International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Fall 2011 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law


Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka

Henry Wager Halleck

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

When, in the summer of 2006, then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was searching for a candidate to fill a position designed to deal with the problem of the use of children in armed conflict, a chronic problem in the war zones of southern Africa, he did not have to look far. In July, 2006 he appointed Radhika Coomaraswamy, a leading human rights lawyer and advocate from Sri Lanka and then Chair of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission to the position of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. She was charged with investigating the use of boys and girls in or affected by armed conflict. She has remained in that position to the present time.

Ms. Coomaraswamy came to prominence through the law. She was first educated at the United Nations International School in New York City. She then enrolled at Yale where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree. She then returned to New York to attend Columbia Law School, from which she graduated with a J.D. degree. She later earned a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from Harvard Law School.

After her legal education she returned to Sri Lanka and began a career as a human rights advocate, specializing in women’s rights. She became the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and was the author of ground breaking reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on violence in the family, violence in the community, violence against women during armed conflict, and international trafficking in women.

Ms. Coomaraswamy has traveled to many countries around the world to focus on the subjects of her reports, including Japan, Korea, Rwanda, Columbia, Haiti, Indonesia, Poland, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, United States, Brazil and Cuba.

She has published widely on human rights subjects. She is the author of two books on constitutional law, and co-edited books on international development, the judiciary, social theory, women in armed conflict, and gender violence.

As a result of her international human rights activities Ms. Coomaraswamy has received numerous international awards. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Amherst College, University of Edinburgh, University of Essex, and Katholieke Universtiet Leuven in Belgium. Her international awards include the International Law Award of the American Bar Association, the Human Rights Award of the International Human Rights Law Group, the Bruno Kreisky Award, the Leo Ettinger Human Rights Prize from the University of Oslo, the Cesara Romano Award of the University of Dayton, the William J. Butler Award from the University of Cincinnati, and the Robert Litvach Award from McGill University. The President of Sri Lanka has designated her as a Deshamanya, a singular national honor. She is the first  woman so designated.

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© 2011 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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