(Jeff) JD Handmaker

dr. (Jeff) JD Handmaker
Assistant Professor International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) Academic staff unit
Kortenaerkade 12, 's - Gravenhage
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I joined the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam in February 2007. Among my external academic appointments, I have been a senior research fellow in the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand since January 2007, an Editor (since 2013) of the South African Journal on Human Rights (from Feb 2017- Feb 2019 Editor-in-Chief) and a visiting research fellow in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University in 2017.

I studied law in England (1992: LLB, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and 1994: LLM, with Merit, School of Oriental and African Studies, London) and was called to the English bar in 1995. After fifteen years as a human rights practitioner in South Africa and The Netherlands, in 2009 I obtained a PhD in the sociology of law at Utrecht University with a thesis on "Advocating for Accountability: Civic-State Interactions to Protect Refugees in South Africa", published by Intersentia (Antwerp).

From the early 1990s, off and on until early 2000, which included short appointments as assistant to a British Member of Parliament and as legal advisor for the Dutch Refugee Council, I held various positions for the South African organisation Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).  For seven years following my time with LHR I completed numerous assignments as a freelance consultant, trainer and researcher, based in The Hague. I trained government officials, police officers, military personnel, lawyers, NGOs and journalists and advised governments, the United Nations and civil society organisations in the development sector on a wide range of human rights and legal issues, developing particular regional experience in Southern Africa and Palestine.

Since 1999, I have published scholarly work, in academic and other journals, as well as four books and one special issue of a journal.

My academic research has been in three, overlapping areas, all concerning the potential for legal mobilisation to lead to progressive structural change.

The first, long-standing area of research has theorized and evaluated the structural opportunities and constraints of civic-state interactions in the context of human rights advocacy and in particular public interest litigation, with a particular focus on refugees and migrants. While this area of research has focused primarily on South Africa, I have also written on legal mobilization in Latin America, Palestine and the Netherlands. This area of reseach has also critiqued the deleterious effects of evaluating legal doctrine without critically taking into account the social, historical and political context and the pedagogies of legal learning from crisis.

A second, related area of research has been to critically evaluate the content and implementation of laws and policies and the roles of civic actors in the framing and enforcement of these policies. In this area, I have focussed primarily on refugee laws and policies in South Africa, but I have also been examining the negative consequences of the social reproduction by migration experts of concepts such as ‘irregular migration’, and the uncritical application of legal-doctrinal concepts in legal-political analyses of armed conflict and international criminal justice.

A third research area has critically evaluated efforts by civic actors, states and international institutions, to enforce international criminal law, both through international tribunals and in national legal systems.

In 2005, I received a WOTRO award to support field research in South Africa from the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO). Since working at ISS, I have participated in various grants, including a two-year programme funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a two-year programme funded by Hivos and a teaching project in Suriname. At the end of 2014, together with colleagues from the Erasmus School of Law I was jointly awarded a five-year (2015-2020) matching grant from EUR, amounting to a combined institutional commitment of 1.6 million Euros.


Visiting address

Kortenaerkade 12 2518 AX 's - Gravenhage

Postal address

Postbus 29776 2502 LT 's-Gravenhage