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.

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, the Honourable Justice Richard Goldstone of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Professor Göran Melander, International Law Professor and Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Institute in Lund, Sweden, in 2002.

Subsequent lectures have been given by Egyptian-American sociologist and civil rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim in 2004, Harvard Law Professor Martha Minow in 2006, by Open Society Institute President Aryeh Neier in 2008, Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2012, Canadian constitutional lawyer Mary Eberts in 2013, US State Department Advisor Harold Koh in 2016, and Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella in 2017.

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

Susan Herman, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror, Civil Liberties, and the American Courts. Focus online, April 2012.

Mary Eberts to give Wallenberg Lecture, Focus online, February 2013.

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 Fortin, Dr. Bernard Kouchner, the Hon. Louise Arbour, the Right Hon. Beverley McLachlin, Prof. Michael Bothe, Prof. Mireille Delmar-Marty, Prof.  Jacques Semelin, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, and former president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission Jacques Frémont.

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 (B.C.L. 1928) in the elaboration, drafting, and promotion of the Declaration. The inaugural lecture was delivered by Professor Humphrey, and subsequent lecturers include former UN Secretary General His Excellency Javier Perez de Cuellar, former Norwegian Chief Justice Rolv Ryssdal, NYU renowned Anthropologist Sally Engle Merry, Professor of Global Law Ratna Kapur, Former NWT Premier Stephen Kakfwi, Islamic Scholar Abdullahi An-Nai’m, and Canadian diplomat and founder of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis.

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 include Saad Ibrahim, Sandra Lovelace, Jeanette Corbière-Lavell, Mary Two Axe Early, Bassem Eid, Philippe Kirsch, Benjamen Ferencz, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Asma Jahangir, and Joseph Arvay.