All his life he struggled. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was born in the apartheid state of South Africa on 7 October 1931, but died as a free and equal citizen on 26 December 2021 at the age of 90.

He received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, nine years before Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk received their joint Nobel Peace Prize.

Obituaries have rightly noted his struggle against apartheid, but his struggle as a fierce advocate against oppression internationally did not come into much light specially when he took on various causes, including advocating against the genocide of Muslims in Central African Republic at the hands of Christians, the genocide of Rohingyas at the hands of Burmese Buddhists, and the suffering of Palestinian Muslims and Christians under apartheid in Israel.

What is uniquely amazing to me is that he kept announcing his retirement but then also kept working for justice. He retired in 1996 from his duties as an Archbishop and then announced his retirement from public life in 2010.

I explain here a bit about his peace justice activism, which I was connected with.

He was already retired for three years when he, along with Nelson Media, addressed  the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa. Later, I had the honor of serving as the Chair of the Parliament while he was on our international advisory board.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the first world leader who spoke about the genocide of Muslims in the Central African Republic. It was April 2014 when he issued a statement that

“The country stands on the brink of genocide; some would say it has already commenced.” No one else spoke up.

It took the United States envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, another eleven months to publicly note that almost every mosque in the Central African Republic has been destroyed.

Well, two mosques out of the 432 actually survived. I spoke to one surviving Imam who told me that it is the so-called peacemaking French military that visits each Muslim home, disarming them and leaving them defenseless so that when the Christian militia comes in, they can freely kill men and “[haul] away cattle and women.”

Masjids in Chicago sponsored a Justice For All delegation to visit the Central African Republic. I emailed the findings to all Muslim leaders in the United States and all Muslim embassies. Only one Muslim leader responded with a 2-line note.

Amidst the silence of the Muslim world, what Tutu did was prophetic.

Archbishop Tutu was also the first world leader to use the term genocide to describe the persecution faced by the Rohingya in Burma. This enabled me to recruit six other Nobel Peace Laureates to sign a statement I wrote saying “What Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government.”

This was in 2015 before the Burmese military unleashed its final solution in 2017.

Speaking up for Palestinians and criticising the apartheid state of Israel is never easy. But Tutu would not give up.  Long before the Human Rights Watch and B’tSelem (the Israeli human rights organization) called Israel an apartheid state, Desmond Tutu was naming it as such.

He, of course, knew what apartheid looked like firsthand.

Tutu likened Palestinians’ conditions and their struggle to those of Black South Africans under apartheid. He supported and endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to end apartheid, a technique similar to those wielded by the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

Tutu defended the boycotting of Israel, saying that those who continue to do business with Israel “are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.”

“Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation,” meanwhile, “are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.”

Thank you, Desmand Tutu.