Human Rights Law Centre

Annual Lecture

The Human Rights Law Centre annually invites a distinguished human rights leader and expert on international human rights issues to deliver its Annual Lecture to students and staff.

Previous lectures

  • 2021: Women's Rights are Human Rights: A Perspective from Afghanistan - Hasina Safi
  • 2020: Global Health and Human Rights - Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
  • 2019: Populism and the Assault on Law - Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
  • 2018: The new world of digital communication and its challenges for the freedoms of speech and the media - Kate O'Regan
  • 2017: Who are we? Hate, hostility and human rights in a post-Brexit world - Martha Spurrier
  • 2016: Making Judgments on Human Rights Issues - Honourable Mr Justice Singh
  • 2015: Raising the Bar: Iran and the Human Rights Council - Dr Ahmed Shaheed
  • 2014: The Rights of Others - Why European Human Rights Diplomacy Matters - Stavros Lambrinidis
  • 2013: The Prohibition of the Use of Force: Death by a Thousand Strikes - Philip Alston
  • 2012: Argentoratum Locutum: Is the Supreme Court Supreme? - Lady Hale


Hasina Safi

2021: Women’s Rights are Human Rights: A Perspective from Afghanistan

The online lecture took place Thursday 3 February. It was hosted by Professor Aoife Nolan, Co-Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

Speaker Hasina Safi served as Afghanistan's Acting Minister for Women from May of 2020 until August 2021, and as Minister of Information and Culture prior to that.

Ms. Safi has over 20 years’ experience in women's development programs working with Afghan civil society organizations, international organizations and UN agencies.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

2020: Global Health and Human Rights

The online lecture took place on Friday 11 December. It was hosted by Professor Aoife Nolan, Co-Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected as WHO Director-General for a five-year term by WHO Member States at the Seventieth World Health Assembly in May 2017. He is the first WHO Director-General to have been elected from multiple candidates by the World Health Assembly, and is the first person from the WHO African Region to serve as WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer.

Prior to his election as WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros served as Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012–2016. In this role he led efforts to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Dr Tedros served as Ethiopia’s Minister of Health from 2005–2012, where he led a comprehensive reform of the country’s health system.

Dr Tedros holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Community Health from the University of Nottingham and a Master of Science (MSc) in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the University of London. Dr Tedros is globally recognised as a health scholar, researcher, and diplomat with first-hand experience in research, operations, and leadership in emergency responses to epidemics.

Throughout his career Dr Tedros has published numerous articles in prominent scientific journals, and received awards and recognition from across the globe. He received the Decoration of the Order of Serbian Flag in 2016, and was awarded the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award in recognition of his contributions to the field of public health in 2011.


Helena Kennedy QC

2019: Populism and the Assault on Law

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on Monday 21 October 2019 on populism and the assault on law.

Baroness Kennedy highlighted the importance of the rule of law in a democracy and stressed the fact that the rule of law was under scrutiny and challenge in a context of global recession and rise in extremism and populism. This was seen in Britain in the context of Brexit, where populist politicians exploited the law for their own purposes. She affirmed that the current political trajectory was not a good one and that populism’s assault on the law was a danger to us all.

After the talk, Baroness Kennedy signed copies of her latest book Misjustice.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is currently Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). Helena is a member of the House of Lords and chair of Justice, the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists. She is a bencher of Gray’s Inn and she was the chair of Charter 88 from 1992 to 1997, the Human Genetics Commission from 1998 to 2007 and the British Council from 1998 to 2004. She also chaired the Power Inquiry, which reported on the state of British democracy and produced the Power Report in 2006. She has received honours for her work on human rights from the governments of France and Italy and has been awarded more than 40 honorary doctorates.

She has practiced at the Bar for 40 years in the field of criminal law and has conducted many of the leading cases in those years, including the Balcombe Street Siege, the Brighton bombing trial, the Guildford Four Appeal, the Michael Bettany Espionage case, the bombing of the Israeli embassy, the Jihadist fertiliser bomb plot, and the transatlantic bomb plot.

She has championed law reform for women, especially relating to sexual and domestic violence and developed the defence of Battered Women's syndrome in the British courts. She was also the leading voice for equal opportunities in the legal profession for women. She authored a number of books on law reform, wrote the successful television series Blind Justice and became a well-known broadcaster on law and ethics during the eighties, presenting the BBC's Heart of the Matter. 

She has chaired the British Council.  She has been a member of the House of Lords for over 20 years, where she chairs the European Union Sub-Committee.  She is an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is the chair of the Booker Prize Foundation.  She has stepped down as Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford and become the new Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam university.


Kate O’Regan

2018: The new world of digital communication and its challenges for the freedoms of speech and the media

Kate O'Regan, Director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights in the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on Thursday 4 October 2018.

Her talk addressed the main challenges when it comes to protect freedom of expression online while regulating hate speech. Kate explored some of the issues arising when trying to answer the question of what to do about hate speech online through the lens of Germany's recent  Network Enforcement Law, the UK’s use of criminal law, the US Congress' recent legislation and the European Commission's Communication on Tackling Illegal Content Online – Towards Greater Responsibility of the Internet Platforms Draft.

While acknowledging the fact that criminal and civil sanctions are important elements for the regulation of internet speech, she argued that they will always operate after the facts. In this connection, regulations implemented in the first place by large social media companies such as Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter seem to be the most workable way forward. The most appropriate regulatory response will have to be transparent, and designed to prevent undue over-blocking and discriminatory decisions.

Kate is the inaugural Director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights in the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, which opened in a new building at Mansfield College in October 2017. She served as one of the first judges of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from 1994-2009 and as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court of Namibia from 2010-2016.

She is an honorary bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy and the recipient of seven honorary degrees. She has also served on the boards of many NGOs working in the fields of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and equality.


Martha Spurrier

2017: Who are we? Hate, hostility and human rights in a post-Brexit world

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on Thursday 9 February 2017.

"So as we negotiate our way out of the EU, as we redefine ourselves as a nation, we can either bend to the politics of isolationism or we can stand up and stand out as beacons of compassion and justice and we can force our leaders to do the same."

Her lecture addressed the current political situation and how human rights can offer a powerful framework to ensure a tolerant, diverse and equal society. Listen to Martha's address in full.

Prior to joining Liberty, Martha had specialised in defending access to justice and the rights of women, children and disabled people at Doughty Street Chambers. In 2015 Martha co-founded the 'Act for the Act' campaign, which put posters on trains, buses and billboards across the country telling the stories of men, women and children who had used the Human Rights Act when things went wrong in their lives.

In her address, Martha took stock of the current political landscape in the UK and reflected on what is dividing us as a society. There is a real upheaval and real uncertainty that has been playing out in both the corridors of power and on the streets in the wake of the EU Referendum result. Human rights can offer a powerful framework to ensure a tolerant, diverse and equal society; they give expression and legal codification to humankind's better nature whilst guarding against intolerance.

The rise in xenophobic hate crime following the Referendum needs to be condemned. At its core it has been legitimised by years of aggressive anti-migrant government policies. Notably, by the use of indefinite administrative detention for immigration purposes and the tawdry conditions of the facilities.

The Government's intention to repeal the Human Rights Act and the more recent revelations relating to Theresa May's indication that withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights would be added to her party's manifesto raise grave concerns. However, there are ways in which human rights proponents can campaign towards safeguarding these vital legislative protections: on social media; by taking to the streets; and ultimately through the ballot box.


Rabinder Singh

2016: Making Judgments on Human Rights Issues

The Honourable Mr Justice Singh, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on Tuesday 8 March 2016. 

His lecture addressed the matter of making judgments on human rights issues. View a full transcript of Sir Rabinder's address.

In 2011 Rabinder Singh was appointed a High Court judge, when a knighthood was conferred on him. He is currently the Lead Presiding Judge of the South Eastern Circuit. In the 1980s he was a lecturer in law and is now an Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham. 

Before his appointment to the High Court, Rabinder Singh had a distinguished career as a barrister and was awarded silk in 2002. He was also one of the founding members of Matrix Chambers. 

During his time at the Bar, Rabinder Singh was well known for his work in public and human rights law. He acted as counsel in a number of high profile cases including: acting for CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) against the use of armed force by the UK against Iraq without a new resolution from the UN Security Council; acting for Liberty in A and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Belmarsh case) in a challenge against the use of indefinite detention without trial for non-nationals suspected of terrorism related offences; acting for the Appellants in Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza to overturn previous decisions in order to recognise equal treatment for same sex partners. 

Additionally, Rabinder Singh appeared before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) representing the applicants in the landmark cases of Al-Skeini v UK and Al-Jedda v UK concerning alleged human rights abuses committed by the British armed forces in Iraq during the British occupation. The cases raised critical issues concerning the extra-territorial application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the compatibility of obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights with obligations under the United Nations Charter (1945). 

Rabinder Singh has also represented the UK Government before the ECtHR in the cases of Hirst v UK regarding prisoner voting and S & Marper v UK on the issue of DNA data retention of individuals after they have been acquitted.


Ahmed Shaheed

2015: Raising the Bar - Iran and the Human Rights Council

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on 9 February 2015.

His lecture addressed the purpose of and the need for UN Special Procedures and, more specifically, discussed his mandate regarding the human rights situation in Iran.  Listen to Dr Ahmed Shaheed's lecture.

In his introductory comments, Dr Shaheed explained the purpose of UN Special Procedures and spoke about the task and mandate of Special Rapporteurs. He explained that the effectiveness of these procedures is dependent on multiple factors, such as flexibility, reach, accessibility and cooperation; implementation and follow-up; and the availability of resources and support.

He addressed one of the critiques that have often been voiced about the country-specific mandates, namely that they are naming and shaming operations. Dr Shaheed pointed out that there is now a Universal Periodic Review within the UN Human Rights Council which ensures that all States are subject to scrutiny. However, country-specific mandates tend to be established in case there is a lack of cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms in the presence of widespread allegations of mass violations of human rights.

Dr Shaheed then went on to talk about his mandate and the situation in Iran. The Human Rights Council established this special procedure in 2011, after the widespread violence following the country's 2009 presidential elections. In 1984, the then Commission on Human Rights had mandated another Special Representative, Mr Andres Aguilar, with the task of conducting a thorough study of the human rights situation in Iran. Mr Aguilar submitted a preliminary report in 1985 in which he indicated he had not been able to establish dialogue and cooperation with the Iranian government. In 2011, with the appointment of Dr Shaheed, the situation had not changed substantially. He prepared, as had his predecessors, a list of issues and cases emanating from the violence of the 2009 elections on which the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council could engage in a dialogue with the Iranian government.

Even though cooperation and willingness of a State to work with Special Procedures are important structural determinants of the mechanisms' influence and impact, in reality this is often not the case. Therefore, it is important to find ways to mitigate the consequences of a State’s unwillingness to cooperate. Dr Shaheed gave examples of how to do this, such as cooperating with other special procedures and the wider UN system; working with universities and the Iranian civil society; and using available technology and social media tools to raise awareness and to establish a safe channel for communications with human rights defenders and victims. In his work, he also tries to raise international awareness through appearances before parliamentary committees and attending meetings with UN Member States.   

In conclusion, with regard to the impact of his mandate, Dr Shaheed believes that his efforts have sparked dialogue and national discussions in Iran on human rights issues. Furthermore, the Iranian government did on a number of occasions respond to urgent appeals and request for additional information. However, Dr Shaheed recognises that the solutions to the human rights situation in Iran lie with the Iranian people, coupled with international support. 


2014: The Rights of Others - Why European Human Rights Diplomacy Matters

Expert Lecture by Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative on Human Rights.

Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative on Human Rights, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on Thursday 30 January 2014.

As anticipated in the title, Mr Lambrinidis explored why human rights diplomacy matters, why the European Union's view of it matters and what his mandate entails. Mr Lambrinidis also outlined the principal challenges faced today in ensuring effective global human rights promotion. 

The EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy of 2012 outlines the EU’s common position and commitment to place human rights at the centre of all it does.

The Special Representative’s mandate was created to a) increase effectiveness of the EU's external action on human rights, b) increase its visibility, and c) increase the coherence of the EU’s actions and policies with regard to human rights, internally and externally.

Mr Lambrinidis explained that coherence is threefold. There is, of course, external-internal coherence (are we doing as we preach others to do?), but there are two more dimensions which are equally important: external-external and internal-internal coherence. The former requires a consistent response to human rights issues which is not always achievable because the same tools cannot be used to deal with all human rights and human rights issues in any country cannot be raised with every country in the world in the same way. The latter dimension requires consistency between EU external action and Member States' foreign policy. Without coherence there cannot be effectiveness. The only real power that the EU can use in diplomatic relations with all countries (even those that are not interested in EU funding or geostrategic alliance) is the soft power of being consistent and coherent, the ability to tell the world that we (the EU, Europeans) are sincere about human rights, both internally and externally.

Effectiveness requires coherence in all three areas, but also: i) consistency in rhetoric, putting human rights at the centre of conflict resolution; ii) developing clear strategies on major human rights issues; and iii) building partnerships with other multi-lateral organisations (UN, Council of Europe, etc.) and with third countries.  

The three major current challenges for the EU are: i) the attack on the universality of human rights – human rights has always been the universal language of the powerless – in any country, in any culture, in any religion – against the relativism of the powerful; ii) the shrinking space of civil society around the world – if civil society is persecuted and silenced, human rights will not take root; iii) the lack of emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights, which is required both internally and externally (development aid needs human rights impact based assessment). 


2013: The Prohibition of the Use of Force: Death by a Thousand Strikes

Expert Lecture by Professor Philip Alston, Co-Chair of the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice on, 'The Prohibition of the Use of Force: Death by a Thousand Strikes'.

HRLC was pleased to welcome Professor Philip Alston to deliver the 2013 Annual Lecture. Professor Alston is John Norton Pomeroy Professor at NYU School of Law. Professor Alston's main teaching focus is international law and international human rights law. 

His past activities include UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2004-10); Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1991-98); expert appointed by the UN Secretary-General to advise on treaty body reform (1989-97); Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the MDGs (2002-08);and Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law. 



2012: Argentoratum Locutum: Is the Supreme Court Supreme?

HRLC was pleased to welcome The Right Honourable Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE PC, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, to deliver its Annual Lecture for the academic year 2011-2012.

In her lecture Baroness Hale reflected on the relationship between the UK Supreme Court and the European Court for Human Rights. Download the  full text of Baroness Hale's lecture.

Brenda Hale became the first woman 'Law Lord' in January 2004, after a varied career, first as an academic lawyer, then as a law reformer, and then as a judge.

With her fellow Law Lords, she became a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom when that court was established on 1 October 2009.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1966, she taught Law at Manchester University from 1966 to 1984, also qualifying as a barrister and practising for a while at the Manchester Bar. She specialised in Family and Social Welfare Law, publishing textbooks on Mental Health Law, Parents and Children, The Family, Law and Society (with David Pearl) and Women and the Law (with Susan Atkins). Her many other publications include the 1995 Hamlyn lectures, From the Test Tube to the Coffin - Choice and Regulation in Private Life. 

In 1984 she was the first woman to be appointed a member of the Law Commission, a statutory body set up to promote the reform of the law. She led the work which ultimately resulted, inter alia, in the Children Act 1989, the Family Law Act 1996, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In 1994 she became a High Court judge, the first to have made a career as an academic rather than a practising lawyer, then in 1989 the second woman 'Lord Justice of Appeal' in the Court of Appeal for England and Wales, and in 2004 a 'Lord of Appeal in Ordinary' in the appellate committee of the House of Lords, the highest court in the United Kingdom. She retains her links with the academic world, principally as Chancellor of the University of Bristol and Visitor of her old Cambridge College, Girton. She holds several honorary degrees and is also an honorary Fellow of the British Academy and an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

She is married to Dr Julian Farrand LL.D. QC, a distinguished academic property lawyer and former pensions and insurance ombudsman, and has one daughter, three step-children, two grandchildren and five step-grandchildren. As a home-maker as well as a Judge she has thoroughly enjoyed working with the architects and designers to create a fitting new home for the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.



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