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Kenyan human rights activist sworn in as judge

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Helen Thompson
WVoN co-editor

Monica Mbaru, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, is now also a judge in the Kenyan court system.

President Mwai Kibaki and chief justice Willy Mutunga swore in Mbaru at the State House in Nairobi on July 13 as one of 12 new judges in the Industrial Court, which rules on employment cases.

Under Kenya’s new constitution, the Industrial Court is granted the same status as the High Court.

Mbaru has been a vehement advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and sex workers in Africa.

She has worked with organisations such as the Centre for Legal Empowerment (Kituo cha Sheria), the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK).

Speaking in May 2009 at the African Commission on Human Rights, Mbaru challenged all African nations to protect the human rights of all Africans, including LGBT Africans.

Citing violations of the human rights of gay Africans in countries such as Burundi, South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya, Mbaru called for an end to violence and intimidation against LGBT people, for police to take decisive action against perpetrators of rapes, violence and murders of LGBT people, and for the courts to fairly adjudicate such cases.

In March 2012, Mbaru, a regular columnist for LGBT magazine Identity Kenya, wrote in support of sex workers, arguing that: “Every person is entitled to basic human rights, and all sex workers are entitled to the same rights as anyone else.”

She continued with a rationale for decriminalising sex work by saying:

“Decriminalisation allows for access to human rights protections, the ability to achieve labour protections; it creates a more open relationship between police and sex workers, thus making it easier to expose trafficking, the involvement of children and the abuse of sex workers; and it enables delivery of public health interventions, including HIV prevention and treatment.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission describe Mbaru’s appointment as “historic”.

“It is a beacon of hope for any law student and lawyer working with LGBT persons, for it informs that our highest legal office – the judiciary – respects and values diversity,” said spokesperson Eric Gitari.

“If the judiciary and the president of this country can appoint an LGBT activist as a judge, then any LGBT Kenyan who had doubt on their ability to serve their country must feel validated.

“We are on course where merit and qualifications are being used to appoint judicial officers without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity or past work in that field. It is inspiring.”

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