Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age. 

“My sister and I grew up seeing our father abuse our mother physically and emotionally, until he abandoned us altogether. So, my mother had to do odd jobs to fend for us, and I ended up dropping out of school, becoming a teenage mother myself, trying to support her. In the end, the accumulation of this abuse took a toll on my mother until she eventually died. I come with such emotional baggage to this, which enables me to connect deeply with other victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and other related injustices,” she says

That experience has since fueled Margaret’s resolve, determined to ensure that as many women as possible have better life options than her own mother was able to access. She studied law at university and was initially employed as a government Prosecutor with Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission. “I interacted regularly with women who were abandoned by their husbands, those who were abused, and in them, I saw my mother – I knew that without help, they too would probably suffer her fate. So, I decided to reach out – to help them.”

Margaret resigned her well-paying job, and started offering probono services for these women in distress. In 2017, she started a social initiative; Her Voice Liberia, through which she set out to campaign for the defense of women’s rights. Two years later, realizing the insufficient access to justice for especially Liberia’s women at the grassroots, she started Her Voice Legal Aid mobile clinic, through which she would go to villages, listen to women’s justice issues, and pursue justice for as many as she could.

In 2020, with the advent of COVID-19 and the world-wide stay home restrictions, Liberia, like elsewhere saw a marked increase in GBV cases, and demand for Her voice Legal Clinic’s services shoot through the roof. Women in distress would send signals and Her Voice Legal clinic would go to their rescue, including providing temporary shelter to women who were living with abusers and needed relocation.  They would also prosecute cases in courts which were open but inaccessible by ordinary people due to restrictions in movement.

Despite the clinic’s work taking up most of her time, Margaret was not bothered. In fact, she says, she was deriving fulfillment from her and the clinic’s efforts, because that is the role her mother would have wanted her to play:

So far, Her voice Legal Aid Clinic has offered legal support to over 900 women in Liberia. The team has also expanded, and now has a total of six female volunteer lawyers who are offering services. This month, supported by OSIWA – Open Society Initiative of West Africa, Legal Aid Clinic will be launching mobile legal booths at eight magisterial courts in rural Liberia. The booths will have a legal aid officer, a psychosocial worker/counsellor, and a lawyer that will work closely with prosecutors to make them more effective in prosecuting GBV cases and other human rights issues.

“Despite the significant strides made, Margaret says demand for their services remains more than their capacity to meet it. “Getting more volunteer lawyers to offer pro-bono services is difficult. Lawyers make a lot of money representing people, so asking them to devote themselves to free work is difficult ,” she says.

Overall, though, Margaret acknowledges there are visible gains that have been made. Her initiative has stirred up a sort-of social revolution against GBV in Liberia’s countryside, and women are more assertive of their rights. For Margaret, this consciousness is a far-bigger achievement than she ever imagined when starting out.  Her efforts have also won her the humbled recognition of her father, – one of Liberia’s most recognizable lawyers, who has since signed up to her legal aid clinic. It’s his way of trying to make up for the abuse and abandonment he subjected Margaret and her sister to. 

For Margaret, anchored on by her mother’s painful memory, the journey has just begun: 

“I always see myself as a survivor. I never had the opportunity for people to come and talk to my mother to help her stand her emotional and physical distress that finally claimed her life. So, I come with empathy – I see every suffering woman as my mother. I want a better life for them. And it’s something that I enjoy – I fill fulfilled doing this work. When a woman smiles, I am encouraged to support more. Sometimes, they bring me chicken, goats, and whatever else they can afford. And it gives me so much joy” she says.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

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