Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim has devoted herself to the cause of human rights for women in Nigeria and has saved lives fighting the penalties imposed by some courts under Islamic Sharia law - such as stoning to death for adultery. She was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2005 and was in Parliament for a human rights conference 23 November. She took some time out to talk to us.
What is your greatest success in defending those condemned under Sharia law?
Showing that Sharia courts can respect the dignity of human beings and that the judges can show the milk of human kindness in freeing victims and discharging them on appeal. It shows that whatever system of law we adopt there is hope. And I can see hope in Sharia because there have been solutions and justice. Is this the end of the story? No. There is so much left to be done.
Did receiving the Sakharov Prize help?
Absolutely. It puts you on a global stage. It gives you visibility. With visibility comes credibility. With credibility comes responsibility. All that adds up to helping me articulate more. After receiving the Sakharov Prize I decided to reflect on my practice as a lawyer in the Sharia courts and wrote a book that has been published by the American Bar Association with the support of Lawyers Without Borders in France and Canada. So I think overall Sakharov Prize has been an amazing opening for the greater good of the public.
How could the Sakharov network help your fight for human rights?
The Sakharov Network has been sort of an ongoing process. People who have done different things in our field are coming together to compare notes and share thoughts about how we can enhance our work with real people on real issues in real time.
This year the Sakharov Prize went to five Arab Spring activists. Are we witnessing a lasting democratic change or is it just an episode?
I think we are seeing a new world order that is redefining spaces and who and what should occupy those spaces. I could see three fundamental things occupying those spaces: firstly, the space is for all of us; secondly the space is shared fairly and equitably, it’s not just for a group for people who are powerful, rich or greedy; thirdly, freedom springing from inside of the people. How do you take charge of being who you are, you just want to be you, to contribute to what is right for the future of the generation yet unborn. Ultimately I hope we get security to balance the entire question and everybody will have a setting in that space.
It’s a process. We hope it will last, but as we see in Egypt now it’s re-enacting itself in a different way. It took 40-50 years to get to this stage. It won’t take just 40-50 months to clear it, it will take longer. It’s easier to destroy than to build. I hope over time it will last.