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Nigerian human rights activist to mark 25th anniversary of UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

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Empowering Change: Mariam Aliyu and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

Many of us are familiar with the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It was published in 1948 and has been the moral compas of the world since then.

But few know about a similar, much younger document, The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Created in 1998, it says “that everyone has duties towards and within the community and encourages us all to be human rights defenders.”

Nigerian activist Mariam Aliyu answered the UN’s call during her university years when she saw a little girl she could not ignore. “She was 12 years old, and I noticed she was limping,” she recalled. Using her medical skills, and days of earning the girl’s trust, she figured out that she had been sexually assaulted. So began a journey of advocating for girls and women.

Mariam Aliyu’s Journey from Nigeria to the USA

Aliyu, who is the Executive Director of Learning Through Skills Acquisition Initiative (LETSAI), has been invited by Frontline Defenders to be a guest speaker in the USA at an event commemorating the occasion.

The audience will hear from her extensive experience advocating for girls and women in her native Nigeria. There, she often got into dangerous situations as she would end up on the wrong end of the country’s religious laws.

“I was being threatened, and I was being attacked for my work and my life was in danger because I was a humanist and an atheist and I criticized religion,” Aliyu said. She is living in Europe as an asylum seeker now.

Her organization, LETSAI, is a youth-led NGO that addresses women and girls’ rights issues through, among other things, peacebuilding and trauma healing, women empowerment and enhancing gender equality.

Challenging Sharia and Upholding Justice: Mariam Aliyu’s Triumphs and Struggles in Nigeria

This ethos is offensive to the religious patriarchy of Nigeria, especially in the north of the country where Aliyu is from. She butted heads with the authorities who only knew one law, sharia.

“When it was time for us to go to court, they would prefer the sharia courts. When we take it to the Sharia courts, they would sort of dissolve the case saying that’s Allah’s will,” she said.

But that does not mean there were successes in her work. She happily states that she and her fellow workers “were able to prosecute almost 5,200 perpetrators” who got the “deserved punishment.”

Mariam Aliyu will be in the United States from October 9th to the 18th. She will return to Europe and continue the fight for women and girls.

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