The gallant rights defender

November 27, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 27 – Kenya may not have recognised her efforts to guard human rights and freedom, but her passion and hard work have made her a three time international award winner.

Njeri Kabeberi was awarded the inaugural ‘Humanity Award’ by the Chamber of Lawyers, Frankfurt in Germany for ‘commitment to Law and Justice’ on October 29 this year. She was also awarded the ‘Democracy Ribbon’ by the City of The Hague on November 3 as recognition for her ‘commitment to Peace and Democracy’.

In Australia, she was appointed Ambassador for Global Defenders in human rights and freedom.

The Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) Executive Director explains to Capital News where she draws her energy to so relentlessly defend human rights and freedom.

“Anytime I am asked where I get my passion from, I keep on thinking my answer will change, but it doesn’t; it is actually my love for freedom. I love freedom and when I see it being restricted on another person, I imagine it is me or it will soon catch up with me and if I don’t want it to catch up with me… then I better start fighting for it before.”

She also likes fighting for citizens around the world even if she doesn’t know them. “For example, these organisations that have given me the awards, are not even Kenyan or African organisations, but they can feel what it is we are doing out here.”

Knowing Kenya’s history on freedom, one very well knows it has not been easy for her.

The infamous Nyayo House torture chambers, the dictatorial one party state under the shackles of KANU and political assassinations are few issues that signify Kenya’s long road to freedom.

But Ms Kabeberi says; “I have been in very bad moments as an activist, but the worst moment for me was this year when we had two activists and a student killed near the University of Nairobi. That was a sign that we are going to start killing human rights defenders in this country.” 

She says it was an implication that the country no longer cares about security.  “Despite the Central Police being less than 1,000 metres away, it took them three hours to get to the scene, even without evidence, what can worry a policeman in this country other than death in broad daylight? and up to date no one has been arrested!”

“That for me was a turning point in the human rights of this country, activists could be arrested but now things have changed and we have started being killed,” she said.

She says she wondered: “Oh my God are we going to continue fighting for the rest of our lives, we would like to take a break and rest, we also want to enjoy life and relax knowing Kenyans have rights, we want to see the fruits of our struggle, we want to be somewhere building the nation.”

“I have been in this struggle for over 20 years, which is almost half of my life, it is the time we started seeing implementation of achievements made,” she says.
But of course she has her great moments.

“My greatest achievement is when I had my first open activity.  This is when we were campaigning with the mothers of political prisoners at the freedom corner, I was one of the young people there leading them and staying with them during the hunger strike,” she recounts.

The 52 political prisoners they wanted released, were set free at different times over the years.  “For me that was a 100 percent achievement… never mind the amount of suffering, teargas, hunger and the amount of time we stayed away from our homes during the hunger strike.  It was a loss of a year in our lives but a gain for this country.”

She is also proud of what happened in 1997 (during the Inter Parliamentary Party Group – IPPG – reforms), “When they removed the whole issue of detention without trial and sedition law.  Kenyans shall no longer be victimised because of their conscience.”

Although she acknowledges there is more freedom, she says it is a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answer (over the level of liberties) due to the existence of extra-judicial killings and rise in crime making it hard to differentiate between political killings and criminal homicide.

But her wish is that the government will prioritse respect for human rights and provide security for all people in the country.

Ms Kabeberi is also the country coordinator for the Netherlands-Institute for Multi-Party Democracy (N-IMD). Prior to this assignment which she has held since April, 2004, she worked for seven years for Amnesty International as the Development Coordinator for East & Southern Africa.

She has served on the board of the Kenya Human Rights Commission for twelve years and was the first chair of the Release Political Prisoners Pressure Group (RPP).

Ms Kabeberi is also an opinion shaper in the areas of equality, governance, democracy and human rights. Njeri continues to work for the protection of human rights defenders in Kenya and globally as she also works with political parties in her country Kenya.


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