The late human rights lawyer Willie Kimani has been named the 2016 Jurist of the Year.
In recognition of his work, lawyer Kimani has now been named Jurist of the Year after he paid the ultimate price while defending human rights.
Kimani, who was killed mid this year was awarded the posthumous award for his bravery in defending the down trodden in the country, since he was a law student at the University of Nairobi.
It is the work his widow Hannah Kimani, while receiving the award at a ceremony held on Friday 9th 2016 to commemorate the International Human Rights said: “I never thought it will cost his life.”
“No amount of words can explain who Willy was. He was one of a kind… with this award, it shows that his work was not in vain.”
She described Kimani, “as the best father my two boys would ever have.”
The late Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Murimi underwent torture before meeting their deaths at the hands of those duty bound to protect them – Administration Police officers.
The pathologist who carried Whoever was inflicting these injuries seemed to have had an affinity on the testicles and they crushed them,” Andrew Kanyi Gachie told the court handling their murder trial. out post-mortems described their deaths as “extremely painful.”
International Commission of Jurists Kenya Executive Director Samwel Mohochi described their killing as an epitome of impunity, in a case involving police officers, who are already in custody undergoing trial.
“We give it to him as recognition for the ultimate price he paid in performing his work as human rights defender and as a reminder to the risks that face all other human rights defenders,” he asserted.
Each year since 1993, ICJ Kenya has recognized the achievements of one outstanding jurist dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. The award was introduced both to commemorate International Human Rights Day and to recognize and honour the contributions of an exceptional jurist
This year, our distinguished jurist has been recognized locally and internationally for his lifetime dedication to human rights for which he fought until the very end.
Our Jurist of the Year was admitted as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya in 2011. However, his passion for human rights protection was evident long before. While studying law at the University of Nairobi, he interned with the Women’s Rights Awareness Programme, a safe house for victims of sexual and gender-based violence where he championed the rights of women and children. But it was his tenure with Release Political Prisoners Trust,where our jurist’s true calling would crystalize.
At the time, Release Political Prisoners Trust (RPP) was mandated to safeguard the rights of political prisoners. However, without a single political detainee in Kenyan jails, the organization was faced with little work and even less money. On the brink of closing shop and in desperate need of someone with legal skills, our Jurist of the Year was offered an unpaid internship at RPP. Within the first months of his internship, our jurist noted the consistent trend of police brutality meted out to clients he interacted with. Compelled by this, he quickly convinced his seniors at RPP to expand their mandate to securing justice for victims ofextrajudicial killings and conducting civic education amongst vulnerable communities on how to deal with police abuse. These were initiatives that few organizations were focusing on at the time and according to his colleagues, it was here that our jurist’s passion for police accountability began.
Our jurist graduated with a Bachelors of Law before joining Kenya School of Law in 2009. Amidst a rising tide of extrajudicial killings in Kenya, he evolved from novice to hardened human rights lawyer and activist. Among his most prominent cases was that of former Mungiki spokesman Njuguna Gitau, who was shot dead by three assailants in downtown Nairobi in 2009.
Bolstered by his experience at RPP, he joined the Independent Medico Legal Unit in 2012 to work on their police reform programme and advocate against torture. He subsequently joined what would become his final posts, the International Justice Mission, and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, where he was tasked with investigating cases of police misconduct and murder. It is an epic tragedy, then, that our Jurist of the Year met his death at the hands of the same scourge against which he had spent years fighting. His clients were victims of police brutality and our jurist died alongside one of them, Mr. Josephat Mwenda. Symbolically, the last time they were seen, they were leaving court together. On June 23, 2016, they, along with their taxi driver, Mr. Joseph Muiruri, were abducted and brutally murdered by police officers.
Our jurist spent his career exposing corrupt police officers and tirelessly fighting to uphold the rights of the marginalized. Despite clear threats and dangers, he courageously kept steadfast in his pursuit of justice, and in doing so, he paid the ultimate price. According to those close to him, our jurist started his career as a human rights lawyer with fears for his life. And he had every right to worry. Our jurist represents just one of thousands of innocent Kenyans who have suffered under police abuse. The epidemic of extrajudicial killings in Kenya persists. A recent Al-Jazeera investigation found that between 2009 and 2015, over 1500 Kenyan citizens were killed by the police, and that statistically, Kenyans are five times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a criminal. These numbers are made worse only by the impunity enjoyed by police; little or no investigation is usually done by the state into the circumstances surrounding these deaths.
At least in this regard, our jurist’s death is an exception. In a ground-breaking case, the High Court ruled that our Jurist of the Year and his associates were subject to enforced disappearance and executed by police. This was a watershed moment in the history of justice in Kenya as it shed light on the rampant scourge of extrajudicial killings that has plagued this country for too long.
For those who knew him personally, our jurist’s strength and zealous nature made him a memorable soul and an indomitable human rights defender. His death sparked outrage on the streets of Kenya and his legacy has prompted an international clarion call to bring an end to police brutality. We must continue to mobilize and not let his death be in vain.
The High Court of Kenya recommended that this jurist be recognized as a champion of justice. ICJ-Kenya wholeheartedly agrees with this high praise. To a man who believed that the people of this country deserve to live in a society where the police serve to protect, not to be feared, we are honoured to present this year’s Jurist of the Year Award posthumously to Mr. Willie Kimani, may he rest in peace! We hold you up here today with pride and dignity and most of all, with gratitude for all that you have done for this country in the name of human rights.