Top UN award for SA rights centre

12 December 2006

The University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights, an institution established during the worst excesses of the apartheid era, has been awarded the prestigious Unesco Prize for Human Rights education for 2006, beating 49 candidates from 37 countries.

Awarded by Unesco director-general Koichiro Matsuura on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, the prize was conferred for the centre’s two flagship programmes: the Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, established in 2000, and the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, launched in 1992.

Set up in 1986, the centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In the early 1990s it contributed to the creation of South Africa’s new Constitution and Bill of Rights, widely considered to be among the most progressive in the world. It then broadened its activities to human rights education and training in South Africa and other African countries.

Unesco awarded the US$10 000 (about R70 000) prize in recognition of the centre’s “outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights in South Africa and to the advancement of a human rights culture by means of education and training of professionals in South Africa, other countries on the continent and beyond’.

The centre’s Master’s Degree in Human Rights – an intensive one-year course – is a joint project with seven other African universities, and the only course of its kind in Africa. The African Human Rights Moot Court Competition gives African lawyers the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and its implementation. The competition has so far brought together 708 teams from 111 universities, representing 43 African countries.

An academic department of the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law, the centre’s focus is both human rights law in Africa and, in a broader sense, development law in Africa. It has established a wide network on the continent and beyond with other academic institutions, NGOs, governments and international organisations such as the African Union and the United Nations. In addition to its academic programmes, the centre produces a range of academic publications, including leading reference sources on human rights in Africa.

The Unesco Prize for Human Rights Education, awarded every two years, was established in 1978 – the 30th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It honours institutions, organisations or individuals that have made a particularly significant contribution to human rights education. In addition to the $10 000 prize, the winner receives a bronze trophy created by Japanese artist Toshimi Ishii.

Recent laureates include the German city of Nuremberg in 2000, Mexico’s Academia Mexicana de Derechos Humanos in 2002, and legal expert Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand in 2004. reporter

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