HRDA website cover 2024

The programme, which mixes theoretical study with practical application, is very intensive. Particular attention is paid to human rights and democratisation as seen from an African perspective. Details regarding the first semester, the second semester, pedagogy, study visits, graduation and internships can be found on this page.

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The programme is divided into two semesters.

The aim of the course is to equip African human rights defenders with:

  1. sound knowledge of international human rights law and democratisation, with a focus on Africa;
  2. research, writing, word-processing and oral presentation skills of relevance to international human rights defenders;
  3. the ability to engage analytically and critically with the relevant material; and
  4. a commitment to the advancement of human rights and democratisation in Africa.

First semester (January to end of June):

Six months at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria:

Core module:

  • Module 1: Methodology of human rights research and education (NRM 801)

Fundamental modules:

  • Module 2: Democratisation in Africa (DIA 801)
  • Module 3: International and comparative human rights (ICH 801)
  • Module 4: Human rights in Africa (HRA 801)
  • Module 5: Introduction to the South African legal system and Bill of Rights (RVM 801)
  • Module 6: Human rights in the field (AHR 801)
  • Language Module: Students are assigned to do language classes in French or another language.

Second semester (July to end of November):

Six months at one of the partner universities:

Module 7: Accredited courses (ACH 802)

  • an advanced human rights-related module (minimum of 28 lecture hours for the academic module, assessed by way of one or more assignments to a total minimum of 8 000 words);
  • an internship (minimum 150 hours).
  • The Module 7 academic course is for some of the second-semester destinations presented at the University of Pretoria at the start of the second semester.

Module 8: Dissertation (MND 802)


  • View all the LLM/MPhil (HRDA) dissertations from previous years on UPSpace
  • View all the LLM/MPhil (HRDA) dissertation topics per year

Language (First and Second semester)

Besides the 8 modules, students must study French, English or another language.

Mixing theory and practice

Instruction is through formal lectures and practical exercises. Emphasis is placed on classroom participation. The study visits provide an excellent opportunity for students to interact with international experts who make a personal contribution to the general experience. Throughout the first semester, each student is assigned to a ‘clinical group’ which works on a practical human rights or democratisation issue with clear objectives and outcomes which forms part of the assessment.

Read more about the Human Rights Clinics

Global Campus of Human Rights

The Global Campus of Human Rights, a unique EU-funded global network of one hundred universities around the world seeking to advance human rights and democracy education, based on cooperation between the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) - the network’s focal point and umbrella organisation - and seven Regional Programmes which are based in Venice for Europe, in Sarajevo/Bologna for South East Europe, in Yerevan for the Caucasus, in Pretoria for Africa, in Bangkok for Asia-Pacific, in Buenos Aires for Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Beirut for the Arab world. 

The collaboration between the regional human rights masters programmes involves:

  • Lecturer exchanges
  • Student exchanges (3-4 students join the one-week global classroom with students from the other programmes, in 2021 the global classroom was on technology and human rights and held in Buenos Aires).

Other areas of collaboration include:

Study visits

In 2024, on-site visits (‘field trips’) are expected to take place in Southern Africa. Students cannot go to their home countries for field visits.

In the past, students have undergone visits to the following destinations:

1. Botswana
Students learn about the various social issues which Botswana is facing including the high incidence of HIV/AIDS. They visited:

  • Government offices
  • Non-governmental organisation
  • Religious institutions

2. Lesotho

The students learn about issues related to leadership including tensions between traditional leadership and modern forms of government. They visited:

  • Government and non-governmental entities
  • They met academics and interacted with other key players in Lesotho

3. Rwanda

Students studied the history of genocide and the combined efforts at national and international levels to deal with its repercussions. As well as attending Gacaca court hearings and interacting with students at the National University of Rwanda, the LLM students visit the following:

  • Unity and Reconciliation Commission
  • Genocide sites
  • National Council of Women
  • Human Rights Commission
  • Office of the Prosecutor, International
  • Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

4. Swaziland

The students learn about the challenges facing Swaziland including issues of democracy and the HIV/AIDS challenges. They visited:

  • Non-governmental organisations
  • Interacted with key players in Swaziland including academics, politicians and members of the judiciary 

5. Sierra Leone

Students examined the causes and effects of the civil war and the efforts of that country and the United Nations to prosecute the main culprits and the simultaneous attempts to re-build the country and promote reconciliation. While in Sierra Leone, some of the institutions that the students interact with include:

  • Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Inter-Religious Council
  • Campaign for Good Governance
  • National Accountability Group
  • Visit an amputee camp
  • National Commission for Social Action

6. Somaliland

The students who visited Somaliland learn about issues of state creation, lobbying for recognition, democratisation and the challenges faced by countries in the Horn of Africa. The students visited the following institutions:

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Office of the President
  • University of Hargeisa
  • Academy for Peace and Development
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Organisation
  • Somaliland National Youth Organisation

7. Zimbabwe

The students study the challenges facing Zimbabwe including issues of democracy and human rights. During the visit the students:

  • Visited numerous NGOs
  • Visited places of interest to human rights
  • Interviewed victims of human rights violations

In addition, students:

  • Visit the Constitutional Court of South Africa, where they attend a case and write a judgment (alternative socio-legal assignment related to the South African constitution can be done)
  • Defend their dissertation proposals before a panel of academics
  • Attend sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • Some students have observed elections in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritius

Graduation and Awards

Graduation takes place in a specially organised ceremony at the University of Pretoria. The graduation coincides with International Human Rights Day on 10 December of every year. At the ceremony some students receive prizes and a guest speaker delivers an annual lecture in the area of human rights and democratisation in Africa. Guest speakers have included:

  • Dr Vera Chirwa, Director, Malawi Centre for Advice, Research and Education for Rights (CARER)
  • Ms Navanethem Pillay, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Advocate George Bizos, renowned human rights advocate
  • Chief Justice Pius Langa, Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Justices Zak Yacoob and Johann van der Westhuizen, Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Prof EVO Dankwa, former Commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • Ms Mojanku Gumbi, the former legal adviser to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa

Prizes that are awarded at the ceremony are:

  • The Nelson Mandela Prize for the best overall student
  • The Kéba M’Baye Prize for the best dissertation
  • The Ubuntu Prize for the student who best embodies the values and spirit of Ubuntu (humanity).
  • The Vera Chirwa Prize for alumna/us who after graduation makes a difference in the protection of human rights
  • The Victor Dankwa Prize for the best performance in Module 5


Upon completion of the course, some graduates get the opportunity to serve an internship (ranging from three months to one year). Some of the organisations that hosted former students include:

  • African Union (AU) Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Banjul, The Gambia
  • Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Arusha, Tanzania
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Hague, Netherlands
  • Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Geneva, Switzerland
  • South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), Freetown, Sierra Leone
  • Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Banjul, The Gambia
  • National Human Rights Commission, Lagos, Nigeria
  • National Commission of Human Rights, Yaounde, Cameroon
  • Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Benin Human Rights Commission, Cotonou, Benin
  • CIVICUS, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • International Criminal Court, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • Foundation for Community Development, Maputo, Mozambique
  • Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, Accra, Ghana
  • Lawyers for Human Rights, Pretoria, South Africa
  • International Committee of the Red Cross, Pretoria, South Africa
  • South African Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa.

Doctoral programme

One or two students are selected at the end of each year to register for doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria and serve as tutors on the HRDA programme. Others go on to register for doctoral degrees at other universities in the world. The following are some of the universities where alumni have registered for doctoral degrees:

  • Åbo Akademi University, Finland
  • University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium
  • University of Hong Kong, China
  • University of Khartoum, Sudan
  • University of the North, South Africa
  • University of Notre Dame, United States of America
  • University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Countries represented on the programme from 2000 - 2018

docDownload the list of countries represented on the programme from 2000 - 2018


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