Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, with dual Dominican and Swiss nationality, was a student at the Graduate Institute between 1979 and 1984. After completing her PhD in International Law, she began her career at the University of the West Indies, Barbados, as a lecturer in law. She later worked with the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands, before joining the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1986. She held various positions during her 29-year-long career at the ILO, including several management functions as well as by serving as a senior lawyer of the Organization, before becoming the first woman Director of the International Labour Standards Department. From July 2015 to July 2023, she presided over the World Maritime University (WMU), thus becoming the first woman President of the academic institution. Throughout her career, Dr. Doumbia-Henry has made her mark as an expert in international law, trade and Maritime labour standards.
Throughout the nearly three decades that she spent at the ILO, Dr. Doumbia-Henry served the UN system with distinction, including by significantly contributing to the successes of its specialised agencies. Beginning in the late 1990s, she led the ILO’s participation in a number of International Maritime Organization (IMO) and ILO interagency collaborations on several issues of common interest to both organisations, including the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Groups on Fair Treatment of Seafarers and on Liability and Compensation regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers.
Dr. Doumbia-Henry was also responsible for developing the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and remained responsible for it until she joined the WMU. The Convention consolidated 68 international maritime labour instruments with the aim of securing seafarers’ decent working and living conditions. It was designed with the intent of bringing together a clear and comprehensive set of international standards for the shipping industry. By providing rights and protection at work for over 1.2 million seafarers and updating more than 65 international labour standards related to seafarers, the development of the Convention is considered by Cleopatra to be one of her major professional accomplishments. In 2005, she became the first woman to serve as Director of the International Labour Standards Department and served that function for 10 years.
In 2015, Dr. Doumbia-Henry returned to academia by being appointed to head the WMU, a university established in 1983 within the framework of the IMO. The appointment was announced by the IMO, the UN agency for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, and the WMU, a centre of excellence for maritime postgraduate education and research. This role led her to become the first woman President of the institution. She oversaw and directed the operations and administration of the University, positioning it as the global centre of excellence in maritime and ocean education, research, and capacity building.
Her qualifications include Barrister at Law and Solicitor, and she is entitled to practise in all English-speaking Caribbean jurisdictions. She is also a Member of the Inner Temple, Inns of Court, United Kingdom. Furthermore, she has published extensively on a wide range of international law subjects. Dr. Doumbia-Henry’s career proves that she has had a long standing commitment to the maritime sector and to education while continuously highlighting the importance of gender equality and sustainability by putting such matters at the forefront of the agendas of the organisations in which she was involved.