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Columbia University
School of Public Health


A. Kayum Ahmed is a South African activist-scholar who teaches health and human rights advocacy at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and serves as Special Advisor on the Right to Health at Human Rights Watch. In addition, he is a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, and serves as faculty co-lead on racial equity at New York City’s Pandemic Response Institute. Previously, he held the role of Division Director at the Open Society Foundations, Public Health Program where he worked on ensuring equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Before relocating to New York, Kayum served as Chief Executive Officer of the South African Human Rights Commission from 2010 to 2015. During this period, he led a team of 178 colleagues to monitor, protect and promote human rights in South Africa, and oversaw the management of nearly 45,000 human rights cases. These cases included access to socio-economic rights such as water, healthcare and education, as well as cases pertaining to discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and disability among others.

Kayum is the recipient of various awards, fellowships and scholarships including the Nelson Mandela Scholarship (Leiden University), Commonwealth Scholarship (University of Oxford), the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, the Aspen Institute Africa Leadership Initiative Fellowship, and the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans Award. He has taught several classes and delivered guest lectures at institutions across the world including Princeton, Yale, Duke, Oxford, the University of Cape Town, and the University of the Witwatersrand.

He holds a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University as well as various degrees in law from the universities of Oxford (MS.t), Cape Town (LL.B.), and Leiden (LL.M.). In addition, he has degrees in anthropology (M.A.) and theology (B.A. Hons). Kayum has several interdisciplinary research interests and has published various papers on human rights, radical student movements, human rights education, and decoloniality.

He serves on the boards of the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge (I-MAK), The LAB (San Francisco), and the GC Bond Center for African Education.


Used Books


Selected Peer Reviewed Articles & Chapters



Health and Human Rights Journal (2023)

Human rights have historically advanced an anthropocentric world view that reinforces the right to health of human beings, disconnected from the health of nonhuman nature and what the Lenape people refer to as Kahèsëna Hàki (Mother Earth). For the Lenape and other American Indian nations, as well as many Indigenous communities globally, the border between the body and the earth, between human and nonhuman, is more fluid than in Western knowledge systems. Since the human rights framework is historically shaped by Western ideologies that support a narrative in which humans dominate nature, the right to health invariably reflects this perspective. What would the right to health look like if we delinked it from Euro-American conceptualizations of human/nonhuman and instead drew on Lenape knowledge systems? More specifically, in the context of climate change, where the health of humans is dependent on the health of the planet, can the right to health be reimagined through Lenape epistemologies to protect the health of nonhuman nature?

Link to article:

Old Books


Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education (2021)

Human rights education (HRE) is an ideological instrument deployed as a tactic to inspire agency and activism, primarily as a counterbalance to state power. HRE as tactics is used to denote the education and training of individuals and groups working toward claiming certain protections for themselves or on behalf of those on the margins of society. This typology encompasses the range of legal, advocacy, and policy tools available within human rights frameworks to uphold and protect the rights of individuals and communities. But it is also important to recognize that human rights discourses can been appropriated by certain states to strengthen their sovereign power. HRE as sovereignty acknowledges that states, as well as corporations and far-right civil society groups, can appropriate human rights language in order to reinforce power and legitimacy. States who engage in HRE as sovereignty deliberately employ human rights language with the aim of constructing a self-serving narrative that entrenches power or legitimizes their behavior and actions. HRE as sovereignty characterizes the appropriation of HRE to entrench power through the creation of an official, immutable narrative embedded in human rights language.

Link to article:


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