Sri Lankan lawyer and academic Radhika Coomaraswamy (born 1953) has written and published extensively on issues such as women and conflict, minority rights and governance. Through her work, this brilliant scholar has created new conceptual and theoretical frameworks for understanding women and conflict. As a senior UN official, she has laid down new standards for investigating and analyzing violence against women at all levels.
Radhika Coomaraswamy returned from a brilliant academic career at Yale University and Harvard Law School in the late 1970s to a country that was just entering a conflict based on ethnic discrimination. In the 1980s, Radhika established the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Sri Lanka. This institution has provided a much-needed space for researchers, academics, and activists to mingle and produce pathbreaking work on nationalism, ethnicity, identity politics, and women. The ICES works nationally as well as at the South Asian and international levels. A conference it organized in 2002 focused on issues of women and peace-building set the ball rolling within Sri Lanka for women activists to campaign for the inclusion of women in the peace process. A founder-member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development, Radhika was in 1994 appointed special rapporteur on Violence Against Women by the UN commission on human rights. She served in this capacity for nine years, the maximal term, and created a definitive framework for investigating and analyzing violence against women within the family and the community, and through actions of state and nonstate actors. In 2003, Radhika was appointed chairperson of Sri Lanka's human rights commission (HRC), whose members are nominated by the president, and given a broad mandate to monitor the implementation of human rights guarantees set out in the constitution and under international law. The HRC has set out to strengthen its regional presence, establishing a special unit to monitor the human rights compliance of state mechanisms set up to work on posttsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation.
International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)