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Human Rights Defenders: Two SLS students win Katiba Institute Essay Writing Competition

Akunzirwe Conrad, Strathmore Law Student

We profile two Strathmore Law students who, early August, were among the winners in the Katiba Institute Essay Writing Competition, supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy under the project “strengthening the work of human rights defenders and enhancing their protection.” The competition targeted participants up to 25 years of age, and focused on human rights – encouraging young people to think and write about human rights and what it means to them.

Akunzirwe Conrad – not giving up!

My name is Akunzirwe Conrad, a student at the Strathmore Law School. I was among the winners of the 18-25 years’ category at the Katiba Institute Human Rights Essay Writing Competition.

I wrote an essay, titled “Me and my friend”, that illustrated the plight of my friend Asaph in Uganda, who was denied access to medical attention due to his social class. It is unfortunate that as much as health care facilities and systems are set up in the rural areas, certain social classes are excluded from getting access to these same facilities. Just because the injustice has not or does not happen to you, does not take away your responsibility to defend or take a stand against it. I took up the initiative to defend his rights, as we are all human beings. We are equal and no one is above the other when it comes to accessing basic amenities provided by the government regardless of one’s social class.

Indeed, it is unheard of for someone from a lower class society to stand up against a high-class authority. To this extent, I wrote to the Local Council demanding justice, demanding equality for my friend. A meeting with them followed this letter.

The events of that day made me ponder whether my rights are secure. Are all our rights secure? And that was my first stepping stone into the journey of defending humanity as ‘together we stand and divided we fall’.

The outcome of that meeting was a nudge to defend the rights of others as much as I defended my own. Together with the youth in Uganda, we took the bold stand to ensure equality and fairness is upheld across all social classes. We collaborated with different Human Rights Organization and NGOs in Uganda that have assisted us in the creation of awareness on the human rights of the common citizen.

A new calling…

My heart is into military intelligence and the like. However, defending human rights seems to now be my calling, and my passion. I intend not to tire fighting for the rights of my community. This opportunity to participate in the Katiba Institute Human Rights Essay Writing Competition was an eye opener and an exposure to reality in the realm of human rights.

Thanks to the Katiba Institute and Strathmore Law School for this amazing opportunity. Not only has this amplified my voice in defending and creating awareness on human rights, but gives a voice for not giving up.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world” – Margret Mead.

Tabitha MunyakaA human rights defender; a personal definition

“The 22nd of July 2021, marks a special day in my life as I got an opportunity among other youthful competitors to advocate for human rights. I was very fascinated and eager when I received an email from the Law School Administration granting me the opportunity to participate in the Human Rights Essay competition. Writing and defending human rights are both my passion; they are aligned with what I want to pursue later in life. I was intrigued to see young people, just like me, at the frontline fighting for humanity.

I was spoilt for choice on which essay topic to choose from wondering which would suit me best. I aimed at ensuring my personal experience was heard. While reading the list of essay questions, the first three questions were intriguing; however, as I was conducting my research, my personal experience was lacking. I settled for the fourth one – “Human rights defenders” – what does this mean to me and mine? for this particular question gave me the driving force to pen the essay that won the top position in the 18-25 category.

 

My story

My family and I relocated to Europe. I joined an International School; here was my first interaction with racism. The students did not want to play with me while some made slurs about me. I somehow never shared this experience even with my mother. However, as time passed, it became clear that I was a victim of racism.

At 10 years old, I was trying to fit in and look like them, from how I dressed, to the activities I took part in. My identity was distorted. They had a nickname for me – “Oreo” – a derogative term which meant that I was trying to be white while black.

I was an angry person. I was ashamed of who I was becoming. I turned to books where I found my solace. Reading has greatly influenced and contributed to my journey of understanding human rights awareness and defending it. I turned to writers such as Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Khaled Hosseini, among others, in whom I found comfort as they shared a similar plight. Reading their books was life changing as I found my identity.

Charity begins at home…

“The journey to discover oneself is rough and full of potholes but it is one that must be taken.” Without identifying who you are, it is impossible to defend others. It starts with you. Once you overcome this, then you can do it. The old adage, “charity begins at home’’ similarly applies in this context; for you to defend others, you must understand yourself. Knowing and understanding your identity equates to standing by the values that you uphold. This in turn influences the actions that you take as a human rights defender, the movements you support.

Being a human rights defender is not a job that one registers for. Those conversations that one has with peers, family members and other people that one interacts with could instill and enforce the desire for one to become a human rights defender.

My name is Tabika Munyaka and finding my identity, my voice, has shaped who I am today. I am a human rights defender, and nothing should limit you from saying so. It is not a subscription. It is personal.

 

This article was written by Jemmy Kamau, a third year Bachelor of Arts in International Studies student.   

 

What’s your story? We’d like to hear it. Contact us via communications@strathmore.edu.

 

 

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