South Africa and the emergence of international human rights

South Africa has played a leading role in the development of international human rights in very different and sometime diametrically opposing capacities.

Three phases can be distinguished: 1) The role of South Africa and more specifically Jan Smuts in the founding of the United Nations and the adoption of human rights as a core value in the UN Charter; 2) apartheid South Africa as the target of human rights action, and thus as catalyst for the subsequent development of the UN’s primary human rights mechanisms; and 3) South Africa’s role regarding human rights in the UN after democracy was established. The project will chronicle these three phases.

 The provisional thesis is that an account of the history described above will reveal that human rights are often the result of unintended consequences, when norms and mechanisms established to be used against others are applied to their architects. That is how human rights bring about renewal.

Project leader(s):
  • Christof Heyns (Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria)

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