Introducing Global Visiting Professor of Law And CT Visiting Fellow Radhika Coomaraswamy

The Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law (Constitutional Transitions) is very pleased to introduce Radhika Coomaraswamy. Professor Coomaraswamy is a Visiting Fellow of the Center for Spring 2013 and an NYU Global Visiting Professor of Law. Most recently, Professor Coomaraswamy served as the U.N. Under Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and earlier as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.

In addition to her international leadership in defense of women and children, Professor Coomaraswamy brings over twenty years of experience in promoting progressive constitutional reform, primarily in her home country of Sri Lanka. This semester, Coomaraswamy will participate in a panel discussion hosted by Constitutional Transitions on constitutional issues in postwar Sri Lanka. Following the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009, the government has shown increasing signs of authoritarianism, notably including the ongoing constitutional crisis surrounding President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s firing of Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. On the panel, Professor Coomaraswamy will speak to both the prospects of establishing safeguards to secure democracy and civil rights in the country and to the failures of the government to take meaningful steps to assuage ethnic tensions, particularly through constitutional provisions.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Professor Coomaraswamy was deeply involved in efforts to resolve Sri Lanka’s conflict, serving as Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies alongside the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, a leading legal scholar and advocate of a non-violent resolution to the war. Coomaraswamy worked to develop a broad package of proposed constitutional reforms, intended to follow the country’s adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1987. The package, though never enacted, included a call for a greater devolution of power to peripheral areas, among other changes.

Today she is deeply concerned about the government’s direction. While she said that many among Sri Lanka’s legal and professional classes held out hope for a renaissance following the war, the government has clung to powers it had previously justified under the exigencies of conflict. While she noted that some, particularly in the southern parts of the island, are more supportive of the current state of affairs, she expressed concern at the lack of protection for civil rights, the absence of meaningful checks on the executive, and the lack of positive steps to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict. She is also unconvinced by the government’s ‘authoritarian model of development,’ as opposed to development based on participation and democracy, with an emphasis on rights.

Coomaraswamy will be returning to Sri Lanka for the coming fall, before resuming her involvement with Constitutional Transitions and NYU Law in Spring 2014.

Radhika Coomaraswamy has published widely, including two books on constitutional law, and a recent book chapter on Sri Lanka’s 1972 constitution. She has been recognized with numerous awards, many for her human rights advocacy. She holds a B.A. from Yale University, a J.D. from Columbia University, and an LL.M. from Harvard University. For more information on Radhika Coomaraswamy, click here.