4 April 2017 - Sheila B. Keetharuth wins Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award for human rights work in Africa
Issued by University of Leicester Press Office 27 March 2017
The University of Leicester has recognised the outstanding contribution of one of its alumni to exposing and protecting against human rights abuses worldwide. This year’s winner of the University’s Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award is Sheila B. Keetharuth, in recognition of her human rights work and her determination to provide a voice to the powerless. She was presented with the award at the University’s Alumni Association’s Black Tie Dinner on 16 March before an audience of nearly 500 alumni and guests in the Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden.
Sir David Attenborough OM and his nephew, Michael Attenborough CBE, were the guests of honour at the event, where they were announced as the patrons of the University’s upcoming centenary celebrations.
Sheila’s most significant contribution to human rights in Africa is her work as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and a member of the former Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (2014-2016). Since 2012, she seeks to highlight the plight of those who have experienced gross human rights abuses in Eritrea and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
In 2011, the Madrid Bar Association awarded Sheila a Medal of Honour for her human rights work in Africa.
Sheila said: “When I started to work on rights-related issues in the mid-80s, I framed my arguments essentially in terms of social justice, equality, non-discrimination and dignity as the distinctive language of human rights was still evolving. I did not describe myself as a ‘human rights defender’; the specific terminology was not in regular use then. I did not do it for recognition, plaudits or awards, though it is heart-warming to be the recipient of one. I dedicated a lifetime to it, having come to the slow but sure realisation that human rights are our birth rights because of our humanity.
“I came to Leicester after a careful search, at a time when it was one of the few universities offering a full LLM in Human Rights and Civil Liberties, in pursuit of technical knowledge and tools which would allow me to become a more efficient fundamental rights advocate. I found more. I found inspiration. I was inspired by the people I met, lecturers and fellow-students alike. Decades after my Leicester years, I continue walking on the path I am convinced is the greater purpose of my life, making small steps as a human rights advocate on the African continent.”
William Friar, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, added: “The Alumni Association had a particularly tough time choosing a winner this year because there were just so many impressive nominees. But Sheila stood out among a very strong field of candidates. Her work is truly inspiring.”
Sheila graduated from the University of Leicester with a Civil Liberties and Human Rights LLM in 1994 and was called to the Bar in Mauritius in 1997. She joined Amnesty International as a Researcher at the Africa Regional Office in Uganda, where she acted as the Interim Head of Office until 2005.
From 2006 to 2012, she led a team of human rights professionals conducting pioneering work in litigation, advocacy and training focusing on the African human rights system as Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, a pan-African NGO based in Banjul, The Gambia.
Since 2014, she has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
* Sheila B. Keetaruth is currently a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.