Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation
Home News 2021 Human Rights Award Recipient: Payam Akhavan

2021 Human Rights Award Recipient: Payam Akhavan

May 20, 2021

World-renowned human rights lawyer, outstanding academic & exceptional international legal advocate.

Professor Payam Akhavan is a prominent international human rights lawyer and a Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He is a member of the Law Society of Ontario (2012) and the Bar of the State of New York.

He is recognized by his peers as an outstanding academic and exceptional advocate.

Established in 2013 and granted biennially, the Law Society’s Human Rights Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the advancement of human rights and/or the promotion of the rule of law provincially, nationally or internationally.

“This award is granted for devotion to the advancement of human rights and the rule of law over a long-term or for a single outstanding act of service,” said Law Society Treasurer Teresa Donnelly. “Professor Akhavan fits both criteria – many outstanding acts of service over decades of work. In his nomination materials he was described as: ‘A leading architect of the field of human rights and humanitarian justice. He leads by bridging the academic/practice divide.’ I am honoured to be able to grant him this award on behalf of the Law Society of Ontario.”

Professor Akhavan in the Kabartu refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq.
1/2
Professor Akhavan in the Kabartu refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq.
Photo credit: Peter Bregg (2016)
Professor Akhavan pleading before the International Court of Justice.
2/2
Professor Akhavan pleading before the International Court of Justice.
Photo credit: International Court of Justice (2018)

Professor Akhavan’s distinguished academic career has included appointments as Professor at the McGill University Faculty of Law for 15 years; a Visiting Professor at Université de Paris X (Nanterre) in 2015; a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University in 2014; the Fernand Braudel Senior Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence in 2012; and a Visiting Lecturer and Senior Fellow at Yale Law School in 1998 and 2002 to 2005. He currently serves as a Senior Fellow of Massey College and Distinguished Visitor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, as well as Senior Fellow of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

In addition, and in parallel with his scholarly work, he is engaged in the practice of international law at the highest levels on behalf of victims of crimes against humanity and genocide. He began his career as a UN human rights officer in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s and was appointed as the first Legal Advisor to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague. He has also served as Special Advisor to: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; the UN Historical Clarification Commission for Guatemala; the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor; the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Task Force of the Royal Government of Cambodia; the Fujimori Investigative Commission of the Peruvian Congress; and, the Kurdistan Regional Government Commission on Recognition of the Yazidi Genocide in Iraq and prosecution of ISIS perpetrators.

Professor Akhavan has also served as legal counsel in notable cases before the International Court of Justice, including the landmark 2019 Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar, as well as the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Supreme Courts of Canada and the United States.  

In 2017, he was selected to deliver the CBC Massey Lectures and his companion book: “In Search of a Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey” – which Professor Akhavan describes as a memoir and meditation on empathy and the struggle for justice – became the top non-fiction bestseller in Canada (2017).

You can listen to all five parts of his lecture on the CBC Radio website.

Terms or Concepts Explained
Your Source
Your Source 2