Judge Mumbi Ngugi of Kenya's high court is a ‘role model’ for the law faculty of Northwestern University in the USA as well as for its students, ‘who aspire to be future Justice Ngugis’. That’s according to the Centre for International Human Rights (CIHR) at Northwestern University, the institution that is to award its annual prize to the Kenyan jurist.
Each year, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s CIHR makes its ‘global jurist of the year’ award to a sitting judge of a national or international court, who has shown ‘courage in the face of adversity to uphold and defend fundamental human rights or the principles of international criminal justice’.
Judge Ngugi serves in the anti-corruption and economic crimes division of the high court. The CIHR citation for her award notes that she has been involved in Kenya’s emerging human rights jurisprudence, in particular the socio-economic rights guaranteed in the 2010 constitution. She has previously served on the constitutional and human rights division of the high court in Nairobi
The judge is a long-time advocate for human rights in Kenya. ‘She has been involved in advocacy work for the rights of women and children, as well as the housing rights of the urban poor.’ But perhaps she is most widely known in Kenya for giving people with albinism a strong voice, being a co-founder of the Albinism Foundation of East Africa, set up in 2008. In a special interview for the UN Office of the High Commissioner she said: ‘We want to ensure the social acceptance of people with albinism.’
Referring to the discrimination against people with albinism, including the fact that many are killed every year for ritual purposes, a practice that still continues in Kenya and elsewhere despite widespread condemnation and being legally outlawed, she commented, ‘It is not fair for people with this condition to die unemployed, uneducated, unaccepted, and maimed or killed for witchcraft rituals.’
Justice Ngugi holds a bachelor of laws degree (LLB) from the University of Nairobi and a master of laws (LLM) in commercial and corporate law from the London School of Economics, University of London.
She received the 2013 International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Jurist of the Year Award, the Brand Kenya Ambassador Award in 2013, the Law Society of Kenya Distinguished Service Award 2017, the C.B. Madan Award 2018 and the Transparency International Judicial Integrity Award 2019.
Justice Ngugi is also a member of the Africa Regional Judges Forum (ARJF) on HIV-AIDS and chairs the ARJF Steering Committee on Judicial Education.
The CIHR, which is making the award, is attached to the Northwestern law school and has a footprint in many parts of the world. Its main focus is to research and work with emerging human rights issues: this approach gives students an opportunity to engage with people by rights’ violations. An example provided by the CIHR is a week-long immersion experience in Malawi’s detention centres where, among other tasks, students work through the files of prisoners who have been ‘lost in the system’.
- The award will be presented during a Zoom-based webinar on Tuesday, 16 February 2021, at which Judge Ngugi will be interviewed by retired US judge, Ann Williams. They will discuss her commitment to human rights, marginalised people, diversity and inclusion among other issues.