University of Pretoria: UP renames moot court competition in honour of late Prof Christof Heyns

The African Human Rights Moot Court Competition (AHRMCC), which is hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for Human Rights (CHR), has been renamed the Christof Heyns African Human Rights Moot Court Competition.

Prof Heyns, who passed away in March 2021, founded the competition and was an internationally renowned human rights lawyer, legal educator and activist. “I cannot think of anything more apt to commemorate the late Prof Heyns than to rename the Faculty of Law’s African Human Rights Moot Court Competition after him,” said Prof Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law.

The CHR has hosted the competition, also known as the Moot, every year since 1992, to give students the opportunity to develop their written (memorial) and oral advocacy skills by arguing a fictional case under conditions that simulate actual court proceedings in an African court. The CHR is an internationally recognised hybrid institution. It is both an academic department in the Faculty of Law (UP Law) and a non-profit organisation that combines academic excellence, effective activism, education, training, research and capacity building to advance human rights in Africa.

“Through the AHRMCC, Prof Heyns has left an indelible footprint on human rights education on the African continent,” Professor Tawana Kupe, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said. “It was his vision that propelled the Moot into being, and it was his energy and verve that kept it going for so many years. Through working with colleagues – such as Emeritus Justice Johann van der Westhuizen, then the Director of the CHR; Professors Duard Kleyn and Niek Grové; lecturer Prof Frans Viljoen, now the CHR’s Director; and students like Danie Brand, now the Director of the Free State Centre for Human Rights – the idea became a reality.”

This is the 30th year that the centre has hosted the Moot, which is the longest-running competition of its kind in Africa. It also marks 35 years since the centre was founded at UP Law and 100 years since the Faculty of Law at Stellenbosch University was founded. In celebration of these three milestones, UP and Stellenbosch University collaborated in hosting this year’s Moot, in Stellenbosch from 20 to 25 September.

Law students from the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny in the Ivory Coast and Kenyatta University in Kenya were named the winners, while the runners-up comprised law students from Stellenbosch University and the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique.

“The Moot is a memorable meeting place,” CHR Director Prof Frans Viljoen said. “It is a cross-continental bridge between people, young people in particular, a means to connect and break down boundaries of ignorance and mistrust erected largely by our common but distinct colonial pasts. At its core, the Moot is a uniquely African agora [gathering place]. It allows Africans to come together on the basis of what unites us, what we have in common: the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other African human rights treaties and soft law instruments, as well as the resolve to advance our continent ‘from human wrongs to human rights’. Participation over these years by 175 different universities from 50 African countries underscores the Moot’s vast African reach.”

To further honour the legacy of Prof Heyns, UP has also established the Christof Heyns Human Rights Scholarship. Worth R180 000 for studies in 2022, it will be awarded to a current or prospective doctoral candidate studying towards a doctoral degree in human rights at UP, is provided for a maximum of three years, and is reviewed annually for continued funding on the basis of satisfactory academic progress by the recipient.