Payam Akhavan
Human rights lawyer
Payam Akhavan
[edit] Bio Payam Akhavan was born in Tehran, Iran on 11 April 1966 and moved in his childhood to Toronto, Canada to flee persecution of the Baha’i religious minority before the 1979 Islamic revolution. He has since played a leading role as a pioneer of international criminal law and global justice, is regarded as a leading scholar and practitioner of international law and human rights, and an important figure in the Iranian human rights movement.
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  • 2015
    In May 2015, he appeared on Globo Television’s Milenio program in Brazil.
    More Details Hide Details He is currently an Associate Professor of International Law and former Boulton Senior Fellow at McGill University Faculty of Law in Montreal, Canada (2005–). He is also Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College at Oxford University. He served as the first Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor's Office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda at The Hague (1994–2000) and made significant contributions to its foundational jurisprudence. He has also served with the UN in Bosnia, Croatia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, and Timor Leste. His academic appointments include: Fernand Braudel Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy (2013); Visiting Professor at Sciences Po in Paris, France (2012); Senior Fellow at Yale Law School (2002–05); Distinguished Visiting Professor at University of Toronto (2002); Visiting Professor at Leiden University in The Netherlands; Research Fellow at the Danish Institute of Human Rights in Copenhagen, Denmark (1991–92), and at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, Faculty of Law (1990–91).
  • 2013
    In 2013 he acted as counsel for Japan in the Whaling in the Antarctic Case brought by Australia before the International Court of Justice alleging that Japan's program of scientific research was commercial whaling in disguise.
    More Details Hide Details He accused Australia of imposing its cultural values on Japan in disregard of international law and warned that politicization of science and anti-whaling "zero tolerance" policies for non-endangered species at the International Whaling Commission had brought the organization to the brink of collapse and undermined effective global regulation of whaling.
  • 2011
    He is also counsel to Libya before the ICC in the case concerning Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi whether the ICC or Libyan courts will prosecute allegations of crimes against humanity arising from the 2011 revolution against Muammar Gaddafi.
    More Details Hide Details He has also appeared as counsel in the Guyana v Suriname maritime boundary delimitation in the Caribbean arbitrated under the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention in which Guyana won 93% of an oil concession block that was in dispute. He was counsel in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, the first maritime delimitation dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg.
  • 2010
    He promoted training and advocacy of non-violent resistance in Iran long before the “Green Revolution.” He was featured in the award-winning film The Green Wave. He predicted the Arab Spring in the film, stating in February 2010 that the Iranian popular uprising was “not just a rebellion, but a seismic shift, a democratic tidal wave which will not just irreversibly change the future of Iran but of the entire Middle East.” He has testified before the European Parliament, United States Commissions, and the Canadian Parliament, advocating non-violent democratic transitions, emphasis on human rights rather than the nuclear issue, targeted sanctions against human rights abusers, and firmly opposing war.
    More Details Hide Details He has collaborated closely with and published opinion editorials with Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on Iran human rights issues, including an important opinion in the Washington Post. He was the academic supervisor of Nargess Tavassolian, Shirin Ebadi's daughter, during her graduate studies at McGill University. In August 2008, the Iranian Government press made the "accusation" that “Nargess Tavassolian converted to Bahá’ísm in 2007 under the direction of Payam Akhavan and started her activities in the Association for Bahá’í Studies” amidst death threats against Ebadi for “serving the foreigners and the Baha’is.” The propaganda attack and threats ultimately backfired, resulting in an unprecedented expression of solidarity with Baha’is by Iranian civil society and even prominent Shi’a clerics such as Ayatollah Montazeri.
    He resigned in protest a year later in 2010, together with the Head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, Sima Samar, in support of the organization's then-President, Remy Beauregard.
    More Details Hide Details Beauregard had been accused of meeting with representatives of terrorist organizations, which he denied, and of funding the NGO's Al-Haq and Al-Mezan, which were alleged to have terrorist links. Beauregard died shortly thereafter of a heart attack, giving rise to a national political controversy. A Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian House of Commons recommended a number of reforms in the Board of Directors of Rights and Democracy and found several aspects of the controversy "unclear and disputed." It nonetheless included among its recommendations that "current Board of Rights and Democracy issue an apology to Mr. Beauregard`s family for any statements damaging his reputation." Payam Akhavan is an important figure in the Iranian human rights movement and related Persian-language media. He Co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre to establish a record of the Islamic Republic's human rights abuses and promote individual accountability for crimes. His initiative to bring justice to his country of origin was featured in the New York Times. He met with Prime Minister Harper to persuade him to file criminal charges against the notorious Iranian prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for the 2003 torture and murder of Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi in Tehran's Evin prison. In 2006, Prime Minister Harper called for the arrest of Mortazavi based on information that he would transit Germany while returning to Tehran from the inaugural meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Mortazavi took the direct flight instead and avoided arrest, though he did not leave Iran again.
  • 2009
    In 2009, he was appointed by the Government of Canada to the board of directors of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
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  • 2008
    He campaigned for her release and in December 2008 she became Prime Minister in a landslide electoral victory.
    More Details Hide Details Akhavan served as legal counsel for the Turkish Human Rights Association and the Truth Justice Memory Centre, which filed a joint submission with the Toronto-based Zoryan Institute in the Perinçek v. Switzerland case before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. The submission was that Perinçek’s statement that the 1915 Armenian genocide is “an international lie” had discriminatory motives and incited hatred against Armenians in Turkey.
    In 2008, he was counsel to Sheikh Hasina – one of two surviving daughters of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after his assassination and the massacre of his family in 1974 – while she was imprisoned to avoid her participation in national elections.
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    He was counsel before the International Court of Justice in the Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Georgia v Russia) concerning allegations of "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia during the August 2008 armed conflict between Georgia and Russia.
    More Details Hide Details He was also counsel in Akcam v Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights in an historical victory following the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul. The Judgment held that Turkey could no longer make speech on the 1915 Armenian genocide a crime under its laws.
  • 2007
    In its judgment, the ECHR found that Perincek's 2007 conviction had violated his freedom of expression; however, 7 of 10 judges, including the President of the Court, recognized that the suffering of the Armenian people in 1915 clearly constituted genocide.
    More Details Hide Details He is also lead international counsel for the Armenian Church in its suit to reclaim its ancient headquarters in Kozan, seized a century ago by the Ottomans during the Armenian genocide. This case, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the genocide, seeks the return of the historical seat of the Armenian Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia. This site served as the headquarters of the Armenian Church from 1293 until 1915. In 2015, Akhavan acted as counsel for Bolivia in its case against Chile on the obligation to negotiate access to the Pacific Ocean before the International Court of Justice. This case concerns Bolivia's right to sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean following conquest of its coastal territory in the Pacific War of 1879. On September 24, 2015, the ICJ ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear this case following a preliminary objection from Chile.
  • 2005
    Born in 2005.
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