Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Human Rights Crusader Wins Award

A Catholic missionary priest whose death five years ago still remains a puzzle has been awarded the country's highest human rights honour.

Fr John Anthony Kaiser shared the Milele (Lifetime) Achievement Award with noted environmentalist and human rights crusader, Prof Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace.

The award was given by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) during a ceremony attended by among other guests, Bishop Cornelius Schilder of Ngong Diocese, where Fr Kaiser worked.

The national human rights group said Fr Kaiser dedicated his life to the pursuit of human rights and social justice for the Kenyan people during his 36 years in the country.

"An outspoken critic of the [former President Daniel] Moi regime, he worked tirelessly for the rights of the poor and marginalized in society. Fr Kaiser devoted himself to working with the internally displaced people following the State-engineered ethnic clashes of 1992."

Fr Kaiser was found dead in mysterious circumstances on August 24, 2000. A judicial inquiry into the death continues in Nairobi.

In 1998, he told a judicial inquiry that two cabinet ministers had trained people to eliminate opposition supporters where he worked. As a result, he was told to leave the country and went into hiding.

"Fr Kaiser was a firm supporter of human rights in every aspect of his work," the Commission said. "He courageously protected and supported two women who are alleged to have been raped by a Cabinet minister, who also happened to be the Minister for Internal Security."

He worked with the federation of Women Lawyers (Fida-Kenya), which sued Julius Sunkuli, then a Cabinet Minister, in connection with the allegations.

He stood firm in the face of intimidation. He never compromised or changed his position in the face of great pressure, but continued the struggle to protect and promote human rights till the end of his life.

"We honour his lifetime achievement and hope that the issues surrounding the death of this committed individual will one day be unravelled," the Commission said.

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