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Human rights come first

- By Vivienne Rowland

Graduates from the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management were advised to exercise their human rights and humanity first as they help build the South African society.

Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights and Co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, addressed the graduands at the graduation ceremony of the Faculty on Tuesday, 01 April 2014.

Heyns urged them to do what they can and exercise human rights while they add their weight to building the country.

“Be a human agency building a society not based on slogans, but through people and institutions, brick by brick. The world is a daunting place, but we need not and should not throw up our hands and say there is nothing that we can do about this. We are in significant ways making progress with the right to life. If that is possible, we can certainly make progress with other rights,” said Heyns.

“We are social beings. Whether we call it humanity, or Ubuntu or in my language menslikheid – we are bound to each other. Therefore opportunities such as those you and I have come with obligations. Exceptional opportunities bring exceptional responsibilities.   We have a duty to plough back what we receive into our society,” he said. . 

About Professor Christof Heyns

Professor Christof Heyns is a Professor of Human Rights Law and Co-Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria.

He holds an MA LLB from the University of Pretoria; an LLM from the Yale Law School; and a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand.

In August 2010, he was appointed as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He is an adjunct professor at the Washington College of Law of the American University in Washington DC, USA, and a Visiting Fellow at the Kellogg College at Oxford University, where he has been teaching in the Masters programme since 2005. A former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria, Professor Heyns has also served as the Director of the Centre for Human Rights.

Widely published in the field of international human rights law, Professor Heyns has authored The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on the Domestic Level and Human Rights Law in Africa. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the African Human Rights Law Reports and was the founding co-editor of the African Human Rights Law Journal and serves on the editorial boards of several international academic law journals.

He has served as consultant to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Union and the South African Human Rights Commission.

His publications have appeared in English, Afrikaans, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. He has received a Fulbright Fellowship (to Yale Law School) and a Humboldt Fellowship (to the Max Planck in Heidelberg, Germany), as well as the University of Pretoria’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching and Learning. He is currently a Visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, on a Fulbright Fellowship.