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Centre News & Events: 2016
Centre for Human Rights honours Nelson Mandela at UN headquarters in Geneva

18 July 2016 -  The 8th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court competition is currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland. For the past seven years, the competition was held in December to coincide with International Human Rights Day. From 2016 onwards the competition will be held on and around 18 July to celebrate the birthday of late South African President Nelson Mandela.

This year twenty-five teams coming from the five United Nations regions are participating in the annual competition where a hypothetical human rights case is being argued before a number of human rights experts. The countries represented at this year’s edition of the moot court competition are:

  • Africa:
    Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • Asia-Pacific:
    India, China, Japan, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand
  • Eastern Europe:
  • Latin America & Caribbean:
    Argentina, Brazil
  • Western Europe and Others:
    Australia, United States of America

The Nepalese team from Purbanchal University
Short Course on Business and Human Rights, 4 - 8 July 2016

12 July 2016 -  The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, hosted its first short course on business and human rights at the University of Pretoria from 4 - 8 July 2016. The course brought together 50 people from across Africa, mainly representing civil society, national human rights institutions, and academia. The course was organised with support from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office for Southern Africa.

The short course brought experts on business and human rights from across the globe to present lectures on issues that included a general introduction to business and human rights, business and human rights policy, judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms, the African regional human rights system, illicit financial flows, human rights in the project cycle, access to remedy, debates around a potential treaty on business and human rights, and free, prior and informed consent.

As part of the 2016 short course, participants also had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), which took place at the University of Pretoria from 6 - 7 July 2016. The ACCA is a coalition of more than 100 organisations working on business and human right issues in Africa, which spans across the continent to include members from Southern, Eastern, Central and West-Africa. The ACCA is currently hosted by the Centre for Human Rights.



Call for Applications: Projects Manager, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

12 July 2016 -  The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) at the University of Pretoria is seeking an experienced Projects Manager to manage the activities of its flagship Master’s programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa and the Human Rights Clinics attached to this programme. The appointment will be on a fixed-term renewable contract for one year, subject to the availability of funding and performance. The Master’s programme has been running since 2000. 





In pursuit of the ideals of excellence and diversity, the University of Pretoria wishes to invite applications for the following vacancy.

The University of Pretoria’s commitment to quality makes us one of the top research universities in the country and gives us a competitive advantage in international science and technology development.


Call for Applications: LLD/DPhil Scholarship, centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

12 July 2016 -  The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), University of Bergen calls for applications for a full-time doctoral candidate with a focus on political and legal mobilisation around sexual and reproductive rights in Africa. The candidate will be based at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

About the Scholarship

The scholarship is linked to the political determinants of sexual and reproductive health: Criminalisation, health impacts and game changers. The scholarship or research project uses quantitative as well as qualitative methods to investigate the political strategies and dynamics that lead to politicisation, criminalisation or decriminalisation of abortion and same-sex intimacy. The project also investigates the health implications that follow from the strategies and dynamics. The empirical focus of the project is on ten African countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.

This scholarship is comprehensive, covering tuition fees, travel and living expenses and ancillary costs.

Symposium on realising the rights of persons with disabilitiies held at the University of Nairobi, Kenya

11 July 2016 -  On 13 December 2016 it will be the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Convention which came into force in 2008 has to date been ratified by 43 African countries including Kenya. The Disability Rights Project at the University of Nairobi’s School of Law hosted a public symposium at its Parklands Campus on the 30th of June 2016 to explore the character, prospects and challenges of realizing the rights of persons with disabilities protected under the CRPD in Kenya and regionally.

Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Dean of the School of Law opening the symposium cautioned that constitutional provisions in law affirming that all people are equal before the law do not automatically make people equal. There is a need particularly in the context of historically marginalised groups to go a step further to dismantle the underlying systems and structures that continues to perpetuate unequal treatment of the group. She added that a lack of recognition of persons with disabilities in the main provisions of law often shields systemic institutional barriers.

Professor Charles Ngwena, Professor at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria reflected on the question of whether the CRPD is a revolutionary paradigm-shifting human rights instrument. He said that the CRPD introduces a new way of thinking about human rights and the rights of persons with disabilities by putting difference and particularity at the centre of the discussion. More than just affirming existing rights, the CRPD amplifies the rights of people with disabilities through innovative affirmation.

Press Statement: Centre for Human Rights condemns the recent systematic killings in Kenya

8 July 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, expresses its deepest condolences to the families of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri who were killed in Kenya on or around 23 June 2016. On 23 June 2016, Willie Kimani, a Kenyan human rights lawyer working for International Justice Mission, and his client Josephat Mwenda, attended the hearing of a criminal case at Mavoko Law Courts in Machakos County, Kenya. Mr Mwenda, a motorcycle operator, was charged with overloading and possession of marijuana.

It appears that the charges against Mr Mwenda were proffered against him by police officers in an attempt to conceal unprofessional conduct by one officer who had allegedly shot Mr Mwenda unprovoked during a routine traffic inspection. Mr Mwenda had reported the alleged incident to the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) and the matter was under investigation. It appears that the fabricated charges were designed to intimidate Mr Mwenda into withdrawing the complaint. On the fateful day, Mr Kimani, his client and a taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, who had picked them from court mysteriously disappeared. Their bodies were found several days later in River Ol-donyo Sabuk, stuffed in sacks with heads covered in polythene bags.

Students on the Centre's Master's programme on Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa are asking for justice and to stop extrajudicial killings in Kenya
Press Statement: Centre for Human Rights regrets South Africa’s global renunciation of domestic protection for sexual minorities

6 July 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, notes with regret that the South African government did not support the recent establishment of a United Nations watchdog to monitor and report on violence and discrimination world-wide against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Taken at face value, abstaining from supporting this measure is perplexing. The substantiation given for our vote is not convincing. The onus remains on the government to fully explain to all South Africans why it has taken this approach.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s main human rights body, on 30 June 2016 decided by a vote of 23 against 18 (with 6 abstentions) to create this position. It is formally called the ‘’Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’’, and will serve for a period of three years.

South Africa sits on the 47-member Council. Of the 13 African states on the Human Rights Council, 9 voted against the resolution. These states joined Saudi Arabia, a state infamous for state-sponsored terror against LGBT persons. The six abstaining states are, in addition to South Africa: Botswana, Ghana, India, the Maldives, and the Philippines.

Centre for Human Rights hosts its first short course on Business and Human Rights

5 July 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, is hosting its first Short Course on Business and Human Rights in Pretoria from 4 - 8 July 2016. This Course was made possible through support received from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office for Southern Africa.

The Course brings together 55 participants from 18 African countries to learn about and discuss issues around business and human rights that include access to remedies, free prior and informed consent, extractive industries, illicit financial flows and development finance.

The Course participants will also have the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), also taking place at the University of Pretoria from 6 - 7 July 2016. The ACCA is a coalition of more than 90 civil society organisations working on business and human rights in Africa.



Dr Solomon Dersso, Commissioner,
African Commission on Human and People's Rights

Opinion piece: South Africa should keep standing up against violence against LGBT persons – at home and abroad

29 June 2016 - As the spotlight falls on the adoption of South Africa’s landmark Constitution, 20 years ago this year, one of its striking features -- the inclusion of the first-ever constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation -- is also under global scrutiny.

The scene is set at the current session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, until Friday 1 July. The Human Rights Council is the UN’s primary human rights body, tasked with advancing and overseeing the protection and promotion of human rights in UN Member States. South Africa is currently represented in the 47-member Council.

Seven Latin American States (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay) have tabled a resolution calling for the establishment of an Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. One of the means through which the Council aims to ensure the realisation of human rights is the appointment of Independent Experts dealing with specific human rights themes (such as torture and violence against women).


Press Statement: Centre for Human Rights decides to relocate the 25th African Human Rights Moot Court competition to Pretoria to take place from 3 to 8 October 2016

27 June 2016 - In a statement released on 12 May 2016, the Centre for Human Rights explained why we agreed, after extensive consultations with our partners, to co-host the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition in Banjul, The Gambia, despite issues we had raised in an earlier statement on 20 April 2016, condemning human rights violations in The Gambia and calling for the relocation of the AU’s African Year of Human Rights celebrations away from Banjul.

We stipulated as conditions for the Moot Competition taking place in The Gambia written assurances from the government of The Gambia guaranteeing (i) the security and safety of all participants amid the political turmoil in the country; and (ii) the free and unhindered presentation of the Moot. We had also, in our statement, called on the government of The Gambia to investigate the deaths of opposition politicians and the unlawful detention of peaceful protesters that occurred on 14 and 16 April 2016. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights directed a similar appeal to the government of The Gambia. We had hoped that the celebrations marking the African Year of Human Rights, including the Moot Competition, would serve as a platform to engage the government of The Gambia on the human rights violations in the country.

Prof Christof Heyns elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee

24 June 2016 - Prof Christof Heyns, former Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Professor of human rights law at the University of Pretoria, was nominated in March 2016 by the South African Government as its candidate to the prestigious 18 member United Nations Human Rights Committee, and was elected as a member in New York on 23 June 2016.

The brochure prepared by the South African Government, as well as endorsements of his candidature by various luminaries in the field, are listed below.

Prof Heyns served as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions over the last six years, and has in that capacity been directly engaged with some of the major challenges of the international community of our time, such as the aftermath of the war in Sri Lanka and the war in Ukraine.  In addition to that he is one of the three international experts who are conducting the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (and he serves as the chair of that body). Very few human rights experts in the world have held such a range of top human rights positions in the international system.


Prof Christof Heyns

Prof Heyns teaches human rights law at the Universities of Pretoria; Oxford; American University in Washington DC; and the University of Geneva. He is the author of numerous international publications on topics such as armed drones, the management of demonstrations, the use of force by law enforcement officials, and human rights law in Africa.

Prof Heyns will be in South Africa from 27 June to 8 July, and will be happy to conduct an interview on his work.

Please contact Pumeza Matwa on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Tel 012 420 6217

Gender Unit hosts state-reporting workshop under the Maputo Protocol in Côte d’Ivoire

21 June 2016 - In view of assisting and strengthening the mechanism of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (SRRWA), on the 8 and 9 June 2016, the Gender Unit of the Centre for Human Rights organised and convened a workshop in Cote d'Ivoire on state reporting under the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Women’s Protocol). The workshop was held on the 8 and 9 June 2016.

Workshop participants came from relevant government departments, civil society organisations and gender equality commissions from francophone countries in West Africa; Benin, Cote d' Ivoire and Togo. Fifteen key government, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and civil society stakeholders involved in the state reporting process in these three countries attended this workshop.

The main objectives of the workshop were to disseminate and popularise the Guidelines on State Reporting on the Women’s Protocol, to build and strengthen the capacity of the key stakeholders in the three respective countries on state reporting under the Women’s Protocol and to ensure that their respective governments comply with state reporting obligations under the Women's Protocol.

Press Statement: Seychelles decriminalises sodomy, fulfilling constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations

20 June 2016 - On 17 May 2016 the Seychelles parliament passed a landmark bill to amend the country’s Penal Code to decriminalise sodomy. This was fittingly done on the day of the commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT or IDAHOBiT).

IDAHOT marks the day on which, 26 years ago in 1990, the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a sexual deviation (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems - ICD 10). It is therefore fitting that the Parliament of the Republic of Seychelles moved to decriminalise what is a human and normal part and being of its gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered and Intersex community.

Seychelles ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) on 13 April 1992 and one of its nationals serves as a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Working Group on Rights of Older Persons and People With Disabilities). Article 2 of the African Charter provides for the protection of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the African Charter without distinction of any kind. It goes on to mention a non-exclusive list of basis for this distinction and, for emphasis, adds the clause ‘or other status’.

Opinion piece: The enduring lessons of 16 June

16 June 2016 - Celebrating Youth Day, introduced in the post-apartheid era, always has a historical dimension, but this is even pronounced this year, which marks a landmark 40 years since those fateful events of 16 June 1976. 

We are reminded that 16 June 1976 was a turning point in at least three important ways.

Before thousands of school children took to the streets of Soweto to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as language of instruction for three subjects (geography, mathematic and history), it was still possible to sell apartheid as benevolent paternalism. After the blatant authoritarianism of imposing an extremely onerous policy without consultation or any effort at articulating reasonable grounds as justification, the benevolence-defence was no longer legitimately open to apologists of apartheid. The scales fell of the eyes of many, increasingly also white South Africans.

The Soweto-moment, ironically, probably accelerated the advent of a truly free, democratic South Africa, a South Africa in which a culture of authoritarianism has made way for a constitutional culture of justification.


Prof Frans Viljoen
Director, Centre for Human Rights

Joint Press Statement: Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender condemn the homophobic massacre of 50 gay club revellers in Orlando, Florida, USA

14 June 2016 - Sunday 12 June 2016 was a sad day in the history of the struggle for LGBTI rights in the world. Fifty revellers were gunned down at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, USA. The gunman’s actions were apparently inspired by his hatred for persons of a different sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), both at the University of Pretoria, believe in and work for the realisation of the rights of all persons on the African continent, including sexual minorities, based on the rights protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We strongly condemn this heinous act, and call upon all to respect the rights of all persons around the globe irrespective of what or who they are.

Violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is a violation of international human rights law. In its 2015 Report on Violence against LGBTI persons, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights incorporated the concept of violence based on prejudice to examine violence committed against LGBTI persons. The Commission found that violence based on prejudice requires context and social complicity and has a symbolic impact, sending a message to the whole LGBTI community, and that the perpetrator’s motivation needs to be understood as complex and multi-faceted, and not only as an individual act. So these acts, and the gunman in the Orlando massacre, are not individual exceptions, they are socially embedded and socially enabled. To prevent them requires a combination of legal and social reform, and the engagement of multiple actors in all societies.

Call for Applications: Three Master's degrees at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

14 June 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights is pleased to announce the call for applications for the following three Master's degrees to be offered in 2017:

(Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa)

This prestigious one-year intensive course is unique in Africa and attracts the brightest human rights scholars on the continent. Up to 25 FULL scholarships are available for African citizens.

Eligibility criteria:
A degree allowing access to the legal profession or an honours degree in a discipline relevant to human rights and democratisation.

Course duration:
January - December 2017 (1 year)

Deadline for applications:
31 July 2016

Up to 25 FULL scholarships are available for African citizens

Course website:

Press Statement: The UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea finds crimes against humanity in the country

10 June 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights (CHR), Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria welcomes the publication of the report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) confirming that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea. This report comes a few weeks after Eritrea’s jubilant 25th independence anniversary, during which the country celebrated its liberation after a long struggle.

The report of the COIE established that crimes against humanity had been committed in Eritrea since 1991. These crimes include enslavement, torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, rape and murder. The COIE found that “crimes against humanity have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner” over the past 25 years and estimates that between 300 000 and 400 000 people have been enslaved in Eritrea since 1991.

The COI’s mandate, given to it by the UN’s Human Rights Council in July 2015, was to “investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes as against humanity.” This followed the publication of its first report which documented grave human rights violations perpetrated by the state.


Mr Mike Smith, Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea
Progress at last? Minister promises to make South African Home Affairs LGBTI friendly

8 June 2016 - Malusi Gigaba, the South African Minister of Home Affairs, has admitted that his department has often failed LGBTI South Africans, but says he is finally taking steps to ensure that they are treated as equal citizens.

As we’ve regularly reported over the years, Home Affairs has been slated for some of its officials’ discriminatory refusal to marry same-sex couples, as well as its degrading and harmful treatment of transgender people.

On Tuesday, Gigaba met with representative of the LGBTI community in Pretoria. The historic meeting was followed by a press conference in which Gigaba outlined new efforts to turn things around.

The minister noted that this year is the tenth anniversary of the Civil Union Act that legalised same-sex marriage and said that this was an opportunity “to look back at the challenges in implementing the act to fulfil the rights of the LGBTI community”.

Gigaba said that in the meeting with the LGBTI representatives four main areas of concern were identified. These were the implementation of the Civil Union Act; changing the sex of transgender people in their ID documents; the registration of adoptions by same-sex couples; and the treatment of asylum seekers on the basis of sexual orientation.


Minister Malusi Gigaba
Centre for Human Rights celebrates Africa Day (and 30-year birthday) by reflecting on the South African Constitution at 20

31 May 2016 - The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, symbol of a transformative South Africa emanating from a deeply divided society, was adopted on 8 May 1996.  On 25 May 2016, the Centre for Human Rights celebrated Africa Day, as well as the 20-year existence of the Constitution, as part of a series of events commemorating the Centre’s establishment 30 years ago, in May 1986.

The Centre was founded by a small group of academics at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, in the wake of an epoch-making conference reflecting on the possibilities of a Bill of Rights – and a culture of true constitutionalism more broadly – for a post-apartheid South Africa. Three of the speakers at the Africa Day event – founding Centre Director Professor Johann van der Westhuizen (now retired judge of the Constitutional Court), Justice Zak Yacoob (now retired Justice of the Constitutional Court), and Dr Mathole Motshekga (now Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services) – were present at that initial 1986 conference.

On Africa Day 2016, seven guest speakers made presentations as part of a discussion forum “By, for and of Africa? Reflections on the South African Constitution at 20”.


Dr Frene Ginwala,
first Speaker of the National Assembly,
at the Discussion Forum on 25 May 2016
Centre hosts meeting of experts towards developing transparency guidelines for African elections

24 May 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights from 24 to 27 May co-hosted a meeting of experts, together with the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, to contribute towards the adoption of guidelines on access to information in electoral processes in Africa.

This process was launched in August 2015, with a Resolution by the African Commission. The guidelines to be developed aim at building on the basis of existing legal texts (such as the African Charter, the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa), distilling from these clear and specific guidelines to ensure greater transparency during elections. The meeting aims at coming up with a set of issues and preliminary views on these issues to be included in the guidelines.

Transparency in elections is crucial. It bolsters their integrity, thus counteracting political contestation about election results. It also builds public confidence, thus encouraging voter participation.

Press Statement: Little to celebrate as Eritrea marks 25 years of independence amidst grave human rights violations

24 May 2016 - The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, congratulates Eritrea on its 25th independence celebrations. Today, 24 May 2016, marks 25 years since Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia after 30 long years of civil war. To the Eritrean people, 24 May 1991 marked the beginning of an era they hoped would bring peace, justice, equality and prosperity. The people of Eritrea had long hoped for a democratic society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, upheld and defended and an unrestricted space created for personal as well as community development.

The holders of state power in Eritrea are yet to live up to these aspirations of the Eritrean people. As such, Eritreans have little to celebrate in terms of human rights guarantees and democracy. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea has repeatedly reported systematic human rights abuses by the Eritrean government. The same have been echoed by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The above UN special procedures and treaty bodies have repeatedly called upon Eritrea to honour its obligations under international human rights instruments. The ACHPR has also adopted a number of resolutions condemning the human rights situation in Eritrea and calling upon Eritrea to honour its obligations under international and regional human rights instruments as well as the Constitutive Act of the African Union.


Journalist Dawit Isaak, detained since 2001,
is just one example of those languishing in undisclosed detention facilities without having been accorded
the due process of law.
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