Alumnus of the year 2002

Aisling Reidy

Aisling Reidy was named Alumnus of the Year for her work as a human rights lawyer and her efforts to bring prosecutions against war criminals.

As a Senior Legal Advisor at Human Rights Watch in New York, Aisling has many years of experience working on Kurdish cases and has appeared before the European Commission and the Court of Human Rights as co-counsel.

She worked as the Senior Human Rights Policy Advisor for the Council of Europe in Kosovo, and recently worked as a Legal Officer in the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague / the Netherlands.

Oration

Oration given on 18 April 2002 by Professor Jane Wright, Department of Law

Chancellor, the University of Essex Foundation has determined that Aisling Reidy shall be the first recipient of the Alumnus of the Year Award.

Aisling graduated with a distinction in her Masters in International Human Rights Law in 1994, but not before my colleagues had been impressed by her intellectual rigour, her formidable skills in advocacy and her determination to ensure that human rights are fully upheld and protected everywhere.

As soon as she graduated her talents were exploited by my colleagues in a series of cases that were taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on behalf of victims of abuses in SE Turkey: the Kurdish cases. She began by researching and preparing the cases but soon became the youngest advocate ever to appear at the Court and indeed the youngest to win a case there.

Those who are committed to the cause of human rights needs grit, determination and complete dedication. Her courage is no better demonstrated than by an encounter she had at the European Commission of Human Rights sitting in Turkey. All 5ft 3inches of her physically intervened to prevent a senior representative of a foreign government from attempting to intimidate witnesses.

From the Turkish cases and Strasbourg Aisling went to Kosovo where amongst her many responsibilities she undertook the grisly task of heading up the missing persons section. It was in Kosovo that, together with forensic scientists and anthropologists, she crated the 'Catalogue'; this is perhaps an innocuous sounding title. In fact, the Catalogue consisted of photographs of clothes taken from the bodies of those exhumed from mass graves. These photographs were then used to help bereaved families to identify their loved ones.

After leaving Kosovo Aisling moved to the Hague where she is now party of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There she is prosecuting grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity.

These remarks can give little more than a sketch of Aisling's achievements. It would not be appropriate to conclude without alluding to her personal qualities. She combines with her industry and intellect, warmth, zest and a rich sense of humour. Her career as an advocate will I am sure be no surprise to those who know her well: she is never lost for words.

The human rights community has been enriched by her immense contribution over such a short period of time. She is receiving the Alumnus of the Year Award but this really is just the beginning for Aisling.

Chancellor, I present Aisling Reidy.

Response

Response by Aisling Reidy

I have been told that I have never been lost for words, but I certainly never expected a post graduate degree from the University of Essex to put me in a position where I have to follow a thank you speech by Mike Leigh. So I really am in a little bit of an unexpected position! But I know that this is really the day for the graduates here and I think on this occasion brevity is something which everybody appreciates. So rather than speak very fast, which I am often accused of, I will jut try to be quite simple.

I would like to thank Jane Wright of the Department of Law for her kind words. I am afraid that stories of my bravery are a little bit exaggerated; I think that rather than being brave I just didn't know any better, but in hindsight its always nice to put a gloss on things. I would also like to thank the University, and particularly the University Foundation for bestowing an incredible honour on me by making me the first recipient of this new award. It really is an honour, although I do have to say I sincerely feel a little bit fraudulent in accepting it, because I am only one of many hundreds and thousands of people who do many more challenging and self-sacrificing pieces of work in the area of human rights. Many of them are even graduates of this University.

I guess that just leaves me to thank very much the Centre for Human Rights, of which I am a graduate, because with the Centre I would not be here, because I would not have had the experiences that I have had, over the eight years since I graduated. I mean that in all sincerity because when I decided that I did want to pursue an interest in human rights, I was told that if I was really sincere about it and I wanted to work in the area, and not just become more knowledgeable in the area, then I had no choice as to where to go - I had to go to the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, because that was where the faculty were who would give me the opportunities to really pursue a career in international law and human rights. That turned out, indeed to be absolutely true. The Human Rights Centre and the Department of Law gave me, not only the knowledgeable and the skills to which the Chancellor in his opening remarks referred, but really gave me the enthusiasm to take advantage of all the opportunities and the challenges that I have been lucky enough to enjoy in the past eight years.

So those people in the Human Rights Centre who were my lecturers, and then friends and colleagues, I owe them a great debt of gratitude. And to all those people who have been lucky enough to receive an LLM and who have worked very hard, I know, over the last year to deserve that award, congratulations and I can promise you that you can look forward to getting great reward from having an LLM Degree once you leave here today.

Thank you.