HRDA Alumni News


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On 10 December 2020, the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, held its annual graduation ceremony on International Human Rights Day. It was the first virtual human rights graduation ceremony due to COVID-19. The Centre awarded its annual Vera Chirwa Prize to two alumni (Solomon Dersso and Benyam Mezmur) for their role in contributing to the African Union’s human rights bodies both as members and chairpersons.

Download Summer Graduation Ceremony 2020 programme

Virtual Graduation: December 2020 - Faculty of Law and the Centre of Human Rights


Thirty-eight students graduated with a Master’s degree from the following programmes organised by the Centre for Human Rights:

  • LLM/MPhil Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA
    (24 students graduating, six with distinction)
  • LLM/ MPhil Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa (SRRA
    (3 students graduating)
  • LLM/MPhil Multidisciplinary Human Rights (MDHR)
    (4 students graduating)
  • LLM/MPhil Disability Rights in Africa (DRIA)
    (7 students graduating, two with distinction)

Nine students graduated with a doctoral degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria.

Awards (HRDA)

The following award of prizes were made for the HRDA Class of 2020:

  • Nelson Mandela Prize for the student with the best overall performance: 
    Girma Gadisa Tufa (Ethiopia)
  • Kéba M’Baye Prize for the best mini-dissertation: 
    Wilson Nderitu Macharia (Kenya) and Opal Masocha Sibanda (Zimbabwe)
  • Victor Dankwa Prize for the best student in African Human Rights: 
    Kelvin Chrishopher Vries (Namibia)
  • Ubuntu Prize for the student who best captured the values of humanity: 
    Emmanuel Chibuike Njoku (Nigeria)

Vera Chirwa Award

The Vera Chirwa Award is made to a graduate on the HRDA who has after completing the degree shown singular commitment, self-sacrifice and significant contributions in furtherance of human rights and democracy. The award was named after the fearless Malawian lawyer and activist on her work for defending human rights in Malawi and Africa. This year, the Vera Chirwa Award’s joint winners are Commissioner Dr Solomon Ayele Dersso (Class of 2003) and Professor Benyam Mezmur (Class of 2005) for their commitments to championing human rights development in Africa in various facets of their endeavours and their life-long commitments to human rights work both locally and internationally. Dr Dersso currently serves as the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. He was elected to the Commission in 2015. Prof Mezmur has served on the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and was its Chairperson between 2015 and 2017. Prof Mezmur also serves on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and was its chairperson from 2015 to 2017.  The both are the youngest-ever chairs of the respective AU bodies.

Opportunities to four graduates of the HRDA Class of 2020

Annually, the Centre raises some funds to enable some of the top graduates to undertake one-year paid internships/ take up positions as legal staff at African Union human rights institutions. The following graduates of the Class of 2020 have the opportunity to contribute as follows in 2021:

  • Intern/Legal officer, African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child: 
    Opal Masocha Sibanda (Zimbabwe)
  • Intern/Legal officer, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 
    Finh Monique Carine Traoré (Burkina Faso)
  • Intern/Legal officer, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 
    Girma Gadisa Tufa (Ethiopia)
  • Doctoral candidate and tutor, Centre for Human Rights: 
    Wilson Nderitu Macharia (Kenya)

Congratulating the graduates, the Director of the Centre, Prof Frans Viljoen, made the following remarks: “We are proud to have been part of the professional journey of the students graduating despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. Warm congratulations go to the first graduates of the Master’s in Disability Rights in Africa.  Our sincere thanks also go to Solomon Dersso and Benyam Mezmur not only for accepting the Vera Cirwa Award, but for their dedication and determination in advancing human rights on our continent.”

The support of the twelve partner universities of the HRDA programme and the donors, the European Union, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria, the Right Livelihood Foundation and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa is gratefully acknowledged.


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