A momentous e-book (C Heyns, F Viljoen and R Murray (eds) The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on the Domestic Level: Twenty Years On (Brill, 2024)) tracking and seeking to better understand the impact of the United Nation human rights treaties at the domestic level has just appeared. The study on which the book is based was initiated by researchers in the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria.

The book as a whole is freely available as a fully open access e-book:  

Download e-book 

Welcoming the book, Judge Navi Pillay, who served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights between 2008 and 2014,  in the Preface describes it as ‘substantial and comprehensive’ and an ‘invaluable source for all of us: for spreading awareness among civil society actors and encouraging them to engage more vigorously with the treaty bodies and for states to see the positive benefits of their cooperation with the treaty bodies report based on country-specific research that reinforces and amplifies the findings that the treaty bodies have had an enormous influence and impact at the domestic level’.  

The editors of the book – and study leaders of the research project  -- are Professor Frans Viljoen, Rachel Murray, and the late Professor Christof Heyns. Christof initiated the project, and was working on it at the time of his sad, sudden and untimely passing in March 2021. With the assistance of country-based researchers, Heyns and Viljoen in 2002 published the first leg of this research project,  as The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on the Domestic Level.  They are both previous Directors of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. For the follow-up study, Heyns and Viljoen were joined by Professor Rachel Murray, Director of the Human Rights Implementation Centre, University of Bristol, as co-editor and co-study leader.

This collection of chapters tracks and explains the impact of the nine core United Nations human rights treaties in 20 selected countries, four from each of the five UN regions. These countries are: 

  • in the African region: Egypt, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia; 
  • in the Asia-Pacific region: India, Turkey, Japan and Nepal; 
  • in the Eastern European region: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland and the Russian Federation; 
  • in the Group of Latin America and Caribbean countries (GRULAC): Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica and Mexico; and 
  • in the West European and Other (WEO) group: Australia, Canada, Finland and Spain. 

The contributing authors are leadings academic and human rights professionals from these countries: Sarah Joseph, Adam Fletcher, Anna Lochhead, Thiago Amparo, Odara Andrade, Júlia Piazza, Deborah Bittar, Alexander Agnello, Frédéric Mégret, Rodrigo Uprimny, Sergio Ruano, Gabriella Michele García, Jitka Brodská, Harald Christian Scheu, Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, Omar A El-Gammal, Yasmina Khaled Azzazy, Merilin Kiviorg, Merja Pentikäinen, Miloon Kothari, Surabhi Sharma, Malene Alleyne, Tracy Robinson, Hatano Ayako, Yota Negishi, Matsuda Hiromichi, Alejandro Anaya-Muñoz, Lucía Chávez, Rodolfo Franco-Franco, José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Ravi Prakash Vyas, Pranjali Kanel, Anusha Kharel, Katarzyna Sękowska-Kozłowska, Grażyna Baranowska, Łukasz Szoszkiewicz, Aslan Abashidze, Aleksandra Koneva, Aleksandr Solntsev, Ibrahima Kane, Foluso Adegalu, Tess Mitchell, Carlos Villán Durán, Javier Leoz Invernón, Carmelo Faleh Pérez, Carmen Rosa Rueda Castañón, Başak Çalı, Betül Durmuş, İlayda Eskitaşçıoğlu and O’Brien Kaaba.

Researchers based in each of these countries were responsible for the chapters, in which they assess the influence of the treaties and treaty body recommendations on legislation, policies, court decisions and practices. By covering the 20 years between July 1999 and June 2019, this book updates the study done 20 years ago.

In terms of methodology, the study combines in-depth single-country studies with cross-country perspectives. The in-depth single country studies are based on desk reviews of available documents, sourced with the advantage of close proximity to the country, and interviews with key informants, allowing for both careful and rigorous country studies and some cross-country trends and insights. The study also confirms that quantitative and qualitative research approaches should be viewed as complementary and mutually reinforcing in these kinds of studies. 

The publication is dedicated to the memory of Christof Heyns, highlighting his abiding concern for the actual effect of international human rights on the real lives of people, and fondly remembering his warmth, genuine kindness and sense of humanity. Christof served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions from 2010 to 2016; and was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee from 2017 to 2020. 

A number of events will be held to ‘launch’ the publication. The book is also available as a hardcover publication.

For more information, please contact:

Prof Frans Viljoen
Member, Advisory Committee, UN Human Rights Council

Professor of International Human Rights Law

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 3228



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