Friday, December 10, 2010

Defending human rights

Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is human rights defenders who are working to end discrimination and human rights violations.

Not coincidentally, today's post is about two human rights defenders: Jestina Mukoko and Beatrice Mtetwa.

Jestina Mukoko is a Zimbabwean human rights activist. A former broadcaster with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, she’s the Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), which monitors human rights abuses.

In 2008, during Zimbabwe's election period, Mukoko was abducted from her home by government security forces and held for 21 days before appearing before a court. She was tortured, beaten and charged with attempting to recruit people to overthrow the government. Local and international pressure helped secure her release.

Jestina Mukoko’s efforts to appeal her arrest and to bring those responsible for the violation of her human rights to justice, and her continuing work with ZPP, have led to international as well as local recognition. She received the 2009 Laureate of the City of Weimar Human Rights prize and the 2009 National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) peace award, as well as a 2010 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department. This past year she was the 2010 Oak Fellow at the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College in the U.S. She’s returning to Zimbabwe prior to the elections scheduled for 2011.
Beatrice Mtetwa is a Zimbabwean media and human rights lawyer. She’s defended activists, opposition politicians, and Zimbabwean and foreign journalists who have been wrongly arrested or harassed.

For this, she’s been harassed and intimidated herself. She was arrested in 2003, beaten during custody, and released without charge; she was attacked again in 2007.

I heard Beatrice Mtetwa speak at Ottawa’s Carleton University, where she’s also been an Honorary Visiting Adjunct Professor in the Institute of African Studies. In 2009 she participated in a panel at Carleton on the road to democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe. She also gave the convocation address, which includes an interesting account of how she became a lawyer "by mistake".

Mtetwa received an International Press Freedom Award in 2005 from the Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2009 and an International Human Rights Award from the American Bar Association Section of Litigation in 2010.

Both Jestina Mukoko and Beatrice Mtetwa defend human rights despite enormous challenges and personal risk.

You can find more stories of human rights defenders around the world at

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