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Agnès Callamard: A fierce champion of human rights

Dr. Agnes Callamard is a fierce champion of human rights in general and the right to freedom of expression and information specifically. A former IFEX Council member, Callamard advocates for positive change through her work within civil society, academia, and at the United Nations.

©Jason Tanner / Erika Pineros

Censorship kills. It starves and it silences. It denies people access to information essential to their life.

From a speech Callamard gave at the ArtVenture Freedom to Create Prize launch in 2007

You might describe Agnès Callamard as the human rights equivalent of a triple-threat. She has been at the forefront of a wide range of human rights concerns throughout her professional life, making powerful contributions within academia, civil society, and at the United Nations.

In 2003, Callamard founded the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (now part of the Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance), the first self-regulatory body for humanitarian organisations. She has been a Research Policy Coordinator for Amnesty International, and worked at the Center for Refugee Studies in Toronto.

From 2004 to 2013 Callamard was the Executive Director at ARTICLE 19, a U.K.-based organisation dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and information. Under her leadership the organization saw significant growth, both in terms of geographic scope and influence.

While with ARTICLE 19, Callamard served for two terms as a Council member for IFEX, the global network of organisations defending and promoting freedom of expression.

Callamard holds a PhD in Political Science from the New School for Social Research in New York. She has published papers on the relationship between free expression and accountability, transparency, discrimination and intolerance, as well as more broadly in the field of human rights, women's rights and refugee movements.

She is the Director of Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University: a program launched in 2014 by the university's president, Lee Bollinger, to survey, document and strengthen free expression. Its Global Case Law Database on freedom of expression and access to information, supported by a network of international experts, quickly became an essential resource. In 2016 it was expanded to include a Spanish database. IFEX member FLIP (Fundacion para la Liberdad de Prensa) and the Externado University (Colombia), contributed case analyses of some of the most prominent Latin American freedom of expression jurisprudence.

On 1 August 2016 Callamard was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, with a mandate to “examine situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in all circumstances and for whatever reason”. In this role, she carries out country visits, transmits urgent appeals to governments on behalf of individuals at risk, and produces reports for the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

When one writes about Agnes Callamard, the adjective tireless comes to mind. In addition to her work in the international arena, she is committed to engaging the next generation of rights defenders. As we write, she is also teaching a course on Freedom of Expression in the Age of Globalization at Columbia University.


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