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The Advocates Mourns Loss of Christof Heyns

Date: April 1, 2021
Type: Profile
Issues: Human Rights Defenders

The Advocates for Human Rights is saddened to learn of the sudden loss of Christof Heyns. Christof was the director of the Centre for Human Rights and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. From 2010 to 2016, he served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; from 2017 to 2020, he served as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.  

Christof used his UN mandate to pursue justice and accountability for some of the world's most egregious human rights abuses. As Special Rapporteur, he also led the effort to update the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. The Minnesota Protocol is the groundbreaking set of international guidelines for death investigations that was developed by The Advocates for Human Rights and adopted by the UN. The Advocates' staff worked closely with Christof on the Minnesota Protocol update and awarded him the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award in 2016. 

Christof's work has been critical to our work to prevent and hold people accountable for extrajudicial killings in Minnesota. As we wrestle with the standards for our police and our government when private citizens are killed by armed state actors, we can see how strong international standards can help us as well. International law recognizes that effective investigation, legal process, and accountability are essential to prevention.  

In his work on law enforcement and use of lethal force, Christof advanced the international legal standard that life may only be taken as a last resort, if it is the only way to protect another life. His work truly is as relevant to our community as to any around the world. 

Christof lived his life in a way that exemplifies the human rights principles of dignity, equality and respect. We join countless others in mourning his death but know that Christof leaves the world better equipped to hold governments accountable and ensure justice for the victims of human rights violations and their families. We thank him for that.