Describing United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai as “an effective watchdog against crackdowns of freedom of association and assembly,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka presented Kiai with the 2016 AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award.
“Maina inspires the advocates and workers who struggle to defend, to maintain and to grow the institutions of civil societies around the world,” said Trumka, speaking at the award ceremony last night in Washington, D.C. I’m talking about those who organize for women’s rights and workers’ rights, for indigenous people, for immigrants, for religious freedom and for economic justice.” (Watch the video of the full event.)
As UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Kiai in October presented the landmark “Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association” report to the UN General Assembly. The report forcefully conveys how the vast majority of the world’s workers are disenfranchised from their rights to assembly and association—rights that are fundamental to all other human rights—either by exclusion or outright oppression.
‘Labor Rights Are Human Rights’
In his acceptance speech, Kiai outlined the challenges faced by champions of economic and social justice around the world, but called on labor and human rights activists to take successful lessons from the past to counter opposition to achieving fundamental human rights.
“Labor rights are human rights and human rights are labor rights,” Kiai said. “Today, we need to work differently. We need to reach out to each other. We know that every major struggle in the world has been successful through a grand alliance of trade unions and human and civil rights activists.”
Kiai previously served as head of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, and the Central Organization of Trade Unions–Kenya applauded Kiai, saying “the award singles out Maina for advancing worker and human rights issues and specifically highlighting the widespread denial of fundamental human rights at work.”
Kiai: Witness to Workers’ Struggles Worldwide
Since becoming special rapporteur in 2011, Kiai has traveled around the world, speaking with marginalized people in developed and developing countries, including workers, and hearing their struggles to exercise their fundamental rights firsthand, while speaking out about the abuses and injustices he has witnessed.
“I want to thank you for having the courage to speak up for truth,” said Trumka. “Your courage inspires all of us. Your integrity is a beacon to all of us.”
The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Speakers at the event included Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and two worker Kiai met while traveling through the United States on a fact-finding mission this year, Lee Ruffin and Daniel Castellaños, founder of the National Guestworker Alliance.
The award went to the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in 2015; Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and its affiliates in 2014; the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) in 2013 and the Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GBFTU) in 2012.