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Legal Monitor - Issue 173
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

December 11, 2012

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Human rights champions

From downtrodden villagers and top politicians to civil society activists and leaders, Zimbabweans across the country have found refuge in Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), an organisation whose name has become synonymous with human rights defence work. And on Friday last week, this status was stamped when ZLHR staff scooped awards presented by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) to honour outstanding human rights defenders in the country.

The winners were judged to have shown "exceptional courage and leadership in protecting and promoting the rights and freedoms of Zimbabwean citizens".

Blessing Nyamaropa, Irene Petras, Peggy Tavagadza and Lizwe Jamela won awards on a day which belonged to ZLHR. Nyamaropa was adjudged the overall Human Rights Defender of the Year.

Petras, the ZLHR Executive Director won the overall female Human Rights Defender of the Year. She has been a target of vilification by the State-controlled media and State security agents who last year harassed her together with other Civil Society Organisation leaders at the SADC Extra - Ordinary Summit held in Namibia.

Tavagadza was honoured for her sterling work in Manicaland Province while Jamela was recognised for helping human rights defenders in Bulawayo. Daily News journalist Farai Mutsaka was named the inaugural winner of the Human Rights Journalist of the Year Award.

ZimRights said the awards were part of the organisation's celebrations to mark International Human Rights Day held annually on December 10. "These men and women have braved multiple threats to their safety. They have worked tirelessly to advance the rights of Zimbabweans including some in marginalised, forgotten and minority communities," said ZimRights director Okay Machisa.

"These community human rights defenders (HRD) have had to endure all the pressures that come with being human rights defenders including torture and intimidation. They have and continue to endure unwarranted arrests and many in Zimbabwe, have suffered at the hands of the State (police). "As ZimRights, we realised that most of these HRD's efforts and work tend to go unnoticed hence the awards are our humble contribution in honouring and appreciating the efforts and work done by these community HRD's. With human rights so often trashed in certain circles and quarters, it is all the more inspiring to reward our winners' efforts," said Machisa.

He said rewarding hardworking HRD's will go a long way in motivating all human rights defenders to remain steadfast in their work and realise that their work is appreciated.

"The awards serve as a medium of recognising courageous and diligent human rights defenders who bring leaders' and the world's attention to the serious issues affecting Zimbabwe," said Machisa. He said the media award is aimed at reinforcing the importance of journalists' role in the country and to recognise and develop journalistic talent.

Petras, who has been providing leadership for the influential human rights organisation said ZLHR felt humbled by the honour bestowed by ZimRights. She paid tribute to her team at ZLHR, which recently celebrated its 16th anniversary this year, for working tirelessly to defend human rights and to foster a culture of human rights in the country.

"This honour would not have been possible if it was not for the great team that I have all around the country, and the dedication, energy and enthusiasm that they show when going about the work of the organisation. We can take courage from the acknowledgement which our peers have provided to renew our strength and to serve our beneficiaries and stakeholders. There may be dark days ahead as we approach elections, but together I am sure we can continue to make a difference to the lives of our fellow Zimbabweans and to our country at large," said Petras.

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