Human rights trailblazer, Kenyan Judge Mumbi Ngugi, has been named “Global Jurist of the Year” by the prestigious Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights. Tania Broughton reports.
The school said she was being honoured because of her “courageous life-long commitment to the human rights of women, marginalized populations, and to diversity, equity, and inclusion”.
Born with albinism, she has broken through barriers often associated with people with her condition and is the co-founder of the Albinism Foundation for East Africa.
She presently serves as a judge in the anti-corruption and economic crimes division.
In an interview published on the website People with Albinism “Not Ghosts But Human Beings”, Judge Ngugui spoke of how as a child she feared dying of skin cancer but has long since conquered the fear, and has learned to live with her condition and “feels comfortable in her own skin”.
She said growing up she was always the centre of attention - not in a good way.
“It has never been easy, especially when a large proportion of society is avoiding you. In fact finding jobs for people like me is almost impossible because the world is convinced we are intellectually challenged, or a bad omen, or just objects of curiosity.”
She founded the foundation in 2008 to ensure “social acceptance” for people with albinism and to strive for for others, to “see beneath the skin”.
“We have a Constitution that guarantees all Kenyans a right to health. I believe the government will wake up to its responsibilities towards people with albinism.”
Justice Ngugi studied a Bachelor of Law degree at the University of Nairobi and went on to do her masters in commercial and corporate law at the London School of Economics.
She was in private practice for 17 years during which time she researched and wrote extensively on human rights issues. She was the lead researcher and compiler of the Kenya Human Rights Commission Bi-annual human rights report and a regular newspaper columnist.
The school said in a statement that for the last nine years she has been involved in the emerging human rights jurisprudence in Kenya, particularly in relation to the social economic rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
“Justice Ngugi is a long term advocate of human rights in Kenya. She has been involved in advocacy work for the rights of women and children, as well as the housing rights of the urban poor. She has also been a prominent activist for the rights of persons with albinism in Kenya.”
Justice Ngugi was the recipient of the 2013 International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-K) Jurist of the Year Award, the Brand Kenya Ambassador Award in 2013, the Law Society of Kenya Distinguished Service Award 2017, the C.B. Madan Award 2018 and the Transparency International Judicial Integrity Award 2019.
Justice Ngugi is also a member of the Africa Regional Judges Forum (ARJF) on HIV-Aids and chairs the ARJF Steering Committee on Judicial Education.
The award will be presented to her during a webinar on February 16.
The Centre for Human Rights focuses on securing human rights for people around the globe and its students are exposed to direct human rights and legal experiences in countries around the world.
This includes Africa, where students have spent time in detention centres in Malawi, for example, going through files of prisoners lost in the system.
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