When the story of human rights defenders in Kenya will be penned down someday, you can be guaranteed that the name Gibson Kamau Kuria will be featured prominently. Kuria’s name dominated the media and legal space for over four decades starting from 1970’s running through to late 2000.
The senior counsel was popularly known for his heartiness and commitment in fighting for victims of human rights abuse especially during President Moi’s regime when the country experienced gross abuse of fundamental human rights. To date, Dr. Kuria is still described as a patriotic Kenyan and a courageous advocate who has contributed significantly in Constitutional and legal reforms in Kenya.
On his arrests and detention
Gibson Kuria has a sterling record when it comes to advocating for human rights as a defender as well as a victim of the rogue system he was in opposition of. He stood up for justice at a time when few individuals could dare speak up against a government that was trashing on its people’s rights in broad daylight. Of course being a firm defender of others rights and speaking up during a period of despotic leadership exposed him as a target.
It was not long before, Dr. Kuria found himself in the hands of brutal security officers on numerous charges. The most notable one detained on charges of apparently being member of a political group that was purported of planning to overthrow the government of the then President Moi. On this, he spent a year at the Maximum Security Prison. However, his arrest was condemned by civil society and was seen connected to what was viewed as his position in representing and defending Mr. Wanyiri Kihoro, who had been detained and tortured by the state.
At one point in 1987, Dr. Kuria was detained and his passport confiscated by state agencies thus limiting his freedom of movement in an effort by the government to punish him for his relentless fight against injustice and human rights abuse. The government refused to surrender his passport at a time when he needed to travel to the United States to receive the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
Dr. Kuria represents a significant number of Kenyans who suffered injustices and un-narratable atrocities during President Moi’s autocratic regime. People whose stories of resilience and endurance have been left either untold or at least half told. Stout individuals who made difficult decisions to forgive a system that did them wrong and as Nelson Mandela once said “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Kuria’s position resonates with this famous quote when asked about what he feels about the people who arrested, detained, tortured him and made him lose lots of time and opportunity, he responds, “those were people doing their work and as anywhere else, public authorities will make mistakes.” Now that sounds like a man who has made peace with his past tormentors.
Kuria’s unbowed resolve and commitment to the fight for justice and human rights was widely recognized here at home as well as globally. He became an inspiration to most human rights defenders in Africa who were facing similar challenges in their countries. His role was recognized by many, something that earned him many awards from reputed institutions such as the American Bar Association, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and East Africa Law Society among others.
Dr. Kuria’s professional life has been marked by a progressive career in law which has seen him serve in different capacities such as the Chairman of the East Africa Law Society. Further, he has taught widely on legal subjects and published articles and journals on human rights and constitutional matters.
In 2002 when the National Rainbow Coalition formed the government bringing an end to Moi rule, Dr. Kuria formed the International Centre for Constitutional Research and Governance. The centre was established to enhance his works and commitment in promoting democracy, constitutionalism and human rights attainment.
When you meet Kuria in his office, the first thing that you notice are the shelves arranged with various publications and numerous court files lying on his desk. He might not be on your television screen regularly, or we may not hear his name being mentioned in FM stations on weekly basis, and neither will you see his name trending online today. However, what stands true for Kuria is a man who continues to serve his clients with a commitment to see justice, and a patriot who stands to what he believes is the right thing.