I first met Cherif in 1995 as I was introduced to him to become a member of the Board of the Institute, two things struck me:
The first was his immense kindness. His voice was soft and he would immediately make you feel that you were important to him, and as a matter of fact, you were. He was always fueling himself with what he could learn from others. He was always listening with great attention to his interlocutors as if he wanted to unveil all the hidden aspects of their minds. I joined his team at the International Association of Penal Law and realized very quickly that he was not interested in building a team only made of competencies and expertise –although of many of the Executive Committee members of the Association were very competent, but of people with whom he shared comradery, people with whom he would quickly become friends. He was a deeply caring person.
The second thing I noticed was his formidable charisma and his eloquence. The very first day I met him, Cherif was giving a lecture on the general principles of extradition. While it was one of the favourite fields of his immense science, it was certainly not the most glamourous topic one could think of. However, the audience was literally fascinated and no one would dare doing anything that could interrupt his speech. After one and a half hours of listening, I was surprised that the conference was over, and extradition matters had become obvious to me.
I have probably never met a person of such magnetism, who could create instant fascination amongst his peers. Probably, the fact that he could speak the language of half of the population on earth, Arabic and English of course, but also French, Italian, Spanish, German and if I remember correctly, some Japanese, was helpful in making you feel part of his family. His French was so perfect that, when I was organizing meetings in ministries in France for him, I had to clarify with our interlocutors that he was not a French national.
It was very difficult for me to talk to him about any subject that he would not turn into a new idea and a new challenge. Invariably, he would interrupt me and say “voilà ce que nous pourrions faire” –“This is what we could do” and devise a new plan for a grand endeavor of any kind! Of course, if two weeks later nothing was done yet, he would remind us and give precise instructions about what to do, who to contact, etc. leaving no room for objection.
The Institute has lost its founding father, but not his inspiration or his guidance. Despite this terrible loss, it is our duty and privilege to continue, more than ever, the endeavor of Cherif’s life and to perpetuate the existence, reputation and global reach of the Institute. All along the road ahead, Cherif will continue to be on our side, in times of joy and in times of difficulties. Whenever doubt or resignation overwhelms us there will always be a little voice coming from nowhere and telling us “voilà ce que nous pourrions faire”.
President, Siracusa International Institute