human rights centre

Annual Human Rights Lecture

Attracting internationally renowned leading experts

Each year we invite leading experts from around the world to give our Human Rights Annual Lecture. The event is open to students, staff and members of the public.

Past Lectures

Seventh Annual Lecture 2023: Kate Gilmore

Our fifth annual lecture was held on Monday 4 December 2023 and was delivered by guest speaker, Kate Gilmore, former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner 2015-2019 on '75 years in the Rights to be Human?'. 

75 years in the Rights to be Human?
In 2023 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrates a milestone anniversary. 1800 words for now 193 countries and territories that over 75 years have urged the sovereign state to respect dignity of and for all.  But what does it all add up to?  The state of the world today issues a tough report card.  But, then again, it was a Declaration not a magic wand. Yet, was it magical thinking, nonetheless?  This year’s annual human rights lecture poses a “re-idealist” stock take of the UDHR’s contested purpose, place, and contribution, and signposts implications for looming threats in the 75 years to come.

A former United Nations (UN) Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore is an Honorary Professor with the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex and a Professor-in-Practice with the International Development Department of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).  She is Chair of the Board of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Vice Chair of the Interpeace Board and a co-chair of WHO’s Gender and Human Rights Advisory Panel on Human Reproduction and of their Immunization Agenda 2030 Partnership Panel.  Until recently a Fellow with Harvard University’s Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy, she was Assistant UN Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director for Programmes with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  Kate was also Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International but started her career in Australia, working to combat violence against women and advance related public policy and services.

A recording of the lecture can be found on YouTube.

Sixth annual Lecture 2022: Martha Spurrier

Our sixth annual lecture was held on Tuesday 14 June 2022 and was delivered by guest speaker, Martha Spurrier on 'A utopian vision for rights in a dystopian world'.

Martha joined Liberty as Director in 2016. A human rights barrister by training, she arrived from Doughty Street Chambers where she specialised in bringing cases against the state.

She acted for bereaved families seeking answers after loved ones died in state care, represented survivors of rape, domestic violence and trafficking who were failed by the police, brought claims on behalf of prisoners and immigration detainees who had been mistreated in custody and challenged attempts to curb access to justice, press freedom and protest rights. She has written widely on human rights and civil liberties issues.

In 2015 Martha co-founded the ‘Act for the Act’ campaign, which put posters on trains, buses and billboards across the country telling the stories of people who had used the Human Rights Act when things went wrong in their lives.

Martha was previously a lawyer at the mental health charity, Mind, and at the Public Law Project. She is a Visiting Professor of Law at Goldsmiths University and a trustee of the Museum of Homelessness.

A utopian vision for rights in a dystopian world
At a time when human rights and civil liberties are under threat in the UK, this lecture takes stock of where we are now and where – with some imagination, determination and collaboration – we need to get to. Drawing on international human rights frameworks and theories of justice reimagined, as well as reflecting on critiques of the carceral turn in human rights and the reliance on civil and political liberties to the exclusion of economic and social protections, Martha Spurrier considers what a human rights utopia might look like.

A recording of the lecture is on YouTube.

Fifth Annual Lecture 2021: Karima Bennoune

Our fifth annual lecture was held on Thursday 8 July 2021 and was delivered by guest speaker, Karima Bennoune on 'Preventing Cultural Catastrophe in the Pandemic: A Cultural Rights Approach'.

Karima Bennoune holds the Homer G., Angelo and Ann Berryhill Endowed Chair in International Law and is a Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis, School of Law in the United States. She has served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights since November 2015.

During academic year 2021-21, she will be a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School. In 2017, she served as an expert in the reparations phase of the groundbreaking Al Mahdi Case before the International Criminal Court concerning intentional destruction of cultural heritage in Mali. A former Legal Advisor for Amnesty International, her field missions throughout her career have included Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Mali, Malaysia, Maldives, Niger, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia and Kosovo, Southern Thailand, Tunisia and Tuvalu. Bennoune currently serves on the Board of Editors of the American Journal of International Law (AJIL). Her academic publications have appeared in leading journals such as AJIL, the Berkeley Journal of International Law, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the European Journal of International Law, and the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, while her topical pieces have been featured in outlets such as the Guardian (Comment is Free), the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Open Democracy and on Reuters. She has appeared widely in the international media, including on CNN, Fox Business News, MSNBC, Algérie Presse Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Radio 4, France Culture, and Radio France International. Her book, “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism,” which recounts the stories of people of Muslim heritage working against extremism, won the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The TED talk based on the book has been viewed by over 1.5 million people. Professor Bennoune serves on the scholar advisory board for Muslims for Progressive Values. 

A recording of the lecture can be found on YouTube.

Fourth Annual Lecture 2020: E. Tendayi Achiume

Our fourth annual lecture was held on Thursday 30 July 2020 and was delivered by guest speaker, E. Tendayi Achiume on 'Racial Borders: the urgency of a racial justice critique of international borders and migration'.

E. Tendayi Achiume is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. 

She is also the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and is the first woman to serve in this role since its creation in 1994. The current focus of her scholarship is the global governance of racism and xenophobia; and the legal and ethical implications of colonialism for contemporary international migration. In 2016, she co-chaired the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law. She is also a recipient of the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award—the highest university-wide honour for excellence in teaching. Her publications include Migration as Decolonization, Stanford Law Review; Governing Xenophobia, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law; Syria, Cost-Sharing and the Responsibility to Protect Refugees, Minnesota Law Review; and Beyond Prejudice: Structural Xenophobic Discrimination Against Refugees, Georgetown Journal of International Law.

A recording of the lecture can be found on YouTube.

Third Annual Lecture 2017: Hina Shamsi

Our third annual lecture was held on Wednesday 21 June 2017 and was delivered by guest speaker, Hina Shamsi on “Defending Human Rights in an Authoritarian Age”.

Hina Shamsi is the director of the ACLU National Security Project, which is dedicated to ensuring that U.S national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.

Our partner in this event, Allen and Overy, hosted a drinks reception following the lecture.

Hina Shamsi, Director of the National Security Project at American Civil Liberties Union, explains why we must "double down" to advance and protect human rights. She was speaking after giving our 2017 Human Rights Lecture.

Second Annual Lecture 2016: Antonio Guterres

Our second annual lecture was held on Wednesday 15th June 2016, and the keynote lecture was delivered by António Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2005-15 and since October 2016, current United Nations secretary-general.

Our partner in this event, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, hosted a drinks reception following the lecture.

We asked Mr Guterres and Professor Geoff Gilbert “How can we help solve the refugee crisis?” This is what they had to say.


Inaugural lecture 2015: Hina Jilani

Our inaugural Human Rights Annual Lecture took place in July 2015 and was given by Hina Jilani, pioneering lawyer, pro-democracy campaigner, leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.

In this video, Hina Jilani talks about her own career as a lawyer in Pakistan and the critical importance of education for women.