A Kenyan woman has been named the winner of the first Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award.
47-year-old Salome Nduta, from Nairobi, was among 26 entries from across the globe and was the unanimous choice of the judging panel who said she “stood out from the crowd”. In her fight to protect others, particularly women, the protection officer with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya has endured beatings and numerous detentions.
The award, launched by the Faculty of Advocates in the summer, seeks to honour men and women overseas who champion human rights in the most challenging of circumstances.
“I was overwhelmingly happy [when given the news], I never expected this. I was surprised and, of course, I shed a tear of joy,” said Salome.
As a child, Salome’s father died and the family lost their house which was tied to his job, and had to move into squalid conditions in what are known as Nairobi’s “informal settlements”.
After helping to set up a federation to fight evictions, she qualified as a social worker and paralegal, becoming part of a number of human rights organisations devoted to “the second liberation of Kenya” through a new constitution.
One of her campaigning methods had been through drama and dance in theatres which she says led to physical beatings and more arrests than she can remember.
“Once, we hid and were trapped under a vehicle. They could not whip our backs, so they took off our shoes and whipped our feet. That was the worst experience for me, it was very painful,” the mother of two said.
Although the constitution was signed in 2010, life remains difficult for many in Kenya and Salome’s work is continuing.
Commenting on the award, Shelagh McCall QC, convenor of the Faculty’s Human Rights and Rule of Law Committee, said: “In many countries, human rights defenders are killed and are victims of violence, intimidation, harassment and surveillance – simply for standing up for people’s human rights. It is vital that we recognise their achievements and stand in solidarity with them.
“We were delighted with the number and the standard of the entries we received. Salome stood out from the crowd. Having grown up in the settlements of Nairobi, she was determined to do something to help her community, initially as a community organiser fighting against forceful evictions to now protecting human rights defenders throughout Kenya. Her commitment to standing up for human dignity is humbling to witness.
“She has been described to us by one of those whom she has protected as ‘an amazing soul whose selflessness gives us a sense of peace and safety’.”
Chair of the judging panel, Lord Bonomy, added: “We were humbled by the quality and depth of the applications. But we unanimously agreed there was one stand out candidate. Amnesty International told us that Salome’s ‘dedication, passion, resilience and expertise in protecting and defending the rights of other human rights defenders is unrivalled’. “
Scotland’s Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie MSP added: “I commend the Faculty of Advocates for establishing this award and Salome Nduta is a very worthy first winner. 2018 is the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which encourages us all to be human rights defenders.
“Salome’s story is one of courage, determination and a commitment to building strong Human Rights Defenders movements in Kenya in the face of threats and violence.
“In Scotland we are determined to embed human rights in everything we do, and I welcome Salome to Scotland as an expression of our solidarity with people throughout the world who put themselves and their families at risk to uphold the fundamental human rights we all share.”
Salome is spending a week in Edinburgh and has received advocacy training from the Faculty which is hoped will help her in her work. She has been meeting MSPs (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and officials at the Scottish Human Rights Commission as she builds contacts with Scotland’s human rights defenders in civil society.
“I am looking forward to learning from other people, exchanging ideas, and seeing how they overcome challenges,” Salome said.