EIPR Mourns the passing of Professor Christof Heyns

Press Release

7 April 2021

It is with great sadness and shock that EIPR has received the news of the passing of human rights professor and internationally esteemed legal expert Christof Heyns on March 28, 2021. For many years we have worked side by side with Professor Heyns, in the context of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and in the UN Human Rights Council.

Professor Heyns, who last held the position of Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, and who was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee from 2017 to 2020, was constantly engaged in regional and international human rights initiatives and legal reform projects in addition to his teaching and scholarly work.

Throughout that time, we have worked with him on various regional and international projects aimed at bringing more accountability to states and plugging holes in international law, regarding issues as wide-ranging as the proper management of assemblies by states, the use of lethal weapons by police forces, and the involvement of private security providers in law enforcement.

As UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings from 2010 to 2016, Heyns co-led the drafting of the Joint Report (by the two rapporteurs on freedom of assembly and on extrajudicial killings) on the Proper Management of Assemblies. EIPR worked closely with his team on this project, which produced one of the most important instruments of soft law on the subject, as well as on other projects he has led or coordinated in the more recent past. The latter projects have included the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons and the UNHRC General Comment 37 on the right to peaceful assembly. During that period, we have come to know him as a person of immense knowledge, ability and dedication.

His loss will be mourned not just by family and friends, and not just in South Africa, but by many people around the world who shared his ideals and who valued his contribution to justice and human rights. May his legacy live on.