Centre News & Events: 2015
Swaziland court orders Centre alumnus and magazine editor to be released with immediate effect

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria welcomes the Swaziland Supreme Court’s order to immediately release human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Mkhubu. This order comes after the Court upheld an appeal brought by Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu against their conviction on two charges of contempt of court and two year prison sentences.

Mr Maseko, a 2005 alumnus of the Centre for Human Rights and the 2011 laureate of the Centre’s Vera Chirwa Award for human rights activism, and Mr Makhubu, the editor of the The Nation magazine, were convicted following their public criticism of Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. Their imprisonment was an attempt to stifle free speech and criticism of the judiciary in Swaziland, an undemocratic country where the rule of law has largely been replaced by royal rule.

During the proceedings the Directorate of Public Prosecutions did not oppose the appeal as it is believed that the conviction was unsupportable and that Judge Mpendulo Simelane, who presided over their criminal trial in the High Court, should have recused himself. Judge Simleane has subsequently been charged with corruption and defeating the ends of justice.



Two alumni from the Centre for Human Rights elected to two African Union institutions

The Centre for Human Rights is pleased to announce the recent election of two alumni of its LLM/MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa programme to two African Union institutions.

Dr Solomon Dersso

Dr Solomon Dersso (Ethiopia, class of 2003) was elected as Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, a quasi-judicial body which works to promote and protect human rights in Africa, interpret the African Charter and consider individual complaints of violations of the Charter. Dr Dersso obtained a Ph.D in Law from the University of Witwatersrand in 2009. One of the major areas of his research interest is constitutional design and institutional and policy mechanisms for accommodation of ethno-cultural diversity in Africa. He has served as the Legal Adviser to the AU High Implementation (Mbeki) Panel (AUHIP) Team of Experts on the Boundary dispute between Sudan and South Sudan. He is currently Head of the Peace and Security Council Report at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Prof Benyam Mezmur

Prof Benyam Mezmur (Ethiopia, class of 2005) was re-elected into the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, a team of child rights experts mandated with ensuring states’ compliance with the African Children's Charter and guarantee the best interests of the African Child. Prof Mezmur obtained a PhD in Law from the University of the Western Cape. He is currently Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape and Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Members of the African Commission and the African Committee of Experts serve in their individual capacities. These elections are therefore an attestation to their exceptional academic and professional achievements, and recognition of their ability to contribute to the African human rights project.

Dr Dersso and Prof Mezmur are among over 400 alumni of the LLM/MPhil programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, a fast-growing group whose members are highly qualified and well experienced human rights experts. Since 2000, their academic and professional achievements, personal commitment and integrity are cumulatively working to create and maintain a culture of human rights, development and peace in Africa and – from elsewhere – for Africa.



Dr Solomon Dersso

Prof Benyam Mezmur
Centre for Human Rights welcomes reports on human rights situation in Eritrea

24 June 2015: Eritrea has been high on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council during its 29th Session, which is currently on-going in Geneva, Switzerland, with the release of two important reports, namely those of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.

“It is indeed high time that the international community accords intensified scrutiny to the human rights situation in Eritrea, with 5 000 fleeing the country on a monthly basis because of violations of their basic rights”, said Prof Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, emphasized that Eritrea and the international community should nurture a long-term human rights perspective in the country. She provided an update on the situation of human rights in Eritrea on 24 June 2015, during the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council. She called on the Eritrean Government and the international community to bear in mind that trading human rights for short-term political or economic gains would undermine the long-term enjoyment of all human rights by all in Eritrea.



Invitation to attend oral defence

Oral Defence: Ms Romola Adeola

You are invited to the oral defence of the doctoral thesis by Ms Romola Adeola.

Date: Friday 26 June 2015
Time: 12:00 - 13:00
Venue: Law 1-48, Faculty of Law, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
Members of the public are invited to attend.
The topic of her dissertation is:
"Development-induced displacement in Africa: Striking a balance between the imperative of development and the rights of persons likely to be displaced"
Prof Frans Viljoen



ICC: Sad lesson of lofty ideals trumped by reality repeats itself

by Professor Daniel Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The disappointment at South Africa’s failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to face genocide charges at the International Criminal Court is a sad reflection on the court’s poor record in living up to its lofty ideals. But, the world has seen it all before.

Idealism in global affairs

In August 1928, 15 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, gathered in Paris to sign a new international agreement. As signatories to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, they agreed to renounce war as an instrument of national policy and committed to using only peaceful means to settle disputes, regardless of their nature or origin.

Such was the enthusiasm for the agreement, which entered into force in 1929, that the original signatories were later joined by another 47 states, including the Soviet Union. Frank B. Kellogg, the prime architect of the treaty, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.



CHR and ICNL present Civil Society and Law course

The Centre for Human Rights (CHR), University of Pretoria in partnership with the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) presented the advanced short course on Civil Society and Law.

The three-day intensive course was held from 10 – 12 June 2015, with over 45 participants including the current LLM/MPhil (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) students and representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across Africa.

The role and benefits of civil society to citizens across the globe cannot be overemphasized. They are fundamental in articulating citizens’ demands and interests especially, where state policies and programmes of its agencies have either failed or neglected to take into account the concerns and needs of minorities and the poor in society. Citizens have been able to enjoy greater benefits from government programmes and policies as a result of organised action and cohesion by CSOs. The organisations have been celebrated for their contribution in advancing coordinated public action on matters of critical national and global concerns, and for protecting and promoting economic development and democracy.



Symposium on the right of access to information in Seychelles

On 25 and 26 May 2015, the Seychelles Media Commission (SMC) in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, organised a symposium in Victoria, Seychelles. The purpose of the symposium was create an increased understanding of the right of access to information (ATI) amongst stakeholders in Seychelles and also to begin initial discussions on the content of an ATI law for Seychelles. The opening ceremony was attended by His Excellency, President James Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles, Ministers, Members of Parliament, CSOs, journalists and other stakeholders.

On the first day, general discussions were held on the right of access to information, its importance for promoting democracy, good governance and public participation as well as pitfalls to be avoided by Seychelles in the development of its ATI law, by drawing on experiences of other African States. On the second day, more focused discussions were held on the proposed content of the ATI Bill, using the Model Law as a guide.



Five reasons why South Africa should not withdraw from the International Criminal Court Statute

by Professor Frans Viljoen, Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The brevity of President Bashir’s visit to South Africa is disproportionate to its consequences.  For one thing, it poses questions about South Africa’s commitment to upholding the rule of law – both on the international and national plane.  But if media reports are correct, the visit may have a much more far-reaching and lasting effect. According to reports, the ANC National Executive Committee has come to the conclusion that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is no longer useful to Africa, and that South Africa should undo its ratification and leave the fold of ICC state parties.

The Centre for Human Rights urges the governing party to reconsider its view on this matter, for the following reasons:

1   Justifiably indicted for crimes against humanity, President Bashir should not dictate our agenda 

The timing of this push makes the conclusion inevitable that this insight has arisen in response to the Bashir debacle. For the ANC, then, this event marks a line in the sand. In the process, Bashir has come to personalize the growing discontent with the ICC’s perceived anti-African bias, and to represent anti-Western sentiment, more generally. This sentiment has been expressed clearly by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, who cast those instituting the legal challenge concerning Bashir in the role of opportunists who “pit African leaders against each other in the name of international law” (Statement, 15 June 2015).



Call for Papers: Conference on the effective implementation of disability rights in Africa

The Centre for Human Rights at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria invites papers for a conference on disability rights in Africa.

About the Conference

The focus is on the effective implementation of disability rights to overcome barriers faced by children and youth with disabilities in Africa. The conference will be held at the Centre for Human Rights from 3 - 4 November 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa. The conference will coincide with the launch of the third issue of the African Disability Rights Yearbook. It is anticipated that papers presented at this conference will be reworked by authors and submitted for consideration for publication in the 2016 issue of African Disability Rights Yearbook.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) now enjoys at least 70 percent ratification by African States. However, without effective implementation, the obligations imposed on states by the CRPD would remain a distant promise to persons with disabilities in the African region.



Capacity building workshop on state reporting on the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

The Gender Unit of the Centre for Human Rights organised a 2 day workshop on increasing States’ capacity for reporting under the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Women’s Protocol) in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, in Rwanda. The workshop was held on 26 and 27 May 2015 at the Lake Kivu Serena hotel in Rwanda

Twenty two key government and civil society stakeholders involved in the state reporting process in Rwanda attended this workshop.

The main objectives of the workshop were to disseminate and popularise the Guidelines on State Reporting on the Women’s Protocol and to build and strengthen the capacity of the key stakeholders in Rwanda on state reporting under the Women’s Protocol.  Also, to ensure that the Rwandan government complies with its state reporting obligations under the Women’s Protocol.

Presentations were given on the African human rights system and the Women's Rights Protocol. An expert from Rwanda provided an overview of the situation of women’s human rights, highlighted progress and challenges in Rwanda.  A representative from the Ministry of Justice and the head of the State Reporting Unit in Malawi shared experiences of drafting Malawi’s state report on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Women’s Rights Protocol. This presentation was particularly beneficial considering that Malawi is the first country to have followed the guidelines on reporting on Part B on the Women’s Rights Protocol.



Centre for Human Rights launches a glossary of human rights terms in Tigrinya

The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, in collaboration with a group of Eritrean human rights lawyers, launches a glossary of human rights terms in Tigrinya. This is in line with one of the CHR’s main objectives, that is a wider dissemination of publications on human rights in Africa, including the advancement of a human rights literature in indigenous African languages.

The glossary, published as the Eritrean government is undergoing closer scrutiny by a United Nations-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE), represents a timely initiative. Its main objective is familiarization of key human rights terms in the Tigrinya language. The publication is also seen as part of the CHR’s long-standing commitment to advance human rights in Eritrea.

In its most common understanding, a glossary is an alphabetical list of words or terms relating to a specific subject, with additional explanation on the meaning of the words.



African Children’s Rights Committee finds Uganda conscripted child soldiers in case submitted by Centre for Human Rights students

The  African Committee of Experts on the Rights of the Child (African Children’s Rights Committee) made public its third decision (Communication 2/2009, Hansungule and Others (on behalf of children in Northern Uganda) v Uganda, decided at the Committee’s 21st ordinary session, 15-19 April 2013.) In this decision, the African Children’s Rights Committee finds that Uganda conscripted and used child soldiers, in violation of article 22(2) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter). Article 22(2) provides that state parties to the African Children’s Charter must take ‘all necessary measures to ensure that no child shall take a direct part in hostilities and refrain, in particular, from recruiting any child’. A child is defined as anyone under the age of 18.

This case relates to the situation of insurrection and instability that prevailed in Northern Uganda for some twenty years between 1986 and 2006. During this time, the government of Uganda had to deal with the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including the abduction of thousands of children. The Committee found that in the period 2001 to 2005, children were conscripted into and used in the Ugandan Defence Force. In its decision, the Committee notes that the African Children’s Charter does not allow for the voluntary recruitment of children into the armed forces of a state.



The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for Africa undertakes advocacy mission to Malawi

From 18 to 21 May 2015, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, undertook an advocacy visit to the Republic of Malawi. The purpose of the visit was to meet with government officials and other stakeholders, to advocate for the adoption of an access to information law in accordance with regional and international standards on access to information as embodied in the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa (Model Law). The Special Rapporteur was accompanied during this visit by 4 expert members of the Working Group that developed the Model Law.

During her mission, the Special Rapporteur met with the Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education, Honourable Kondwani Nankhumwa, and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Samuel Tembenu. In Parliament, the Special Rapporteur and her delegation met with the Speaker of Parliament, Honourable Richard Msowoya. The delegation also met the Chair and members of the Committee on Media and Communication, as well as the Chairs of several other Committees of Parliament. Other government institutions visited during the mission, are the Malawi National Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Malawi Law Reform Commission.



Press statement: AU human rights body adopts its second finding in case submitted by Centre for Human Rights

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights of the Child (African Children’s Rights Committee) has made public its second finding on a communication (case) submitted to it. This case deals with the conditions of some 100,000 children (called talibés) who, while attending Qur’anic schools in Senegal, are required to beg on the streets of Dakar and other urban centres, to secure their own survival.  The case was submitted as far back as 2012 by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, and the NGO la Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), Senegal (Centre for Human Rights and la Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (on behalf of Senegales Talibés) v Senegal, ACERWC, Comm/001/2012, 15 April 2014.)

The African Children’s Rights Committee is an African Union (AU) organ, mandated to monitor state compliance with one of the AU’s major human rights treaties, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter).  To date, 47 of the 54 AU states have accepted this treaty as binding.  Senegal is one of these states.



Collaboration between two leading nations on Africa Day 2015

On the occasion of Africa Day 2015, the Centre for Human Rghts (CHR) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, is proud to announce the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nigeria.

The MoU seeks to strengthen capacities at the NHRC through access to training programmes offered by CHR, in particular the Advanced Human Rights Courses (AHRC) and the Master's degree programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa.

This is a partnership, not only between two leading African countries, but between civil society/academia and national human rights institutions/government.

It is underpinned by the idea of a united Africa, drawing on its resources and resourcefulness to find common solutions to its diverse challenges.



Press statement: Making the African Union more people-centred depends on both the AU and the people of Africa

Around the continent, Africans today celebrate “Africa Day”. 25 May marks the day, just over half a century ago, in 1963, on which the African Union (AU)’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was formed.  Its main initial aim was to eradicate the remaining vestiges of colonialism from Africa. It was, in fact, the OAU that spearheaded continental and global campaigns for the liberation of South Africa from apartheid. After the advent of the AU, around the turn of the millennium, the regional organization increasingly became less preoccupied solely with inter-state relations and took on a more people-centred posture, with its focus shifting to human security, poverty alleviation and economic growth.

This year, celebrations of this day have more significance for South Africa than in previous years.

For one thing, they come in the awake of the xenophobic violence targeting in particular non-South African Africans (NSAAs). One antidote to xenophobia against NSAAs is to advance a narrative of our historical dependence, our shared cultural heritage, and our interrelated and closely convergent economic interests. Africa Day presents an opportunity to highlight our solidarity with the rest of the continent, to affirm the importance of an inclusive African identity, allowing us to put into a broader perspective recent assertions of a more narrow black South African nationalism.



Centre presented short course on socio-economic rights

The advanced human rights short course on ‘Judicial enforcement of socio-economic rights in Africa’ is the third in the series of advanced short courses presented by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria for 2015. It ran from 11 to 15 May 2015.

Participants at this year’s edition included students, legal practitioners, delegates from human rights institutions, and judges from different African countries.

Experts in socio-economic rights thinking, both from Africa and Europe, provided fresh insights and approach to the issues around the subject of ‘Enforcement of Socio-economic Rights in Africa.’

Some of the judicial officers in attendance were:

  • Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe (Mrs) - Ghana
  • Justice Jerry N. Hlophe - Swaziland
  • Justice Benjamin Isingoma Kabiito - Uganda
  • Justice Elizabeth Musoke - Uganda
  • Mathebe Violet Phatshoane (Judge) – South Africa
  • Lepono Joshua Lekale (Judge) – South Africa
  • Eshetis Yadeta Temesgen (Judge) – Ethiopia
  • Justice Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza – Uganda
  • Justice Zak Yacoob (Rtd) – Constitutional Court, South Africa



United Nations Rapporteur visit to South Africa cancelled

Violence against women is endemic in South Africa: a woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours, South Africa is regularly listed as having the highest rate of rape in the world and survivors of sexual violence receive inadequate and inconsistent treatment.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, has been trying to lead a fact finding mission aimed at investigating the high levels of violence against women in South Africa since 2012. However, on 11 May 2015, she said that because of repeated delays and ignored requests by government, she has had to cancel the visit. Her term as Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women ends in July.

This is troubling and suggests disregard by our government of two important things: (i) the gravity of violence against women in South Africa and (ii) the mechanisms and processes of international law that are designed to protect and promote human rights.



Africa unite: Say NO to xenophobia in South Africa!

Students of the 2015 LLM/MPhil (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) class speak out about the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Background to the campaign:

In April 2015 a new wave of xenophobic attacks were launched against foreigners in South Africa.

In 2008 about 62 people were killed as a result of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The Burning Man, one of the victims of the 2008 attacks, became a reference point for demanding justice.

Still, as many as 8 people have died so far in the April 2015 attacks.

Video campaign by:
2015 LLM/Mphil (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) students at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa



Statement by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, to the 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Banjul, The Gambia, 22 April 2015

In this statement, the human rights situation in three countries is addressed: the country from which I come (South Africa); the country in respect of which a Centre report was launched earlier at the session (Eritrea); and the country where we all find ourselves (The Gambia).

South Africa: The African Commission should call for accountability for and a comprehensive approach to xenophobic violence in South Africa, and request authorization to conduct and in fact undertake a mission to South Africa

Like all fellow Africans, I am distressed and appalled by the recent outburst of xenophobic violence in South Africa. As a South African, I am saddened and ashamed of the acts of fellow South Africans, perpetrated against fellow Africans. More pertinently, I am concerned about the lack of a comprehensive and systematic approach by the South African government to effectively deal with this issue.

As we all know, this is part of a series of events. Following similar incidents in 2008, the African Commission, at its 43th session in Ezulwini, Swaziland, adopted a resolution condemning the attacks (the Commission condemned “the attacks and violence perpetrated against migrants in various townships in South Africa”) called for accountability of those responsible (the Commission “called on the South African government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attacks, and to institute further measures to ensure the protection of foreign migrants in South Africa, and their property”) and also urged the South African government to authorize a  visit of the Special Rapporteur on Asylum Seekers and Refugees to visit the country (the Commission “had sought authorization for the Special Rapporteur to conduct a fact finding mission on the situation of migrants in that country”).



Centre launches report on Eritrea in Gambia and calls for decisive action by African Commission

The Centre for Human Rights on 21 April 2015 launched a report deploring the state of freedom of expression, specifically, and the rule of law, more broadly, in Eritrea.

This report, entitled ‘The erosion of the rule of law in Eritrea: Silencing freedom of expression”, was prepared by students from the UN mandated University of Peace, in Costa Rica, and students and staff of the Centre for Human Rights. (The report is available open-access on the web site of PULP, web site link.)

It was launched in collaboration, and under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to information in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission). 

During the launch, which took place immediately following the Opening of the 56th ordinary session of the African Commission, in Banjul, The Gambia, a panel discussed the situation of human rights, and freedom expression specifically, in Eritrea. The panel consisted of: the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Advocate Pansy Tlakula; the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea; an Björn Tunbäck, from Reporters without Borders.  The Director of the Centre, Frans Viljoen, chaired the panel.



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