Application deadline:

31 July 2024

What is HRDA


The programme, which mixes theoretical study with practical application, is very intensive. Particular attention is paid to human rights and democratisation as seen from an African perspective. Details regarding the first semester, the second semester, the combination of theory and practice, study visits, graduation, internships and the doctoral programme can be found on this page.

The programme is divided into two semesters.

First Semester

Six months at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria:

  • Module 1: Methodology of human rights research and education
  • Module 2: Democratisation in Africa
  • Module 3: International and comparative human rights
  • Module 4: Human rights in Africa
  • Module 5: Introduction to the South African legal system and Bill of Rights
  • Module 6: Human rights in the field (study visits)

Second Semester

Six months at one of the partner universities:

  • Module 7: Accredited courses
  • Module 8: Dissertation
In addition, all students take a language course (introductory French, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Swahili or intensive English)

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Mixing theory and practice

Instruction is through formal lectures and practical exercises. Emphasis is placed on classroom participation. The study visits provide an excellent opportunity for students to interact with international experts who make a personal contribution to the general experience. Throughout the first semester, each student is assigned to a ‘clinical group’ which works on a practical human rights or democratisation issue with clear objectives and outcomes which forms part of the assessment.

Some clinical groups include:

  • State reporting to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • A secretariat for the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
  • Litigation and research support for the Centre for Child Law, UP
  • Identifying best legal practices for HIV/AIDS and human rights
  • Assisting in the implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
  • Preparation of Rules of Procedure of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • The ad hoc advocacy team which reacts swiftly to issues of relevance to human rights in Africa
  • Protection of gay and lesbian rights in Africa
  • Research on indigenous peoples’ rights
  • Assist with and assess the work of the African Peer Review Mechanism and Pan-African Parliament
  • Preparation of communications before international human rights monitoring bodies

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Study visits

Students are divided into groups and undertake practical “human rights in the field” exercises to:


Sierra Leone

Students examine the causes and effects of a civil war and the efforts of that country and the United Nations to prosecute the main culprits and the simultaneous attempts to re-build the country and promote reconciliation. While in Sierra Leone, some of the institutions that the students interact with include:

  • Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Inter-Religious Council
  • Campaign for Good Governance
  • National Accountability Group
  • Visit to an amputee camp
  • National Commission for Social Action


Students study the history of genocide and the combined efforts at national and international levels to deal with its repercussions. As well as attending Gacaca court hearings and interacting with students at the National University of Rwanda, the LLM students visit the following:

  • Unity and Reconciliation Commission
  • Genocide sites
  • National Council of Women
  • Human Rights Commission
  • Office of the Prosecutor, International
  • Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


The students who visit Somaliland learn about issues of state creation, lobbying for recognition, democratisation and the challenges faced by countries in the Horn of Africa. The students visit the following institutions:

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Office of the President
  • University of Hargeisa
  • Academy for Peace and Development
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Organisation
  • Somaliland National Youth Organisation


In addition students:

  • Visit the Constitutional Court of South Africa, where they attend a case and write a judgment
  • Defend their dissertation proposals before a panel of academics
  • Attend sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • Some students have observed elections in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritius

Collaboration with other Regional Programmes

The collaboration between the four regional human rights masters programmes (which include Venice, Sarajevo, Malta) involves:

  • Lecturer exchanges
  • Student exchanges
Each year, one or two students participate in the field trip of the European Human Rights Master’s (EMA) Programme to Kosovo. One or two students from the EMA Programme join the students going to Rwanda, Somaliland or Sierra Leone.

  • A joint publication of the best two dissertations
  • A proposed joint doctoral programme

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Graduation takes place in a specially organised ceremony at the University of Pretoria on 10 December (International Human Rights Day) every year. At the ceremony three students receive prizes and a guest speaker delivers an annual lecture on human rights and democratisation in Africa.

Guest speakers have included:

  • Advocate Mojanku Gumbi, Legal Advisor to President Thabo Mbeki
  • Chief Justice Pius Langa, Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Judge Navanethem Pillay, International Criminal Court
  • Justices Zac Yacoob and Johann van der Westhuizen, Constitutional Court of South Africa

Prizes that are awarded:

  • The Nelson Mandela Prize for the best overall student
  • The Kéba M’Baye Prize for the best dissertation
  • The Ubuntu Prize for the student who best embodies the values and spirit of Ubuntu (humanity).

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Upon completion of the course, some graduates get the opportunity to serve an internship (from three months to one year) at one of the partner organisations.

The following are among the partners:

  • African Union (AU) Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Banjul, The Gambia
  • Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Arusha, Tanzania
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Hague, Netherlands
  • Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Geneva, Switzerland
  • South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), Freetown, Sierra Leone

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Doctoral programme

One or two students are selected at the end of each year to register for doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria and serve as tutors on the LLM programme. Others go on to register for doctoral degrees at other universities in the world. Since 2001, 28 graduates of the programme have registered for doctoral studies and 8 have graduated.

The following are the universities where alumni have registered for doctoral degrees:

  • Åbo Akademi University, Finland
  • University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium
  • University of Hong Kong, China
  • University of Khartoum, Sudan
  • University of the North, South Africa
  • University of Notre Dame, United States of America
  • University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • University of the Witswatersrand, South Africa

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