Navi Pillay to deliver annual N. Sivalingam lecture on international justice

World-renowned international jurist Navi Pillay will deliver this year’s N. Sivalingam Memorial Lecture in Tamil Studies on April 7 from 5 to 8pm at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Navi Pillay
Navi Pillay

Drawing on her experiences and expertise as a judge in an international criminal tribunal and as former UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Pillay will highlight the challenges and achievements of international legal systems in delivering justice for international crimes.

Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, will provide the introduction.

The 2016 N. Sivalingam Memorial Lecture will highlight the achievements of a South African lawyer’s struggle against systemic racial and ethnic injustice and the prospects and possibilities of achieving accountability and justice for international crimes through international criminal law. Pillay will also speak about the role of international law in addressing mass atrocities, including the contemporary context of Sri Lanka.

Pillay has defended anti-Apartheid activists and helped expose the use of torture and poor conditions of political detainees. In 1973, she won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, to have access to lawyers. Pillay was the first non-white female judge of the High Court of South Africa, after being appointed to the bench by former president Nelson Mandela in 1995. She has also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

She served as the United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014, and currently she is serving as the chief commissioner of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.

Pillay is visiting York to deliver the second annual N. Sivalingam Memorial Lecture. Alongside the N. Sivalingam Award in Tamil Studies, the annual lecture was established at the York Centre for Asian Research to encourage and promote graduate research in Tamil language, history, culture, society and the Tamil diaspora.

The award and lecture commemorate the life and work of N. Sivalingam, co-founder of the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada, and a lifetime advocate of Tamil language and culture.

N. Sivalingam
N. Sivalingam

“Our family established the N. Sivalingam Award in Tamil Studies, with matching funds from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, to honour the legacy of our father who spent his lifetime committed to empowering the Tamil community in Canada and back home,” said Harini Sivalingam, N. Sivalingam’s daughter and a PhD student in Socio-Legal Studies at York University. “We hope to empower the community by encouraging students at York University to pursue graduate studies and research in the field of Tamil Studies.”

François Tanguay-Renaud, director of the Nathanson Centre, a co-sponsor of the event, explained why it was important for the centre to host Pillay’s lecture.

“As former United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay brings with her a unique perspective on this intersection,” he said. “Her accountability role in relation to the Sri Lankan civil war and its aftermath also ties neatly with intensive research currently being carried out at York on related questions. Her visit to Osgoode and York will allow us to revisit some of these important issues, in dialogue with the scholarly community, Toronto large and engaged Tamil diaspora, and a vast array of other interested constituencies.”

A reception will begin at 5pm and will be followed by the lecture at 6pm. All are welcome to attend. To RSVP email by April 3.

This event is co-sponsored by the Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, Osgoode Hall Law School, the York Centre for Asian Research and Amnesty International with support from the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode Hall School and the graduate program in Socio-Legal Studies.