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South African Research Chairs Initiative is a project of the National Research Foundation (NRF) aimed at addressing the shortage of high level skills as a major constraint in the development of South Africa’s economy and society. One significant remedial objective of the initiative is to expand the pool of researchers contributing to knowledge production, to expand the scientific research and innovative base of South Africa in a way that will support the country’s national research and development policies, to augment post-graduate studies and to increase research outputs. This strategic intervention to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African universities commenced in 2006 and by 2013 a total of 157 research chairs have been awarded in the natural as well as the social sciences involving 21 universities.

In 2013 the NRF awarded the Faculty of Law at the University of Johannesburg a Research Chair in International Law on the basis of research capacity that already existed in the Faculty in this field. Prof Hennie Strydom, professor in public international law, was then appointed to the Chair. The relevance of the Chair’s research programme must be seen in the context of the post 1994 developments when South Africa rejoined the international community of states in various ways. The country has ratified a large number of multilateral treaties and has adopted national implementation legislation in several instances. Under the 1996 Constitution, the courts are also obliged to consider international law when interpreting the Bill of Rights. South Africa is a member of the African Union and plays an important part in the affairs of the Union, notably in peace-keeping operations in many parts of Africa and as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations it actively engages in matters affecting international peace and security.

The research activities of the Chair are broadly informed by and related to the three pillars on which the United Nations is founded, namely international peace and security, economic and social development and the protection of human rights. In all three areas the African continent faces serious challenges, made worse by the special ways in which they are interlinked. To support research in these areas the NRF also makes available a limited number of bursaries on an annual basis to full-time masters and doctoral students. Collaboration with scholars and institutions in other parts of the world is also an important objective of the Chair.