Lecture Series in Human Rights


Through public lectures, seminars, conferences and publications, the Centre promotes dialogue beyond the walls of the University and acts as a bridge between scholarly insights and the practical and lived realities of human rights concerns. The Faculty of Law has been actively engaged in public education and outreach into the community on pressing human rights issues for a number of years.

Wallenberg Lecture
Cassin Lecture
Humphrey Lecture
Litvack Award & Lecture

There is also a growing need for human rights education and engagement beyond the university. Professors at the Law Faculty have been active in participating in continuing education initiatives for judges, lawyers, government policymakers, and community activists. They have also been involved in United Nations human rights initiatives, Canadian International Development Agency projects, judicial education workshops and law reform. A Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism would be an important resource for such Faculty engagements, attracting new opportunities, providing student research assistance, coordination, scholarly resources and networking.

Three named and partially funded human rights lectureships were created in the 1980s, and have been mounted regularly since then, to significant public acclaim. The lectures honour John Peters Humphrey, René Cassin, and Raoul Wallenberg. Speakers of national and international renown have participated in these lectures. The McGill Law Journal has often published the lecture following the event. The Faculty of Law also invites recipients of the Robert S. Litvack Award to participate in a public lecture at the Faculty.

Other Faculty seminar series such as the Annie Macdonald Langstaff and Legal Theory Workshops routinely invite distinguished speakers to address human rights topics. These academic activities, which reach out to the larger public, reflect a vision of the university as a place of lifelong learning – a place where creative reflection, dialogue, access to new ideas, critical thinking and analysis nurtures both the immediate and the extended academic community.

Wallenberg Lecture

Raoul Wallenberg

The Raoul Wallenberg Forum in Human Rights was inaugurated in 1988 by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel in what became a national commemorative occasion for the cause of human rights. Subsequent lectures have been delivered by Samuel Pisar, distinguished international lawyer and author, Professor Guy von Dardel, brother of Raoul Wallenberg; Justice Richard Goldstone of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Professor Göran Melander, Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Institute in Lund, Sweden (2003).

Further lectures have been given by Egyptian-American sociologist and civil rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim (2004); Harvard Law Professor Martha Minow (2006); Open Society Institute President Aryeh Neier (2008); American Civil Liberties Union President Susan Herman (2012); Canadian constitutional lawyer Mary Eberts (2013); Canadian diplomat and founder of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis (2014); US State Department Advisor Harold Koh (2016); and Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella (2017).

Read Law and mafias in the McGill Reporter, January 30, 2003.

Cassin Lecture

René Cassin

The René Cassin Lectureship is organized by the McGill Faculty of Law. In 1988, the Alliance Isréalite Universelle established this Lectureship to mark the centenary of the birth of René Cassin, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968. The Alliance Isréalite Universelle is one of the oldest and most distinguished human rights organizations, having been founded in Paris in 1860. René Cassin was its president from 1943 to 1969.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by the Hon. Claire l’Heureux-Dubé. Other speakers have included the Hon. Walter Tarnopolsky; Ambassador Yves Fortier; Minister Barbara McDougall (1992); the Hon. Jules Deschênes; Dr. Bernard Kouchner; the Hon. Louise Arbour; the Right Hon. Beverley McLachlin; Prof. Michael Bothe; Prof. Mireille Delmas-Marty (2006); Prof. Jacques Semelin (2009); Prof. Jon Elster (2011); the Hon. Irwin Cotler (2013); former president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission Jacques Frémont (2015); and Prof. Philippe Sands (2018).

Humphrey Lecture

John Peters Humphrey

The John P. Humphrey Lectureship in Human Rights is an annual lecture on the theme of the role of International Law and Organization in the world-wide protection of Human Rights. The lecture was founded in 1988 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the drafting of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in recognition of the leadership of John Humphrey (BCL 1928) in the elaboration, drafting, and promotion of the Declaration.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by Prof. John Humphrey. Subsequent lecturers include former UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar; former Norwegian Chief Justice Rolv Ryssdal; Sally Engle Merry, Silver Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law (2007); Ratna Kapur, professor of law and former Director of the Centre for Feminist Legal Research in New Delhi, India (2008); Former NWT Premier Stephen Kakfwi (2011); Islamic scholar Abdullahi An-Nai’m (2012); Human rights activist Sally Armstrong (2017); Indigenous scholar Prof. John Borrows (2018); Prof. Philip G. Alston, NYU Law (2018).

Litvack Award & Lecture

Robert S. Litvack

The Award was created in 1987 to recognize the memory of Mr. Robert Litvack, whose passionate commitment to the defense of the rule of law brought about landmark decisions in aboriginal and linguistic rights. It is awarded to "a person who has made a distinguished contribution to the defense of the rule of law and the protection of the individual against arbitrary power".

Past recipients:

  • 1987 Carmen Quintana - Chile
  • 1990 Mary Two Axe Early, Jeanette Lavell, Sandra Lovelace - Canada
  • 1993 Glenda Simms - Canada
  • 1996 Bassem Eid - East Jerusalem
  • 1999 Philippe Kirsch - Canada
  • 2001 Benjamin Ferencz - USA
  • 2004 Saad Eddin Ibrahim - Egypt
  • 2005 Radhika Coomaraswamy - Sri Lanka
  • 2009 Asma Jahangir - Pakistan
  • 2014 Joseph Arvay - Canada
  • 2019 Deniz Yücel, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan - Germany/Turkey
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