Akila Radhakrishnan ‘09: Relentless Advocate for International Justice, Human Rights

The Global Justice Center has had tremendous success in recent years ensuring women and girls raped in war have access to abortion services, and UC Law SF alumna Akila Radhakrishnan ‘09 is a major reason why.

Radhakrishnan, who now serves as president of the New York-based nonprofit, helped conceptualize the campaign to support the provision of sexual and reproductive rights to female rape victims. She has since led the legal and advocacy efforts for the project, which Radhakrishnan said has effectively advanced a feminist legal understanding of the laws of war.

Since 2010, abortion has been recognized as protected medical care under international humanitarian law by the United Nations Security Council; UN Secretary-General; the European Union Commission and Parliament; and the governments of the UK, Netherlands and France, among others.

Akila Radhakrishnan ‘09 // Photo Credit: Global Justice Center

“One of the key accomplishments and outcomes of this work has been shifting the norm around how abortion is considered fundamental care for rape victims in war,” Radhakrishnan said. “We are really proud of having helped to usher in that change.”

Grant Shubin, a 2013 Hastings graduate who serves as the Global Justice Center’s deputy legal director, said reproductive rights was not a frequent topic of discussion at the Security Council before the campaign led by Radhakrishnan.

He said the Global Justice Center’s success in this domain was a great example of how Radhakrishnan combines her passion with her “manner of viewing international law in creative or unconventional ways in order to gain wins where most people don’t look or expect them.”

“She is very brave, and she is willing to take unconventional positions that are legally supported,” Shubin said.

Radhakrishnan credited Janet Benshoof, the Global Justice Center’s founder, for her willingness to think outside the box.

“She was the person who really took me under her wing and supported my career growth and development,” Radhakrishnan said. “I owe so much to having had the opportunity to work under her and benefit from her years of experience and creative and pioneering legal thinking.”

Benshoof passed away in 2017, and Radhakrishnan served as the Global Justice Center’s acting president for several months before being officially named president in June 2018. The Global Justice Center is dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law, and views the fight for reproductive rights as central to that mission.

Ensuring accountability and justice for conflict-related sexual violence has been another major focus of the Global Justice Center’s work, and Radhakrishnan addressed the UN Security Council about the topic in February.

She stressed that too often both state and non-state perpetrators of sexual violence do not face punishment, and she urged nations to do more to pursue justice in this realm.

“It’s essential that as the Council contemplates actions to support accountability, it does not support or set up processes and mechanisms that focus on certain actors to the exclusion of others,” Radhakrishnan told the UN.

Radhakrishnan started working at the Global Justice Center soon after her graduation from UC Law SF. She said she chose to attend Hastings because it offered a concentration in international law and a variety of study abroad programs.

She credits UC Law SF professors Chimène Keitner, Naomi Roht-Arriaza and George Bisharat with providing essential guidance.

Radhakrishnan said that the opportunity to study abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands during the first semester of her 3L year was transformative. Her time there included an internship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in which she worked on the trial defense team for the former chief of the Federal Yugoslav Army.

“International law often feels like a very amorphous field, so I think that experience was really important for me in laying the groundwork for my career growth,” Radhakrishnan said.

She graduated from Hastings the year before Shubin entered, but he said it’s been thrilling to work closely on significant international issues with a fellow alumnus who took many of the same courses and had many of the same professors as he did.

“I find it hugely rewarding to do our small part to establish UC Law SF’ pedigree in international justice and human rights,” he said.