Human Rights Day: How my UN work influences my teaching and helped shape careers
10 December 2021
As we mark Human Rights Day on the 10 December, we put the spotlight on the work of Professor Sir Malcolm Evans – and how a decade leading the United Nations’ efforts to prevent torture around the world has influenced his teaching and subsequently the careers of those studying human rights law at the University of Bristol Law School.
Professor Sir Malcolm Evans has worked extensively on human rights issues for numerous international bodies and NGOs, particularly in his role as the Chair of the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture – a role that he received a knighthood for in 2015 and from which he stepped down from in December last year.
His work for the UN included visiting places of detention around the world, speaking with detainees, finding out how they are treated and working confidentially with those governments to try to ensure they are not ill-treated.
Most recently Sir Malcolm looked back at his years working for the UN in the prestigious Annual Grotius Lecture. The focus of the lecture was ‘What is to become of the UN Human Rights Treaty Body System?’ and reflects some of the barriers he faced whilst striving to prevent torture around the globe.
The Human Rights Treaty Body System was originally heralded as ‘one of the greatest achievements in the global struggle for human rights,’ but as Sir Malcolm observed in his lecture;
“…it continues to teeter on the brink of collapse. Any energy that surrounds the system in recent years has become largely focused on ensuring that it continues to function at all, rather than it continues to function well. What is needed now is not the strengthening of the system but a wholesale reformation in thinking concerning the role and function of treaty bodies…”
A deep understanding of the systems that do or do not work to support the implementation of human right around the world - and what is needed to improve those same systems – directly influences Sir Malcolm’s teaching.
‘I don't know where the influence of my work within the UN on my teaching begins and ends. I teach what I do within the UN and within the UN I seek to implement that which I've learned through my academic study. The insights that brings to teaching is a huge asset and very difficult to replicate elsewhere.’
As co-founder of the Human Rights Implementation Centre, a centre that brings together researchers, students and partner organisations around the world to deliver ground-breaking research and work, Sir Malcolm continues to play an important role in the global implementation of human rights – and in influencing the career paths of his students.
“Our students have gone onto become legal academics in the area of human rights law themselves. Others have gone on to work within the United Nations, in the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, working alongside the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in Africa, in a multiplicity of settings within International organizations, for the International Committee of the Red Cross and so on. Seeing what so many of your students then go on to do genuinely provides me with the greatest satisfaction.”
More about Sir Malcolm’s journey from international lecturer to leading the UN’s efforts for torture prevention around the world – and how that informs his teaching, can be found in his latest employability blog.
Professor Sir Malcolm Evans is a Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol. He co-founded the Human Rights Implementation Centre and was instrumental in the introduction of the LLM in Human Rights Law. Recently, Sir Malcolm looked back at his years working for the UN in the prestigious Annual Grotius Lecture. The focus of the lecture was ‘What is to become of the UN Human Rights Treaty Body System?’ and reflects on some of the barriers he faced whilst striving to prevent torture around the globe. Sir Malcolm is currently writing a book on his time working for the UN which is due out in 2022.