A life Interrupted: essays in honour of the lives and legacies of Christof Heyns

In honour of the late internationally-renowned human rights lawyer, Professor Christof Heyns, a volume of essays, A life interrupted: essays in honour of the lives and legacies of Christof Heyns, was launched (virtually) on 10 January 2022, which is the date marking 63 years since Christof’s birth.

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Christof’s sudden and most untimely passing on 28 March 2021 deeply saddened those close to him but also evinced an outpouring of grief from the national and international human rights community. His passing brought a deep sense of loss, in part because, at age 62, he was fully engaged in contributing to the betterment of society and still had so much more to give. His is a ‘life interrupted’.

[Video]: Virtual Book Launch - A Life Interrupted: Essays in honour of the lives and legacies of Christof Heyns

Professor Tawana Kupe (Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Pretoria) officially welcomed the participants of the virtual book launch. Professor Kupe noted that this book is about how Christof lives on, and how his love for humanity serves as a uniting force. 

A life interrupted is a collection of 38 essays by contributors from across the globe. Professor Frans Viljoen, one of the co-editors, elaborated on the title of the publication and the accessibility and optimism portrayed by the title. ‘Lives’ and ‘legacies’ are deliberately used in the plural form to highlight the multifaceted nature of his life and the multiplicity of his legacy. Frans explained that this book not only explores Christof’s professional, academic and scholarly contributions, but also his role as father, grandfather, son, husband and friend.

Christof’s wife, Fearika, and some friends, joined from Stillbaai, a coastal town in the Western Cape province of South Africa, where Christof and his family spend most December breaks, and where they celebrated most of his birthdays.  Fearika welcomed the viewers and recalled the celebration of Christof’s 60th birthday in Stillbaai, three years ago. Stillbaai was Christof’s happiest place in the world, and is also where his ashes were scattered earlier on 10 January 2022. Murray Hofmeyr applauded the editors of the book for completing this special publication in such a short time. Murray pointed to ‘loyalty’ as the characteristic that he most associates with Christof. Gabriella Habtom (who worked closely with Christof at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and has come to visit the family in Stilbaai) spoke about a connection on a human level with Christof. She shared that she and her colleagues in Geneva are really touched by Christof’s life and passing. Gabriella further emphasised the responsibility we all have to continue Christof’ work and legacies.

Professor Danie Brand, who also contributed to the book, and also present in Stilbaai, spoke of Christof’s unique quality of being both firmly rooted in the university and its academic endeavours, on the one hand, and at the same time moving beyond academia and scholarship to invest in their practical implementation and seek change contributing a ‘other worlds’.

The co-editors of the book, in turn, shared some reflection the book. Professor Charles Fombad mentioned that it was a challenge to write about Christof at the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA). He noted Christof’s influence on the development of scholarship on ‘comparative constitutional law” in Africa. He further highlighted essays in the book that deal with Christof’s influence on the development of ‘African’ conceptions of international law. Charles concluded that ‘Christof can never be gone’ and generations to come will benefit from his contributions and influence. 

Professor Dire Tladi spoke about the unique nature of this specific book launch and described it as a ‘joyous celebration’ of Christof’s life. Dire shared two sentiments arising for him from the book. The first is ‘perspective’. Dire explained that different perspectives are brought to bear in the various chapters through differences in seniority and experience. The  second sentiment is the ‘reverence for life’, something for which Christof advocated through his extensive scholarly and professional contributions pertaining to the right to life.

Professor Ann Skelton shared her contributions in the book. Ann noted that ‘this book tells us so much more about all the facets of the man’. She referred to the ‘medley’ of photographs in this book which also tell us about Christof’s many facets.   

Frans Viljoen mentioned that as much as the careful articulation of human rights norms has taken up much of Christof’s professional life, his true passion lay in the actual enjoyment and implementation of these norms. A number of contributions explore this aspect, which lay close to Christof’s heart. He mentioned the privilege to work with Christof and in this context the recalled the notion of an interrupted life, in the sense that a study they were working on at the time of Christof’s passing is yet to be completed. Frans also highlighted the manifold contributions Christof had made to develop ‘African human rights law’ into a study field worthy of international study, and his pivotal role in forging into being the ‘Centre for Human Rights/Pretoria School of African Human Rights Law’. 

Professor Magnus Killander shared his reflections on the book, highlighting the Christof’s influence on his work, and the fact that a string philosophical approach permeates his work, in addition to his philosophy to human rights being set out in his influential article on the ‘struggle theory’ of human rights.

Frans Viljoen concluded this virtual book launch with comments on the continuance of Christof’s legacies and affirmed: ‘We celebrate the diversity of Christof’s life and influence in this book.’

A life interrupted: essays in honour of the lives and legacies of Christof Heyns, edited by Frans Viljoen, Charles Fombad, Dire Tladi, Ann Skelton and Magnus Killander, is an open access publication of the Pretoria University Law Press (PULP) and is available in electronic format on the PULP website, free of charge.

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PULP is a unique African-focus open access printing press at the University of Pretoria, located in the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law. Lizette Hermann is the Manager  of PULP and was responsible for layout of the publication. 

For more information, please contact:

Prof Frans Viljoen
Centre for Human Rights

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 3228
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743


Liesl Hager
Research, Marketing and Publishing Assistant
Pretoria University Law Press (PULP)


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