A Tireless Advocate for Children’s Rights Leaves HRP

A square collage of nine photos. At center: Pope Francis standing between a dozen members of the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors, with Benyam Dawit Mezmur standing to his left. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Mezmur with HRP Director Gerald Neuman. 2. Mezmur with basketball in Harvard gym. 3. Mezmur smiling with HLS Dean Manning. 4. HRP founder professor Henry Steiner standing between HRP Associate Director Abadir M. Ibrahim and Mezmur. 5. Mezmur standing next to former Harvard president Bacow. 6. Mezmur lecturing in classroom. 7. Mezmur smiling into camera with Michael Stein. 8. Mezmur standing and smiling into camera with Helene Tigroudja, Neuman and Arlene Brock.

We recently bade farewell to HRP’s Eleanor Roosevelt Visiting Fellow Benyam Dawit Mezmur, who returned to his regular position as Professor of Law and Deputy Dean at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa.

In his 16 months at Harvard Law School, Benyam left a deep and lasting impact on the human rights community at HLS and Harvard. From guest lectures at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and the Harvard Kennedy School, to panel discussions and lectures at the Chan School of Public Health (including through the G. Barrie Landry Child Protection Professional Training program), he was a highly sought-after expert on children’s rights. While at Harvard, he lectured on topics as varied as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children in Africa, migration, digital media, climate change and children’s rights, discrimination based on chronological age, and the protection of children of ISIS fighters in Syria.

In his contributions, Benyam drew from his decades of experience as a leading academic on children’s rights and longtime member of the UN Child Rights Committee, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and former member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. “Benyam was an extraordinary enrichment for HRP and Harvard Law School. Faculty and students alike benefited tremendously from his incisiveness, unyielding inquisitiveness and deep generosity,” said HRP Director Gerald L. Neuman.

During his time at HRP, Benyam pursued multiple academic projects – the main one being the completion of a volume about the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the only existing comprehensive regional legal framework for children’s right. As a former member of the Committee monitoring the implementation of the Charter, Benyam is among the foremost experts on the subject. Coinciding with the Charter’s 30-year anniversary, the book project looks back at its achievements and engages with emerging child rights issues critical to Africa.

Upon Benyam’s arrival at HLS in March 2022, it did not take him long to strike friendships and make new acquaintances. Within his first months, beyond bonding with his immediate colleagues, Benyam had already chatted with Dean Manning and University President Bacow and become friendly with the custodians of Wasserstein Hall. Next to the diligent documentation of his time at HLS through IOS notes, colleagues will also remember Benyam for the reliable supply of Swiss chocolate bars placed discreetly on desks following his trips to Geneva.     

HRP Associate Abadir M. Ibrahim said, “Benyam has all the qualities one would hope for in a human rights colleague. He is principled, compassionate, brilliant, and objective in his analyses. On top of all that, he also manages to carry himself with admirable lightheartedness that weaves humorous but sharp metaphors and allegories into thoughtful engagement.”

Benyam described his stay at HRP and Harvard as “the best time of my academic career” and mentioned that he “looks forward to continuing his engagement in the future”.

We wish Benyam all the best for the present and future – his warm presence will be sorely missed at HRP.