Radhika Coomaraswamy to Keynote at WPSP

Radhika Coomaraswamy (right), then UN special representative for children and armed conflict, meets children at the Goma Children Rehabilitation Centre, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. United Nations photo

Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former top United Nations official and a leading voice for women and children, will be a keynote speaker at the opening of the Women in Public Service Project Institute being hosted by Mount Holyoke, Simmons, and Smith colleges May 25–June 6, 2014.

The Opening Ceremony of the Women in Public Service Project Institute (WPSP) will be held at 10 am, Monday, May 26 in Chapin Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College.

Now Global Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law, Professor Radhika Coomaraswamy was the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and until recently the UN Under Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. Coomaraswamy began her career as a constitutional lawyer and has written two books on the constitutional process in her native Sri Lanka and on the role of the judiciary in plural societies. She was also chairperson of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission from 2003 to 2006.

“Radhika Coomaraswamy’s distinguished career in public service continues to inspire generations of women to serve their communities at the national and international level,” said WPSP Director Rangita de Silva de Alwis. “On a personal note that is so relevant to the spirit of the WPSP, Radhika has mentored and inspired me and many others in the work that we do.”

The focus of the two-week institute is “Reconstructing Societies in the Wake of Conflict: Transitional Justice and Economic Development.” Fifty delegates from post-conflict societies in Asia, Africa, and South America have been selected to participate. These delegates are working to rebuild their communities and promote sustainable economic livelihoods following periods of political violence and human rights violations.

The Institute aims to provide these emerging women leaders with the concrete tools and training necessary to increase the scope, efficacy, and visibility of their work. Invited scholars, policy makers, and government and nongovernment representatives—including several Mount Holyoke, Simmons, and Smith alumnae—will aid delegates in expanding their leadership and communication skills, developing effective use of traditional and social media, and improving their ability to build national, regional, and international networks.

The Women in Public Service Project was founded in 2011 by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in partnership with the Seven Sisters and has grown to include other leading women’s colleges and institutions. Housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, WPSP is focused on training early- to mid-career women from around the world to advance their careers in government and public service as they move their communities and countries forward politically, economically, and socially. The central mission of WPSP is to foster a world in which leadership in political and public office is 50 percent female by 2050.

Since the 1980s, Coomaraswamy has been a strong voice for women's international human rights and has written extensively on the subject while serving as the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Her annual reports covered thematic issues, and her country visits—to look at comfort women in Japan, women trafficked in Nepal and Poland, women victims of domestic violence and rape in Brazil and South Africa, and women in US prisons - explored the actual impact of international norms in specific contexts. Since 2006 as the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Professor Coomaraswamy has been in charge of preparing the annual report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict. As a result she has developed an expertise on the protection of civilians, especially children in the context of armed conflict. She has also visited conflict areas throughout the world, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Myanmar, Israel and Palestine, and Southern Thailand, advocating for the rights of children and meeting with state and nonstate actors to protect children from grave violations. Coomaraswamy has won many awards including the International Law award of the American Bar Association.

Coomaraswamy received her B.A. from Yale, her J.D. from Columbia, and her LL.M. from Harvard.