Childhood & Early Life
Jacques Vergès was born on March 5, 1925 in Ubon Ratchathani, part of Rattanakosin Kingdom in Siam. His mother was Pham Thi Khang, an ethnic Vietnamese woman, while his father, Raymond Vergès, was a French diplomat. His mother died when he was 3 years old.
Jacques spent the majority of his childhood in Reunion, the French island. He had a twin brother named Paul. As a young boy, his father taught him how to throw stones at older bullies.
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In 1942, at age 17, the adolescent lad traveled to England to join the ‘Free French Forces’ led by Charles de Gaulle. He then fought as part of the anti-Nazi resistance forces.
In 1945, Vergès joined the ‘French Communist Party’. Later in the same year, he enrolled at the ‘University of Paris’, studying law.
He became president of the ‘Association for Colonial Students’ (AEC), in 1949. He thus met fellow AEC member Pol Pot.
In 1950, moved to Prague to lead a Communist youth organization. There he met Erich Honecker and Alexander Shelepin.
Vergès then moved to France in 1954 to pursue a career as a lawyer. He quickly gained infamy for his eagerness to take on controversial cases.
The budding lawyer first obtained national fame in 1957 after agreeing to represent Djamila Bouhired, a woman facing terrorist charges for her alleged connection to the bombing death of 11 people in Algeria. Although she was convicted and sentenced to death, she was later pardoned and freed following public outcry generated by Vergès.
In 1960, Jacques was sent to jail and had his law license stripped for "anti-state activities". After two months, he was freed and his license was reinstated.
In 1962, the lawyer obtained citizenship in newly-independent Algeria. He then changed his first name to Mansour, the Arabic name meaning 'Victorious'.
In 1968, Vergès and his wife founded a magazine entitled 'Revolution'.
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In 1970, the legal executive mysteriously disappeared from public view. He left his wife and cut off all ties with friends and family for eight years. He has never explained his activities during this period.
After returning to practice law in France in 1978, he defended a number of individuals accused of terrorism, including Georges Ibrahim Abdallah and members of the ‘Baader Meinhof gang’.
In 1982, he defended Magdalena Kopp, the romantic partner of the terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as ‘Carlos the Jackal’. Twelve years later, the attorney briefly worked on Sanchez's defense team.
In 1987, he achieved worldwide notoriety after defending Nazi leader Klaus Barbie. Barbie was later convicted on 341 charges of crimes against humanity.
In 1999, the legal practitioner sued ‘Amnesty International’ for his client, the government of Togo. The Togolese government was upset about the non-profit's report on Togolese governmental massacres ahead of local elections.
He sued an author of a book, in 2001, on behalf of the heads of state of the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Chad. The author successfully defended his work at the ‘European Convention on Human Rights’.
In 2007, a documentary about the attorney was released entitled 'L'Avocat de la terreur' or 'Terror's Lawyer' in the English version.
In 2008, he was hired as part of a legal team to represent several former leaders of the Iraqi government. That same year, he wrote a play about himself entitled 'Serial Defender' and performed as himself at the ‘Theatre de la Madeleine’ in Paris.
In April 2011, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of the Khmer Republic, was represented by Vergès during Cambodia's genocide tribunal.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jacques Vergès married Algerian nationalist Djamila Bouhired after first representing her in a case against the French government. Together they had three children: Jacquou, Meriem and Liess.
The eminent lawyer died in Paris on August 15, 2013 after a long illness followed by a fall several months earlier. Vergès died in the bedroom of the renowned French writer Voltaire.
The reputed attorney was proud of his multiracial heritage and even converted to Islam. He authored more than 20 non-fiction books.