The annual Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture was given this year by Ms Navi Pillay, who spoke on the topic of 'Human rights in Africa: opportunities and challenges'. A South African national, she was the first woman to start a law practice in her home province of Natal, in 1967. Ms Pillay acted as a defense attorney for anti-apartheid activists and helped establish key rights for prisoners on Robben Island. She was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2008, and spoke to a packed Milner Hall on the difficulties faced in Africa with regards to human rights violations.
It was a talk tinged with hope, as she made reference to many areas of progress and the work which is being done to promote human rights across the continent. Ms Pillay listed many inspirational Africans who had fought injustice, and argued that no minority should be excluded from decision making, or from having a voice in their society. She spoke of the selfless courage of the human rights defenders to work towards 'all rights for all people', even when often faced with torture, jail, exile and the threat of death.
Ms Pillay discussed the various effects of regional networks, of anti-terrorism laws and of socio-economic growth. She argued Africa was a continent poised on the cusp of transition, and went into detail regarding human rights work surrounding elections and during times of conflict. In her conclusion, there was a focus on democracy as a living, evolving process, with international law able to help create the balance within human rights and encourage inclusive societies in which everyone can contribute. Questions from the audience were wide-ranging both in terms of topic and geographic reach.
The lecture was chaired by the Acting Warden of Rhodes House, Dr Andrew Graham. At the end of Ms Pillay's talk, Dr Nic Cheeseman, Chair of the Organising Committee, thanked her for the breadth of her remarks, and the inspiration they contained. Afterwards, Ms Pillay continued the dialogue with a number of Rhodes Scholars over tea in the Warden's lodgings.
The memorial lecture is in honour of Bram Fischer QC (Orange Free State & New College 1931), who defended Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the liberation movement when on trial for their lives, and who himself died in imprisonment in 1975. During the talk, tribute was paid both to Bram Fischer, and also to Arthur Chaskalson, a speaker at an ealier Bram Fischer lecture, and who sadly passed away at the end of 2012.
For a photo gallery from the event, please click below:
A video of the lecture can be seen below: