Freedom from Violence

Freedom from Violence is an initiative to establish a collaborative research network that brings together researchers from across the African continent focussing on evidence-based and human-rights based approaches to the problem of violence.

The significant reduction in rates of violent death is one of the explicit targets set under Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, provision of access to justice and the building of effective and accountable institutions.

Freedom from Violence begins from the assumption that violence is not an immutable constant—that it can be affected by social, economic, legal and policy interventions. Moreover, in addition to the commitment of the SDGs, the Initiative explores to what extent States’ human rights law obligations require them to put into effect those interventions that can be demonstrated to prevent violence and ensure accountability.

The collaborative research agenda moves beyond the question “what are the State’s responsibilities to prevent violence?”, so as also to ask “what works?”. It looks to explore both the drivers of violence and the legal framework in which they operate, to identify and trial potential interventions, and to work with relevant policy makers at national, regional and global levels to implement them. In doing so the Initiative looks to combine a human-rights and public-health approach to violence-reduction.


A diverse and international group of senior and junior researchers are exploring a wide range of research projects exploring both the right to life and the problem of violence. Doctoral candidates will be based at the University of Pretoria, but in many cases are researching the phenomenon of violence elsewhere on the African continent.  Their research can be grouped in the following thematic categories

Current Projects

In addition to its ongoing research, the Initiative comprises a number of more practical projects aimed at policymakers or international organisations

“#PolicingLaw”: A Global Database and Commentary on National Legislation on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement

The lack of up-to-date information about the legislative provisions of many countries with respect to the use of force makes it very difficult for international mechanisms (including for example the African Commission) to review the extent to which the law provides a permissive climate for police violence. This project brings together both the laws themselves and expert commentary on the extent they conform with international standards protecting the right to life

Effective Investigations into Extrajudicial Executions in Kenya

With a series of local and international partners, researchers will contribute to a greater understanding of the limits to effective investigation of police-involved deaths in Kenya. This project will build upon the work done to update the United Nations’ Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016) as well as on-the-ground research in Kenya.


The core projects of the Initiative will be co-located between the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (University of Pretoria), the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (University of Cambridge) and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, but will rely upon multi-disciplinary collaborations both locally and internationally.

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For more information, please contact the Head of Research, Dr Thomas Probert (  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )