Portrait Radhika CoomaraswamyRadhika Coomaraswamy, a former top United Nations official and a leading voice for women and children, will be a keynote speaker at the opening ceremony of the Women in Public Service Project Institute being hosted by Mount Holyoke, Simmons and Smith colleges.

The opening ceremony of the Women in Public Service Project Institute (WPSP) will be held on Monday, May 26, at 10 a.m. in Chapin Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College.

Now a global professor of law at the New York University School of Law, Coomaraswamy was the special rapporteur on violence against women and, until recently, the UN under secretary-general and special representative of the secretary general for children and armed conflict.

Coomaraswamy began her career as a constitutional lawyer and has written two books on the constitutional process in her native Sri Lanka and on the role of the judiciary in plural societies. She was also chairperson of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission from 2003 to 2006.

“Radhika Coomaraswamy’s distinguished career in public service continues to inspire generations of women to serve their communities at the national and international level,” said WPSP Director Rangita de Silva de Alwis. “On a personal note that is so relevant to the spirit of the WPSP, Radhika has mentored and inspired me and many others in the work that we do.”

Since the 1980s, Coomaraswamy has been a strong voice for women’s international human rights and has written extensively on the subject while serving as the special rapporteur on violence against women. Her annual reports covered thematic issues, and her country visits—to look at comfort women in Japan, women trafficked in Nepal and Poland, women victims of domestic violence and rape in Brazil and South Africa, and women in U.S. prisons—explored the actual impact of international norms in specific contexts.

Since 2006, as the special representative on children and armed conflict, Coomaraswamy has been in charge of preparing the annual report of the secretary general on children and armed conflict. As a result, she has developed an expertise on the protection of civilians, especially children in the context of armed conflict. She has also visited conflict areas throughout the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Myanmar, Israel, Palestine and Thailand, advocating for the rights of children and meeting with state and nonstate actors to protect children from grave violations.

Coomaraswamy has won many awards, including the international law award of the American Bar Association. She received a B.A. from Yale, a J.D. from Columbia and a LL.M. from Harvard.