This coming Saturday, August 1, at a luncheon meeting in Chicago, the Rule of Law Initiative of the American Bar Association will honor Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights with its 2009 Rule of Law Award.
The Zimbabwean group -- a public interest litigation organization operating in one of Africa's most treacherous environment's for human rights defenders -- is being recognized for its efforts at advancing the rights of persons in the country. Its impressive portfolio includes:
► Representing indigent individuals who have been illegally denied citizenship;
► Providing emergency legal aid to detained human rights defenders;
► Training legal practitioners, teachers, and traditional leaders on human rights; and
► Preparing lawyers for a future transitional justice project.
In addition to honoring the courageous lawyers and advocates who protect human rights in Zimbabwe, the giving of this award also provides an opportunity to reflect upon the state of human rights in that country in recent years:
► In June 2008, the U.N. Security Council condemned Zimbabwe's intimidation of political opponents, which resulted in the deaths of opposition activities and displacement of thousands. Despite the creation of a coalition government between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the Movement for a Democratic Change leader earlier this year, Zimbabweans continue to struggle against an oppressive Mugabe regime in their quest to realize their human rights.
► On June 18, 2009, four members of the nongovernmental organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise were detained by police for peacefully demonstrating in commemoration of World Refugee Day. The women were assaulted while in custody, and then denied medical treatment for their injuries.
► On July 13, 2009, Mugabe supporters disrupted a national conference to draft a new Constitution, which would include provisions to curtail executive power.
Established in 1994, the Rule of Law Award is granted to leaders and countries that take "significant steps towards implementing democratic and market reforms" on the domestic level. Past award recipients of the Rule of Law Award include Pakistan's lawyers and judges who protested that country's purging of its judiciary; U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy; and Nataša Kandić, Founder and President of the Humanitarian Law Center based in Belgrade, Serbia.
Heartfelt congratulations to the courageous members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and their peers!