UP Faculty of Law confers two honorary doctorates in autumn 2021 graduations

Posted on May 06, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Law (UP Law) has conferred honorary doctorates (honoris causa) on Professor Katharina Boele-Woelki and Professor Yash Pal Ghai during the 2021 autumn graduation session. 

“Through their work, Prof Boele-Woelki and Prof Ghai have made meaningful contributions to law and law reform on the African continent as a whole,” said Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Tawana Kupe. “They are the manifestation of the values we aspire to see transformed into reality, that aim to make use of our knowledge and research to improve and contribute to the societies we live and work in. Congratulations to both professors; it is an honour to have them as part of the UP community.”

Prof Boele-Woelki is internationally recognised as a leading scholarly authority in comparative law, family law and private international law, and is the first woman to be elected president of the International Academy of Comparative Law. The academy, which was founded in The Hague in 1924, is built on the belief that the comparative study of legal systems is key to the harmonisation, unification and development of laws and legal institutions. 

True to her altruistic nature, Prof Boele-Woelki is intent on making a positive, enduring contribution to the comparative study of different legal systems on the African continent and beyond. She has invested a significant amount of time and effort in Africa, and made available her considerable scholarly expertise and international research networks to UP.

“Prof Boele-Woelki has declared it her mission to reach out to and advance the study of comparative law in South Africa and the greater African continent,” said UP Law Dean Prof Elsabe Schoeman. “The comparative study of legal systems is the one legal method that is inclusive of all areas of law, and therefore one of the most effective and far-reaching tools for law reform. Over the years, Prof Boele-Woelki has invested knowledge, expertise and scholarly endeavour in the Faculty of Law, and it is a huge privilege for us to bestow this honour on her.” 

Prof Ghai is a Kenyan academic and constitutional lawyer who has made considerable contributions to legal scholarship in Africa, especially in the development of constitutions and constitutional law on the continent. The academic positions he has held include that of lecturer, senior lecturer, professor and dean at the School of Law, University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and positions at Yale University, Warwick University and the University of Hong Kong.  

His legacy lies in his instrumental role as Chair of the Constitution Review Commission in the drafting of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, as co-founder of the Katiba Institute (2011) – a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to facilitate the implementation of the Constitution in Kenya – and in consolidating social transformation in Kenya through civic engagement. His broader influence is exemplified in his appointment as the United Nations’ Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, his chairpersonship of Fiji’s Constitutional Committee from 1993 to 1994, and his drafting of the Asian Human Rights Charter.

“Prof Ghai’s long and illustrious career covers academia, civic engagement, independent commissions and international diplomacy,” said Prof Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights at UP. “He has made immense contributions to the development of constitutions and constitutional law in Africa, and his leadership role in the development process of Kenya’s Constitution remains one of his most notable contributions to constitution building in Africa. His defence of the ideals of democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law has sometimes been at the risk of his own life and freedom, as demonstrated in the threats on his life and exile from Kenya on account of standing up in defence of a credible and democratic constitution-making process. 

“This honorary degree recognises his vast contribution to the constitutional dialogue, particularly in the African region. While his scholarship and contributions have been honoured before, very little of this recognition has come from the African continent.” 

- Author Masego Panyane

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