American Bar Association honours Zimbabwean lawyer

"Things are not all right in Zimbabwe," said human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, delighted that the American Bar Association (ABA) has decided to honour her because it draws attention to the fact.

The ABA announced that the feisty lawyer, who has defended ordinary Zimbabweans, journalists and politicians, as the winner of the 2010 International Human Rights Award.

"People assume that there has been an inclusive government in place in Zimbabwe for the past 18 months, but there has been no restoration of the rule of law," she told IRIN. "The award has inspired me."

Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change formed a unity government with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF in 2009, after violent elections in which ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mtetwa has worked for more than 20 years to protect press freedom from government restrictions that have threatened media independence and all opposing speech in Zimbabwe.

"The award was created with the knowledge that in many countries with repressive regimes, the regime is less likely to take retaliatory action against a human rights advocate if the advocate has received international recognition," said an ABA press release.

Past recipients include the well-known Sudanese human rights lawyer Salih Mahmoud Osman, who spent over two decades providing free legal representation to victims arbitrarily detained, tortured, and subjected to serious human rights abuses in Sudan.