The Universal Rights Group’s strategic direction is guided by the Board of Trustees. Meeting at least once a year, it can also contribute to, approve and amend the URG’s biennial programme of work.
The Board is made up of eminent experts from the world of human rights including current and former Special Procedure mandate-holders, current and former members of treaty bodies, former foreign ministers, international judges, heads of human rights NGOs and leading academics.
The URG aims to achieve regional and gender balance in all its governing bodies and in its secretariat.
Honorary President of the Universal Rights Group
President Jose Ramos Horta (Timor-Leste) – former President of Timor-Leste, former United Nations’ Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Chairperson of the Board
Dr Ahmed Shaheed (Maldives) – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives
Members of the Board
Dr Nazila Ghanea (Iran) – Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford (UK); Associate Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub; (Fellow of Kellogg College); member of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; and founding editor of International Journal of Religion and Human Rights.
Professor Juan Mendez (Argentina) – former UN Special Rapporteur on torture; President Emeritus of the International Center for Transitional Justice; and former Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide; Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at the American University – Washington College of Law, where he is Faculty Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative; Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, Switzerland.
Professor John Knox (US) – former Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; and Professor of international law at Wake Forest University (US). Previously, he worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of State, where he participated in the negotiation of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.
Justice Sophia A. B. Akuffo (Ghana) – Judge of the Supreme Court of Ghana; Vice-President and Judge of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights; former member of the Governing Committee of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute; and Chairperson of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Task Force.
Professor Daniel Magraw (US) – President Emeritus of the Center for International Environmental Law; Professorial Lecturer and Senior Fellow at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Elizabeth Haub Prize Laureate; member of Human Rights Watch’s Advisory Committee on Health and Human Rights.
Professor Paul Hunt (New Zealand, UK) – Former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health; former member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; member of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex; and Adjunct Professor at Waikato University.
Ms Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) – Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan since 2016; member of the Advisory Body on the Review of Resolution 1325; Executive Director for the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa; member of the United Nations Secretary General’s Expert Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka; member of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1995-2003); and International Commissioner to the Truth Commission of Sierra Leone (2002-2004).
Professor Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) – former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany); former Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution (2003-2009).
Ms Catarina de Albuquerque (Portugal) – Executive Chair of the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation (formerly Independent Expert); formerly chair of negotiations on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2004-2008).
Professor Christof Heyns (South Africa) – Member of the UN Human Rights Committee; Member of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi; former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria.
Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) – former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence (2012-2018); Member of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (2015- 2016); Director at the International Centre for Transitional Justice.
Yvette Stevens (Sierra Leone) has over 40 years’ experience in Policy Development, Engineering, Programme Analysis and Evaluation, and Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance, at country and international level and has worked within the United Nations system for most of her career in a variety of distinguished positions. In her most recent post as Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Stevens led Sierra Leone’s participation and membership at the Human Rights Council, where she spearheaded initiatives on women’s rights, child, early and forced marriage, persons living with albinism, and prevention.
Former members of the Board
Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan) (1952-2018) – UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion; former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions; Chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; President of the Supreme Court of the Pakistan Bar Association; and member of UN Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements.
Professor Sir Nigel Rodley (UK) (1941-2017) – former Chair and member of the UN Human Rights Committee; former UN Special Rapporteur on torture; and Professor of Law and Chair at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex.
Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (Sudan) – Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law, associated professor in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Fellow of the Centerfor the Study of Law and Religion of Emory University. Former Global Legal Scholar at the Law School, University of Warwick, UK (until November 2009); and Extraordinary Professor at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria (until November 2009).
Professor Michael O’Flaherty (Ireland) – Director of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, former Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; former Established Professor of Human Rights and Co-director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway; member and latterly vice-chair of the UN Human Rights Committee, 2004-2012; and former senior UN human rights official.