April 01, 2011

Legal Advocate for Freedom of Press, Human Rights to Receive Inamori Ethics Prize

Beatrice Mtetwa
Beatrice Mtetwa. Photo by
Bruno Schlumberger.

Zimbabwean human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa is a hero to victims of human rights abuses, civil society activists and foreign journalists covering unrest in her country. In recognition of her tremendous contributions, she will be honored with Case Western Reserve University’s 2011 Inamori Ethics Prize.

The Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence will recognize Mtetwa during on-campus events Sept. 6-8.

“It was truly a gratifying bolt from the blue and a wonderful start to a year which we all hope will bring better things to the long suffering people of Zimbabwe,” Mtetwa said of the award. “I am humbled by this honor, which I gratefully accept on behalf of all the human rights defenders in Zimbabwe."

The selection of Mtetwa came after a rigorous review of her contributions.

Dragged, beaten and nearly choked to death, Mtetwa has not wavered in her quest to use the law to further a free press for foreign and domestic reporters and to fight for social justice for her country’s most vulnerable residents, particularly women.  

Among the foreign journalists grateful to Mtetwa is New York Times South Africa Co-Bureau Chief Barry Bearak. Mtetwa rescued him from the squalor and filth of a Zimbabwe prison after he was charged with “committing journalism.” Bearak and other journalists from major news organizations have benefited from the human rights crusader’s support of a free press in Zimbabwe.

Bearak wrote about his 2008 arrest in a front-page story in the New York Times. “The detectives’ evident glee at our capture was soon tempered by the arrival of a familiar and implacable foe, Beatrice Mtetwa, the nation’s top human rights lawyer,” he wrote.

Mtetwa worked within the legal system to free Bearak and Stephan Bevans, a freelancer from the Sunday Telegraph arrested at the same time. The two fled the country by car before any additional arrest attempts could be made.

“One of the tremendously compelling characteristics of Beatrice Mtetwa is that she comes from humble beginnings,” said Shannon French, director of the Inamori Center and the Inamori Professor of Ethics. “But even from the start, she exhibited bravery. As a child she took on her father, a wealthy farmer who had dozens of children from multiple wives and did not provide well for them.” From a young age, French said, Mtetwa was compelled to confront injustice.

Mtetwa was born in 1958 in Swaziland. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned a law degree from the University of Botswana and Swaziland. Between 1981 and 1983 she served as a prosecutor in Swaziland before moving to Zimbabwe where she was a prosecutor from 1983 to 1989.

She left public service to open a private practice in 1989, and her sense of fairness earned her a reputation as an advocate for the repressed, especially for those suffering under the rule of the nation’s current president, Robert Mugabe.

Mtatwa has fought against Mugabe’s efforts to silence and hide conditions in Zimbabwe, and she has become a hero to his victims, from the country’s most vulnerable citizens to reporters from some of the world’s most prominent news outlets—including Bloomberg News, Associated Press, The Times of London, The Sunday Telegraph (London), The Guardian (London) and The Mail and Guardian (South Africa).

Mtetwa has endured physical pain, Bearak said during a Committee to Protect Journalists ceremony, where Mtetwa was honored with the Burton Benjamin Award for her fight to free journalists.

He spoke about her ordeals: “She has been brutally beaten by the police. She knows the feel of clubs and fists, of a pummeling that actually went on for hours, of being sarcastically told that someone who complains so much about police brutality ought to be given first-hand experience on the receiving end.”

What is unique about Mtetwa’s nonviolent struggles, French said, is that she has created a public history of court records and newspaper articles that chronicle the actions of corrupt and unjust governments and will serve as a legacy for current and future generations.

For more information, visit case.edu/provost/inamori/.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, April 1, 2011 09:22 AM | News Topics: Awards

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