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Memorial event for Christof Heyns,
10 January 1959 – 28 March 2021


Video message by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

28 April 2021

I, and my colleagues at the UN Human Rights Office, are with you in spirit today, we mourn the sudden loss of Christof Heyns one month ago.

We are grateful to the University of Pretoria and the Vice Chancellor for hosting this memorial event. It provides all of us with an opportunity to reflect, remember and celebrate the life of an extraordinary human being.

Christof was an inspirational, ingenious and committed human rights advocate; a generous and enthusiastic educator; a fearless investigator; a scholar of exceptional clarity; and a force for tremendous good across the world.

His lifelong commitment to advancing human rights for everyone led him to six years of service as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and subsequently, four years as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

From the struggle to end the death penalty, to the right of peaceful assembly, and the use of drones and autonomous weapons in armed conflict and counter-terrorism, Christof's work had – and will continue to have, long into the future – important impact on the lives of many around the world.

His commitment to Africa was notable, and impressive.

As Chair of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi, he steered a challenging investigation and an incisive and comprehensive report.

As a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights' Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa, he spurred discussions on excessive use of force by police across the continent.

As a Director of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria – and subsequently Dean of the Faculty of Law and Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa – he encouraged and trained generations of lawyers, policy-makers, media workers and members of civil society in human rights-based action.

And in the course of three decades of involvement in the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition; the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition; and the South African Schools Moot Competition, he encouraged young people everywhere to sharpen their minds and raise their voices, knowledgeably and fearlessly.

So while we grieve for this gifted and dedicated man, we also celebrate him – his incisive mind, his generous engagement, his sense of principle and his dedication to others.

Christof Heyns was not only brilliant, and visionary; he was also compassionate, warm and kind – a friend to many at our Office.

He will continue to inspire us, and generations to come.