Application deadline:

31 July 2024

Structure and Content

The HRDA Master’s programme focuses specifically on human rights as seen from the African perspective. It is a full time course over one academic year (two semesters) that runs from the end of January to early December and comprises eight modules.

First Semester

From January to June

The first semester is spent at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, and is structured in six modules.



  • 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 (Field trip)
  • Language Module: Students are assigned to do language classes in French or another language.

Mixing theory and practice

Teaching happens 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.

Students are placed within the following units for the human rights clinic.

  • Children’s Rights Unit
  • Litigation and Implementation Unit
  • Disability Rights Unit
  • Women’s Rights Unit
  • Business and Human Rights Unit
  • Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit
  • Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit
  • Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics Unit

Some of the human rights clinic outputs include:

  • Shadow reports to the state reports of different countries submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
  • Communications to different African human rights bodies;
  • Norm development at the African Union level in the form of general comments, guidelines and rules of procedures;
  • Advocacy initiatives

Students also join study visits. They are divided into groups and undertake practical “human rights in the field” exercises to different destinations in and around South Africa.

Second Semester

From July to November

At the end of the first semester, the class is divided into seven groups, each of which spends the next five months at one of the partner universities where they complete the last two modules and/or internships.



  • Module 7: Accredited courses
  • Module 8: Dissertation

Graduation, Prizes and Annual Memorial Lectures

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, four students receive prizes as follows:

  • 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)
  • The Victor Dankwa Prize for the best student in the Module Human Rights in Africa

The Centre for Human Rights, in collaboration with its partner universities, also organises annual memorial lectures in memory of its two graduates:

  • The Helen Kanzira Memorial Lecture is presented annually and memorialises one of the pioneer students of the Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA) programme who passed away as a result of pregnancy-related complications. The lecture provides a platform for assessing the situation of reproductive health rights of women in Africa.
  • The Julius Osega Memorial Lecture remembers the life of one of the graduates of the Centre’s Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA). The annual lecture is organised by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, together with one or more of its partners on the HRDA programme.  Julius was a student on the programme in 2001, the second year the programme was running. Sadly, Julius was killed in 2008, during a civilian patrol in the Darfur region of Sudan. At the time, Julius was part of the African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) forces, deployed to protect civilians and assist the political process in the country.


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

  • African Union (AU) Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Banjul, The Gambia
  • African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • Pan-African Parliament
  • 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

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, about 75 graduates of the Master’s programme have finished their doctoral studies.