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Theresa Kachindamoto - Award Speech

13 years ago I was chosen to succeed my late brother as Chief of the Dedza District of Malawi. I want to tell you my story of trying to change one of the traditions within Malawi’s culture that I really did not agree with. I wanted to try and reduce the practice of marrying of young girls and boys against their wishes.

I had spent 27 years living away from my home district, working in Zomba at the Theological College as a College secretary. I did not expect to have to move home and take on a role that I had no experience of. When the call came, I was reluctant; though compelled to honour my duty I accepted the position and was duly appointed by the former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi.

One day, shortly after moving back to my home district in the central Region of the Country, I met a young girl who was carrying a baby, I suggested she should take the baby back to her mother, and I was surprised by the girl’s response “I am his mother”.

She then pointed to the father of the baby, a boy playing football not far from us. She told me that she was 13 years and the boy was 14 years.

I was shocked and saddened.

How was this young girl going to continue in school, or be allowed to mature at a normal rate, if burdened by marriage and a baby at such a young age?

My heart told me to help this young girl and my head told me this is not the way to ensure long term success for our country if our young women and men were going to grow up like this.

I decided to try and do something about this issue and I started by undertaking a lengthy process of research to make sure that I understood the problem and maybe could find some way forward.

This is not an easy issue to confront. For many people it sits as a core part of Malawi’s traditions and beliefs and is therefore encouraged in some areas, particularly in the area where I was chief.

There are real economic drivers that pose difficult decisions for parents who are struggling to pay school fees. An arranged marriage for their daughters can bring great wealth in the form of goats, cattle and money. A family in my village had married of two of their daughters in recent years and the ‘’dowry’’ (what they get from at the wedding) enabled them to survive, increase their farming stock and live comfortably.

Of course the consequences of these marriages are clear and sad. Girls drop out of school at an early, typically around the ages of 12 or 13. They are forced to have sex with their husband- who is often much older man. They have to give birth whilst still physically developing and un-prepared by nature of childbirth. And of course they become trapped into a marriage at a young age- before they have had a chance to make their own choices about their future.

It is also common for husbands to seek a new, much younger wife, when the first one has aged.

This is not the life I wish for the next generation of Malawi girls and boys. I demand more, so much more.

The analysis conducted by myself and other stakeholders gave us a clear path to follow.

All parties involved in a community needed to be fully briefed on the dangers and consequences of child marriage, to try and move people away from their long held beliefs that this practice was ok.

Then we had to move for a change in the by-laws to make the practice illegal, giving us clear mandate to punish those that officials these unjust marriages. I briefed many communities, MPs, councillors, faith leaders, police officers, village headmen and women, youth groups, district education officials and countless parents. I went to meetings many day of the week; I travelled to many of the villages in my area. I had countless conversations with people of all ages.

We made some progress during that year.

Chiefs and religious leaders agreed that the legal age for marriage without consent was 18 years old and that all marriages must first seek their permission, authorized through their registry books.

Bylaws were created to give power to these local chiefs, who could now enforce the laws in their area. If a chief is found to have authorized the marriage of a girl under 18, then he or she is immediately dismissed. Up to now I have dismissed 4 of the chiefs in my area.

Of course, this is only part of the battle, as parents still need convincing that they should focus on education for their daughters and sons, rather than getting the benefits of sending them off for an early marriage.

Despite the challenges, and the significant opposition I have faced from communities and chiefs, so far we have terminated 549 child marriages, involving 377 girls and 172 boys.

I expect this number to rise to 1200 before the end of the year.

Some were as young as 12 years but all of the girls involved were under 16.

It has been difficult challenge for me to confront. I am proud to the work we have achieved so far, but there is a long way to go.

But all of this has come at a personal cost. Not only has this taken a great deal of my time, but some people have made trouble for me and I have received great criticism along the way.

I have 5 sons and no daughter myself and this has been cited as a reason that I do not understand what it is like to face these challenges in Malawi. People criticized me for what I am doing since I do not have any daughter.

But I have persevered and I will no doubt to have push against more of the old ways of thinking to achieve my ultimate goal of removing child marriage from Malawi and giving all girls and boys the opportunity to complete their education.

I am grateful for those that have joined me on this path. We have made progress for which I am grateful. But we still have a lot of work to do, for which I am prepared.

I hope many more people will link arms with me and fight for the rights of the girl child of Malawi.

May God Bless you all

Thank you.
Ahmet Ozmen on behalf of Diyarbakır Bar Association - Award Speech

Valuable friends,

On behalf of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, I would like to thank the members of the jury for presenting the Diyarbakır Bar Association the International Hrant Dink Award which is given every year by the Hrant Dink Foundation to individuals or organizations that work for justice and freedom, that fight for human rights and that strive for a world where peace prevails.

Since its establishment, the Diyarbakır Bar Association has been an institution of law and a civil society organization that has been relentlessly continuing its fight for rights and rule of law in line with the universal human rights by remaining distant to all power circles; that has been striving for lasting peace and that has lost its most treasured members for this cause. It has deemed it a historic obligation to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Despite all the pressures and serious processes leading to the arresting, torturing and even brutally massacring of its members, the Diyarbakır Bar Association has never taken a step back from its fight for human rights. It has always defended what is right for the restoration of justice, and has always stood by the side of the victims of injustice all around the country. Remaining distant to all political considerations, the Bar Association has taken a stance for freedom and justice, which are the most fundamental needs of humanity. With the strength taken from its history and the proud legacy inherited from Tahir Elçi, today it once again stands by the side of the oppressed and will continue to do so.

I would like to once again remember with gratitude, pay tribute to and cherish the memory of our beloved President of the Bar Association, Tahir Elçi, who dedicated his whole life to the fight for justice, rights, peace, fraternity and freedom and who lost his life for this cause. Tahir Elçi dedicated his life to finding the perpetrators of those who were taken away by force in front of their parents, spouses and children, and those whose bodies were dumped into a deserted place after being tortured or killed. Tahir Elçi was a dauntless advocate of human rights who never feared anything throughout this struggle, and an intellectual who spoke of peace until his last breath and who took his strength from the dream of people living together in peace and freedom.

The history of the oppressed is a history of the struggle of humanity. This history is also the history of people who fight for humanity and who shall never sink into oblivion and shall be forever remembered with gratitude. Here are two advocates of rights and two heroes who made history of the mankind: Hrant Dink and Tahir Elçi. They were not only the sons of two brotherly and oppressed communities who faced common destruction in the distant and recent past, but they also deserved to be the pride of mankind by standing by the side of all those who were oppressed. Despite the political circles that employ a cheap and discriminative discourse and attitude; Tahir Elçi and Hrant Dink are remembered by the people as intellectuals who spared no effort so that communities in Turkey could live in a democratic system and who recognized no measure apart from rights and justice. Those who ordered their death thinking their strong legacy would fade away and that we would not be following their footsteps, were proven wrong.

In the last one and a half year, during the course of conflict in Şırnak, Sur, Silvan, Cizre, İdil, Yüksekova and Nusaybin, there have been serious violations of all fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly the right to life. After the July 15 coup-attempt, a state of emergency was declared all around Turkey, European Convention of Human Rights has been suspended and the country has been governed by decrees having the force of law, deactivating the legislative body. Serious concerns and fear have overtaken all fragments of the society and security of individuals and rule of law have seriously been damaged.

As the Diyarbakır Bar Association, we would like to reiterate once again that the problems of Turkey can only be solved on a common democratic ground that brings together all sections of society within the framework of law.

At this point in time, it is our fundamental duty and historic responsibility to not only protect but also further flourish this legacy bestowed upon us by Tahir Elçi and Hrant Dink. And the only way to achieve this is to demand peace and to raise our voice for building peace.
Theresa Kachindamoto was born into a traditional tribal family, the youngest of twelve siblings, in the small southeast African country of Malawi. For twenty-seven years she worked as a secretary at a city college in the city of Zomba. In 2003, she was called as a candidate in elections within her 900-member tribe because she was “good with people;” and winning the election, she became senior chief. When she moved from the city to the region where her tribe lived, she was shocked to see twelve year-old girls with babies married to teenage husbands. In a country where half of girls are married off because they are an economic burden to their families, she launched a concerted effort to solve this problem from the moment she assumed her duties. She first took on the issue of “marriage camps” where young girls were being sent for kusasa fumbi (cleansing). Reportedly, the sexual initiation in these camps consisted of traditional rituals that focused on “how to please their husbands,” which was in reality sexual abuse. Some girls were forced to engage in sex with their teachers in order to “graduate,” causing lifelong trauma; and in a country where one in ten people had HIV and protection was rarely if ever used, such initiation rituals caused early deaths. She insisted that girls throughout the country should avoid these “marriage camps” and continue their education. Though several families said that a tribal chief with five sons had no right to teach them how to raise girls, she continued her fight. She banned the marriage camps in her region, and convinced the chiefs of fifty tribes to abandon traditions that encouraged early marriage. In 2015 she dismissed four regional tribal chiefs who continued the practice of child marriage despite the change of national law on the issue, and forbade their return to duty until they agreed to obey the law. She continued her work, speaking with various NGOs as well as meeting one-on-one with members of her tribe, mothers, teachers and religious leaders. She has successfully had early marriage prohibited in the country’s family law. Thus far she has 850 child marriages annulled, allowing child brides and husbands to continue their educations. This woman tribal chief working for children’s human and educational rights is also striving to overcome the economic difficulties that lead to early marriages. She is having a fund created to pay the tuition for daughters of poor families, and encouraging efforts to strengthen children’s bonds to school life.
Diyarbakir Bar Association was established in Diyarbakır in 1927, and in the last thirty years in particular, it has emerged as one of the region’s most important civil society organizations. Between 1988 and 2002, it conducted work to collect information on cases of evacuation and burning of villages, torture, unsolved killings and forced disappearances, and enter them into a data base; and support families who were victims of violence by security forces and lawyers working on such cases. It raised awareness, drawing attention to the fact that many perpetrators and others responsible for these violations had gone unpunished. It prepared recommendations and developed projects to fulfill the basic demands of the Kurdish people. In its struggle against rights abuses in the region in particular, it stressed the importance of a legal framework, holding that mother language education and similar rights should be ensured through constitutional amendments. During the 90s, as with the unsolved killings and disappearances in custody, it engaged in a concerted effort to shed light on thousands of crimes against the right to life, taking and pursuing cases. Although nearly everyone in the region was aware of these crimes, only a small portion of them had been taken to court. These were heard by the European Court of Human Rights, which played a vital role in the winning of the cases. It became a party human rights and freedom of expression cases, not only in Diyarbakır but in the country as a whole. Emphasizing that the lack of solutions to the Kurdish problem led to deeper legal problems, it announced that it, together with other civil society institutions in Diyarbakır, was prepared to provide all manner of support to the peace process. A statement it published in November 2015 included the following: “Time and time again, we have stated publicly that we condemn all manner of attacks, first and foremost against the right to life as well as against our peace, brotherhood, social unity and our desire and will to live together in a democratic country; and that we are against human rights violations. The experience of forty years of heavy fighting has more than sufficed to show us that armed conflicts and actions have gained and will gain nothing for anyone, and that such actions and conflicts have caused deep, irreparable wounds in our society. Everybody must understand that as Turkey’s societies and peoples, we have no chance other than to solve all of our problems through dialogue and negotiation.” In their work to bring many files to court so that those responsible for human rights violations might be judged, its members have been arrested, targeted in bomb attacks, tortured, threatened and killed, but it remains undaunted in its fight against impunity. On November 28, 2015, Bar Association President Tahir Elçi, representing the institution, stood in front of the Four-Legged Minaret in the Sur district and made a press statement in which he demanded the protection of cultural treasures: “Tragically, two days ago the most iconic symbol of Diyarbakır, the Four-Legged Minaret, was hit by bullets. In this common ancient place of humanity, we do not want guns, battles or operations.” After his statement, fighting broke out and he was struck and killed by a bullet to his head. With its impartiality, its sensitivity to human rights issues, its opposition to all manner of violence no matter who employs it or for what reason, it stands as a role model in the region. At every opportunity, it underscores the supremacy of law and seeks the preservation of the principle of impartiality. It struggles for the efficient investigation of human rights violations, and fights determinedly to prevent cases being time-barred and the guilty going unpunished.