Jeremy Sarkin


He is Distinguished Research Professor of Law at NOVA University of Lisbon in Portugal since 2016.
He has a BA LLB from South Africa, a Master of Laws degree from Harvard Law School and a Doctor of Laws from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.
He is an attorney in the USA and South Africa.
He received his doctorate in law in 1995.
From 1990 to 2008 he was a Senior Professor at the University of the Western Cape. He was Deputy Dean for 3 years and Head of the Department of Private Law for two years.
From 2010 to 2018 he was a Professor at the University of South Africa (UNISA).
He is now affiliated to a range of other universities. He is an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria, a Research Fellow at the University of the Free State, at Harvard University, at the Global Humanistic University in Curaçao, at the University of California, Berkeley.
He is a member of 16 journal editorial boards, including the impact journals: Human Rights Quarterly, Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, Southern African Public Law, the Journal of African Union Studies, Memory Politics and Transitional Justice book series and Acta Criminologica: African Journal of Criminology and Victimology.
He was a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances from 2008 to 2014 and was the Chair for three years.
He served as an acting judge in the Cape High Court. He served as an adjudicator to South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for the 1994 elections, served as Chair of the Civil Rights League.
He regularly does peer review work for a whole host of SCOPUS and Web of Science Journals.
He is co-editor of a book series on Transitional Justice with 30 books.
He often advises a whole range of organisations from the UN to other international organisations,.
His academic work relates to human rights, transitional justice, democratisation, and allied issues concerning countries and institutions around the world.




I have published 20 books and more than 350 journal articles and book chapters. About 70 publications are from 2018 onwards. Many are empirical and interdisciplinary studies and a combination of theory and practice. My h-index is 28 and i10-index is 78. I have been cited in 3965 publications.
On specific issues related to contributions to the generation of new ideas, I am well known for beginning the issues concerning litigation for colonial violations and bringing to the fore the issue of reparations for colonialism. I served for many years as the Legal Advisor to the Paramount Chief of the Herero of Namibia for their claims for reparations from Germany for the genocide committed between 1904 and 1908. This led to the instituting of a number of court cases in the USA for claims for reparations. Other countries then followed suit to also institute claims. These types of cases are now growing all over the world. As a result of that work, I have written two books about those issues: “Germany’s Genocide of the Herero” (2011) and Reparations for Colonial Genocides (2009) as well as several articles. I continue to speak on these issues the most recent was in 2023 at the University of Pennsylvania.
My work on the need for a mechanism to search for those who were arbitrarily detained, or suffered an enforced disappearance in Syria, led to the UN General Assembly creating such a process in 2023. It was with the Study released in June 2021 that I conducted for five Syrian NGOs (the Truth and Justice Charter Group), and then my book and various publications thereafter, that the matter became an issue that was taken up by the United Nations. My work reviewed the possibility that one million victims have been enforcedly disappeared in Syria and discusses the general processes that have been set up to deal with Syria. It then reviews which mechanisms deal with disappearances and detentions in Syria that are available for families to report to and the limited role those institutions have played so far, before offering options for the creation of a new mechanism dedicated to finding out what happened to Syria’s disappeared and detained. What occurred is that in 2021, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 76/228, on 24 December 2021. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to perform a study on what could be done to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria and requested a report by mid 2022. That report, issued on 2 August 2022, recommended a new international mechanism to deal with the missing. The General Assembly then adopted a resolution in 2023 setting up such a process. I have been advising on this as well in various ways to the UN, various states as well as a variety of organisations.
In 2019 and 2020 I was asked by the UK Government to review the governance system on St Helena Island. I went there a few times to facilitate a debate and gather ideas on the Committee-based system and whether it ought to change. I was tasked with exploring the understanding and appetite for alternative systems, e.g. ministerial, executive councillors, how to redefine the role of the Legislative Assembly as well as the Executive Committee, the role of a Chief Islander, whether there ought to be a restructuring of the government’s directorates etc. This was done to have more clear political leadership, and responsibility. The task was to shape an accountable system of governance. I wrote two reports both of which were accepted. The UK Privy Council then endorsed those changes. St Helena Governor Phillip Rushbrook commented in a Press Release: “Back in 2019, Professor Sarkin identified the public wanted clearer individual responsibility for making political decisions, greater political accountability for delivering services and reforms, and a governance system that progressed its delivering services and reforms, and a governance system that progressed its business more swiftly. The change to a Ministerial system provides the opportunity for the next elected government to achieve all three.”
Another process I was involved in, was to begin a process in Iraq in 2017 to write a new constitution. In this regard, UNDP asked me to help develop a constitutional process that delivers a constitution that is respected and could help to resolve the crisis that exists in many parts of the country. I thus met with the prime minister and other senior officials. I also drafted a law “Towards a More Secure, Unified, and Peaceful Iraq Law.”
Another process I was involved in was to get the Human Rights Council of the country Georgia revitalised and operating again after many years. I was requested by UNDP in 2018 to evaluate the role and function of the Council and the Secretariat. My work evaluated why the HRC ought to be reinvigorated, and why and how it ought to be transformed into a National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRF) institution.



I have been the supervisor of dozens of masters and doctoral students. My first doctoral student is now the Dean of one of the best universities. Many others work in academia, for the UN or a range of other institutions.
I have provided ongoing mentoring to various members of staff concerning higher degrees, publications, conferences, and journal issues.
I have mentored students, helping them to navigate all issues concerning studying and research. I do this at NOVA and my PhD course serves a mentoring purpose to help students choose a PhD topic and then develop the issues concerning their research. I have held frequent meetings particularly in the early stages of a person’s career or research. This is because for example starting a thesis is intimidating, and people require assistance and individual mentoring with a faculty mentor with advanced training. I have linked new faculty with a mentor who is more of a peer.
On the provision of practical legal training, I, with two other people, began the All-African Moot Court Competition in 1992. Today this is the biggest assembly of judges, scholars, and students in Africa focused on the issue of human rights. Almost every African law school, nearly 200, participates in this annual event, when their best students present a fictitious human rights case before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This competition is instrumental in preparing new generations of lawyers being able to prepare court cases and being able to conduct research. This makes it a staple of the continent’s legal education schedule. The Moot court competition has acted as a driving force behind the creation of Africa’s premier human rights education and research programmes.
I was the driving force behind another human rights training programme (International Human Rights Academy) which ran for 10 years as a joint programme of the University of the Western Cape, Ghent University and Utrecht University.



I served for many years on the Executive Committee of the International Political Science Association’s Research Committee on Comparative Judicial Systems and a former Council member of the Society of Law Teachers of Southern Africa
I hosted the International Political Science Association’s Research Committee on Comparative Judicial Systems conference in Cape Town.
I have hosted other conferences and workshops all over the world. I have organised recent conferences on truth commissions and another on the establishment of a missing persons process in Syria.
I served for many years on the Advisory Board of Teaching Human Rights Online – An Internet Human Rights Project.
I am a former Advisory Board member of Law Professors on the Web (now called Jurist).
I peer review many articles each year from mostly SCOPUS and Web of Science journals.
As noted above, I serve on 16 journal boards and edit articles on many occasions as well advising on various aspects of the journals processes. This includes ways of diversifying the authors of the journals and reaching more women. I serve as chair of the board of one of the journals.
I am regularly invited to be a keynote speaker at conferences. I am also regularly invited to be a commentator on panels or to respond to paper presentations. I visit universities all over the world to participate in research projects and to advise them on projects. In 2023 I delivered about 15 presentations and went to 10 universities to lecture.



I am a former member of the Sub-committee of the Western Cape Peace Committee – Policing and former Member of the Task Group on Police Code of Conduct and Member of the Task Group Police Internal Investigation Unit. These all sought to promote peace and better community orientated policing during and after South Africa’s transition.
I am a former Chairperson of the Civil Rights League. This was a non-governmental organization founded in 1948 to promote and protect human rights in South Africa.
I was a National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) in South Africa and a member of the Executive committee of the Western Cape. I was Convenor of the Access to Justice Committee.
I served on the Executive of the Society for the Abolition of the Death Penalty (SADPSA) and a former member of the Steering Committee of ERASE (End Racism and Sexism through Education).
I was a Board Member (2002 – 2023) and was a member of the Executive Committee (2002-2005) of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).
I was a key motivator for the truth commission in South Africa and played many roles in its establishment.
I played a large role in the writing of South Africa’s constitution. I made many submissions. I was behind the South African Constitutional Court having hearings for civil society to present their views on the lack of compliance.
I served as a former National Chairperson (four terms) and Board Committee member (6 terms) of the Human Rights Committee of South Africa.



Some of my recent books are: “The Conflict in Syria and the Failure of International Law to Protect People Globally: Mass Atrocities, Enforced Disappearances and Arbitrary Detentions. (Routledge 2022); “Africa’s Role In, and Contribution to International Criminal Justice” (2020) and “The Global Impact and Legacy of Truth Commissions” (2019). The Syrian book has had a lot of impact and reviewed in the Human Rights Quarterly, Law in Context, Contemporary Review of the Middle East, Australian International Law Journal, and the Nordic Journal of Human Rights.
The book on criminal justice in Africa explores a range of issues related to the development, application, and enforcement of international criminal justice within Africa and on Africa.
The Truth Commission book’ s purpose is to understand the role, impact, and legacy of truth commissions over the last 50 years. It investigates what kind of impact and legacy previous truth commissions have left both for the societies in which they have taken place, and for future truth commissions around the world. In this context, the book examines why transitional justice processes are established in states. This is important to understand, as truth commissions are established in a transitional justice context. Understanding this context is important for appreciating the environment within which they work. The book also provides an overview of some of the issues of importance when dealing with truth commissions. Another important subject explored is how a truth commission is defined. This is done because the debates about what is or is not a truth commission are important in understanding what institutions are classified as such, and why certain institutions that play similar roles are not defined as truth commissions. Also touched on is why the methodology behind defining a truth commission should be reconsidered. The book also examines what effect truth commissions have, because to understand truth commissions more fully, it is necessary to understand the many roles they play. The functions of truth commissions are explored, as are their forms and the scope of their work. The impact and legacies of past truth commissions are important issues to explore, as there is tremendous debate about whether truth commissions play a constructive role, and whether or not their effects have been positive. Also considered is what the legacy of truth commissions may be. This book connects my academic work with my practical work.

Share This Speaker
Speaker Details