BEATRICE MTETWA

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INTERNATIONALLY-ACCLAIMED HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has spent the last 20 years defending journalists and resisting government corruption in her home country of Zimbabwe. She has been physically attacked and faced threats against her life, and yet despite such adversity, she continues to fight for freedom and the ideals of democracy. In spite of beatings by police, she has courageously defended in court those jailed by the Mugabe government—peace activists, journalists, opposition candidates, farmers that had their land confiscated, ordinary citizens that had the courage to speak up.  

Beatrice Mtetwa was born into a polygamous family in Swaziland in the rural community but was determined that this was not the life for her. She graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree (LLB) from the University of Botswana and Swaziland in 1981.  She worked as a prosecutor in Swaziland and in Zimbabwe from 1981 to 1989. She went into private practice in Harare in February 1989 and soon began specializing in human rights law. In one of her more notable cases, she successfully challenged a section of Zimbabwe's Private Voluntary Organizations Act which allowed a government minister the authority to dissolve or replace the board members of non-governmental organizations. She also challenged the results of 37 districts in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Mtetwa is particularly noted for her defense of arrested journalists, both local and international. In 2003, for example, she won a court order preventing the deportation of Guardian reporter Andrew Meldrum, presenting it to security officials at Harare International Airport only minutes before Meldrum's plane was scheduled to depart. She also won acquittals for detained reporters Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds from London's Sunday Telegraph, who had been arrested during coverage of the April parliamentary election on charges of working without government accreditation. In April 2008, she secured the release of New York Times reporter Barry Bearak, who had been imprisoned on similar charges. She also defended many local journalists arrested in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election.

Mtetwa is a game changer in Zimbabwean history and an inspiration to young women who can look at her and know that they too can challenge the status quo and deserve equal protection under the law. In 2005, she won the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists. She also won Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008.  In 2009, the European Bar Human Rights Institute awarded her the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize. Mtetwa also won the 2010 International Human Rights award of the American Bar Association. In 2011, she was awarded the Inamori Ethics Prize by Case Western Reserve University in the United States. In 2013, St. Francis Xavier University celebrated Mtetwa's many achievements by presenting her with an honorary degree.  In April 2016, Mtetwa was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree by Rhodes University in South Africa in recognition of her achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Mtetwa champions a variety of other social causes, including eradicating AIDS and poverty, protecting the rights of women and children, preserving the essential freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and speech, and helping poor farmers wrongfully evicted from their land by the government. Beatrice Mtetwa also sits on various commercial boards, including the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard newspapers, the Mail and Guardian Media Group, and Pioneer Africa Corporation (a diversified transport company operating in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Uganda).