From 1 to 3 September, the Centre for Human Rights organised the conference of the Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI). AHRI was established in 2000 by seven human rights institutes in Europe and has grown to include more than 80 university-based human rights institutes across the world. The 2022 conference was the first time that AHRI held its annual conference outside Europe. The Centre for Human Rights organised the 2020 conference on the theme of socio-economic rights, but due to Covid-19 this conference was moved fully online.
The 2022 conference was held in a hybrid format with around 70 people participating in person at the conference held on the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa campus. The main conference on 2 and 3 September was preceded by a doctoral workshop held at the Centre for Human Rights. Participants in the doctoral workshop discussed methodology, with a focus on technology and human rights research, after which seven doctoral candidates presented their papers for discussion. The AHRI Executive Committee also met on 1 September while other participants toured the University of Pretoria campus and visited the Javett Art Centre.
The theme of the conference was technology and the future of human rights. In the morning of 2 September, the conference participants were welcomed in the Future Africa Auditorium by the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Pretoria, Elsabe Schoeman, the Director of the Centre for Human Rights, Frans Viljoen, and the Executive Chair of AHRI, Kasey McCall-Smith. Thereafter, a plenary keynote panel explored the theme of the conference from a multidisciplinary perspective: Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pretoria, Rikke Frank Jørgensen, Senior Research at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and Raesetje Sefala, AI Research Fellow at the Distributed AI Research (DAIR) Institute. The panel discussion can be viewed on the Centre for Human Rights Facebook page. Over the next two days, researchers from all over the world presented their work on technology and human rights in three tracks: 1. Surveillance and vulnerability, 2. Survival and sustainability and 3. Democratic participation and accountability.
Justice van der Westhuizen, a retired judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and founding director of the Centre for Human Rights, addressed the audience at the conference dinner held at Southern Sun Pretoria. The Justice spoke about his experiences and the impact of technology in the South Africa’s courts and prison system. He emphasised that technology was indeed a powerful tool that stands to benefit the human rights system as well as the courts and prison system. However, lamented that “new technology means little if people do not have the training and necessary skills to work with it”.
At the AHRI General Assembly on 3 September, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria was elected to take over the AHRI Secretariat in 2023 from Edinburgh University and Strathclyde University in Scotland, which have been co-hosting the AHRI Secretariat since 2017.The conference concluded with the adoption of the AHRI Pretoria Declaration on Technology and Human Rights, which is a declaration that acknowledges the dynamic relationship between technology and human rights. The conference provided an opportunity to reflect on the impact of technology on human rights and how a human rights framework can be used to guide the development, design and implementation of new technologies.