Benyam Dawit Mezmur

HRP Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow

Professor Benyam Dawit Mezmur was a Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow at the Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program from 2022-2023. He is a Professor of Law at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, and serves as Deputy Dean for Research and Post-Graduate Studies at the Law Faculty. He is also Coordinator of the Children’s Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance, and Human Rights, at UWC.

Since 2012, he is serving on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and served as its Chairperson from 2015-2017. Within the Committee, he has served as coordinator of various working groups including on SDGs; on a communications procedure (OPIC); and the Working Group that co-drafted (with the Committee on Migrant Workers) the joint General Comment on children’s rights in the context of international migration. During his time as Chairperson (2016), the Committee held its Day of General Discussion on children’s rights and the environment.

At the regional level, Benyam served on the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, a treaty body of the African Union, for a little over a decade (from 2010-2021). He served as its Chairperson twice (2012-2014 and 2015-2017) and was focal person on violence against children and later served as its special rapporteur on children and armed conflict. In these capacities, he has led and participated in a number of investigative/promotional missions to African countries and (co)facilitated amicable settlements on diverse topics such as childhood statelessness, children and armed conflict, and contemporary forms of slavery.

Benyam has lectured a number of postgraduate courses on human rights, children’s rights, the rights of persons with disabilities, the African human rights system, and international family law. He has been invited to serve as a guest lecturer in many parts of the world. His scholarship has focused principally on the rights of the child, and he has published numerous articles and chapters in books on various related topics.

Over the years, Benyam has received a number of fellowships/awards including from DAAD and the Mellon Foundation. In 2020, he received the Vera Chirwa Award by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, as the alumnus of the LLM/MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa who best embodied the principles of the programme in his or her subsequent career by “making a difference” to the protection of human rights or the strengthening of democratisation in Africa.

Prior to entering academia on a full time basis, Benyam has offered his technical services to a large number of organizations such as UNICEF, UNHCR, OHCHR, African Union, and the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children. He currently serves on the advisory and/or expert boards of a number of organizations including the Children’s Institute (Cape Town), Keeping Children Safe (UK), All Survivors Project (Liechtenstein), Institute on Statelessness (The Netherlands and UK), and the KidsRights International Children’s Peace Prize (Netherlands).

In 2018, Pope Francis appointed him to serve on the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors. The Commission, which is presided by Cardinal Sean O’Malley (Archbishop of Boston), advises the Holy Father on the “most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church”.

Benyam was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and earned both his LLB (from Addis Ababa University), and  LLM (in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria) with distinction. He earned his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2010.