Sir Henry Brooke Award – Equal To The Man.

I first met the legendary Sir Henry Brooke in London at the House of Lords in October 2012. He was introduced to me as the Patron of Peace Brigade International UK. I wondered why a man of his age would still be interested in being actively involved in matters of an organization that has many young and vibrant volunteers tackling very difficult issues. At the House of Lords, people regarded him with unmatched reverence. I did not immediately understand. It was until I met him the following day at the launch of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Report that we interacted closely.

Sir Henry a great listener, listening attentively to every experience shared by WHRDs from Latin America, MENA, Asia and Africa. He scribbled down a few things during presentations. Later in the meeting, he sought my attention, withdrawing the notes he had scribbled earlier on. In a soft voice he keenly inquired on the situation of human rights defenders in the Kenyan slums. He was particularly interested in the impact of human rights violations on women in the poor neighborhoods, how women human rights defenders were coping, and the existing support mechanisms for WHRDs. He exhibited legal acumen, passion and high-level intelligence all wrapped up in an unprecedented humility.

Sir Henry, “a tireless campaigner for the improvement of access to justice” as described by the Guardian, led a life of selflessness, courage and commitment to seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. So, when I received the Sir Henry Brooke Award in 2018, it was a loud reminder that in all my humble being I had in a way been equated to this fallen giant. That placed a new mark of accountability in my life. I needed to emulate his deeds and words. I had been invited to join his league. Of course his shoes would become too big to fill. However, I had to make sure that in my own small ways, my actions, passion and commitment would encapsulate the qualities Sir Henry most admired and reflected in his own life. That was a huge responsibility which I decided I had to fulfil. I made a promise to myself to be a better human rights defender. The award has become my mirror. Before I act, before I speak and while thinking, I ask myself whether my thoughts, words and actions reflect the qualities that Sir Henry valued the most.

To a very high degree, the award has made me a better WHRD, besides the prominence and respect it has brought to me as an individual. It has greatly reinforced the legitimacy of my work at different levels. I do not struggle to justify my involvement in some struggles. The award revitalized dreaming among my fellow slum folks. It assured them that all dreams are valid. It continues to inspire young upcoming HRDs, especially women. In small ways, the award emboldens us, and every time it continues to arouse the lighting of a new candle in the defence of human rights.

So today, as the award is presented to Dina Meza and Reinaldo Villalba Vargas, we join the human rights defenders’ family across the world in celebrating you on this this great day. Congratulations to both of you for receiving this prestigious award. I wish you a beautiful beginning of a new chapter as I also believe that the award will propel you and your work to greater heights. Just remember that from today the yardstick upon which your character will be measured is bound to change. The standards and expectations will be higher than ever before. All the best in your new journey. Keep defending people’s rights. Remember, when the expectations seem to be overwhelming, we will always be here to travel with you. Feel free to check with in us for solidarity and cheerleading. Go, go, go Dina! Go, go, go Reinaldo! Long live PBI UK! Long live the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk! Aluta Continua!!

Naomi Barasa

Pioneer Award Winner

Sir Henry Brooke Award 2018