Christof Heyns: Director of ICLA; Professor of Human Rights Law


Home Department: Centre for Human Rights

MA LLB (UP) LLM (Yale) PhD (Wits)


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

He is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, where he serves as rapporteur for General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly. He is also 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.

Heyns was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 2010 – 2016. During 2016, he chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi.

He holds degrees in law and philosophy from the Universities of Pretoria, the Witwatersrand and Yale Law School. He has been a Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg and a Fulbright Fellow at Yale Law School and Harvard Law.

Main current areas of research

The right of peaceful assembly

The domestic impact of the United Nations human rights treaties

The use of force by law enforcement officials in Africa

 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)
  • Book: Philip Alston et al (eds) Alston and Heyns on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (PULP 2020)
  • Book: National commissions of inquiry in Africa: Accountability mechanism for violations of the right to life? (PULP 2020) (co-edited with Thomas Probert). Author of chapter on ‘Commissions of inquiry and social solidarity in the African context’.
  • Book chapter: ’Torture and ill treatment: The United Nations Human Rights Committee’ (with Carmen Rueda and Daniel du Plessis) in Malcolm Evans and Jens Modwig (eds) Research Handbook on torture (OUP 2020)

 Academic publications during the past five years

  • Compendium of key human rights documents of the African Union (with Magnus Killander, eds) (PULP 2016, 6 th edition) (420 pp)
Chapters in books
  • ‘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
  • ‘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
  • ’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: The right to a dignified life’ 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
Online articles

 Doctoral students currently registered with Christof Heyns

  • 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 the relationship between new technologies and more effective or accountable policing, with a critique of deterministic optimism projected from a northern evidence-base (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

  • Anne Ireri (Kenya) is investigating the Kenyan Police Service in terms of their capacity for forensic investigation (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

  • Jim Karani: Use of lethal force in protected areas and the jurisprudence arising from human rights violations in the enforcement of wildlife law

  • Joe Kilonzo: 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: 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) is working on citizen-led accountability processes concerning police abuses in Nigeria (co-supervised by Thomas Probert)

  • Seyitan Solademi: Inclusiveness of women in counter-terrorism strategies in Africa

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

 Doctoral graduates supervised



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

[last updated 8 July 2019]