends and colleagues in chambers and beyond how greatly we all still miss Jonny’s warm and generous presence, his irrepressible humour and his pioneering work for LGBTQ rights, his tireless championship of the European Human Rights Convention and his fearless and courageous advocacy against discrimination and oppression throughout the world.

“Our hearts go out to Jonny’s family and his wonderful husband Kevin at this sad time.”

Throughout his life, Cooper was heavily involved with HIV/ AIDS activism, and his first job was as AIDS coordinator for the Haemophilia Society.

Christine Stegling, executive director of Frontline AIDS, where Cooper was chair of the ambassadors’ network, said: “Jonathan was a passionate and tireless defender of LGBT+ people around the world, advocating for people who were criminalised for being who they are.

“He was also a real champion for Frontline AIDS and the work we do. We will forever be indebted to his generous and feisty support of our human rights and HIV work.

“Jonathan’s resolute activism continues to drive our commitment to highlight rights violations, demand equality and seek justice; there is no better way for us to celebrate his life and continuing legacy.”

Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation and friend of Cooper’s, told PinkNews: “The last year has been such a challenging one without Jonny’s guidance, advice and contagious energy.

“He has been sorely missed by so many of his friends and colleagues, and we can only begin to imagine the devastation his husband Kevin must still feel.

“He was instrumental in helping me set up the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, and whilst we have sought to carry on our work in setting out to parliamentarians the legal justification for a full ban with no loopholes, I have frequently lamented the fact that I could not turn to him for his wisdom and support.

“I know he would have been appalled by much that has happened throughout this difficult year, particularly in relation to decisions from the increasingly politicised Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as the former Prime Minister’s decision to exclude trans people from the protections of a ban on conversion therapy.

Jonny was a force for good, who was compelled by his core belief in the dignity and worth of each one of us. We owe him so much and I for one am truly thankful that I had the privilege of counting him as a close friend and having the life-changing opportunity to learn from him.”

In February this year, a memorial service for Cooper at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by mourners including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who described him as the “most passionate force of nature that many of us have ever known with a sense of justice and injustice that wasn’t confined to just the law“.

In Cooper’s memory, loved ones have set up fundraisers for AIDS Memory UK (AMUK) here and for Cooper’s husband Kevin here.