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Department of University Relations

United Nations Human Rights Council appoints Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions


Posted on 25 June 2010

Prof Christof Heyns
Prof Christof Heyns

The highest body of the United Nations dealing with human rights, the Human Rights Council, closed its fourteenth regular session on 18 June 2010 by appointing Christof Heyns, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Special Rapporteur is one of the “special procedures" for human rights protection established by the United Nations. Special procedures are mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights and assumed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 31 thematic and 8 country mandates. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with personnel, policy, research and logistical support for the discharge of their mandates.

Special procedures are either an individual (called "Special Rapporteur", "Special Representative of the Secretary-General" or "Independent Expert") or a working group usually composed of five members (one from each region). The mandates of the special procedures are established and defined by the resolution creating them. Mandate-holders of the special procedures serve in their personal capacity, on a part-time basis, and do not receive salaries or any other financial compensation for their work. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial in order to be able to fulfill their functions in all impartiality.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 1982. The mandate has been renewed several times since then. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified relevant international Conventions. When it replaced the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council continued this mandate, which is aimed at the following:

• The Special Rapporteur transmits urgent appeals to States in cases that evince a fear of imminent extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and transmitting alleged cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to concerned Governments in the form of case summaries.
• The mandate holder undertakes fact-finding country visits.
• The Rapporteur further submits annual reports on activities the mandate and methods of work to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

The immediate previous holder of the position was Mr Philip Alston (Australia), 2004 – 2010. Previous Rapporteurs are Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan), 1998-July 2004; Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye (Senegal), 1992-1998 and Mr. S. Amos Wako (Kenya), 1982-1992.

Christof Heyns is currently Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. He previously served as Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Professor of Law in the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. Professor Heyns is a leading human rights scholar, and has published widely on aspects of international human rights law, particularly with a focus on Africa.


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