Jestina Mukoko, Zimbabwe

March 1, 2010

2010 International Women of Courage Award Winner

Date: 03/01/2010 Description: 2010 International Women of Courage Award Winner: Jestina Mukoko, Zimbabwe - State Dept Image Ms. Mukoko is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), an NGO that monitors human rights abuses throughout the country. ZPP's reports provide the international community with accurate assessments of human rights abuses, including violence against women and politically-biased distribution of food, and were particularly crucial during the violent 2008 election period. Ms. Mukoko is a long-time leader in the human rights and activist communities in Zimbabwe, and, as a broadcaster for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, a pioneering role model.

On December 3, 2008, Ms. Mukoko was abducted from her home by state security agents. She was beaten, tortured, forced to confess to an alleged plot to mount a terrorist incursion from neighboring Botswana, and subsequently imprisoned. A court granted her bail on March 2, 2009.

After Ms. Mukoko appealed her arrest through the courts, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court finally ruled on September 28 that state security forces had violated her human rights to such an extent as to warrant a permanent stay of prosecution in the case against her. A concurrent civil suit is still pending. In the election-related violence that blanketed Zimbabwe in mid-2008, women often suffered particularly harsh abuse at the hands of security agents and ZANU-PF youths. Ms. Mukoko's abduction and subsequent court case brought the subject of politically-motivated violence – particularly violence against women – and human rights abuses home to all Zimbabweans. Across the country, people in villages discussed "what happened to Jestina."

In a country in which regime-sponsored violence and intimidation has often silenced opponents, Ms. Mukoko's ongoing legal case is an important statement against violence and oppression. Her bravery in calling to account those responsible for her abduction and torture, as well as her insistence on continuing her role as head of ZPP, has only reinforced her position as a leading human rights defender in one of the most oppressive countries in the world.