Last week, York law Professor Obiora Okafor was elected to the advisory committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Nigerian-born professor brings his expertise in international law, human rights law, and immigration and refugee law, especially as it relates to Africa, to the advisory committee.
“The committee is the think tank of the Human Rights Council,” says Okafor. “It’s where the thinking begins.” He sees participating on the committee as a form of public service and an opportunity to make an impact at a relatively high level.
Okafor (left) was nominated by Nigeria to represent Africa on the 18-person committee for the next three years. The Geneva-based committee meets twice a year.
The son of an Ibo lawyer concerned about social justice, Okafor studied, practised and taught law in Nigeria before coming to Canada. He won a scholarship to the University of British Columbia, earned two graduate degrees and joined Osgoode Hall Law School in 2000.
“Human rights gave me a language and framework for expressing my concerns about social justice,” says Okafor.
At Osgoode, the award-winning teacher lectures on international human rights law, human rights in Africa and the international law of south-north relations.
His most recent research projects include a study of human rights activism in Nigeria and a comparison of refugee rights in Canada and the United States post 9/11.
He is also affiliated with York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, the Harriet Tubman Institute and the Graduate Program in Socio-Legal Studies.
Okafor has served as an expert panellist for the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and a human rights consultant for the British Department for International Development. He has been a visiting scholar at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, and in Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program.
“I’m interested in a full range of issues, but the preponderance of my work is on human rights in Africa,” he says.
He has written three books: The African Human Rights System, Activist Forces and International Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Legitimizing Human Rights NGOs: Lessons from Nigeria (Africa World Press, 2006); and Re-Defining Legitimate Statehood (Martinus Nijhoff, 2000).
He has also co-edited three books: Legitimate Governance in Africa: International and Domestic Legal Perspectives (Kluwer, 1999); Humanizing Our Global Order: Essays in Honour of Ivan Head (University of Toronto Press, 2003); and The Third World and International Order: Law, Politics and Globalization (Martinus Nijhoff, 2003).