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Dean Mutua Returns to Africa to Advocate Human Rights

Release Date: August 7, 2008

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Makau Mutua will travel to Kenya this month to deliver keynote addresses on human rights and justice in African nations.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua returns to Nairobi, Kenya, this month to deliver two keynote speeches on human rights and justice in African nations.

Mutua's two latest policy speeches follow a similar appearance July 21 in Nairobi during which he addressed an international conference on bringing justice to those responsible for sexual and gender-based violence in countries going through conflict and civil unrest.

Recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on human rights law, Mutua has continued to address themes of recovery and justice in his native Africa since he was named interim dean of UB Law School in December and became the law school's 18th dean in May.

Educated at the University of Nairobi, the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and at Harvard Law School, Mutua has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule-of-law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe. He has spoken at public forums in many parts of the world, including Japan, Brazil, France and Ethiopia.

Mutua has consistently drawn from his international background and knowledge of African politics and Western law, to champion progressive politics and humanitarian values in what he described as "tormented societies," African cultures struggling with conflict and violent change of government.

Mutua will speak on "Unpacking Transitional Justice: A Review" at the "Restorative Systems of Justice and International Humanitarian Law" conference Aug. 17-20 in Nairobi. His speech will discuss transitional justice, a government's attempts to address human rights violations that took place during times of unrest. Too many academic and social activists assume transitional justice is a "utopian certainty," according to Mutua.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Mutua states. "At the outset, we need to understand that transitional justice concepts are experimental -- good experiments to be sure -- but that they do not offer us tested panacea because they are essentially works in progress.

"This is not meant to diminish the utility of the concepts or to throw cold water on them as a beachhead for recovering societies with a legacy of traumatic conflict. Rather, it is to recognize their limitation so that we do not stampede to the temple only to find it empty of the goddess of truth."

Mutua's second major address this month will be on "Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights: The Kenyan and American Experiences." This speech is part of "Constitutional Democracy in Africa in the 21st Century," an international seminar in Nairobi taking place Aug. 19-22.

In this speech, Mutua will discuss how the misconception and abuse of identity -- in particular among different ethnic and racial groups in Africa -- has significantly hampered the concept of citizenship in African countries such as Kenya and also in the U.S.

"Citizenship in the nation still means little, as opposed to citizenship in the tribe," Mutua says. "This is a result of the inability of the country to realize constitutionalism (which is a unified pattern of ideas, beliefs and attitudes based on a written body of law) and human rights. It is a challenge that can first be addressed in a commitment to a new democratic constitution that will put citizens at the center and open up opportunities for a real political and social democracy."

A SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Floyd H. and the Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at UB, Mutua is a member of the executive council and the executive committee of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), the most prestigious and largest organization of international lawyers in the world. He serves as chairman of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and sits on the boards of several international organizations.

Mutua was recently appointed by the Kenyan government to chair the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. He also was a delegate to the National Constitutional Conference, the forum that produced a contested draft constitution for Kenya.

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Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
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anzalon@buffalo.edu