Oby Nwankwo: Tributes to a pioneer of African, global and gender justice

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Coalition for the International Criminal Court
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​​​​​​​Founder of Nigeria’s CIRDDOC and Coalition Steering Committee member passed on 9 December 2018.

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New York/The Hague—With profound sadness, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court has learned of the passing of our Steering Committee member Ms. Oby Nwankwo on 9 December 2017.

"Oby was one of the finest leaders in the Coalition – in Africa and globally. Her commitment to gender justice and women’s human rights received worldwide recognition," said William R. Pace, Coalition Convenor. “It feels like we have lost a member of our own Coalition family.”

With a legal career spanning more than 30 years, Oby Nwankwo was known across her home continent and around the world as a champion for gender justice and human rights. A lifelong supporter of civil society, Nwankwo founded and served as Executive Director of the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC), a Nigerian NGO which sponsors trainings and network-building activities for members of civil society, parliamentarians and other key stakeholders to promote human rights, good governance and access to justice and rule of law.

In her capacity as Executive Director of CIRDDOC, Nwankwo served on the Steering Committee of both the Coalition for the ICC, and the Nigerian Coalition for the ICC (NCICC).

“The NCICC and indeed the entire human rights community across Africa will miss her great leadership roles and indomitable spirit but all those she had mentored will keep her vision alive through each small action they continue to take toward a better world. Oby was indeed the Amazon of women’s human rights and will forever be missed,” said Coalition Steering Committee member and chair of the NCICC, Chino Obiagwu.

She was until her death, a very active and much respected human rights activist, who was in the forefront of the campaign for the respect of women’s rights, gender equality, good governance and international justice in Nigeria, across Africa and the world. A priceless jewel from Awka in southeast Nigeria, and was well known for her deep commitment to grassroots defence of the gender justice and women’s human rights. [...] Late Mrs Nwankwo was an extra ordinary activist who displayed energy and passion towards the fight for gender equality and gender justice in Nigeria and across Africa. She mentored several female human rights defenders and advanced affirmative action to increase the participation of women in politics and in governance in Nigeria. She supported the building of grassroots civil society movement in the southeast Nigeria in the 1990s with her founding of the Southeast Coalition of NGOs, and thereby increased the independent Civil Society voices in Nigeria," Obiawu continued. 

Oby additionally served as Chairperson of the Civil Society Coordinating Committee on Election Reform (CSCC), an umbrella organization for all civil society organizations engaging the constitutional and electoral reform processes in Nigeria.

Not only did Oby Nwankwo stand as a strong voice for the fight against impunity and violations of human rights in her native Nigeria and West African region, she took this fight to the world stage as well.

"Oby stood out as someone willing to jump in and speak up on behalf of victims, whether in Nigeria or around the world, countering the prevailing narratives in African media. 'It is high time African governments and the AU [African Union] put themselves on the right side of history and support justice for victims, not abusive leaders,' she said, " wrote Elise Keppler, deputy director international justice at Human Rights Watch. "I looked to Oby for guidance, sound advice, and the passion needed to keep at it even when the landscape was challenging. Her efforts have made a difference. In the past year, some of the worst attacks on the ICC emanating from Africa have ebbed, and more than a dozen countries stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to the ICC. Nigeria – and Africa – lost a tremendous activist. Oby’s energy for the cause will remain in my heart as the work continues."

Oby was a member of the Coalition's Gender Justice Team and of the Advisory Board of the Global Fund for Women. She brought her legal expertise and passion to her pursuit of the domestication of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa by the Nigerian National and State Assemblies. Nwankwo was later elected for two consecutive four-year terms as a member of the CEDAW Expert Committee in January 2013.

The Coalition would like to express our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Oby Nwankwo.