Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kenyan & Zimbabwean Amongst International Women of Courage Award Recepients

Washington, DC -March 10, 2010 - Two African women of courage are amongst 10 women to receive this years International Women of Courage Award given by the U.S. Department of State. They are Ann Njogu of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Kenya) and Jestina Mukoko, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (Zimbabwe). This award which is in celebration of International Women’s Day, is the only award within the Department of State that pays tribute to outstanding women leaders worldwide. It recognizes the courage and leadership shown as they struggle for social justice and human rights. Handing out the awards this year, Secretary Clinton joined by First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to honorees.

The other recipients are from Afghanistan, Cyprus, Dominican Republic Iran, Republic of Korean, Syria and Sri Lanka. They are among over 80 exceptional women nominated by U.S. Embassies worldwide for their extraordinary work in advancing human rights. The women are in Washington from March 8 – 12 for a program of meetings with government officials, NGOs and the media.

Ann Njogu (center) of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness was recognized for fighting for constitutional reform in Kenya and against corruption and gender-based violence.

In 2008, Ms. Njogu was co-convener of the Civil Society Congress, which worked to avert total political collapse in the aftermath of the violence that tore Kenyan society apart after the December 2007 elections. Her organization, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), documented sexual and gender based violence during the post election period, providing essential data for national and international investigations of possible criminal conduct by Kenyan leaders. Ms. Njogu was also instrumental in passage of Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act, as a co-drafter and lobbyist.

Ms. Njogu has been a leader on Constitutional reform, which is crucial to Kenya’s future. She was the Co-Chair of the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Constitutional Reform, the Co-Chair of the Joint Dialogue Forum on Constitutional Reform and a delegate to the Bomas National Conference on Constitutional Reforms. Using the influence of her organization, CREAW, she has kept pressure on lawmakers for Constitutional reforms, and ensured that the reform process is representative and not skewed to benefit the existing power structure.

These activities have come with great personal sacrifice. In 2007, Ms Njogu was physically assaulted and arrested by state security for demanding that Members of Parliament review their hefty salaries in light of the generally poor state of the country. With the other arrestees, she filed a Constitutional reference now popularly known as "Ann Njogu and others versus the State," which was successfully adjudicated and now limits the time a Kenyan citizen can be held in custody to 24 hours. Hundreds of Kenyans have since used this landmark case to secure their release when police have arbitrarily arrested them and held them against their Constitutional guarantees.

In 2008, with six others, Ms. Njogu was arrested, beaten and sexually molested by police when the group raised the issue of possible corruption in the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel. The matter is still pending in court, but it is just another example of her dedication to exposing corruption and fighting for reforms in Kenya.

Jestina Mukoko (center) of the Zimbabwe Peace Project NGO was recognized for documenting human rights abuses and fighting against violence against women.

Ms. Mukoko is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), an NGO that monitors human rights abuses throughout the country. ZPP's reports provide the international community with accurate assessments of human rights abuses, including violence against women and politically-biased distribution of food, and were particularly crucial during the violent 2008 election period. Ms. Mukoko is a long-time leader in the human rights and activist communities in Zimbabwe, and, as a broadcaster for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, a pioneering role model.

On December 3, 2008, Ms. Mukoko was abducted from her home by state security agents. She was beaten, tortured, forced to confess to an alleged plot to mount a terrorist incursion from neighboring Botswana, and subsequently imprisoned. A court granted her bail on February 27, 2009.

After Ms. Mukoko appealed her arrest through the courts, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court finally ruled on September 28 that state security forces had violated her human rights to such an extent as to warrant a permanent stay of prosecution in the case against her. A concurrent civil suit is still pending. In the election-related violence that blanketed Zimbabwe in mid-2008, women often suffered particularly harsh abuse at the hands of security agents and ZANU-PF youths. Ms. Mukoko's abduction and subsequent court case brought the subject of politically-motivated violence – particularly violence against women – and human rights abuses home to all Zimbabweans. Across the country, people in villages discussed "what happened to Jestina."

In a country in which regime-sponsored violence and intimidation has often silenced opponents, Ms. Mukoko's ongoing legal case is an important statement against violence and oppression. Her bravery in calling to account those responsible for her abduction and torture, as well as her insistence on continuing her role as head of ZPP, has only reinforced her position as a leading human rights defender in one of the most oppressive countries in the world.

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