University recognises human rights campaigner

Our University has recognised the outstanding contribution of one of its alumni to exposing and protecting against human rights abuses worldwide.

This year’s winner of the University’s Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award is Sheila B. Keetharuth, in recognition of her human rights work and her determination to provide a voice to the powerless.

She was presented with the award at the University’s Alumni Association’s Black Tie Dinner on 16 March before an audience of nearly 500 alumni and guests in the Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden.

Sir David Attenborough OM and his nephew, Michael Attenborough CBE, were the guests of honour at the event, where they were announced as the patrons of the University’s upcoming centenary celebrations.

Sheila’s most significant contribution to human rights in Africa is her work as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and a member of the former Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (2014-2016). Since 2012, she seeks to highlight the plight of those who have experienced gross human rights abuses in Eritrea and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

Sheila said: “When I started to work on rights-related issues in the mid-80s, I framed my arguments essentially in terms of social justice, equality, non-discrimination and dignity as the distinctive language of human rights was still evolving. I did not describe myself as a ‘human rights defender’; the specific terminology was not in regular use then. I did not do it for recognition, plaudits or awards, though it is heart-warming to be the recipient of one. I dedicated a lifetime to it, having come to the slow but sure realisation that human rights are our birth rights because of our humanity.

“I came to Leicester after a careful search, at a time when it was one of the few universities offering a full LLM in Human Rights and Civil Liberties, in pursuit of technical knowledge and tools which would allow me to become a more efficient fundamental rights advocate. I found more. I found inspiration. I was inspired by the people I met, lecturers and fellow-students alike. Decades after my Leicester years, I continue walking on the path I am convinced is the greater purpose of my life, making small steps as a human rights advocate on the African continent.”

William Friar, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, added: “The Alumni Association had a particularly tough time choosing a winner this year because there were just so many impressive nominees. But Sheila stood out among a very strong field of candidates. Her work is truly inspiring.”

A video of Sheila Keetharuth receiving the award is available here: