Professor Savitri Goonesekere is one of the most eminent jurists in Sri Lanka, and also an outstanding educator who has contributed to reform of higher education. As an academic, she has made a great contribution to research into family law in South Asia, human rights for women and children and the history of legislation in this area, and as a social activist, she has worked for UN institutions and NGOs. She is committed to training young researchers and activists to work in the overlapping spheres of academic research and human rights protection, and also involves herself directly in protecting the rights of the socially disadvantaged.
Professor Goonesekere graduated from the Faculty of Law of the former University of Ceylon (now, University of Peradeniya) in 1961 with first class honours, and was qualified as Attorney-at-Law. In 1962, she went to Harvard Law School to study and obtained LL.M.(Master of Laws). After returning to Sri Lanka, she first taught at the Faculty of Law, University of Ceylon, and then, from 1977 to 1982, at the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria.
Subsequently, she rendered the great service of founding a correspondence course for higher education in Sri Lanka. As a result, in 1983, the Open University of Sri Lanka was established. She became the first Head of Department of Law of this university, and later on, Dean of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Acting Vice Chancellor. In 1999, she was appointed Vice Chancellor (chief executive) of the University of Colombo, the oldest university in Sri Lanka. She was the first woman in Sri Lanka to become a Vice Chancellor, and therefore became a role model for women wanting a career in academia or specialist research. Meanwhile she has often been invited by a number of research institutions all over the world, including the United Nations University, and has also been asked to give advice to international organizations like ILO and UNICEF. Besides all this work, she became a member of the board of the Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR), and was involved in grassroots movements for improving women's status.
Professor Goonesekere's main research achievement lies in the field of women and children's legal status and rights. One of her well-known books, 'Children, Law and Justice: A South Asian Perspective' (1998), has been highly praised both abroad and at home. Her social involvement is not limited to the academic field. When the old penal code, which had been established during the colonial period, was revised drastically in 1995, she made sure that women and children's rights would be guaranteed. After the catastrophic Tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, she made every effort to support women victims in the coastal areas with funding from UNIFEM.
Professor Goonesekere has gained international acclaim both for her academic research into women and children's legal rights in South Asia, especially Sri Lanka, and for her work to protect the socially vulnerable. She is truly worthy of the Academic Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.