HRDI's Story


The idea was born out of the experience of Asha Ramgobin, who after graduating from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute at Lund University in Sweden, with a Masters Degree in International Human Rights, and her experience of law clinics and clinical legal education, looked for an opportunity to turn academic discourse into Human Rights reality, in a way which would add value to the growing number of law clinics in Africa. Working together with a Swedish lawyer, Dan Bengtsson, who had previously studied law clinics in South Africa, the idea grew into a more tangible plan.


Asha Ramgobin and Dan Bengtsson continued working to further develop the concept, consult with relevant role players and prepare funding proposals. They then went on to formalise the ideas and prepare an organisational structure before seeking funders on the international stage. This was a challenge as the organisation was embryonic and did not have any track record to indicate how effective it would be. Initial start-up funding was received from SIDA in 2004. The Initial Board of Directors was set up and, while also being Directors of the Board, Asha Ramgobin was appointed as Executive Director, and Dan Bengtsson as Deputy Executive Director.


The concept of capacity building and development within the fast growing legal education movement and law clinics across the African continent was supported by SIDA and DANIDA (The Swedish and Danish development agencies) who expressed confidence in the team, the idea and the plans to realise this idea, and offered funding for the initial three year period, 2006 to 2008.

2006 - 2008

A suitable building (909 Church Street, Arcadia) was identified and leased and it needed substantial renovations which took place during early 2006.

The building has offices which are suitable for the staff of seven people, as well as having two large rooms to be used for teaching and meetings. Gideon Mpako was looking after the building for the landlords, and he stayed on in the capacity as Maintenance Assistant with responsibility for the maintenance of the building and gardens, as well as supervising the student manual labour programme of HRDI's community work.

The first phase of training lawyers from participating countries took place resulting in a cadre of 23 lawyers being trained in the first three years, through partnerships with law clinics and other organisations in 10 countries. During this period Christian Tshimbalanga Mwata was (while being a lawyer) appointed as Paralegal, mainly working with Community Outreach, and Tebello Thabane was appointed as specialist HIV/AIDS lawyer, to work with legal services. Hester Rossouw was appointed as Administrator.


In early 2009, Dan Bengtsson returned to Sweden. Dan has been one of the driving forces in the establishment of sound business and teaching practices in HRDI. He has left a legacy of which he and HRDI can be proud.

After having completed the first three years of cooperation with partner organisations, and training of lawyers, this year marked the starting point in a period of consolidation. This was to ensure integration of the various clinics and regional institutions, ensuring that students from the various clinics share experiences and the training and learnings are consolidated. This was also the beginning of an increase in legal services activities, such as taking cases together with our partner organisations. 2009 was also the year when planning for the next five years took place, taking into account the results and recommendations from an external evaluation.

In mid 2009 a social scientist, Carita Teien, was employed to research and work on cases, thus ensuring a multi-disciplinary approach.


March 2010 saw the ending of the first Phase of HRDI's project "Regional Human Rights Law Clinics to Increase Access to Justice for Vulnerable Groups in Africa". We concluded the first Phase with partnerships in nine countries, and with 23 students having completed the training. Of the 23, 15 continue to "put their training to use" as stated by the external evaluator. In April we entered into the second, and hopefully last Phase of the project, "Grassroots Based Interventions to Increase Access to Domestic, Regional and International Human Rights Mechanisms for Ordinary People in Africa".

As we entered into our second Phase, four of our partnerships, for various reasons, came to an end. As we reflected on the lessons learned in the past we decided that 2010 would be the year to strengthen our existing partnerships, and also ensure the identification and initiation of partners with whom we can share synergy and positive experiences in our combined work towards ensuring greater access to justice for vulnerable groups and ordinary people.

The highlight of 2010 was HRDI's successful advocacy with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights for the establishment of a special mechanism for the protection of the rights of PLHIV, those at risk and vulnerable to HIV. It is the first mechanism that includes a focus on men having sex with men as a vulnerable group. HRDI hosted a dialogue between this newly established mechanism and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health.

August saw the departure of our colleague and friend Tebello Thabane who decided to return to the academic field in order to pursue his PhD.


Building on the lessons learned in 2010, efforts made during the first half of 2011 led to five new fruitful partnerships, built on strong levels of synergy, shared commitment and values. In addition to the new partnerships, discussions continued with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria about the possibility of HRDI's five month training programme being accredited as an LLM. On the 12th of May the final decision was made, and HRDI's training became accredited as an LLM in International Human Rights Law and HIV in Africa. In June 18 students from ten countries arrived to commence their LLM studies.

HRDI entered into a partnership with the ACHPR in terms of which HRDI provided technical assistance to the new established Committee for the Protection of the Rights of PLHIV, Those at Risk and Vulnerable to HIV. An HRDI alumni took up employment as a legal assistant providing full time support to the chairperson of the Committee.

At the end of June Dan Bengtsson returned to HRDI to take up his previous position as Deputy Executive Director. His return was warmly welcomed, finally completing the HRDI team.

Having decided to explore other avenues in her life, end of November saw the departure of our colleague and friend Carita Teien.

In December the 18 students had finished the first part of their LLM and returned to their home countries to focus on making use of their newly acquired skills and their dissertations.


The year began with a team discussion on latest developments within the African continent. Asha Ramgobin watched a documentary on illicit capital flight where the report "Bringing the Billions Back" was discussed. As she began to understand the magnitude of the problem and how Africa lost more money that it received in aid as a result of illicit financial flows, she initiated deeper discussions and debates within the HRDI team on the human rights dimensions of this problem. She then included an analysis of this issue within the LLM programme as part of the contextual social, economic and political analysis. In addition, the issue was raised at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and attracted the attention of several commissioners, state representatives and civil society representatives.

HRDI's support to the ACHPR deepened with an additional legal assistant providing further technical support to other members of the HIV Committee.

The second intake for the LLM programme was successful and 14 students from 6 institutions completed the course work. On 10 December 2012, 12 students from the 2011 intake graduated with an LLM degree from the University of Pretoria, in "International Human Rights Law and HIV in Africa".


The highlight of 2013 was HRDI's successful advocacy at the ACHPR for the adoption of resolution on illicit capital flight and human rights. The HRDI team made the case for the resolution as a result of several carefully planned interventions during the public session of the ACHPR. The ACHPR appointed HRDI as their secretariat to assist them to implement the resolution.

HRDI deepened its understanding and 12 more students graduated with LLM degrees in International Human Rights Law and HIV in Africa. The network of students and institutions was growing stronger and deeper. HRDI intensified its work to ensure the sustainability of its partner institutions once HRDI support ended.focus on illicit financial flows and human rights in Africa and hosted a three day training on various aspects of the subject.


HRDI's work with illicit financial flows deepened during 2014. The link with human rights, the impact on human rights and human rights based solutions to the problem were becoming clearer. The ACHPR concomitantly sharpened its focus on the problem.

HRDI and its board took a formal decision to assist the ACHPR address illicit financial flows from a human rights perspective into the medium to long term.

Most partners were by and large now independent, sustainable and self-sufficient institutions.

HRDI hosted an intensive training during which Asha Ramgobin taught international human rights law, bilateral investment treaties, international human rights obligations of non-state actors and advocacy strategies at the ACHPR.

Asha Ramgobin and Dan Bengtsson participated in international conferences on business and human rights where they brought up illicit financial flows as a human rights issue.


HRDI employed a new francophone lawyer to assist with the focus on illicit financial flows and human rights. Emile Luketa Mukuna joined the HRDI team after having been a student in the programme since 2012.

There were major changes within the ACHPR which drastically affected the work on illicit financial flows. HRDI prepared a draft interim report which was never formally adopted by the ACHPR and hence revised and published for HRDI itself. It was a year of trouble-shooting and re-positioning based on substantial contextual changes within the African human rights landscape.

The launch of the UNECA High Level Panel's report on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa and the UN Financing for Development Conference placed the issue in the limelight.

HRDI consolidated and finalised its work with partners, students and the ACHPR on international human rights law and HIV in Africa.


HRDI's project on international human rights law and HIV in Africa ended on 30 June, HRDI is actively developing a new project on illicit financial flows and human rights in Africa while at the same time assisting the ACHPR with its focus on the issue.