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Certains des étudiants de McGill font leur stage dans des tribunaux ruraux, d’autres sillonnent le pays pour rencontrer des membres d’ONG diverses, d’autres encore visitent des lieux de détention. Ils sont sur le ‘terrain’. Moi, je compile des recommandations. Législatives. Internationales. De politiques publiques. Mon introduction aux droits humains passe par le texte. Les mots. Des milliers de mots. Loin des gens qui sont directement victimes des violations de leurs droits, à des milliers de kilomètres du camp de réfugiés de Tindouf, de la prison de Tétouan.

D’une part, je suis convaincue de l’importance de ces infrastructures de mots. Des administrations complètes, leurs mandats et leurs limites émanent de ces feuilles de papier. Suite à l’adoption en 2011 d’une nouvelle Constitution qui consacre la division des pouvoirs et garantit les droits et libertés fondamentales, le Maroc est en plein processus de réforme, de révision, d’amendement et de refonte de ses textes législatifs.

Par exemple, le Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme (CNDH) est très impliqué dans la réforme du Code pénal et du Code de procédure pénale, réforme urgente et nécessaire pour pouvoir lutter contre la violence à l’égard des femmes, entre autres. Car si l’article 19 de la Constitution consacre l’égalité entre la femme et l’homme, deux femmes sont actuellement accusées d’outrage public à la pudeur sous l’article 483 du Code pénal, infraction passible de 1 mois à 2 ans de prison. Ce qu’elles ont fait? Porter des robes jugées trop courtes pour faire le marché pendant Ramadan. Une importante partie de la société civile et des médias se mobilisent pour dénoncer cette accusation et l’existence de cet article dans le Code Pénal. Les mouvements de contestation s’organisent autour du 6 juillet, la date prévue pour le procès. Voilà pour l’importance d’harmoniser les textes avec les textes, de rendre cohérentes et actuelles les diverses architectures législatives – de compiler, de lire, de rédiger des propositions d’amendements en espérant que le gouvernement s’en inspirera.

J’ai la chance de faire ce stage accompagnée de ma famille – mon conjoint et mes deux filles de 4 et 7 ans respectivement. La plus vieille est actuellement en train de passer des livres imagés aux livres qui sont uniquement composés de texte. Elle est férue de lecture. La semaine passée, nous lui avons acheté un roman marocain sur une princesse-sorcière berbère. Elle l’a dévoré sur le chemin qui mène aux magnifiques collines de Chefchaouen. De quoi avait l’air la princesse Kaina dans sa petite tête de Montréalaise? Quels types de paysages a-t-elle imaginés pour y faire vivre son héroine? Peut-être que le paysage qui défilait par la fenêtre arrière de la voiture de location lui ont permis de mettre des odeurs et des couleurs à la vie de sa princesse berbère? Peu importe, elle était émue par la lecture, transportée. Ceux qui aiment lire se souviendront du premier livre qui vous a complètement chaviré, hanté, transformé. Le pouvoir magique des mots.

Une de mes tâches dans le cadre du stage consiste en la réalisation d’une analyse comparative entre les recommandations internationales à l’égard du Maroc et les recommandations que le Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme a élaborées, et ce dans afin d’en dégager des orientations stratégiques pour le développement de nouveaux partenariats. Il va s’en dire que sur ces centaines de pages de recommandations que je lis et relis, il n’y a aucune image. Pas de photos des lieux de détention arbitraires. Pas de photos des prisons surpeuplées dans lesquelles plusieurs détenus sont retenus de façon préventive. Pas de photos des victimes de la traite dont certaines ont payé leur passage dans l’espoir d’un avenir meilleur. Pas de photos des travailleurs migrants qui traversent le désert pour vendre des montres en toc. Comme ma fille, je dois faire mes propres images. Ou plutôt, puisque je n’ai plus sept ans et que je suis habituée à lire des mots très vite, je dois m’efforcer de prendre le temps pour, des fois, mettre des images sur les mots. Certaines recommandations sont plus propices à l’imagination – elles donnent des exemples : « interdire le recours à des actes de violence, à un langage humiliant ou grossier, l’utilisation de moyens de pression comme les menottes, les chaines et la camisole de force et d’utiliser l’isolement comme mesure disciplinaire. »(Recommandations adressées à la Délégation générale de l’administration pénitentiaire et de la réinsertion), ou exigent que « les auteurs de sévices devraient être tenus responsables et sévèrement punis ». (CRC : Observations finales du Comité des droits de l’enfant).

Sont-elles plus efficaces? Autrement dit, y a-t-il une partie de l’apprentissage du discours des droits humains qui passe nécessairement par l’affect? Puisque je suis convaincue que oui, et que je n’aurai pas l’occasion de m’asseoir dans une voiture de location pour regarder le paysage, j’essaie de cultiver le réflexe de mettre des images sur les mots. Pour m’aider, je lis des romans marocains, j’écoute les nouvelles, je vais au cinéma, je prends du temps avec les mères du quartier, je mets mon cœur à l’écoute.

“The multiple consciousness I urge lawyers to attain is not a random ability to see all points of view, but a deliberate choice to see the world from the standpoint of the oppressed. That world is accessible to all of us. We should know it in its concrete particulars. We should know of our sister carrying buckets of water up five flights of stairs in a welfare hotel, our sister trembling at 3 a.m. in a shelter for battered women, our sisters holding bloodied children in their arms in Cape Town, on the West Bank, and in Nicaragua. The jurisprudence of outsiders teaches that these details and the emotions they evoke are relevant and important as we set out on the road to justice. These details are accessible to all of us, of all genders and colors. We can choose to know the lives of others by reading, studying, listening, and venturing into different places.”

Mari J. Matsuda. When the Quail Calls. Multiple Consciousness as a Jurisprudential Method.IMG_4105IMG_3683

A glimpse at ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

By Dominic Bell

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

The North is as vast as it is beautiful.

I am humbled by the immensity of the Arctic and by the remarkable people who inhabit it.

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My new home is in Apex which is a small community about 5km Southeast of Iqaluit, accessible by causeway.  Luckily, my host family has allowed me to use their ATV to make my way to and from work each day.  The drive is about 15 minutes which can be quite harsh due to stinging winds.

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The temperature in Iqaluit has hovered at -1 since my arrival, with alternating snow and rain.  This pales in comparison to the -70 temperatures (wind-chill included) that the Nunavummiut face during the winter.  Earlier this month, I was able to participate in the sixth annual Yurt Fest which took place out on the massive expanse of ice that is Frobisher Bay.  It was my first time out on the land and I came across teams of dogs near their sleds peering at us with one eye as they slept under the bright sky.  After meeting many new people and partaking in the festivities, I sat with an Inuk hunter who told me a bit about her life and her encounters.  She had traveled down South on many occasions and was familiar with the urban life and modernity as I have come to know it living in a big city.  After telling her a bit about the nature of my work at Maliiganik, she proceeded to inform me that the Inuit do not have a word for “criminal”.  For them, the world is not cast in black/white and neither are people wholly good nor wholly evil.  I recognized that the legal paradigm I have been instructed in has minimal relevance to the old and new Inuit way of life which is built on its own set of premises.

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I have been troubled by this realization in my work for legal aid at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik.  Thus far, my research has been primarily focused in criminal defence and civil (poverty) claims.  The office environment is fantastic and I find much of the work to be very morally rewarding.  However,  I cannot help but wonder if the superimposition of Western legal values is but another form of neocolonialism within a nation which, perhaps falsely, prides itself on multiculturalism.  A few days ago, I read part of the TRC commission as part of a social media movement pioneered by my host who is also a criminal defence lawyer at Maliiganik.  I find it quite timely that I am in the territories at a time when we have begun to peel back a dark layer of Canada’s recent history, the effects of which can still be felt in this gigantic expanse.

So far during my brief stay, I have done my best to immerse myself as much as I can and to learn from those around me.  I have gone jigging for fish out on the melting ice, participated in a local “feast”, volunteered at the annual Alianait Festival, and hiked in the mountains/hills near Apex, inter alia.  Moreover, I have cooked seal, sampled raw narwhal and dried caribou, and eaten Arctic char.  Lastly, I coach youth in soccer on Wednesday nights at the Arctic Winter Games Complex.

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I am hesitant to exocitize my experiences further, lest I become the intrepid international intern.  My brief stay in Iqaluit has cautioned me against simple solutions in wake of a truly complex array of institutional and social relations which play out in Iqaluit and the smaller communities of Nunavut.  I am wary of merely echoing the voice of the transient population that is so apparent in the territories; the people who travel here with ulterior motives and fail to truly appreciate this place.  Luckily, I have started to build–what I hope will be–lasting bonds with the locals who are often skeptical of Southerners who are simply here in passing for a couple months or a year and then return from whence they came with fond memories.  I am aware of the profound sense of distrust of “well-intentioned” foreigners–reminiscent of the oppressive colonizer.

As such, I endeavour to remain open-minded and perceptive.

I still have much to learn and see before departing.

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Human Rights Education in Quebec?

During Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) here in Montreal, I have met multiple fascinating individuals from around the world hoping to develop effective and practical strategies to transform their communities through Human Rights Education (HRE).

Before my internship, I have never seriously thought about the importance of HRE for social change. However, after weeks of work at Equitas, its importance is now clear to me. Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner of Human Rights, also expressed the importance of HRE when he said that the most powerful instrument in the arsenal we have against poverty and conflict is the weapon of massive instruction.” (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15628&LangID=E)

After three years at the Faculty of Law, I now understand that laws are not enough to ensure peace and respect. If people do not learn to love and truly respect one another first, even the best anti-discrimination laws will not be enforced. These laws will merely give a misleading appearance of harmony and non-discrimination.

Since HRE is crucial for a healthy society, it should undoubtedly be infused throughout the programs of every school, from the earliest age. I began to wonder whether I have ever been exposed to HRE in my own education in Quebec. I am sure that most participants at the IHRTP come to Montreal assuming that HRE is part and parcel of our education system here in Canada. Yet, I realized that most of my years in school were completely devoid of any aspect of HRE.

During the IHRTP, HRE has been described as the contrary of indoctrination, since it encourages critical thinking and is based on a participatory approach to learning which starts from the experience of each individual. This is contrary to the expert model, in which one individual thought to be an expert lectures an entire group. If HRE is the contrary of indoctrination, it would therefore discourage the propagation of myths or stories that are misleading. Unfortunately, I can think of many such myths that I have been encouraged to accept during my time in school.

Throughout my years in elementary school, high school and Cégep, Canada’s racist and colonial identity has never been revealed to me. I have only heard about Residential Schools coincidentally a few years ago while doing my own research. The first time I was asked to read about Canada’s racist history was in the Critical Race Theory seminar I took last semester when we read Constance Backhouse’s “Colour Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada.” The myth of Canada as a state that has never been racist has been ubiquitous throughout my education before law school.

Moreover, present systematic oppression has also rarely been discussed throughout my education. When oppression is mentioned, it is often situated in the past. For example, consider Montreal Police’s recent commitment to improve the way police interact with First Nations people. These efforts have been described as a way to “try and combat the continuing effects of colonization,” therefore implying that colonialism and oppression is a thing of the past (http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/montreal-police-aboriginals-partner-up-to-improve-relations-1.2441359). However, many, such as Professor Glen Sean Coulthard, would say that the continuing dispossession of Indigenous land and the present pain endured by Indigenous people are not just “effects” of colonialism, but are indicative of the continuing colonial relationship between the state and Indigenous people in Canada (Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014) at 106). These are only some examples of myths that pervade our society, including our education system.

For all these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that, from my own experience, HRE seems to be quite absent in Quebec, especially in elementary and high school. Classes that resemble HRE only seem to be available in university and are not mandatory. However, as Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated,  this model of education is important in the long-term project of rewiring how many people think. My time with Equitas has showed me that only such a project can lead to durable social change and a more peaceful world.

 

Portrait d’un peuple ébranlé par de la violence qui ne lui ressemble pas

Hier, vendredi 26 juin, la Tunisie a été ébranlée par un attentat terroriste qui a fait, à ce jour, 37 morts. La cible : la plage d’un hôtel touristique. Cet incident fait suite à une tuerie qui s’est produite au musée du Bardo il y a près de trois mois faisant 22 morts. Ces deux évènements ont en commun leur cible : les touristes, des occidentaux. Le message que cette similarité révèle est bien clair. Les djihadistes s’opposent à la modernisation de la Tunisie, qu’ils qualifieraient d’ « occidentalisation ». Ils s’opposent au fait que la Tunisie a réussi avec succès sa transition démocratique, que la charria n’est pas appliquée par l’État, que les standards qu’imposent la religion sont imposés de façon libérale. Le meilleur moyen de faire payer la Tunisie pour ces changements non-souhaitables est de s’attaquer à un secteur vital de son industrie et à son point de contact direct avec l’Occident: le tourisme. C’est aussi, tristement, le meilleur moyen d’assurer que l’incident fasse les nouvelles partout dans le monde.

Cet attentat a ébranlé les tunisiens, tout comme le dernier. Ces gestes de violence sont en effet en parfaite contradiction avec leur nature et leur identité. Au cours des prochains paragraphes, je tenterai de vous dépeindre le portrait du peuple tunisien, un peuple que j’apprends à aimer, pour illustrer à quel point ces évènements ne sont pas représentatifs de la situation du pays.

Les tunisiens et tunisiennes ont une joie de vivre contagieuse. Ils aiment la musique, la danse, rire, manger, chanter et danser. Ils aiment leur café bien fort, leur thé à la menthe bien chaud et leur baguette de pain fraichement sortie du four. Durant le mois de ramadan, chaque soir, ils se rassemblent dans les étroites rues de la médina, la vieille ville, pour fêter la rupture du jeûne. Entre amis, en famille, jeunes et moins jeunes se réunissent pour célébrer. Des spectacles sont offerts à presque tous les coins rues. C’est à peine si l’on peut marcher à travers les étroites rues cintrées par les maisons blanches aux accents bleus. Le ramadan, tradition qui peut sembler complètement insensée pour un étranger, est un moyen de rapprocher les familles et les communautés, de donner au prochain, de bâtir une solidarité qui les aide à affronter les moments plus difficiles de leur quotidien.

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Les rues de la médina

 Les tunisiens et tunisiennes sont ouverts d’esprit. La religion est pourtant encore bien ancrée dans leurs mœurs. La plupart ne boivent pas d’alcool, font le jeûne durant ramadan, ne mangent pas de porc et vivent avec leur famille jusqu’au mariage. L’appel à la prière peut encore être entendue à travers toute la ville cinq fois par jour. Or, ce qui est admirable chez les tunisiens est que chacun est libre de choisir la façon dont il souhaite pratiquer la religion. Ils m’ont expliqué que la relation entre dieu et un individu et la façon dont ils entretiennent cette relation ne regarde qu’eux. Il n’est ainsi pas rare de rencontrer au sein d’une même famille, d’un même groupe d’amies, une fille portant le voile et l’autre pas, l’une priant plusieurs foispar jour et l’autre pas.  Elles seront pourtant toutes aussi soucieuses d’être à la mode : les femmes portant le voile agençant parfaitement cet accessoire avec leurs souliers ou encore leur sacoche. Chacun se respecte dans ses choix religieux et c’est remarquable.

Les tunisiens et tunisiennes tiennent à leurs droits et ils sont prêts à lutter pour les défendre. La Tunisie a probablement l’une des sociétés civiles les plus actives que j’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer. Les organisations non-gouvernementales se sont mises à foisonner après la révolution et elles mettent la main à la pâte pour aider les plus démunis et pour promouvoir l’égalité. L’un des cafés de la ville est d’ailleurs surnommé le café des « NGO », illustrant que suffisamment de gens travaillent dans ce domaine pour remplir un café à semaines longues. Il est d’ailleurs assez commun que les jeunes soient actifs au sein de ces organisations. Les libertés civiles sont de mieux en mieux respectées, bien que certaines limites à ne pas franchir existent encore.

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L’équipe d’Aswat Nissa

 Les tunisiens et tunisiennes aiment la politique. Ils sont fiers d’avoir réussi leur transition d’un régime autoritaire à un régime démocratique de manière pacifique. Ils sont fiers d’appartenir à ce pays stable et moderne situé dans une région où la stabilité politique est périlleuse et où la religion prend des tendances de plus en plus extrémistes. Il y a plus de 100 partis politiques enregistrés, c’est-à-peine si l’on peut s’y retrouver. Les Tunisiens discutent de santé, d’éducation, d’économie, suivent l’actualité et imaginent un futur meilleur. Ils sont prêts à collaborer pour faire avancer les enjeux qui leur sont chers. Au cours du projet de l’Académie politique des femmes organisé par Aswat Nissa, l’association où je travaille, des femmes provenant de partis politiques différents, de droite et de gauche (le gap est grand, je vous l’assure), ont été capables de collaborer durant une année entière pour faire avancer la cause des droits des femmes. Elles ont dépassées leurs préjugés pour faire de la Tunisie un monde meilleur. Même si leur Parlement ne réussit pas à faire des changements aussi rapides et efficaces qu’ils le souhaiteraient, les tunisiens croient en son pouvoir et surveillent attentivement son évolution afin de protester si la situation se détériore.

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Les femmes de l’Académie au travail

 En somme, les Tunisiens forment un peuple incroyablement ouvert d’esprit, chaleureux, éduqué et brillant; un peuple plein d’espoirs envers un futur meilleur. Les tunisiens sont arrivés à définir une identité qui est en accord avec leurs racines islamiques et qui est pourtant tournée vers l’avenir, vers le monde. Ils sont fiers d’être tunisiens et ils ont raisons de l’être.

Il est certain qu’il reste encore du travail à faire afin de rendre ce pays totalement égalitaire et respectueux des libertés civiles. La patriarchie est encore présente de façon intangible au quotidien. Les hommes sont toujours plus nombreux que les femmes dans les endroits publics : les cafés, les plages, les spectacles, ce qui révèle que les femmes sont, pendant ce temps, à la maison entrain de prendre soin des enfants et de l’entretien ménager. Les hommes vous dévisageront d’ailleurs sans gêne dans les rues et vous passeront des commentaires plus ou moins adéquats s’ils vous trouvent joli. Les inégalités entre les riches et les pauvres sont marquées. Le contraste entre les villas à couper le souffle de la banlieue Nord de Tunis, et le centre ville où la vie va à mille à l’heure et où les rues sont sales et puantes est marqué. Le Parlement est loin d’être efficace et neutre, les derniers projets ayant fait l’objet de délais indus. Les élections municipales prévues tardent à venir, tout comme le projet de loi sur la décentralisation qui créera ces institutions. Les défis sont nombreux. Or, les tunisiens ont tous les outils pour les surmonter.

J’espère que ce portrait vous donnera envie de découvrir ce peuple et de venir visiter ce beau pays. Les attentats sont de tristes évènements provenant d’influences extérieures nullement représentatives de la culture tunisienne. La Tunisie n’est malheureusement que l’une des nombreuses victimes de l’islam extrémiste et du terrorisme, joignant les rangs de la France, du Koweït, qui ont aussi été victimes d’attentat durant la journée d’hier, et de bien d’autres états. Je vous invite à ne pas tourner le dos à Tunisie, à y affluer pour découvrir sa beauté et pour aider les tunisiens à bâtir le pays dont ils rêvent.

Creating Good Lasting Connections

I have crossed the half point of my internship in Kenya, and although this blog post was originally going to be about my experience as a white (mzungu [1]) girl in Kenya, I realized that there was something more important that I could share.

I am a law student, and while at law school I have learnt about substantive law and procedure, here in Kenya I have learnt that being a lawyer is not only about what you know but it is also about the relationships you are able to build with the people around you. In other words, relationship building has proven to be a key element of my work here in Kenya and I want to explain why.

As I had said in my earlier post I am working with the social workers of an organization that seeks to protect and bring justice to girls’ victims of sexual and physical abuse. The job involves going through their files, filling in forms, attending court to monitor their cases and going to police stations to inquire about the investigations. While going through the files and filing in forms are standard activities in most law-jobs (or any desk job for that matter), I have come to realize that the biggest and most important part of my work has been the fieldwork because of the human component. Indeed it is through my fieldwork that I have had the opportunity to meet and establish a relationship with police officers, magistrates, prosecutors, and other relevant stakeholders. These relationships have allowed me to learn much more than most of the paperwork because I have been able to engage in meaningful discussions about the law in Kenya, the value and place that children should have in society, and the different challenges that these stakeholders are facing when trying to seek justice for these girls.

Part of the benefits of making contacts and establishing good relations with the different stakeholders, besides their willingness to help when you are trying to inquire about a case, is the network of key people that you can build. For instance, every time my co-intern and I go to a police station for the first time we make a point of meeting the officer in charge (OCS) and explaining the purpose of our visit. More often than note, the OCS are very happy to greet us and have many questions for us (probably because we are white girls in very rural Kenya). However, regardless of whether my whiteness has a part to play in the way some people welcome us here, the relationships that we have been able to establish with our visits have proven to be very important.

In one particular occasion, after we explained who we were and why we were there, the police officer in charge invited us to his office and began to tell us why he (unfortunately it is usually a he), appreciated our work and why he thought more organization like Ripples were needed for Kenya’s victims of abuse. Essentially, while waiting for a the police file of the girls we were inquiring about, the OCS told us about the biggest challenges he was facing and confided in us what he thought would be a good course of action for these girls. That conversation was much more informative and fulfilling than any paper work I had done.

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There was another occasion when we went to a Law Court to get a copy of a judgement for a girl’s file that had been left un-updated for a long time, and the Magistrate invited us into his office. He was interested in knowing what we thought of the legal system here in Kenya compared to the Canadian one. Talking to him made me realize that on paper Kenya and Canada’s legal systems are not so different. Both countries were colonies of England and thus both countries use the common law, (with the exception that in Canada Quebec uses the civil law for some matters). In fact, the laws in Kenya exist and are good. The new constitution[2] enshrined the basic rights of children. But the problem is the implementation of these good laws. One thing is to change things on paper, and another thing is to change people’s attitudes and behaviour.

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As a matter of fact, corruption runs deep within the police forces in Kenya[3]. At least six times when I have been doing fieldwork I have been in a vehicle that has been stopped by the police and driver has given out money. It happens everyday. It happens everywhere. And it’s a vicious cycle. Indeed, some of the families of girls that have been abused are so poor and so used to the corruption that they will make an arrangement with the family of the perpetrator to brush off the abuse and get in exchange some little money and some livestock. It is as if the words justice and legal system meant nothing to some people because all they have been used to is “under the table deals”. But, these are the kinds of issues that matter when you are doing human rights work, and these are the kind of issues you can only acknowledge by going out into the field, talking to people and experiencing it first hand.

Now, after 6 weeks and a half here in Kenya, it is clear to me that these issues are the reason why human rights work is about people, why the human component in any job is fundamental, why I find so fulfill and gratifying to spend my Saturdays playing with the girls of the rescue center, why meeting with police officers, Magistrates and prosecutors and listening to their queries and concerns has made me a better lawyer-in-the-making, and why these experience so far has been one of the greatest learning experience.

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Lastly, and going back to why creating good relationships is important, I would like to share that in the last three weeks two girls have found justice as their perpetrator (their own respective fathers) were sentence to life in prison. Those convictions represent an incredible win in the fight against child sexual assault in Kenya. Coincidentally, both case were heard at the court I had mentioned in my previous post, where the magistrate keeps things tight and seeks expedient justice for the victims. Having the chance to get to know this Magistrate is one of those human relationships that I have found so valuable of my work here because it made me realized that what ultimately really matters in human rights work is making allies with the people that also want to make a difference. The human rights battle is not a battle you can fight alone. It is a battle society needs to fight collectively. So go out in the field and meet people and make valuable connections.


[2] https://www.kenyaembassy.com/pdfs/The%20Constitution%20of%20Kenya.pdf

[3] http://www.transparency.org/country#KEN

Realizing the right to maternal health in Uganda

2015-Cina-Margherita  By Margherita Cinà

On 30 April 2015 the High Court of Uganda at Kampala rendered a judgment on a suit brought by the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD) against the Nakaseke District Local Administration for the violation of Nanteza Irene’s maternal health rights. The deceased was an expecting mother who passed away after eight hours in the hospital without proper care for her haemorrhage and ruptured uterus.

The High Court’s decision on the right of women to access emergency obstetric care is a step towards the realization of maternal health rights of women in Uganda. The case comes at a time when Uganda’s maternal mortality ratio remains high at 440: 100,000 live births. These tragic deaths are preventable, however Uganda’s health care facilities lack emergency obstetric care services, adequate and well-motivated health workers, specifically midwives and doctors, and essential maternal health drugs and supplies.

The tragedy leading to this case occurred on the 5th of May, 2011 when Mr. Mugerwa brought his wife to delivery their baby at Nakaseke Hospital. After 9 months of pregnancy, Ms. Nanteza and her spouse were so excited to welcome a new member into their family. The joy of knowing that they were going to be parents to a new baby was quickly replaced with fear and nervousness. When the nurse detected at 4.00pm that she suffered from an obstructed labour, no doctor was present at the hospital to perform the cesarean section necessary to save the life of Ms. Nanteza and her baby. The nurse made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the doctor on duty but he only arrived at the hospital after Ms. Nanteza had been in labour for over eight hours. Being increasingly scared of what might happen to his spouse, Mr. Mugerwa desperately attempted to get her transferred via ambulance to Kiwoko Hospital but the hospital administrator would not grant this request. At around 9.00pm, the doctor finally arrived but it was too late to save the life of Nanteza who died in extreme pain shortly after.

It was under these circumstances, and with the hope of achieving system-wide changes in the administration of Nakaseke Hospital and other hospitals across Uganda, that CEHURD brought a case against Nakaseke District Local Administration, the local government in charge of administering oversight over the hospital, rather than targeting individual health workers in the hospital.

In its decision, the High Court referred to Article 33 (3) and Article 34 (1) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda to conclud that Nanteza’s human and maternal health rights and the rights of her children and spouse were violated. It was also declared that the deceased’s right to basic medical care was violated. The Court held that Nakaseke District Local government was vicariously liable for the acts of the doctor and the hospital administrator who failed to ensure the provision of emergency obstetric care urgently required by Ms. Nanteza or to transfer her to a medical facility that had the capacity to treat her. The Court also awarded general damages to Mr. Mugerwa and his children for violating the human rights of the deceased, her children and her spouse.

Analysis of the case

One of my first tasks as an intern at CEHURD was to examine and critique this judgement. I found that, while the judgement was favourable for the plaintiffs, the judge did not focus sufficiently on the human rights violations that occurred during the deceased’s time at the hospital. The first two issues brought before the court were: (1) whether the deceased’s right to life, to health, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, and equality were violated; and (2) whether the rights of her children were also violated. However, the judge focused on the negligent acts and omissions of the doctor and the superintendent rather than on the human rights implications of these actions. This focus on negligence pulls attention away from the issue being litigated, that is, the violation of the right to access to health services.

Negligence

By determining this case on the basis of negligence, the judgment focuses too much on the individual acts of the doctor and the superintendent rather than on the systemic issues that are associated with the lack of provision of adequate health services. The judge made numerous references throughout the judgment to the doctor’s “flagrant act of neglect of duty” and described him as a “consummate liar”. While these representations may be accurate, they only portray a small fraction of the situation.

Violation of Human Rights

The judge made a deductive leap from the determination of the negligent acts and omissions of the doctor and superintendent to the conclusion that there was a violation of the deceased’s and her children’s human rights. He did not rely on international or regional instruments, or judicial precedent on the issues of health as a human right.

The judge appropriately identified the relevant articles in The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that relate to the protection of women and their rights (Article 33(3)) and on the best interest of children to have their parents care for them (Article 34(1)). While these articles are not specific to health, they are relevant to ground the discussion in the local context. The judge’s human rights analysis however stopped there.

There are many relevant international and regional instruments that should have been examined in order to come to the conclusion that there was a violation of human rights. International and regional instruments specific to the right to health or to the protection of women and children’s rights should have been examined.

The right to health is enshrined in international and regional conventions. For example, Uganda is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which recognizes everyone’s right to enjoy “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” (Article 12(1)). This article further specifies the steps that should be taken by State Parties in order to achieve the goals of the ICESCR, which includes “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness” (Article 12(2)(d)). Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, of which Uganda is also a signatory, repeats Article 12 of the ICESCR specifically for women, by stating that “State parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy”. Regionally, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Banjul Charter) additionally protects these rights (Article 16).

In the present case, the judge could have relied on these articles to argue that the hospital’s actions and omissions were contrary to Uganda’s obligations under the ICESCR, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Banjul Charter. The doctor’s absence in the hospital and the hospital’s failure to transfer the deceased to another hospital, demonstrate the failure to provide the deceased with the required medical service and medical attention needed. In order to properly address the human rights issues at play, the judge should have relied on these conventions when he came to the conclusion that the deceased “did not receive the appropriate expected obstetric care to aid safe delivery of her child” (page 5 of the judgment).

The Honourable Benjamin Kabiito wrote very little on the second issue of the violation of the children’s rights. The right to be cared for by parents is also protected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. While reliance on these conventions would not have changed the verdict, it would have provided a stronger human rights argument.

It should also be noted that there was no reference to any previous cases on the issue of health and human rights or on maternal mortality. The judge relied solely on the tort of negligence to render his decision.

The judge did not make use of the available human rights tools when rendering this decision. When discussing the constitutional protection of women and children’s rights in Uganda, the judge could have used this as an opportunity to discuss these rights in the international and regional context. Specifically, the judge could have used the instruments mentioned above as tools to further interpret the Article 33(3) and Article 34(1) of The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

Why is this distinction important?

The goal of this suit was to establish precedent to contribute to the growing comprehensive framework on the right to health in Uganda. By focusing on the negligent acts and omissions of the hospital employees and finding the Nakaseke District Local administration vicariously liable, the analysis in this case will contribution little to the discourse of health as a human right. The doctor’s negligent behaviour can contribute to a finding of a violation of human rights but it is not sufficient on its own to contribute to a framework on the right to health in Uganda.

This judgment was a victory for Mr. Mugerwa and his family, and should be seen as a step forward for women’s rights in Uganda. It sends a strong message to other local governments, Parliament, and Cabinet that the right to access emergency obstetric care has to be respected, protected and fulfilled in Uganda. This judgement also indicates however that continued work needs to done to train current and future judges on human rights issues in order to strengthen the health and human rights discourse in Uganda.

 

Landed in DF, Mexico

2015-Boychuk-ClaireBy Claire Boychuck

During my brief stint with Disability Rights International (DRI) in Mexico City, I’ve quickly come to understand the urgency of the movement to de-institutionalize persons with disabilities. The living conditions in many psychiatric facilities around the world are shocking. Here in Mexico, glimpses of these institutions and the loneliness and suffering of the individuals detained therein haunt me long after our human rights monitoring team departs their sterile corridors.

In Mexico, DRI has documented the prolonged use of physical constraints, isolation cells, cages, forced sterilization of women, and physical and sexual abuse in psychiatric facilities across the country. These are egregious forms of abuse and even meet the definition of torture. But in the face of such tremendous abuses, my colleagues remind me that simply “cleaning up” these institutions is no solution. Children and adults, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents, and all persons with disabilities have a right to live in the community. They have a right be a part of the world.

Article 19, arguably one of the most important and ambitious obligations of the 2008 UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), recognizes the right all people with disabilities to live in the community. Instead of institutionalizing people with disabilities – which results in total social segregation – advocates at DRI are calling for community support services so that people with disabilities can enjoy full lives as active members of society.

From a legal standpoint, the demand for services in the community is a complex and daunting problem. Unlike many human rights cases which demand the cessation of an action (torture, forced disappearances, etc.) the demand for compliance with art. 19 of the CRPD speaks to a violation by omission.

State Party X’s failure to invest in community-based services is a violation of the CRPD. This is an act of omission, a legal category often treated differently than positive actions. Further, if a court grants a demand for government investment in community based services it can be seen as overstepping the limits of the judicial branch – and into social spending that comes with a price tag.

These may seem like abstract legal questions but they have concrete and immediate consequences. To understand the urgency of Article 19 of the CRPD and ending institutional torture, abuse, and segregation take a look at a recent case that DRI has been working on, the Federica Mora Hospital in Guatemala, featured in this recent BBC documentary. Warning: images in this video are disturbing.

Trans*clusivity: a call to action

CW: Conversion Therapy & RPDR7 Spoiler
Hi folks, rain & fog have become my new friends in Toronto. - Jeansil Bruyère

Hi folks, rain & fog have become my new friends in Toronto.
- Jeansil Bruyère

We are all born with privileges & barriers. More often than not, we overlook the privilege we benefit from while denouncing the barriers that hinder us. As a good friend of mine once said, privilege is not something we have per se but rather something we don’t have; it is a lack of barriers that spare us from stigma and discrimination. I am French-Canadian, biracial, male, gay, atheist of Muslim and Catholic decent, enrolled in legal studies at McGill University. Until recently, I never realized that being cisgendered could be added to that list of privileges and barriers that compose my identity. Cis-ness is a privilege because I do not face barriers to the same extent as lived by the trans*  members of our LGBTQ community: health, employment, immigration & education (just to name a few). In light of my cis-privilege and field of interest (i.e. human rights law), I am taking the platform offered by the McGill Centre of Legal Pluralism and Human Rights to call all other human rights activists to be more trans* inclusive, or trans*clusive as I titled this blog post.
Toronto City Hall proclamation of the international day against homophobia transphobia and biphobia.

Mayor John Tory proclaimed May 17th of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia.

Within a week of being at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Network (the Network), I was given the opportunity to meet mayor John Tory and Queer Ontario New Democrat MPP Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo at a City Hall Proclamation declaring May 17th, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Notably, DiNovo introduced Bill 77, the “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act” and is urging Kathleen Wynne to pass it by Pride in the upcoming weeks. The Act would prohibit conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, and prohibit doctors from billing Ontario Health Insurance for conversion therapy conducted on any patient. That said, Ontario isn’t the only province with groundbreaking trans* developments. Only a few days later in Quebec, amazing activists such as Gabrielle Bouchard, Samuel Singer and Jean-Sébastien Sauvé were speaking to the Committee on Institutions which included the Minister of Justice at the National Assembly at special consultations and public hearings on the draft regulation concerning the Regulation respecting change of name and of other particulars of civil status for transsexual and transgender persons. An issue of great concern for volunteering at the Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Clinic and many trans* people living in Quebec.

Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Network held a Barreau du Québec continuing education workshop this past May.

Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Network held a Barreau du Québec continuing education workshop this past May.

Zomming out to what western-mainstream culture has been depicting of trans* folk, who can omit to mention Caitlin Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, following in the footsteps of more mainstream trans* icons such as Lavern Cox (Time) and potentially Aydian Dowling (Men’s Health Ultimate Guy Search). Be it the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race (spoiler alert) crowning Violet Chachki as the next Drag Superstar or the fact that I actually live above a drag-crossdressing shop (wildside.org) with the most eclectic and amazing landlady in all of Toronto, LGBTQ developments are in my face and have been garnering more attention than ever. However, more coverage does not mean more understanding and awareness. For this very reason, I call my colleagues within the legal and human rights fields to acknowledge cis-normativity and fight back: attend workshops, get informed.
Yes, my front yard has a bedazzled motorcycle & my living room is an art gallery.

Yes, my front yard has a bedazzled motorcycle & my living room is indeed an art gallery.

In closing, within the various projects assigned by the Network, I have taken the time to integrate trans* oriented statistics and concerns. Did you know that the HIV prevalence rate, (i.e. the proportion of people in a population who have a particular disease at a specified point in time) among male-to-female transgender persons in North America is at 27.7%? Sorry, no Canadian-specific data is available and this is part of the problem. A problem that we can solved by being part of the trans* agenda and working towards a more inclusive environment for all. Whether it be policy analysis, academic research or just plain day-to-day conversation – keep in mind that we live in a heteronormative & cisnormative world where we often forget the benefits and hindrances of our privileges and barriers. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be part of a society where our children can live their lives with dignity and respect be they trans* or cisgendered/seropositive or seronegative/LGBTQ or allies. Honoured to be a jurist of the LGBTQ community, I truly believe that we have a duty to future generations to be more trans*clusive.

A glimpse into my first day as a Policy Analyst Intern at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

A glimpse into my first day as a Policy Analyst Intern at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Rethinking Scholarship

2015 De Santi JessicaBy Jessica De Santi

In my experience as a student educated in “Western” institutions, most of the scholarship to which I was exposed, and which was touted as particularly high-quality or important, was almost invariably written in a detached, impersonal manner. Political science as I studied it emphasised the importance of theory-building, of a theory’s explanatory power, and discovering patterns and trends across cases. Increasingly, scholarship in the discipline has attempted to incorporate quantitative analysis into its work; think, for example of the Correlates of War project which has been ongoing since the 1960s and is maintained to the present.

In law, this detached, impersonal approach can be even more evident. The bulk of what we study comprises of case law and the Civil Code of Quebec, with some doctrine or other scholarship. We are even taught to write in a way that is devoid of personality, that stresses the importance of conveying information in a specific way for a particular audience. While I was very much aware that such an impersonal approach to scholarship could not tell the full story, I was rarely exposed to alternative types of scholarship – to experience those I needed to take courses outside the discipline.

The past five weeks interning at the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) have given me much to think about in this regard. The CRG is a research centre which publishes original research, in its own journal, Refugee Watch, in books, and other short compilations of articles. Staff members also occasionally contribute to local news publications. Much of their research concerns refugees and border studies, with a South Asian focus and frequently an interdisciplinary approach. Since my main project as an intern is to produce a piece of research which the CRG could eventually publish, my first task was to read what had already been published.

It was jarring at first. Many of the pieces, though their subject matter certainly fell under the scope of political science, were unlike what I had grown used to considering “political science scholarship.” Ethnographic research, often conducted in refugee populations and border communities, was the prevalent methodology. Neutral language was occasionally eschewed in favour of withering criticism of authorities who either failed in their duties or whose policies encouraged grave human rights abuses. A compassionate tone often accompanied particularly harrowing cases.

100_3643

Work station at CRG.

Rarely were scholars attempting to build or prove a particular theory. Rather, the focus of the scholarship concentrated on the effects of government practices, bringing real-world experiences into the foreground. I was confused, occasionally frustrated, and uncertain of what I was supposed to be taking away from what I was reading, as fascinated as I found the work. It took a few articles before I started to “get it.” The research, whether ethnographic, legal, or otherwise, was bringing to the academic world the perspective that is often overlooked by Western scholarship: the human.

In writing this blog post, my goal is not to suggest that theory-building, prescriptive scholarship ought be abandoned, or that all scholarship needs to focus on the experiences of a person. Both types of scholarship, and many other types of scholarship, serve important functions in advancing our understanding of the world, particularly in areas where clearly measurable variables are not evident or possible. Nor are they mutually exclusive. I also do not intend to essentialise scholarship into “Eastern” and “Western” forms: beyond this being a problematic and arguably false division of the world, I think it is coincidental that my first in-depth exposure to different, less impersonal research approaches is occurring while in India. However, my experience thus far has certainly encouraged me to be more critical about what is presented as “authoritative” scholarship, to more actively seek out alternatives, and to make more of an effort in synthesising differing perspectives on the same issue.

Cameroun : Parmi les inégalités

2015 Belanger Roy MichelBy Michel Bélanger-Roy

Bien sûr, la différence frappe. Avant même d’atterrir, en voyant par le hublot les banlieues délabrées de Douala, on comprend qu’on n’est plus en Occident. Puis, une fois au sol, le choc s’amplifie. La saleté. Le bruit incessant des klaxons. Chaque première expérience est une surprise : s’entasser avec 6 inconnus dans un taxi collectif (Ah, le siège prend 2 passagers? Bien sûr, assoyez-vous sur mes genoux); faire son marché (Les œufs ne sont pas au froid? Ah tiens, la viande non plus); chercher un appartement (Il n’y a pas d’adresses? Ah bon, les rues n’ont pas de nom). Parlant de rue, la traverser entre taxis et motos qui ne s’arrêtent pas demeure une frayeur quotidienne

Mais on s’habitue. Un peu. Et on découvre les différences qu’on apprécie : la nourriture de rue délicieuse et abordable; la musique africaine; les fruits savoureux; les paysages verdoyants; l’attitude décontractée; la générosité. Je me suis même surpris à souhaiter voir des taxis collectifs à Montréal.

Et au fil des jours, c’est autre chose qui m’a frappé : l’ampleur des inégalités. Il faut dire que mes rencontres sont variées. Entre un repas cuit sur le feu d’une femme de campagne et un scotch versé sur le minibar d’un riche avocat, je fais connaissance avec des gens qui eux ne se côtoient pas. Le mur encadrant la villa de l’avocat y est peut-être pour quelque chose.

Inégalités socio-économiques donc, d’abord. Ici, les Mercedes roulent en bordure des bidonvilles. Comme ailleurs, on affiche sa richesse comme gage de réussite. Mais dans un pays du tiers-monde, le contraste impressionne particulièrement.

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Inégalités de genre ou condition féminine, le thème de mon stage avec Women for a Change Cameroon. Au Cameroun, la loi limite encore l’égalité, notamment en criminalisant l’avortement (Code pénal du Cameroun, Article 337). Plus encore, ce sont des normes culturelles qui perpétuent les inégalités. Le harcèlement de rue demeure pratique courante. Et le passage aux toilettes d’un bar ou d’un restaurant (souvent 3 simples panneaux de tôle dans une cour) rappelle que ces lieux sont conçus pour les hommes. Par ailleurs, inégalités sexuelles et économiques restent intimement liées, les femmes ne possédant que 2% des terres au Cameroun (Cameroon Gender Equality Network, 2011).

Inégalités linguistiques, ensuite. Pour un Québécois, il est fascinant de se retrouver en région anglophone au Cameroun. En effet, la minorité anglophone camerounaise défend fermement ses droits linguistiques face à une parfois oppressante majorité…francophone. Elle revendique même la protection de son système juridique distinct (de Common Law). À part l’inversion des rôles, rien de très dépaysant. Cependant, avec plus de 250 langues locales et dialectes parlés au pays, le portrait linguistique demeure autrement complexe.

Parmi les autres vecteurs d’inégalités, quelques uns sont plus encourageants. Malgré une diversité impressionnante, le Cameroun connaît peu de tensions ethniques ou religieuses et reste très tolérant à ces égards. En revanche, l’état des droits LGBT demeure déplorable.

Finalement, inégalité… internationale. Celle qu’illustre ma présence. Étant l’un des rares « blancs » (mon bronzage impressionne peu) en ville, j’attire forcément les regards. Outre quelques rares remarques moqueuses et des prix parfois gonflés, je n’ai vraiment pas à m’en plaindre. Mais en parlant du Canada avec des Camerounais, je sens bien leur envie. Légitime. Et je constate que même si on les déplore, notre système de santé, nos infrastructures et notre système d’éducation sont autant d’immenses privilèges.

Ce « privilège occidental », facile à oublier à Montréal, est ici exposé aux regards par la couleur de ma peau. Et forcément, ça confronte. Quoi faire avec ce privilège?

À cet égard, une femme demandait récemment à ma collègue ce que je faisais ici.

-       « A human rights internship »

-       « How long? »

-       « 3 months »

-       « And after that…? »

Bonne question, Madame. Bonne question. And after that…?

 

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