Deputy Registrar of the African Court, Grace Wakio Kakai at the University of Pretoria in 2023

The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria (the Centre) announced the recipient of the Vera Chirwa Award during its annual graduation ceremony on 8 December 2023. The Centre selected Kenyan Deputy Registrar of the African Court (the Court), Grace Wakio Kakai, to receive the Vera Chirwa Award. Instituted in 2006 by the Centre, this Award honours alumni of the Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa Programme (HRDA) who best embody the spirit of the programme in their professional career by continuously bringing positive contributions to human rights.

Contribution to the development of the jurisprudence of the Court

Grace Wakio Kakai graduated from the HRDA programme in 2006. Shortly after graduating, she joined the Court as a Legal expert in 2007. She later served as the Head of the Legal Division for seven years before becoming the current Deputy Registrar at the Court. She has since played a pivotal role in the promotion and protection of human rights on the African continent. Grace has made significant contributions in some landmark cases related to non-discrimination, the right of expression and protection of journalists, right to fair trial, right to education, among others. Furthermore, she has helped in strengthening the Court’s engagement with the public by making application forms and legal aid more accessible to individuals. Another noteworthy achievement of Grace is that she organised the first international human rights forum between the Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2019, held in Uganda. 

In her acceptance speech upon receipt of the award, Grace highlighted that ‘[t]he award reminds us that our responsibility to advocate for justice and human rights is both a privilege and a duty. The award reminds us that our responsibility to advocate for justice and human rights is both a privilege and a duty. With the injustices and human rights violations on our continent, our actions matter in reshaping history towards the direction of justice and advancement and protection of human rights. This prestigious honour is not just a recognition of my individual efforts, but a celebration of the collective dedication of the Judges and staff of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to a better Africa where human rights, justice and the rule of law prevail’.

Mentorship of HRDA Alumni

The Centre has nominated several graduates for post-masters internships at the Court, many of whom have benefitted from Grace’s mentorship. 

‘Supervision for me goes beyond just overseeing the supervisee’s performance. Over the years, I have adapted each intern’s individual attributes and needs, providing a listening ear, and serving as a confidante, motivator, and life coach, particularly for those who struggle to adapt to new environments outside of their native country. Of course, I always ensure strict compliance with professional expectations, which is essential not just for the work of the Court, but for the development of the right professional ethics in the interns’.

The Vera Chirwa Award was named after Malawi’s first female lawyer and human rights activist, Vera Mlangazua Chirwa. She is best known for her fight against authoritarianism and her commitment towards human rights in Malawi. Under the regime of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Vera Chirwa was tried and sentenced to death. Her husband, Orton Chirwa, and herself were both tortured, received inadequate food and were denied proper medical attention, which later led to the death of Orton. She was released on 23 January 1993 after having spent 12 years in prison. She did not give up on human rights activism and later became a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2000 as its Special Rapporteur on Prison Conditions in Africa. Some of our notable alumni who have previously received the Vera Chirwa Award are Namibian Minister of Justice, Honourable Yvonne Dausab (2022), the late Mr Thulani Maseko (2011), Professor Benyam Mezmur (2020) and Judge Redson Kapindu (2022).


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