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UN Special Rapporteur visits CGHR in June 2014

last modified Jul 06, 2017 09:27 AM
29th May 2014


Since 2011 CGHR has been collaborating with Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on subjects related to the right to life.  This is one of the ways in which CGHR acts as a juncture between interdisciplinary academic research and contemporary practitioners. In 2012 the Special Rapporteur convened a Meeting of Experts on the safety of journalists at CGHR, which brought together scholars, activists, diplomats, UN staff, and representatives from regional human rights mechanisms.

In June 2014, after delivering his latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Prof. Heyns will return to Cambridge for two days of meetings with scholars working at CGHR and across the wider University.  He will also meet with the CGHR Research Team, a group of largely graduate students that has over the past six months been examining the problem of unlawful killings in Africa.

In addition to these meetings, the Special Rapporteur will speak at two public events – a lecture addressing the impact of autonomous weapons systems on the international legal framework surrounding the right to life; and a keynote address at the launch of a CGHR study on Unlawful Killings in Africa.  Further details can be found below:


CGHR Public Lecture: Autonomous Weapons Systems: The Future?

Wednesday 18 June | 5.30pm | LG17, Law FacultyHeyns Public Lecture Event poster (rev)

In June 2013 the Special Rapporteur presented a report to the Human Rights Council on the serious implications of what at that time were referred to as Lethal Autonomous Robots (but are now known as Autonomous Weapons Systems).  Proponents of the new technology highlight that autonomous systems would be able to make life-and-death decisions with greater speed and precision, and unaffected by potentially corrupting human factors such as fear, fatigue, revenge or cruelty.  Opponents brand the new technology “killer robots” and maintain that surrendering human control over the decision to kill constitutes a serious ethical breach in the conduct of war and the protection of human rights and dignity.

The Special Rapporteur’s report warned that this technology ‘could have far-reaching effects on societal values, including fundamentally on the protection and the value of life and on international stability and security.’  He called on States to place national moratoria on the use of autonomous weapons until such time that the international community could devise a regime for their control.

This report placed the problem squarely on the international agenda, and since then it has been considered by the UN General Assembly and by the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs.  In May 2014 the State parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons met in Geneva for the first inter-governmental debate on the subject. In this Public Lecture, a year after the presentation of his original report, Prof. Heyns will offer his thoughts on the developments in this field and the challenges that lie ahead in the fields of politics, ethics and international law.



CGHR Launch: Unlawful Killings in Africa

Thursday 19 June | 3.00pm | SG1, Alison Richard BuildingUnlawful Killings Launch Event poster (rev)

In 2013, the Special Rapporteur initiated a study into the incidence of unlawful killings in Africa, designed to guide his future activity, both in terms of thematic reporting, country-visits, and the search for actionable entry-points.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the right to life is severely threatened on the African continent, however very little systematic information is available to support this contention.  Efforts to curb the loss of life are often ad hoc and those with the potential or mandate to make a difference sometime lack a clear picture from which to determine priorities.

CGHR convened an interdisciplinary Research Team from across the University to conduct a broad review of the extent of unlawful killings in Africa.  The team collated information from news and NGO reporting, as well as examining structural and societal causes of such killings.  The objective was to provide an overview of the state of the right to life on the continent and a guide to those working in the field.

The findings of this Research Team will now be launched as a CGHR publication, entitled Unlawful Killings in Africa. This study will include separate chapters on different forms of unlawful killing, including excessive use of force, election-related violence, mob-justice, and armed conflict.  The Special Rapporteur will give a key-note address highlighting the importance of the subject for the future direction of his work and drawing on specific examples.  The session will offer an opportunity for those working either on issues of violence from a thematic perspective, or those working specifically on Africa to exchange views with a practitioner leading the drive to put the right to life higher on the global agenda. 

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