Published January 7, 2013
UB Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua has received three major honors—two in the international law arena, one here at home.
In his native Kenya, Mutua received an award that recognizes his work on behalf of gay and lesbian persons in that East African nation. He also was elected to the Board of Advisors of the International Development Law Organization, in Rome. The U.S. award names Mutua among the “Power 100” top black lawyers in America for 2013.
Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission will present the Mwongozi award (the name is Swahili for “leadership”) to Mutua, who chairs the Kenya Human Rights Commission. The group says the award honors “political leaders who have contributed significantly to promotion of equality and nondiscrimination of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) individuals, including challenging negative cultural attitudes, protecting [such] individuals from maltreatment and/or initiating campaigns to fight homo/transphobia.” It was presented last month in the capital city of Nairobi.
“The award came as a complete surprise to me,” Mutua says. “I am humbled and honored. For me, it means we must fight injustice everywhere, and that none of us can be free if one of us is not free. The award is proof that the Kenyan gay rights community has come of age and that it will not allow the rights of LBGTIQ people to be trampled upon. Finally, the award recognizes UB Law School’s commitment to the human rights all people, everywhere.”
The Kenyan population ranks far below much of the rest of the world in acceptance of homosexuality, and openly gay persons have been routinely disowned by their families, fired from their jobs and subjected to hostility and discrimination. The Kenyan Penal Code makes sex acts between men illegal.
Mutua has spoken and written in defense of gay rights, saying the nation’s Constitution, while it does not specifically protect gays and lesbians, confers liberal rights “on all, not just a chosen few. … The Constitution protects everyone who is in Kenya—citizens and noncitizens alike—from discriminatory and capricious treatment. Nowhere does the Constitution say that gays are excluded from such protection.”
The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is a nongovernmental organization working toward the realization of all human rights of individuals and groups in Kenya.
Mutua also was elected unanimously to serve on the Board of Advisors of the International Development Law Organization, which provides developing countries, countries in economic transition and those emerging from armed conflict with the resources, tools and professional skills to establish or strengthen the rule of law and good governance practices.
The U.S. government raised Mutua as a candidate for the position. The organization’s director-general is Irene Zubaida Khan, who has taught as a guest professor at UB Law School and received an honorary degree from the Law School in 2009.
In the United States, Mutua’s “Power 100” recognition comes from the legal publication On Being a Black Lawyer. The list salutes “the most influential black attorneys in the nation, along with those who have advanced diversity in the legal profession.”
Mutua is among 23 law school deans on the list. This is the second year that OBABL has compiled the list; Mutua was named to last year’s list as well. The organization said its editorial team, together with a group of advisers, spent months researching prospective candidates and reading trade publications, blogs and critical reviews.