The Advocates for Human Rights Mourns the Loss of Tom Johnson
Wednesday, June 10, 2020 4:50 PM

It is with great respect, appreciation and sadness, The Advocates for Human Rights mourns the passing of one of our founders, Tom Johnson.   


Johnson played an important leadership role in The Advocates’ early years. Former executive director, Barbara Frey said, “Tom's leadership style was characterized by compassion and integrity. For me, Tom Johnson represented the best in public service, and working with him made me proud to be part of this community.” 


Johnson’s work for The Advocates includes development of international legal standards detailing the duty of governments to prevent, investigate and initiate legal proceedings after a suspicious and unlawful death, as well as the guidelines for effective investigations. These standards were adopted by the United Nations and the guidelines are now known as the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. The Minnesota Protocol has been cited as the yardstick for conducting investigations by international human rights bodies, regional bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and also national courts in India, Australia and other countries.   


In addition to his work with The Advocates and other important community organizations, Johnson has a long history of public service, including serving as the Hennepin County Attorney and a member of the Minneapolis City Council. Johnson also worked as a private lawyer at Gray Plant Mooty where he practiced in the areas of government relations and public law. In 2018 he was recognized for Outstanding Service to the Profession through the Minnesota Lawyer Attorneys of the Year awards. 


Judge Tom Fraser, also a founder of The Advocates, describes Tom Johnson as “the ultimate public servant . . . his selfless approach, persistence, and hard work made things happen.  He was a doer, not a talker, who was universally respected and admired for his integrity, judgment, and wisdom. Tom’s wife, Victoria, was alongside him in these efforts. In these times of social unrest, we need more people like Tom and Victoria promoting social justice and human rights.”     


For nearly five decades, Johnson has committed his time and energy to improving the world. Through private practice, public service, and pro bono work, Johnson has impacted the lives of so many – individuals and organizations – and bettered society along the way.  “We are so grateful for Tom’s commitment to human rights and social justice. Tom’s and the other founders’ original vision that we all have a part to play in making human rights a reality still guides the work we do today at The Advocates.”