Kenyan Prime Minister to Deliver UB Law School Commencement Address

Honorary degrees to be conferred to Amnesty International leader and to pioneering civil rights attorney in ceremony highlighting worldwide human rights

Release Date: April 13, 2009 This content is archived.


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Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga will present the UB Law School's 2009 commencement address.

Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, will receive an honorary degree at the UB Law School's commencement ceremony.

J. Mason Davis Jr., JD '59, will be honored for his role in the desegregation of Alabama in the early 1960s.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Republic of Kenya Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga will deliver the University at Buffalo Law School commencement address in a ceremony that will include conferral of honorary degrees to Irene Zubaida Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, and J. Mason Davis Jr., a practicing attorney who played a key role in the desegregation of Alabama in the 1960s.

The UB Law School commencement, its 120th, will be held at 3 p.m. on May 23 in the Center for the Arts on UB's North (Amherst) Campus.

"Hosting Prime Minister Odinga and conferring honorary degrees to Irene Khan, a leader of the international human rights movement, and Mason Davis, a champion of civil rights in America, is a testament to the UB Law School's strong tradition of teaching and scholarship in human rights law," said Makau Mutua, dean of the UB Law School.

Prime Minister Odinga will speak on how the rule of law can create and safeguard human rights for citizens of Kenya and other developing nations in Africa.

He will be available to meet with media prior to commencement at 9:45 a.m. on May 23 in the Top of the Falls Restaurant on Goat Island, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Press credentials for the morning press briefing and afternoon commencement address can be obtained by calling Charles Anzalone in University Communications at (716) 645-5000, ext. 1412.

A pro-democracy activist, Odinga is "one of Africa's celebrated human rights figures," said Mutua, a native of Kenya himself, who, like Odinga, has played a prominent role in the advancement of democracy and human rights in the East African nation.

"Prime Minister Odinga seemed a natural choice as commencement speaker given our law school's tradition in human rights, as well as his life's epic struggle to bring democracy, the rule of law and human rights to Kenya," Mutua said. "He is the most electrifying politician in Kenya and regarded as the center of gravity of that country's politics."

As the candidate of the new Orange Democratic Movement, Odinga ran for president of Kenya for the second time in 2007. Following the disputed general election, a coalition government was formed, and Odinga became Kenya's second prime minister, with the authority to coordinate and supervise government functions.

Odinga served six years, 1982-88, as a political detainee, the longest anyone in Kenya has been imprisoned because of opposition to the country's repressive government, Mutua said.

Khan is the first woman, first Asian and first Muslim to head Amnesty International, the world's largest human rights organization. Appointed Amnesty's secretary general in August 2001, she has led the organization through challenging developments in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. She has confronted a post-9/11 backlash against human rights, broadening Amnesty's work in economic, social and cultural rights, and initiating a process of internal reform to enable the organization to respond rapidly to world events. She has also sought to bring a strong focus to the issue of women's human rights and violence against women. She received law degrees from the University of Manchester, U.K., and Harvard Law School.

A 1959 graduate of the UB Law School, J. Mason Davis Jr. was the first African-American to practice as a senior partner in a major Alabama law firm, Sirote & Permutt. As the attorney for a number of students who participated in the widely publicized Huntsville lunch counter sit-ins during 1961 and 1962, Davis played a key role in the desegregation of Alabama. He argued a series of appeals and won every matter at the Court of Appeals. As a result of those legal victories and others, the State of Alabama desegregated all public facilities, including its schools.

Since its founding in 1887, the University at Buffalo Law School -- the State University of New York system's only law school -- has established an excellent reputation and is widely regarded as a leader in legal education. Its cutting-edge curriculum provides both a strong theoretical foundation and the practical tools graduates need to succeed in a competitive marketplace, wherever they choose to practice. A special emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, public service and opportunities for hands-on clinical education makes UB Law unique among the nation's premier public law schools.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
News Content Manager
Educational Opportunity Center, Law,
Nursing, Honors College, Student Activities

Tel: 716-645-4600