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East Africa

Hellen Kijo Bisimba, A Champion of Human Rights

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Hellen Kijo Bisimba was born in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania on October 10, 1954. Hellen attended Weruweru Girls’ Secondary School in Kilimanjaro for her O-Level education and completed her A-Levels at Korogwe High School in Tanga. She earned her postgraduate law degree from the University of Warwick, UK, between 2008 and 2011. In 2008, she received an award from the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania for her bravery in advocating for human rights after condemning government actions in Zanzibar in 2001. She served as the Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) from July 1, 1996, to June 30, 2018.

Hellen’s commitment to human rights began in her teens when she stood up against injustices at her school. This experience fueled her passion for advocacy, leading her to work with LHRC for 22 years.

Although she retired in 2018, Hellen continues to offer her expertise as a consultant in various justice-related matters. She has also embraced her musical talent, contributing to church choirs.

The Journey to Activism

Hellen initially pursued a teaching career before transitioning to law. She combined her legal and teaching backgrounds to educate people about their rights, particularly focusing on women’s and children’s rights.

During her time at LHRC, Hellen spearheaded various campaigns against practices like the death penalty and female genital mutilation. She was instrumental in constitutional reforms and public legal education.

Was Teaching Her Dream?

Hellen’s childhood dream was to become a teacher, inspired by a passionate educator she met in primary school. However, her perception of teaching changed during her high school years. She eventually became a secondary school teacher and loved her profession.

What Drove Her to Activism?

While studying law, Hellen realized the potential of her legal knowledge to help marginalized groups. Witnessing injustices against women, children, and the poor, she felt compelled to act. She began providing legal aid and eventually became a leading advocate for human rights. Her family was initially unaware of her activism. When they found out, some were surprised but supportive of her work, understanding her passion for justice.

Criticism of the Government

During her time at LHRC, Hellen often criticized the government for human rights violations. She believed in holding the government accountable and was vocal about issues like extrajudicial killings and the need for legal reforms.

Watch her story on Shangazi Power here:

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