BY Bernise Carolino
The Law Society of Ontario’s 2021 Human Rights Award goes to Payam Akhavan, ILA Canada Board member, international human rights lawyer, distinguished visiting professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and senior fellow at Massey College.
The free virtual event, which according to the Law Society includes one hour of equality, diversity and inclusion professionalism content, takes place at 5 p.m. on June 15. Akhavan will issue the keynote speech and will answer the audience’s questions during the virtual reception, while Teresa Donnelly, the law society’s treasurer, will host the event. The law society has asked attendees to register in advance.
Donnelly noted in the Law Society of Ontario Gazette that the nomination materials for Akhavan dubbed him a “leading architect of the field of human rights and humanitarian justice” who “leads by bridging the academic/practice divide.”
Donnelly said that Akhavan, with his numerous outstanding acts of service over decades of efforts, meets the award’s criteria of “devotion to the advancement of human rights and the rule of law over a long-term or for a single outstanding act of service.”
Akhavan has served as the recently appointed senior advisor on Global Affairs Canada’s ongoing response to the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 incident, as a senior fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, as a full professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Law and as an appointee at Yale Law School, at Oxford University, at University Paris Nanterre, at the European University Institute and at Leiden University.
Akhavan has represented victims of crimes against humanity and genocide, including as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague and as the first legal advisor to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. His internation law practice has covered Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda and East Timor.
Akhavan has been counsel in significant cases before the European Court of Human Rights, before the International Criminal Court and before the International Court of Justice, such as The Gambia v. Myanmar, the matter involving the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in connection with the persecuted Rohingya minority. He has also appeared before the Supreme Courts of Canada and of the U.S.
A member of the Law Society of Ontario since 2012 and of the bar of the State of New York, Akhavan received his LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1989 and his LLM SJD from Harvard Law School in 1990. He has written extensively about international criminal law and delivered the CBC Massey Lectures in 2017.
Akhavan’s human rights efforts have been recognized by media entities such as the New York Times, the BBC’s HARDtalk, the CBC’s Ideas and Maclean’s. Akhavan’s memoir, In Search of a Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey, which he has described as a meditation on empathy and the struggle for justice, was Canada’s top non-fiction bestseller in 2017.
The Law Society’s Human Rights Award, created in 2013 and granted biennially, distinguishes those with outstanding contributions to the promotion of human rights and/or the rule of law provincially, nationally or internationally.