Fish-Harnack Lecture to feature expert on human rights, immigration/refugee law

Obiora Chinedu Okafor, a respected academic on international, human rights, and immigration/refugee law, will deliver the 2015 Mildred Fish-Harnack Human Rights and Democracy Lecture.

Okafor, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, will speak on “The International Law of Secession and the Protection of the Human Rights of Oppressed Sub-State Groups: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” on Wednesday, April 22, at 4 p.m., in the AT&T Room, Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

Obiora Chinedu Okafor
Obiora Chinedu Okafor

Sponsored by the UW–Madison Human Rights Program, Division of International Studies, and African Studies Program, this event is free and open to the public. An informal reception will follow the lecture.

This event honors Mildred Fish-Harnack, a Milwaukee native who was a UW student in the 1920s. While living in Germany, Fish-Harnack assisted in the escape of German Jews and political dissidents. She is the only American civilian executed under the personal instruction of Adolf Hitler, for her resistance to the Nazi regime.

Okafor, a native of Nigeria, currently chairs the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, a Geneva-based committee of experts elected by the Human Rights Council to serve as its think tank and principal subsidiary organ. He also has served as an expert panelist for the U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee and U.N. Working Group on People of African Descent.

Prior to his current position at York University, Okafor held faculty positions at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Nigeria, and at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He was a Social Science Research Council-MacArthur Foundation Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program; a Canada-U.S. Fulbright Scholar at MIT; a visiting professor at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France and at the St. Augustine International University, Kampala, Uganda; and the Gani Fawehinmi Distinguished Chair of Human Rights Law at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Oakafor has published extensively in the fields of international human rights law and immigration/refugee law, as well as general public international law (especially on third world approaches to international law).

His books includes The African Human Rights System, Activist Forces, and International Institutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Legitimizing Human Rights NGOs: Lessons from Nigeria (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2006); and Re-Defining Legitimate Statehood (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2000). He has co-edited three books, edited three special journal issues, and published more than 70 journal articles, book chapters and other scholarly writings.

He is the editor of the Transnational Human Rights Review, and serves on the editorial advisory board of several scholarly periodicals. He also has worked as a consultant or adviser for several international organizations, government agencies, parliaments, and law firms.

He is currently working on two SSHRC-funded studies relating to the treatment of poverty, agency and struggles of subaltern people in Nigerian human rights jurisprudence, and Canadian/Nigerian human rights engagements; as well as on a project examining the comparative character of post 9/11 refugee rights in Canada and the United States.

Okafor’s awards include the 2010 Award of Excellence from the Canadian Association of Law Teachers and the Gold Medal for Exceptional Research and Major Contributions to Jurisprudence of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (2013).

The Human Rights Program is supported by a UW–Madison Mellon Foundation grant for the advancement of area and international studies and coordinated by the Global Legal Studies Center.

For more information, contact Sumudu Atapattu, at

(NOTE: This lecture was rescheduled from an earlier date due to the cancellation of a previously scheduled speaker.)

– by Kerry G. Hill