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Justice Mbaru, left with Ugandan gay activist, Pepe Juliani, Frank Mugisha, right
Long Serving LGBTI, Sex Work Activist Appointed As A Kenyan Judge

in KENYA, 25/07/2012

A prominent human rights activist and LGBTI rights defender, Monica Mbaru, has been appointed as a Judge of the Industrial Court and will serve in the Judiciary.

Justice Mbaru Monica Wanjiru was sworn in by President Mwai Kibaki and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga at State House on July 13. Justice Mbaru (standing row, 2nd right) was among 12 successful candidates who were vetted and selected by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

She has been posted to the Industrial Court which, in the new Constitution, is now under the Judiciary and enjoys the same status as the High Court.

The JSC, which is chaired by the Chief Justice concluded deliberations after interviewing 32 out of the 35 candidates who had expressed interest in the judicial positions.

During the swearing in, President Mwai Kibaki urged the new judges to undertake their duties with great vigor and passion while applying the true principles of justice.

“The management of labour relations by an independent and impartial court is critical to the peace and economic productivity of our nation and attainment of vision 2030”, said President Kibaki. On his part, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said that the selection process was highly competitive and meticulous and that the new judges will enjoy same status as the judges in the High Court.

According to Mutunga, for the first time in the country’s history, the Industrial Court will be located in the Judiciary and shall fall under the purview of Chief Justice. It shall enjoy independence arbitrating between employees, employers and the Executive, while benefiting from the financial and accountability systems within the Judiciary.

Monica Mbaru, holds an LLB from the University of Nairobi, and a Masters of Law (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She has served in various organizations such as the Kituo cha Sheria, the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Chapter, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and lately at the Hivos Africa office in Nairobi. She is also a member of the LSK.

Justice Mbaru was, until last year, a long serving advisory board member of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK). The lady Justice is on record as a champion of equal rights for sexual and gender minorities and has been recognized by the CNN for her work on LGBTIQ rights.

Justice Mbaru, while addressing the Africa Commission on Human Rights raised ‘concern about hostilities on LGBTI persons in Africa’ and further ‘called upon all Member states to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect and defend all persons within their borders particularly those persons being persecuted, harassed, and prosecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.’

Mbaru has also been a regular columnist with Kenya's premier LGBT magazine, Identity Kenya Magazine where she gave her legal advices on issues of sexuality, gender and sex work. In her piece in the March 2012 issue that touched on sex work, she wrote, ‘Every person is entitled to basic human rights, and all sex workers are entitled to the same rights as anyone else.’

She added, ‘Under the current constitutional dispensation, the Bill of Rights gives a human face to every human being and attaches fundamental principles and values when looking at anybody exercising their constitutional rights.’

She also called for decriminalization of sex work saying ‘Decriminalization allows for access to human rights protections, the ability to achieve labour protections; it creates a more open relationship between police and sex workers, thus making it easier to expose trafficking, the involvement of children and the abuse of sex workers; and it enables delivery of public health interventions, including HIV prevention and treatment.’

Her appointment has been hailed as ‘historic' and 'precedential’ by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

‘It is a beckon of hope for any law student and lawyer working with LGBTIQ persons for it informs that our highest legal office - the Judiciary - respects and values diversity. If the Judiciary and the President of this country can appoint an LGBTI activist as a judge, then any LGBTI Kenyan who had doubt on their ability to serve their country must feel validated. We are on course where merit and qualifications are being used to appoint judicial officers without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity or past work in that field. It is inspiring,’ said Eric Gitari of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Justice Mbaru will sit at the High Court building in Nairobi serving in the Industrial court division of the High Court.

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