Christof Heyns

10 January 1959-28 March 2021

The Omega Research Foundation was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Professor Christof Heyns, who passed away on 28th March, 2021.

Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Christof was a founding member of the Omega Research Foundation Network of Experts. All Network members join Omega staff in expressing their sadness at his untimely and sudden death.

A great friend and valued colleague over many years, Professor Heyns’ career and commitment to human rights was hugely impactful. He was a member of United Nations Human Rights Committee, serving as rapporteur for General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly. He was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. He is particularly remembered for his work with the African regional system, and was 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.

In 2020, Professor Heyns was instrumental in the creation of two documents of international significance, which are a vital part of Omega’s work on use of force and law enforcement use and misuse of weapons and equipment. General Comment 37 (2020) on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Right of peaceful assembly was published in July 2020. The text is here, and more information, including a webinar recording, here. Outlining governments’ obligations to facilitate peaceful assemblies, protect participants from potential abuse, and to not restrict or prohibit assemblies without appropriate justification, the General Comment addresses both physical and virtual/online meetings.

Professor Heyns also managed the drafting of the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, available here. Omega was honoured to be a member of the Academic Working Group which led discussions. Published in 2020, the Guidance outlines considerations regarding the nature and use of various kinds of equipment, including during arrest, in custodial settings, and in ‘public order management’ settings. Addressing a range of weapons and equipment, including batons, chemical irritants, and water cannon, the document also establishes weapons that are unlawful for use in law enforcement.

At a 2020 UN General Assembly event on public assembly, Professor Heyns, speaking on these documents, said,

‘The goal is to create an environment where member states empower citizens with enough knowledge about what their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to assembly.  Simultaneously, law enforcement agencies are also reminded of their roles.’

Christof Heyns’ friendship, inspiration and willingness to give of his time freely in guidance and support of so many, especially his students, will be sorely missed. The Omega Research Foundation sends our thoughts and condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

The University of Pretoria, Faculty of Law statement on Professor Heyns’ passing is available here.

The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria has established a memorial page, here (on Facebook).