Home Department: Centre for Human Rights
  MA LLB (UP) LLM (Yale) PhD (Wits)

Christof Heyns is professor of law at the University of Pretoria. He also teaches at Oxford University and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

He was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2017 – 2020), where he served as rapporteur for General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly. Heyns was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 2010 – 2016. During 2016, he chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi.

He is a member of the Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

He has been a Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg and a Fulbright Fellow at Yale Law School and Harvard Law.

Academic work accepted but not published

Chapter in book: ‘The use of less-lethal weapons in armed conflict’ (with Stu Maslen and Thomas Probert) in Robert Kolb et al (eds) Research handbook on human rights and humanitarian law, further reflections and perspectives (Edward Elgar 2020)

Academic publications during the past five years


Philip Alston et al (eds) Alston and Heyns on unlawful killings (PULP 2020) 724 pp
Thomas Probert and Christof Heyns (eds) National Commissions of Inquiry in Africa: Vehicles to pursue accountability for violations of the right to life? (PULP 2020) 106 - 127

Compendium of key human rights documents of the African Union (with Magnus Killander, eds) (PULP 2016, 6th edition) (420 pp)

Chapters in books

’Torture and ill treatment: The United Nations Human Rights Committee’ (with Carmen Rueda and Daniel du Plessis) in Malcolm Evans and Jens Modvig (eds) Research Handbook on torture (OUP 2020)

‘Extrajudical killings’ in Manfred Novak et al (eds) Elgar Encyclopedia of Human Rights (Edward Elgar Publishing 2021) (7 pp)

‘The role of national commissions of inquiry in securing the supreme human right’ (with Thomas Probert) in Thomas Probert and Christof Heyns (eds) National Commissions of Inquiry in Africa: Vehicles to pursue accountability for violations of the right to life? (PULP 2020) 1 - 17

‘Commissions of inquiry and social solidarity in the African context’ in Thomas Probert and Christof Heyns (eds) National Commissions of Inquiry in Africa: Vehicles to pursue accountability for violations of the right to life? (PULP 2020) 70 - 99

‘Commissions of inquiry: Valuable first steps towards accountability or smokescreens for inaction?’(with Thomas Probert) in Thomas Probert and Christof Heyns (eds) National Commissions of Inquiry in Africa: Vehicles to pursue accountability for violations of the right to life? (PULP 2020) 312 - 334

‘Jan Smuts and the United Nations’ (with Willem Gravett) (translation of Afrikaans publication) in Du Pisani et al (eds) Jan Smuts: Son of the veld, pilgrim of the world (2020)

'The right to life and the international law framework regulating the use of armed drones' (Christof Heyns et al) in Dapo Akande et al (eds) Human Rights and 21st Century Challenges: Poverty, Conflict, and the Environment (OUP 2020)

‘The right to life and the progressive abolition of the death penalty’ (with Tess Borden and Thomas Probert) in De Guzman, M (ed) Arches of justice: Essays in honour of William A. Schabas (OUP 2018) 117 - 135

‘”Unmanned” Weapons: Looking for the Gender Dimensions’ (with Tess Borden) in Ni Aolain, F et al (eds) Oxford handbook on gender and conflict (OUP 2017)

‘Africa’ (with Magnus Killander) in Moeckli, D et al (eds) International Human Rights Law (3rd edition, OUP, 2017) (update of earlier chapter) 465 - 481

‘Jan Smuts en die Verenigde Nasies’ [‘Jan Smuts and the United Nations’] (with Willem Gravett) in Du Pissani (ed) Jan Smuts: ‘n Herwaardering [‘Jan Smuts: A reappraisal’] (Protea 2017) 397 - 424

‘Casting fresh light on the supreme right: The African Commission’s General Comment 3 on the right to life’ (with Thomas Probert) in Tladi, D et al (eds) The pursuit of a brave new world in international law: Essays in honour of John Dugard (Brill 2017) 45 - 72

‘A human rights perspective on autonomous weapons in armed conflict: The rights to life and dignity’ in Robin Geiss (ed) Lethal autonomous weapons systems: Technology, definition, ethics, law and security (Expert opinions delivered at the CCW informal meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems, Geneva 11 to 15 August 2016) (German Federal Foreign Service 2017) 148 - 159

‘Autonomous weapons systems: Living a dignified life and dying a dignified death’ in Bhuta, N et al (eds) Autonomous Weapons Systems: Law, Ethics, Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2016) 3 - 19

The right to life and the progressive abolition of the death penalty’ in Simonowic, I (ed) Moving away from the death penalty: arguments, trends and perspectives (United Nations publication, 2015) (with Thomas Probert) 214-226

‘Coming to terms with drones’ in Cortright, D et al (eds) Drones and the future of armed conflict (University of Chicago Press, 2015) vii - xi

‘The right to life and the progressive abolition of the death penalty’ (with Thomas Probert) in Simonowic, I (United Nations, 2015) 214-226


‘Commissions of inquiry: Accountability for right to life violations in Africa?’ 2 Zeitschrift für menschenrechte Journal for human rights (2020) 132 - 155

’The right to political participation in Sub-Saharan Africa’ Global Journal of Comparative Law (2019) (with Charles Fombad, Pansy Tlakula, and Jimmy Kainja) 128 - 161

‘Investigating potentially unlawful death under international law: The 2016 Minnesota Protocol’ (with others) 52 The International Lawyer (2019) 47 - 80

‘Notes from the field: Bringing new life to human rights globally: The powerful tools of schools’ moots’ (with Bongani Majola and Gift Kgomosotho) 2(1) International Journal of Human Rights Education (2018) 1 - 12

‘”To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”: Jan Smuts and the ideological foundations of the United Nations’ (with Willem Gravett) 39 Human Rights Quarterly (2017) 574 - 605

‘Autonomous weapons in armed conflict and the right to a dignified life: an African perspective’ 33 South African Human Rights Law Journal (2017) 46 - 71

‘The international law framework regulating the use of armed drones’ (with Dapo Akande et al) 65 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (2016) 791 – 827

‘Human rights and the use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) during domestic law enforcement’ 38 Human Rights Quarterly (2016) 350 - 378


Amicus briefs and other interventions

Doctoral students currently registered with Christof Heyns

Fikire Tinsae Birhane (Ethiopia)  is doing a study on the right to life of children associated with non-state armed groups

Dennis Chipao (Malawi) is doing an analysis of how the Malawi Police Service can take advantage of new technologies to monitor and improve the effectiveness and accountability of “manual” policing (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

Alero Itohan Fenemigho (Nigeria) is doing a study of counter-terrorism policing in Africa under international law (co-supervised by Stuart Maslen)

Dumisani Gandhi (Zimbabwe) is exploring therelationship between body worn cameras and accountable policing in a South African context  (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

Anne Ireri (Kenya) is doing her research specifically in relation to investigation of child abuse in Kenya (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

Jim Karani: (Kenya) Domestic and international standards on the use of force in counter-poaching operations in Africa

Joe Kilonzo: (Kenya)Adherence to Normative International Human Rights Standards in Designing and Implementation of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Interventions in Countering Violent Extremism in Africa

Brenda Mwale (Kenya) focusses on prevention and repression of cyber-terrorism in Africa (co-supervised by Stuart Maslen)

Steven Ndhlovu (Malawi) Gender Based Violence and Limitations of the Criminal Justice System Response in Malawi

Beryl Orao(Kenya) The Right to Freedom of Assembly in the context of the Use of Force and Firearms in Law Enforcement: Towards Accountability for Rights Violations by Law Enforcement Officers in Kenya.

Lily Oyakhirome (Nigeria) The role of social activism in pursuing accountability for police abuse of powers in Africa.  (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

Seyitan Solademi: (Nigeria) Inclusiveness and participation of women in the AU counter-terrorism frameworks

Dagnachew B. Wakene (Ethiopia) is working on violence against persons with disabilities

Doctoral graduates supervised

Mumba Malila  (Zambia)
  The place of individual’s duties in international human rights law: Perspectives from the African human rights system (co-supervisor)

Alabo Ozubide  (Nigeria)
  Extraterritorial use of force against non-state actors and the transformation of the law of self-defence (co-supervisor)

Thompson Chengeta  (Zimbabwe)
  The challenges of increased autonomy in weapon systems: In search of an appropriate legal solution

Willem Gravett
  To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war: Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950) and the Genesis of International Organisation and Human Right

Waruguru Kaguongo (Kenya)
 'Available resources’ and the the realization of economic and social rights, with special reference to national budgets (co-supervisor)

Magnus Killander (Sweden)
  The role of the African Peer Review Mechanism in inducing compliance with human rights

Bernard Bekink
  The restructuring of local government under the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (co-supervisor)

Wessel le Roux
  Die estetiese Republiek: Kuns, reg en post-liberale politiek in Nietzsche, Arendt en Lyotard (The aesthetic Republic: Art, law and post-liberal politics in Nietzsche, Arendt and Lyotard) (co-supervisor)

Henk Botha
The legitimacy of law and the politics of legitimacy: Beyond a constitutional culture of justification (co-supervisor)

Frans Viljoen
The realisation of human rights in Africa through inter-governmental institutions

Creative projects


The Outlaws Band

Christof Heyns and the Outlaws’ are the Rock and Roll band of the Faculty of Law.

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Dr. Johan Heyns: Exorcist of Apartheid Film

A Documentary
Director: Adam Heyns
Executive Producer: Christof Heyns

Watch video


A funeral at Stilbaai Fiction

Through the glass doors of the lobby of his hotel, he can see the yellow arches of a McDonald’s.

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