« Older Entries

Civil Rights and the Achievements of the Charter and the CCLA

I took my internship at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) as an opportunity to advance a specific vision of freedom. Yet this vision is hardly original, having already been articulated by one of the political leaders most responsible for inventing the welfare state. And he himself did not invent that vision. He merely crystallized the collective dream of a people having just emerged from the worst economic depression of the twentieth century, and still in the throes of World War II. In his State of the Union Address of January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked forward to a world “founded upon four essential human freedoms”. Three of them (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from fear) refer to civil and political freedoms: spheres of personal autonomy with which the state is not to interfere. But Americans having lost their jobs and their homes during the depression would have found this vision lacking, had Roosevelt not added a fourth and very different component. His fourth freedom, which he called “freedom from want”, is positive rather than negative. It requires the state to step in and provide all citizens with the socio-economic conditions necessary to lead a flourishing life. Freedom from want, the President maintained, depends on economic arrangements designed to “secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants” (Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann & Claude E. Welch Jr. editors, “Economic Rights in Canada and the United States”, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2006, p. 211). Since people disempowered by homelessness, unemployment and lack of education are not helped by political freedoms alone, civil liberties, as Roosevelt saw them, had to concern distributive justice as well.

The CCLA embraces Roosevelt’s multifaceted vision of civil liberties whenever progressive legislation allows it to do so. The Charter enshrined in our Constitution constitutes the organization’s main working tool. It does a great job advancing freedom of speech and worship, and protecting individuals and groups against freedom from fear. But it contains very few positive rights, and no explicitly recognized economic right. I would like my two blogs to be read as a single narrative about the CCLA’s successes and obstacles in advocating for a robust notion of civil liberties and social justice. I have decided to divide my two blogs according to the two sets of rights Roosevelt was promoting. Here I focus on civil rights, the area where both the Charter and the CCLA are at their best.

THE CCLA AS A POLITICAL PLAYER

In the area of civil rights, the Canadian Charter has transformed the CCLA into a major player in Canadian politics. By articulating its mission around a Charter-based framework, the organization improved its standing in relation to courts and legislatures. The constitutional accountability of Canadian lawmakers at every level of government has become one of its chief objectives. At a fundamental level, the CCLA insures that Parliament and provincial legislatures adopt Charter-compliant laws and programs. This is the goal of its “Charter First” campaign, set forth on its web page.[1] In a recent report, the organization expanded on this “Charter First” initiative. It focusses especially on the question of assisted dying treated in Bill C-14, the Federal Government’s response to the invalidation of the prohibition against assisted dying by the Supreme Court.[2]

Note that the CCLA intervened in Carter, the case that provided the Supreme Court with the opportunity to clarify the constitutional status of assisted dying.[3]

Since strategic litigation was successful in this case, the report I have referred to illustrates a typical pattern with respect to the CCLA’s participation in Canadian lawmaking. A successful litigation compels Parliament or a provincial legislature to revise its initial stance. This enables the organization to subsequently monitor in detail, as it does in this report, the legislative response to the victory it won through litigation. Whether or not interns feel like active participants in national lawmaking depends heavily on what kinds of policies the Charter realistically allows the organization to advocate for. That’s why prospects are good in the area of civil rights. As I shall explain in my next blog, the organization is far less successful when trying to read a socio-economic guarantee into a specific Charter provision. More often than not, it is hampered by the conservative interpretation of the Charter long entrenched in the Canadian judiciary.

THE CHARTER AND THE CCLA’S INCLUSIVE CULTURE

The ways in which our Constitution shapes social environments, and even seemingly trivial details about the relationship between friends and colleagues, is not always emphasized. But this must be done in the case of the CCLA. An organization acting as the guardian of the civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution implicitly commits itself to creating a working environment expressive of those basic constitutional values. The Canadian Charter may not provide a blueprint for a socialist revolution. But it does provide tools to promote basic attitudes and beliefs conducive to a more inclusive society. Its great contributions to increasing the openness of Canadian society include the recognition of gay marriage, the public affirmation of gender diversity, and the consolidation of multiculturalism. Through Section 15, discrimination can now be viewed through a new intersectional lens more faithful to the experience of marginalized groups. At a more general level, Roosevelt’s emphasis on freedom from fear and freedom of speech become powerful priorities for all those living in decidedly unsafe environments, afraid to be themselves, speak their minds and express their needs.

The CCLA managed to integrate basic inclusive instincts into its organizational culture. To begin with, as a volunteer with a disability, I did struggle with some environmental barriers. But these had to do largely with the inaccessibility of governmental reports to blind readers unable to use certain electronic formats. Neither the volunteers I worked with nor the staff ever second-guessed my own account of these barriers as I experienced them firsthand. At a different level, many people with disabilities have good reasons to fear social isolation from their peers. When confronting social environments that tend to insulate them from others, these environments are unsafe for them in that respect. They are deprived of the freedom from fear which Roosevelt saw as a universal good. Many blind people miss crucial opportunities for social interaction with their peers and colleagues, simply on account of mobility-related barriers. At the CCLA, all volunteers usually lunched together in a park that was difficult for me to access alone. I always found another volunteer to help me get there, even when it meant stopping on the way to order food. While the Charter was far from the minds of volunteers during breaks, that document promotes equality, which includes equal opportunity. They could not work continuously with that document without internalizing the values it implicitly promotes.

A more far-reaching illustration of this internalization came from the incredible sensitivity of all volunteers to gender diversity. Near the middle of my internship, the Orlando shooting happened. Some volunteers, belonging to gender minorities, felt personally affected by it in various ways. We spontaneously spent an entire lunch discussing the tragedy and what it reveals about the aggression that gender minorities still have ample reasons to fear everywhere. No one planned this in any way. One of the volunteers, belonging to a gender minority, mentioned it and expressed how he/she was touched by it in a special way. In many groups, members of gender minorities do not even self-identify as such, let alone sharing their grief for an act of persecution affecting their group. Within this particular group, however, it just went without saying that peers in this situation ought of course to be heard and supported. While Roosevelt spoke of freedom from fear in the context of military aggression and freedom of speech in the context of the right to political dissent, this one lunch secured both at once for the volunteers concerned. Because the Charter is enforced by courts, its impact is often assessed only with reference to strategic litigation. Yet if the only function of constitutional guarantees was to secure court victories, the vast majority of citizens would stop caring for them. The CCLA enforces them first and foremost by selecting volunteers reflecting the diversity of Canadian society, and seeing to it that they uphold Charter values not just in their work but also in their interactions. It promotes freedom of expression by creating a working environment enabling rich and frequent communication, by making working space a safe space.

As much as shifts in social attitudes can accomplish, however, these attitudes are partly shaped by economic conditions. In my next blog, I will be less optimistic, because our Charter says virtually nothing about distributive justice. Unsurprisingly, the CCLA’s influence is far more limited in this sphere.

Look-back on the last day

By Laetitia Yantren

The last day of my internship, I presented my work to my colleagues and external members of CRG. CRG normally hosts Friday Lectures, during which academics present their research to a crown of their peers. Because CRG is a research group focused on migration that attracts academics knowledgeable about various aspects of migration—migration and development, social movements in Bengal, international migration, migration and gender—presenting to this crowd is both rewarding and nerve-wracking.

Nevertheless, I unclenched my sweaty palms and went ahead with the presentation. As my stutter grew into more confident affirmations, I realized my luck at having the privilege to present in front of this knowledgeable crowd.

My presentation focused on the international and national legal frameworks for labour in the Gulf, with a focus on Indian migration to the United Arab Emirates. I concentrate on trade agreements as well as the kafala system, the sponsorship program for foreign workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries. Deeply imbricated in the hierarchal tribal structures of Gulf society, the doctrine originates from Islamic doctrines of adoption. The kafala system separates labour law and immigration law for migrant workers, enabling the state to delegate its immigration authority to employers, who by definition must be Gulf nationals. Employers (kafeel) apply for and obtain work permits for their employees, who delegate to the employer their juridical personality as workers. The conflict of interest is glaring: employers are at once agents of the state in immigration matters, and agents of their employees in labour matters.

Under this system, the worker is caught in a tangled web of authority that resembles the family. My presentation argued that the kafala system makes all labour domestic, establishing an unescapable system of dependency between employer and employee that stands firmly outside the free market in order to promote and protect capital from the demands of labour. It is telling, in this vein, that the reforms to the kafala system have purposefully excluded domestic workers, who remain caught within the webs of responsibility, representation and restraint that are characteristic of the domestic relationship.

First, I described the kafala system in the UAE, its international and national legal components, as well as changes that have been made in response to claims by NGOs and other bodies. My discussion of this system included a substantive legal analysis of the kafala system from the point of view of the migrant worker. Finally, I developed the metaphor of domestic work by leaning on theorization of domestic labour. Drawing on the metaphor of family and nation, I argued that the exception is indeed the rule. Building parallels between foreign domestic and non-domestic workers, I argued that both are caught within the webs of responsibility, representation and restraint that are characteristic of the domestic relationship.

When I finished my presentation, I received important feedback from attendees, feedback which will inform my changes to the paper before publication.

Perspectives on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights

By Brianna Gorence

The time I have spent this summer at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the regional human rights Court for the Americas, has lead me to contemplate the differences in the functioning of the Inter-American Human Rights System and the other regional human rights systems. Since the African Court of Human and People’s Rights is the youngest of the three regional juridical human rights systems—only becoming fully operational in 2009, with its first judgment on the merits of a case in 2013[1]—for the purposes of this blog, I will only consider the similarities and differences between the European Human Rights System and the Inter-American Human Rights System.

As independent instruments of regional organizations,[2] the substantive rights deliberated at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) are quite similar.[3] Protected in the Conventions and Protocols of both instruments are the right to life, (Article 4 ACHR; Article 2 ECHR),  the prohibition on torture (Article 5 ACHR; Article 3 ECHR), the prohibition on slavery (Article 6 ACHR; Article 4 ECHR), the right to liberty and security of the person (Article 7 ACHR; Article 5 ECHR), the right to a fair trial and judicial guarantees (Article 8 ACHR; Article 6 ECHR), the principle of nullum pena sine lege (Article 9 ACHR; Article 7 ECHR), respect of private and family life (Article 11 ACHR; Article 8 ECHR), freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 12 ACHR; Article 10 ECHR), freedom of expression (Article 13 ACHR; Article 10 ECHR) freedom of reunion and association (Article 15 and 16 ACHR; Article 11 ECHR), the right to matrimony (Article 17 ACHR; Article 12 ECHR), the right to an effective recourse (Article 25 ACHR; Article 13 ECHR), the prohibition of discrimination and equality before the law (Articles 1(1) and 24 ACHR; Article 14 ECHR and Protocol 12), the right to property, (Article 21 ACHR; Article 1 Protocol 11), and freedom of circulation and residence (Article 22, Protocol IV)… already a long list among others.

Although there may be differences in the rights covered in each Court,[4] the additional protocols continue to fill the gaps in the jurisdiction of the Courts.[5] Nonetheless, subtle differences remain: capital punishment is definitively prohibited in the European system—even during war—through its Protocol 13, whereas, although the right to life, protected in article 4 of the ACHR has been interpreted strictly by the Court,  the Inter-American Protocol to Abolish the Death Penalty does not go as far as an outright prohibition.[6] What does this mean? Does this make an enormous difference? In the larger scheme of things, precedents continue to be made and each Court’s jurisprudence continues to evolve. In the smaller scale, a disparity in the rights recognized could make the difference between a violation interpreted by the Court and no violation.

Other differences between the Courts include the ECtHR’s doctrine of the margin of appreciation which allows the Tribunal to permit a degree of discretion in States’ implementation of the ECHR and its Protocols.[7] The IACtHR does not have such a doctrine. The result of this is that in the Inter-American system, each State is held to the same standard, regardless of their divergent political, cultural and legal traditions. Given the particularities of each society and the specific violations in question, such a strict standard at the IACtHR could be criticized as overly restrictive, while on the other hand, a large degree of derogation could estrange human rights from the principle of equality before the (international) law regardless of their State, national origin, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, etc.

Another difference between the two institutions is the way in which Court sessions are held. At the IACtHR there are public hearings and private hearings, normally held with all seven judges. These hearings are not held on a permanent basis. At the ECtHR, the Court is permanent and does not have the filter of the Commission to limit the entry of complaints. Due to the higher volume of cases heard, the ECtHR has a single-judge formation, committees of three judges, Chambers of seven judges and a Grand Chamber of seventeen judges (Article 26 ECHR). Most notably, unlike at the IACtHR, at the ECtHR the hearings are only for allegations and thus there are no witnesses or experts that appear before the Court.

While both Courts can order reparations, it is pertinent to recall that the ECtHR normally only provides “Just satisfaction”; only in recent cases has it ordered reparation measures other than monetary reparations. Furthermore, while the IACtHR is more widely recognized for its ability to take specific injunctive measures to ensure the temporary protection of petitioners, the ECtHR can also take interim measures in accordance with Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court where there is an “imminent risk of irreparable harm.”[8]

Finally, the IACtHR has issued 22 advisory opinions[9] on a wide variety of issues to date, including rights and guarantees of children in the context of migration (Advisory Opinion No. 21; Advisory Opinion no. 17), due process (Advisory Opinion No. 19) and judicial guarantees in states of emergency (Advisory Opinion No. 9, Advisory Opinion No. 8). Drawing a stark contrast, the ECtHR has not issued a single advisory opinion. The advisory opinions issued by the IACtHR have allowed the Member States of the OAS to consult the Court on the interpretation of the regional Human Rights Treaties (64.1 ACHR), for the Court to express its opinion on domestic legislation (64.2 ACHR) as well as to further develop its stance on a number of important issues.

The internship with the IACtHR has been most valuable because it has allowed me to see an institution that I had previously idealized without its pedestal—to see the inside of the Court, the people that make it function to thus come to a position where I could look at the practical differences between the European Human Rights System and the Inter-American Human Rights System. The implications that the differences between the two institutions have is something that I will continue to ponder over. Nevertheless, despite their differences (and the criticisms one can make of them as institutions) I believe they hold an invaluable worth for the advancement of the relationship between the State and its citizens and offer optimism for the establishment of precedent for the future.


[1] “In First Judgment on the Merits, African Court Finds Tanzania Violated Citizens’ Right to Participate in Democracy by Prohibiting Independent Candidates”, International Justice Resource Center, July 5, 2013.

[2] The two regional organizations are: The Organization of American States and The Council of Europe.

[3] See the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) and the Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

[4] See the perspective expressed on the right to juridical personality (Article 3 ACHR), the right of reply (Article 14 ACHR), the right to a name (Article 18 ACHR), the rights of the child (Article 19 ACHR), the right to nationality (Article 20 ACHR), political rights (Article 23 ACHR), and the right to progressive development of the economic, social and cultural rights (Article 26 ACHR) in the introductory chapters of Jurisprudencia Regional comparada de Derechos Humanos by Fabio Salvioli, Claudio Zanghi and Diana Di Peitro, 2013.

[5] Such as the right to education covered in the European Human Rights System Protocol I and in the Inter-American System in article 13 of the Protocol of San Salvador, although the latter is not yet in force.

[6] See, for example, the Case of Dacosta Cadogan v. Barbados, Judgment of September 24, 2009, paragraph 47: “In interpreting the issue of death penalty in general, the Court has observed that Article 4(2) of the Convention allows for the deprivation of the right to life by the imposition of the death penalty in those countries that have not abolished it. That is, capital punishment is not per se incompatible with or prohibited by the American Convention.  However, the Convention has set a number of strict limitations to the imposition of capital punishment.  First, the imposition of the death penalty must be limited to the most serious common crimes not related to political offenses.  Second, the sentence must be individualized in conformity with the characteristics of the crime, as well as the participation and degree of culpability of the accused.  Finally, the imposition of this sanction is subject to certain procedural guarantees, and compliance therewith must be strictly observed and reviewed”. See also “The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition”, OEA/Ser.L/V/II Doc. 68, 31 December 2011, < https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/docs/pdf/deathpenalty.pdf>.

[7] See also “An overview of the Strasbourg Court’s margin of appreciation doctrine”, Open Society Foundations, April 2012, <https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/echr-reform-margin-of-appreciation.pdf>.

[8] Factsheet – Interim measures, European Court of Human Rights Press Unit, <http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Interim_measures_ENG.pdf>

[9] See Advisory Opinions, <http://www.corteidh.or.cr/cf/Jurisprudencia2/busqueda_opiniones_consultivas.cfm?lang=en>.

My Ultimate Summer Experience in Budapest

By Jacinthe Dion

In retrospect…

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

This summer I flew to the unknown. All my family was telling me I would come back a different person. They were right, but I had not realized to what extent travelling and interning abroad would have on me.

I got to discover different ways people live life. I no longer had control over my environment and I was outside my comfort zone 24/7.  It was a challenge at first, but a really nice one. Whether it was struggling at the market to buy some fruits or learning how to use new databases at work, I was constantly learning and growing. During the entire summer, I ended up accidentally acting like a fool multiple times a week. This one time, I was at the grocery store and a lady spoke to me in Hungarian. I replied “nem te,” thinking I was saying “I don’t know.” It was only when I used nem te with a Hungarian friend from work that I realised I was totally off. I should have been saying nem tudom; nem te meant “not you”.

The people

14182460_1034522386642925_248200717_n

The last day the four of us were together in the office

I had the opportunity this summer to make friends from all corners of the world. I had the opportunity to work with an incredible and brilliant team at the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC). I am also extremely grateful to have developed close relationships with the other interns. From practicing my linguistic skills in Finnish, to comparing weird expressions France has but Quebec doesn’t or vice versa, and climbing Gellért Hill while learning Hungarian History, I cherished every moment I got to share with these extraordinary individuals.

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

Every day, our lives intersect with people and we do not always know the influence or impact they will have on our life. We will never truly know how these moments will affect us, that is, until they do. Included in these individuals is Zóra, a student completing her Master in Public Administration. Zóra has been in a wheel chair since she was a child and this woman is pretty amazing. My encounter with her changed a lot of preconceived ideas I had without even really knowing I had them. “I don’t like it when people come up to me and tell me that I am an inspiration,” she told me one morning while heading to the office.

 

 

“I don’t go up to them telling them I find it inspiring that they woke up this morning, got dressed, made a coffee and were heading to work. I’m not an inspiration just for doing normal things.”

In some ways I always knew this, but it was after this exchange that it became apparent to me: if people fixate on how inhibited they think people with disabilities are, the emphasis shifts to their obstacles rather than their achievements. Now, I personally know Zóra and as a friend, I do find her inspiring. However, it is not because she does the same things as you and I that I find her inspiring; rather, it is because of who she is.

Zóra and I

Zóra and I

I have the highest esteem and respect for her. She is driven, inspired and passionate. She lives in one of the only accessible apartments in the city and is trying to change how rare they are. She is extremely generous, so patient and remarkably motivated. For two weeks this summer, while interning full time at MDAC during the week, she was also partaking in a training to become an Ambassador for Amnesty International Hungary. After 5 days of working 9:00 to 5:00, she committed to week ends spent in a school from 10:00 to 5:00, studying and receiving training. She is the humblest person I have ever met. She taught me so much without even intending to.

A final reflection

Freedom from torture, right to legal capacity, inclusive education and access to justice are issues I dealt with daily. Litigation meetings, jurisprudence research for ongoing MDAC cases and international standards research are a few ways I contributed to MDAC’s activities this summer.

News review, jurisprudence review, writing summaries and writing newsletters were part of my routine. Last but not least, learning how to express myself in less than 140 characters this summer was a struggle.

Now I am back home and I treasure the familiar so much more than I used to

Now I am back home and I treasure the familiar so much more than I used to

Here’s to not enough sleep and too much walking on the streets.

To late suppers at night and to running on Margaret Island when it’s still bright.

Here’s to the sun, the heat, the fun I had on my summer beat.

An experience I’ll always remember, memories that will stay with me forever.

Wanderlust will always be a part of my life.

Full Circle Moment

By Anna Goldfinch

I started out my internship knowing virtually nothing about maritime piracy, let alone the laws that surround this issue. I had a million questions. After a summer at Oceans Beyond Piracy, I know a lot more, but I have a million and one questions. This is because the issue of maritime piracy is complex, with intersecting issues, lots of gray areas, little precedent, and no concrete answers. As I worked my way through a variety of topics this summer, it all felt a little disjointed.

That was until I started working on the issue of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs). PMSCs provide armed guards to ships to protect them from piracy. Generally speaking, having armed guards on ships has been found to reduce the number of pirate attacks. This issue is good indicator of what is actually happening in the maritime domain to respond to piracy and also brought all the work that I had been doing full circle.

Initially, the response to a surge in violent pirate attacks was governance. This was the first thing I learned about during my internship. International treaties mandate signatories to pass national anti-piracy legislation. Nations create anti-piracy strategies, plans, and legislative frameworks. However, this is foiled by the fact that the reporting of piracy is actually very low. There is no way to enforce anti-piracy laws if piracy is going completely unseen. Reporting is low because there are major financial disincentives for ships to report that they have been attacked. Costly inspections that would follow a report of piracy hurt the shipping companies’ bottom line and the seafarers’ wallets.

With a lack of reporting comes a lack of prosecution. There are very few cases of countries using universal jurisdiction to prosecute for piracy. While there has been some success in Somalia through a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) project that involves special courts, prisons and transfer agreements for accused and convicted pirates, this has not been seen elsewhere in the world.

Because of this, the shipping industry has looked for alternative ways to protect their workers and their goods. Their solution is hiring privately contracted, armed security guards (PMSCs), which was previously prohibited. As previously mentioned, this has seemingly led to a reduced amount of violence against seafarers. However, anecdotally these armed guards are often poorly trained in the escalation and use of force and will commonly open fire on boats that may try to approach their ship. After having researched PMSCs further, they aren’t necessarily a solution, but rather a simple reversal of those doing the attacking and those being attacked at sea.

From a human rights perspective, this bothered me. Pirates, while engaging in criminal activity, should still have all of their human rights guaranteed to them, including due process and a fair trial. Currently, it seems that a pirate may walk free if it is deemed they would be too costly to prosecute, or killed if an embarked guard feels threatened. This complete unpredictability of punishment is, in my view, unjust.

And this is where my work was brought full circle. My last task at Oceans Beyond Piracy was to research ways of holding PMSCs more accountable for their actions, providing better standards, training, and recourse for wronged parties. Essentially, I was looking into how to use governance to solve the problem of violence at sea.

In this exercise, I realized that so many of the problems that we try to address through human rights work are so intertwined, so complex, that sometimes we end up governing ourselves full circle. My millionth and one question is how do we make human rights focused interventions that break these full circle moments to provide solutions that are just and lasting?

Without the Rule of Law

Alexander Agnello

Some of my loved ones asked how I “helped” in the Philippines. It is a question that is hard to answer without sounding like BLSAM[1]’s “intrepid global citizen”[2]: the person who came prepared to “make a difference”. The truth is that no amount of education could have prepared me for the regime change in the Philippines. Under the newly elected Duterte administration, there have been over 2000 summary executions in the last two months[3]. In a country where justice is “slow” and the prison system is one of the most overcrowded[4], trial by publicity has become the main method of usurping crime.

I am referring to a president who publishes hit-lists and turns poor citizens into contract killers. In his profanity-filled speech to a crowd in the slums of Tondo, Duterte calmly explains “[i]f you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful”[5]. In fact, the vast majority of summary executions have been performed by vigilantes, and on the streets of Manila lay corpses with placards that read “Do not follow me. I am a drug pusher/dealer” in Tagalog.

With this blatant disregard for the rule of law, stakeholders are focusing on informing the public of the atrocities this government is committing, and making important links to the infamous Marcos martial law era. But you could only do so much condemning. The Philippine National Police are part of the death squad, the country has a dire journalistic impunity record[6], and so field reporting by other groups has been admirable and necessary. A report submitted by Father Amado Picardal shows that none of the 1424 suspects killed from 1998 to 2015 by Duterte’s former government in Davao were charged in court.”[7] Another organization I met with, the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation (HLAF)[8], are working in conjunction with local governments for expedited due process through a jail decongestion project. HLAF Attorney Kim Claudio proposed that we visit some of the city jails to provide legal information to detainees and update some of them on their cases. He explained to me that many of the detainees wait years, sometimes decades, for their cases to be heard. Although detainees are presumed innocent in the eyes of the law, society tends to brand them as criminals because they have spent so much time in the penitentiary system. Shortly after our visit, photos of overcrowding in Quezon City Jail that showed inmates sleeping on top of other inmates made their rounds on international news and social media. I hoped that the public condemnation of abominable prison conditions would signal a turn of the tide, but now I am uncertain. After a promise to kill 100 000 criminals and “fatten the fish in Manila bay”, thousands of Filipinos continue to turn themselves in out of fear of being killed on plain suspicion[9][10].

 

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

 

The rule of law is often seen as a starting point and a constant in theoretical work in law and political philosophy. However, in a country where the best human rights lawyers and advocates are put under heavy pressure by a state that promotes vigilantism, abuses power, and provides no chance for due process, it is difficult as an intern to know where to begin. I’ve read and watched debates on alternatives to the rule of law and international standards, but I had never worked alongside people struggling to uphold them until I came to the Philippines. I left Montreal on the day of the national election, without a clear idea of how hard it could get. Fortunately, I had the chance to work in solidarity with alternative law groups and an inspiring group of Ateneo Human Rights Interns, who all work relentlessly to hold the Duterte administration accountable, and who serve “the lost, the least, and the last”.

Human Rights Interns Group Arawatan at a retreat in Tagaytay.

Human Rights Interns group Arawatan at a retreat in Batangas. Credit: The Ateneo Human Rights Center, August 4, 2016.


[1] The Black Law Students’ Association of McGill

[3] http://www.businessinsider.com/rodrigo-dutertes-drug-war-in-the-philippines-has-killed-2000-2016-8

[4] http://time.com/4438112/philippines-overcrowded-prison-manila-rodrigo-duterte/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/philippines-president-rodrigo-duterte-urges-people-to-kill-drug-addicts

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/04/asia/philippines-deadly-for-journalists/

[7] http://www.manilatimes.net/duterte-kills-only-bad-men/259609/

[8] http://home.hlaf.org.ph/

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36251094

[10] http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/08/asia/duterte-war-on-drugs-officials-surrender/

Reflections on Kidnap for Ransom through the Lens of Private Law

by Amanda Arella 

This blog post was adapted from a presentation entitled “Duty of Care in the Context of Kidnap for Ransom”

One of my major project during the course of my internship at Oceans Beyond Piracy was to research duty of care in the context of kidnap for ransom. Specifically, I examined the duty of care that employers owed to their employees travelling abroad. Aid workers and other non-governmental employees who travel to conflict regions are particularly vulnerable to the growing phenomenon of kidnap for ransom.

While researching this question, I came across a court case between the Netherlands and Médecins Sans Fronitères. Etat de Pays-Bays c. Médecins Sans Fronitères was a case that went Switzerland’s highest judicial body, the Federal Tribunal revolving around the alleged payment of a ransom.

In 2002, Arjan Ekel, a Dutch national, was kidnapped while volunteering with Doctors Without Borders in Dagestan. He was released after 20 months in captivity upon the payment of a ransom of 1 million euros.  Following his release, the Dutch government sued MSF for the ransom amount, claiming it had arranged for a loan for MSF to cover the cost of the ransom. MSF countersued the Dutch government, arguing that it had been excluded from negotiations and never agreed to pay the money.

This case instantly captured my attention, and reflecting upon my work this summer, I realized that it is a good case study to highlight some of the issues I’ve focused on on this summer. Etat de Pays-Bays c. Médecins Sans Fronitères brings together the legal and the political elements of kidnap for ransom, and also ties in some of the fundamental elements of private law.

The three main elements at play in this case that I want to highlight, because they are all issues that came up again and again in my work this summer. This first is transparency in ransom negotiations, the second is the private law duty of care as it relates to non-governmental employees, and the third is contractual implications in cases of kidnap for ransom.

Transparency in Ransom Negotiations

This case is highly unusual for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that non-government organizations and governments do not typically sue each other. Moreover, cases heard in court are part of the public record, a reality which stands in stark contradiction to the extremely secretive nature of most ransom negotiations.

The official position of virtually all countries and major NGOs is that they do not pay ransom. There are strong arguments in favour of this position: Many governments and organizations feel admitting to paying ransoms is tantamount to endangering their citizens or employees. Furthermore, there is a fear that publicly discussing negotiations many heighten the demands of kidnappers, and encourage further kidnapping.

However, the practical effect of this stance is that there is a lack of transparency as to what actually transpires when an individual is kidnapped. Whether or not a ransom is paid, there is often some level of official involvement both by governments and, in the case of aid workers, the organization they represent. This lack of transparency also comes at a cost. Firstly, it is very difficult to analyze trends in kidnapping, and to thus understand the full extent of kidnap for ransom in our modern world. Additionally, this lack of transparency discourages open conversation about kidnap for ransom. Together, these realities have profound implications.

Kidnap for ransom brings up many difficult ethical questions. While there is no consensus on best practices for addressing and eventually eliminating this phenomenon, there is a growing understanding that ransom payments are used to finance terrorism and criminal activities. Furthermore, the widespread instances of kidnap for ransom heightens violence and instability in the region where it takes place. These facts may illustrate some of the arguments in favour of a hardline stance against negotiating with kidnappers. Yet there can be no discussion of this question without acknowledging that a person’s life is at stake in every instance of kidnap for ransom.

The ethical questions of kidnap for ransom are an area which I have given much thought this summer, and to which I have no definitive answer. Familiarizing myself with this topic has only made it clearer to me that in an issue this complex and multi-faceted, a definitive solution or strategy to addressing the problem simply does not exist. It is for this reason that cases like Etat de Pays-Bays c. Médecins Sans Fronitères are so important. They provide an opportunity for all people to inform themselves on this issue and engage together in critical debate and reflection on kidnap for ransom.

Duty of Care and Non-Governmental Organizations

Next, the case reaffirms that nongovernmental organizations have a duty of care to their travelling employees. Duty of care is in many ways a moral duty enshrined in a legal principle that exists in virtually all legal jurisdictions in some form or another. It is legal obligation that requires a person or organization acts toward others and the public in a prudent manner to avoid the risk of reasonably foreseeable injury to those around them. Duty of care is premised on a relationship of proximity employer and employee.  Where an employer breaches the duty of care owed to an employee, they may be found civilly liable for negligence.

In order for a duty of care to exist, there must be a relationship of proximity between the wrongdoer and the victim. In virtually all jurisdictions, the relationship between employer and employee is considered sufficiently close for a duty of care to exist.

An organization may face liability risk when an employee is injured or killed while travelling abroad on behalf of the organization. Employers may be held to a higher standard of care in instances where employees enter into situations of heightened risk during the course of their work, as may be the case for employees travelling abroad on behalf of their employer. This higher standard of care includes identifying and planning for higher risks to employees, and may be satisfied by adopting employee safety and risk management practices.

Contractual Agreements

Ultimately, this case was decided on principles of contract law. Based on a letter between MSF Switzerland and the Dutch government, the Swiss Federal Tribunal held that the two parties must split the cost of the ransom. The Federal Tribunal found that in the letter, MSF put forward an offer, which was then accepted by the Dutch government. There was thus a meeting of the minds which produced a validly binding contract. It was particularly interesting to me that a case surrounding ransom payments – normally a topic which has largely been unexamined from a legal perspective, was decided through a well-established area of law.

Furthermore, this decision may have some significance for the growing phenomenon of kidnap and ransom insurance, in which employers or individuals themselves may take out insurance against the risk of kidnapping. These agreements are a new phenomenon that are in some ways uncharted territory, but are at their core contracts governed by deeply entrenched legal principles. It is unclear to what extent one or the other of these characterizations is more accurate. So too is it unclear if the extent to which government policies and political perceptions of this issue will interact with contract law.  Undoubtedly, there are many unanswered questions of the implications of bringing kidnap for ransom into the sphere of private law, making it a dynamic area for further examination.

Income Inequality and an Appetite for Change

By Zachary Shefman

Gaba, on my morning drive to work, carefully navigates around the men and women that file past as they climb the sloped, well-paved streets of the neighbourhood in which I live. Many of them wear dark blue jump suits to signal both that they are labourers, and that they are currently on the job. Since there are relatively few sidewalks in Windhoek, they are forced to climb the streets on the shoulders of the road.

Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek, Namibia

As we progress along Robert Mugabe Avenue towards the centre of the city, I am surprised at the number of luxury cars that accompany us on our route – Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche, among others. I ask my co-worker sitting next to me what the green license plates, in contrast with the more typical yellow, on many of the luxury cars represent. “Government,” he says, “this way they cannot use these cars how they please”.

We approach the Parliament buildings to drop off one of our passengers. However, unlike most days, we are prohibited from entering the premises. The roads are blocked with police vehicles, and men and women in uniform are posted around the garden entrance every ten to fifteen feet.

Today, June 16th, is a special day for a number of reasons. For one, the Indian President is on a state visit to Namibia and is slated to address the Namibian National Assembly. Security is accordingly tight. For another, it is the Day of the African Child. This day marks the student uprising of 1974 in Soweto, South Africa, where students marched to oppose the establishment of Afrikaans as the language of instruction.[1] Most importantly of all, however, it is the day chosen by the Affirmative Repositioning movement (AR) to protest the government’s ostensible commitment of NAM$ 2.2 billion to the construction of new Parliament buildings.[2]

The AR is an organization whose principal aim is to lobby for the redistribution of land to Namibian youth.[3] They have called for a day of action to demand that the government reallocate the resources allegedly earmarked for Parliament to the distribution of 25 000 plots to the landless instead.[4] They plan to deliver a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Peter Kajavivi, with their demands.[5]

The AR, however, has encountered a number of obstacles to their plans for a demonstration. A week ago, the Inspector-General of the Namibian Police Force, Sebastien Ndeitunga, placed a ban on all public demonstrations from June 13th to 18th.[6] Four days ago, the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture issued an unusual directive to schools across the country requiring that they organize activities for the Day of the African child, rather than allow teachers and students the typical June 16th off.[7]

When I arrive at the office, I can hear the distant hum of shouts and horns of a demonstration. The defiant AR has continued with their march. I worry that the protest will degenerate into violence.

 “Come hell or high water we will march” - Dimbulukeni Nauyoma, an activist of the Affirmative Repositioning movement.[8]

It is June 17th, and I anxiously fumble through the newspapers strewn across my colleague’s desk. Despite my concerns, the protest was ultimately both successful and peaceful.[9] The Namibia National Teacher’s Union and the Namibian National Students’ Organization, for instance, defied the Ministry’s order to hold and attend commemorative activities on June 16th.[10] Ndeintunga, the Inspector-General, ultimately came to an agreement with the AR. They decided to redirect the route so that the march ended at Synman Circle, rather than the Parliament buildings, provided that the Speaker of the National Assembly received their petition.[11] Finally, despite the Speaker’s initial refusal to greet the protestors in order to accept the petition, he eventually relented.[12]

My office at the Law Reform and Development Commission

My office at the Law Reform and Development Commission

This year marks the 26th anniversary of Namibia’s independence, and the period in which the first post-apartheid generation has finally come of age. These are the men and women “born free” – i.e. born under a democratic government, rather than the oppressive rule of the former South African occupiers.

Living conditions between pre and post-independence Namibia have changed considerably. The country has made significant progress reducing poverty, for instance, though the number of indigent Namibians is still relatively high. According to the Namibian Statistics Agency, while 69.3% of Namibians lived below the poverty line in 1993/4, by 2009/10, that number was reduced to 28.7%.[13]

For many Namibians, however, the pace of change has not progressed fast enough. For example, the per capita income in 2010–11 was only NAM$ 14 559 (approximately CAN$ 1 332).[14] Meanwhile, the cost of living is high. While a small loaf of bread can be purchased for approximately NAM$ 9 (CAN$ 0.82), fresh vegetables can be unaffordable for most – where 120 grams of mushrooms costs approximately NAM$ 33 (CAN$ 3.02), and a head of cauliflower, NAM$ 35 (CAN$ 3.20).

Income inequality in Namibia, moreover, remains a persistent problem. While in 2003/2004, the Gini coefficient in Namibia was approximately 0.60, in 2009/10 it remains largely the same at 0.59[15] – to provide some measure of contrast, the OECD reported Canada’s coefficient at 0.32.[16]

Those most subject to poverty are Namibia’s youth. While the unemployment rate for Namibians generally sat at 33.8% in 2010/11, it was as high as approximately 53% for 20–24 year olds.[17]

The government’s response to the enduring problem is embodied in President Hage Geingob’s “Harambee Prosperity Plan” (HPP). The president has defined his term by it. Many Namibians I know routinely invoke it. “Namibians,” Geingob writes, “want a house where everyone feels a sense of belonging, where everyone is presented with a fair opportunity to prosper in an inclusive manner and by so doing, ensure [sic] that no one feels left out”.[18]

The HPP is organized around a set of pillars under which more specific policies and aspirations are outlined. Under the pillar of “economic advancement”, the government has announced its intention to implement a “broad-based economic empowerment framework”.[19] The goal of the framework is to realize “equity in society in general and in particular [sic] greater equity in the ownership of productive assets” of “disadvantaged groups”.[20]

The Law Reform and Development Commission, an institution operating under the Ministry of Justice, and the institution at which I work, has been tasked with drafting the legislation to implement the framework mentioned above. After the publication of the HPP, the policy was considerably elaborated upon in a formal policy document, and a bill was drafted by the Commission – the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Bill (NEEEB).

The latest formulation of the plan establishes thresholds for the participation of “previously disadvantaged persons” (PDPs) in all medium to large-sized private sector enterprises. “Previously disadvantaged persons” refers to those individuals who have been disadvantaged by “past discriminatory laws and practices”. Despite the definition’s obvious reference to those subject to apartheid, its scope is broad enough to encapsulate women and people with disabilities of any colour. And although the definition does not explicitly encompass Namibian youth, presumably, according to the government’s policy document, they, too, are the bill’s intended beneficiaries.[21]

NEEEB facilitates the participation of PDPs in private sector enterprises in a number of ways. To provide just two examples, under the bill as it is currently formulated, all medium to large-sized private sector enterprises will be required to sell 25% of the value of their businesses to PDPs, and 50% of their “combined board and top management structures” must be staffed by PDPs. These thresholds are mandatory in the sense that registration, licensing, grants, guarantees and concessions issued by the government will only be provided to those who meet or exceed the thresholds above.

Much of my time in Namibia has been committed to facilitating the Commission’s work on the project. I have been asked to assist with synthesizing and substantiating the public’s criticisms of the bill, to identify issues with NEEEB, to write a legal memorandum on the potential for the bill’s conflict with the Namibian constitution, and finally, to present proposals for the bill’s reform.

Pictures of Namibia's three Presidents hang in the boardroom of the Law Reform and Development Commission. President Hage Geingob is pictured on the left.

Pictures of Namibia’s three Presidents hang in the boardroom of the Law Reform and Development Commission. President Hage Geingob is pictured on the left.

The activities of the Affirmative Repositioning Movement are demonstrative, in part, of the public’s – and in particular, the youth’s – increasing expectations of greater equity in the distribution of the country’s wealth, especially given Namibia’s liberation from both apartheid and occupation. NEEEB forms an integral part of the government’s answer. Whatever the merits of that answer, I only hope that I may assist in its formulation such that the lives of Namibians may be improved going forward in a manner that all Namibians consider just.

The appetite for change in the form described above is, perhaps, best encapsulated by something that the Chairperson of the Commission, Yvonne Dausab, had once pointed out to me: “The people are getting anxious. It has been 26 years. They have been waiting too long”.


[1] Béatrice Debut, “Il y a 40 ans, Soweto se soulevait contre l’apartheid”, La Presse (15 June 2016), online: <http://www.lapresse.ca/international/afrique/201606/15/01-4992137-il-y-a-40-ans-soweto-se-soulevait-contre-lapartheid.php>.

[2] “It is D-Day”, The Namibian Sun (16 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibiansun.com/print/94507>

[3] Vaino Tuhafeni Hangula, “Affirmative Repositioning: A Breakdown”, Confidenté (28 January 2016), online: <http://www.confidente.com.na/2016/01/affirmative-repositioning-a-breakdown/>

[4] Ndama Nakashole, “Youth to protest planned N$2,2b new parliament”, The Namibian (13 April 2016), online: < http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?page=archive-read&id=149616>

[5] “It is D-Day”, The Namibian Sun (16 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibiansun.com/print/94507>

[6] “Public demonstrations banned: Ndeitunga”, The Namibian (08 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibian.com.na/Public-demonstrations-banned-Ndeitunga/41494/read>.

[7] Jemima Beaukes, “We will march”, Namibian Sun (09 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibiansun.com/politics/we-will-march.94321>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Selma Shiwaya, “Police pleased with demonstrators”, The Patriot (17 June 2016), online: <http://thepatriot.com.na/index.php/2016/06/17/police-pleased-with-demonstrators/>

[10] Jemima Beaukes, “We will march”, Namibian Sun (09 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibiansun.com/politics/we-will-march.94321>.

[11] Theresia Tjihenuna, “Police and AR agree on march”, The Namibian (13 June 2016), online: <http://www.namibian.com.na/Police-and-AR-agree-on-march/41661/read>

[12] Selma Shiwaya, “Police pleased with demonstrators”, The Patriot (17 June 2016), online: <http://thepatriot.com.na/index.php/2016/06/17/police-pleased-with-demonstrators/>

[13] Poverty Dynamics in Namibia: A comparative study using the 1993/94, 2003/04 and the 2009/10 NHIES surveys, Namibia Statistics Agency (November 2012), at 10.

[14] Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/2010, Namibia Statistics Agency (2012) at 131.

[15] A figure of 1 represents the most unequal society, and 0, the most equal. Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/2010, Namibia Statistics Agency (2012) at 141.

[16] OECD (2016), OECD Factbook 2015-2016: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, OECD Publishing, Paris at 55. Note that the measure was anchored to “2012 or latest year available”.

[17] Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/2010, Namibia Statistics Agency (2012) at 46

[18] Harambee Prosperity Plan: Namibian Government’s Action Plan towards Prosperity for All, Republic of Namibia (2016/17) at 4.

[19] Ibid at 8, 62.

[20] Ibid at  28–9.

[21] The New Equitable Economic Empowerment Act, 2015 (Namibia) as of 15 July 2016 at 4.

Life at the Commission

By Zachary Shefman

The Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC), the government department for which I work, is housed in a high-rise at the very core of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. While the staff contingent is relatively small – beyond the Chairperson, her deputy and support staff, there are eight legal researchers – the workspace is accommodating: we all have our own spacious offices.

The downtown core of Windhoek.

The downtown core of Windhoek.

The legal researchers at the Commission are dynamic and quite young. Apart from one researcher, who just turned thirty, all legal researchers are in their twenties. They are thus the first generation to grow up in post-independence Namibia.

The LRDC’s work is wide-ranging. They convert government policy into law, review bills drafted by other government units and advise accordingly, conduct nation-wide consultations with the public to collect their input on forthcoming legislation, and produce research for the purposes of making recommendations for the reform of Namibian law.

I have been fortunate enough to have been immediately and deeply integrated into the Commission’s work. In my first week, I was provided with an open door to assist with the projects of any of the legal researchers, who amongst themselves, are responsible for the reform of the full ambit of Namibian law.

Some of my work involved scrutinizing bills before their review at the Cabinet Committee of Legislation (CCL) – an executive body responsible for examining bills before they are presented to Parliament. I would review, for instance, the interplay of a bill’s provisions to identify unintended consequences, and assess its contents for conflicts with the Namibian constitution, among other things.

Throughout the course of this work my warm, and welcoming colleagues would assist me in my efforts to familiarize myself with the Namibian legal framework. I, in turn, would present my own perspective on approaching the work.

Namibia is a relatively small country. It has a population of approximately 2.3 million people. As a result, it is both considerably easier as an individual to have a more acute impact on the public, and to acquire exposure to Namibian life and the key players of Namibia’s government. Within the first six weeks of my arrival of Namibia, I was able to meet and chat with the country’s Ombudsman, to pose questions in person regarding the legislative process to the Attorney-General, and to meet the Prime Minister herself in a meeting with her Office. Moreover, I was fortunate enough to travel across the country for the Commission’s consultations on a forthcoming bill. As a result, I would hear the concerns and pleas of the Namibian public – from the urban, business elite in the country’s capital to the concerns of representatives of disability rights groups in the country’s densely populated north.

On the road to Rundu for public consultations on the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Bill.

On the road to Rundu for public consultations on the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Bill.

Another benefit of Namibia’s relatively small size is how well-connected and experienced some of its key players tend to be. The Chairperson of the Commission, for instance, sits on the Cabinet Committee on Legislation. Some of my recommendations and criticisms of various bills have accordingly influenced discussion at the CCL.

My experience in Namibia has been immersive, eye-opening and all around life-changing. I have learned immensely about a new legal system and culture. I have had deep and intimate exposure to the most inner-workings of Namibian government. I have had the opportunity to contribute to the reform of Namibian domestic policy. Most important of all, however, I have found elements that I will look for in a future career in law.

Research and Academia: The Inconspicuous Cog in the Human Rights Wheel

2016 De Haas Emilie

By Emilie de Haas 

Hello again! I have been home in Canada for a few weeks now, and it has given me time to reflect on my experience in Peru this summer. I’ve recounted my story to several people over the past month, from family members to colleagues at school, emphasizing different details depending on the audience. Nevertheless, I always ended my tale with the same bottom line: my internship at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Lima, Peru was a unique learning experience on many more fronts than I had envisioned, and allowed me to check off most of my anticipated goals on my pre-departure checklist.

 

Goal 1: Learn about the field of Human Rights

My first goal may have seemed like an obvious one. After all, the name of the internship program read human rights in big black letters. But prior to my departure, my conception of people working in the field of human rights was rather narrow. I saw human rights defenders as professionals and volunteers who advocated for the rights and needs of the people in search of a voice and recognition by working one on one or closely with victims, raising funds for awareness campaigns, joining forces in public demonstrations and lobbying, and the list goes on. Without a doubt, this facet of the fight for human rights is very real and consolidated efforts do yield lasting changes. However, in the weeks before I left, I couldn’t help but wonder how I was going to accomplish something worthwhile by doing research at a desk every day when so much needed to be done out there, in the field, close to the people who needed help the most.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few weeks into my internship, I started to realize that there was another angle to human rights, of which I had been unaware but that was nevertheless an integral contributor to the advancement of human rights. Up to then, the plight of human rights violations had mostly been described to me as a struggle between civilians and the oppressing State.  However, by the end of my time in Lima, I concluded that academia played an indispensable bridging role between victims, advocates and decision makers. Academia was the cog I had overlooked in the human rights wheel.

A few days before I left, I went to lunch with my supervisor and I asked her about her take on academia’s contributions to the field. Having dedicated her entire professional career to research, teaching and advising different branches of government on human rights issues (among many other things), I knew I could rely on her answer. She put it very simply: academia offered a safe, neutral and legitimate platform where human rights victims and defenders could dialogue directly or indirectly with policy makers and political leaders. In other words, academia was responsible for collecting impartial data on sight and transforming it into influential information taken into account by decision makers. Not to mention the ongoing debates between academics themselves, equally important to the exchange of ideas and dialogues on the topic. Lastly, she distinguished academia from the media and non-governmental organizations by emphasizing the importance of neutrality in the field.

That made sense to me.

After that lunch, I reflected on the work I had done up to that point and looked back on my previously narrow interpretation of the fight for human rights. I did not meet any victims of human rights violations this summer, nor did I go to court or organize awareness campaigns. But every morning when I arrived at the Institute and walked down the main hallway to my little office, I glanced at a row of famous wall photographs taken of innocent victims who had testified during Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission over a decade ago. Each photograph was equally moving and tacitly provocative. The people in them may not have been physically present, but their images were a positive reminder of the purpose and importance of our work, and the overall contributions of academia to the field of human rights.

 

IMG_20160502_185102

Archived photographs taken during the country’s period of conflict. These photographs are now part of a national exhibit entitled “Yuyanapaq: Para Recordar” (Yuyanapaq: To Remember).

IMG_20160502_185056

The exhibit is comprised of over 1,600 photographs in an effort to reconstruct much of the lost visual memory of the period of conflict.

 

Goal 2: Get a feel for the culture and travel off the beaten path

I’d like to think that I successfully reached this goal, but that would be partially untrue. Peru’s culture is so diverse that it would take months, if not longer, to experience its richness to the fullest.  The country is divided into twenty-four departments (similar to provinces or states) and is home to over fifty indigenous communities.[i] A tour guide once told me that Peru’s gastronomy is comprised of over a thousand varieties of potatoes, and that each region has a distinct way of integrating them into their local cuisine. Musicians in the Amazon prefer percussions, while Andean bands favour the traditional pan flute. All in all, it’s quite the picture.

Nevertheless, I did try to experience as many local customs and traditions as I could during my time in Peru. My most memorable experience was near the end of my internship, when I traveled to Lake Titicaca in the southeast region of the country. At nearly 4,000 meters in altitude, Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and part of it belongs to the neighbouring country of Bolivia. It is home to the Uros, a native people, whose origins can be traced back to the Aymara civilization, existing around the same time as the Inca Empire and still well alive today. The Uros live in a community of floating reed islands they build themselves on Lake Titicaca. Each island can house up to three to four families living in tiny reed huts. Their lifestyle is still very traditional, despite a recent boom in tourism where visitors to the lake can briefly stop on one of the islands and learn about the community on site and buy local crafts.

I was lucky to find a local Uros family who offered homestays on their island to visiting foreigners. Within the twenty-four hours I spent with them, I went fishing with the father and his two sons, learned how to make jewellery out of straw, tasted quinoa soup for dinner and had quinoa bread for breakfast, had my hair braided into two long strands with colourful pompoms at the ends (the traditional fashion for unmarried girls in their culture), and had my breath taken away at the beauty of the lake beyond the islands.

 

IMG_20160701_074321

Majestic view of Lake Titicaca

 

More importantly though, I saw how a little appreciation and interest for my host family’s customs and way of life could go a long way. Speaking for her community, my host mother mentioned that the Uros felt isolated and forgotten by their political far away in Lima, and that her people had learned to be autonomous and self-sufficient as a way to restore their dignity and keep their traditions alive. She said it made her community very happy to welcome foreigners into their every day lives. Yes, visitors did generate a new, modest source of income for these families. But beyond monetary concerns, the well-intended interest of outsiders is what helped drive the feeling of disconnection away and restore a sense of worth into the community. The Uros people were by no means wealthy or modern according to their country’s standards, nor were they very concerned about altering their way of life to keep up with the trends. As a matter of fact, my host mother added that children of the Uros sometimes chose alternative lifestyles by moving and finding work on the mainland, but most of them chose to get married and continue living in the reed islands community. It struck me that for some minority communities, beyond material gains and influence, recognition, appreciation and respect where the foundational building blocks on which an entire people could live and push forward.  After all, the guarantee of human dignity is the very first article in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights for a reason.[ii]

IMG_20160702_091755

My host family on Islas de los Uros, Lake Titicaca

IMG_20160701_173104

Getting my hair braided by my host sisters

 

Goals 3, 4 and 5: Narrow in on my interests, create lasting connections and bring home a custom or two

Before this internship, I had an incomplete idea of the many avenues to explore within the field. From post-conflict resolution to disability rights, indigenous rights to business and human rights, the work can seem endless. At this point, I still have many classes to take and fields of law to discover, but I did narrow in on the topic of corporate accountability as particularly appealing to me, should I decide to pursue future studies in the field or try to combine it with another branch of the profession, such as international law.

The connections I created exceeded my highest hopes. It turns out that law students in Peru have very similar aspirations, experiences and characters as well as a very fun side to them that make them so easy to relate to and have fun with! As for my superiors, I was lucky to work for such accomplished, inspiring people. From them, I learned that it was possible to have very successful careers in academia and in practice, while still maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

 

IMG_20160714_132017

“Somos la PUCP” means “We are the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú”, the university under which the Institute operates. By the end of my internship, I really felt like I was part of the team!

 

Finally, Peru is a country from which many lessons can be learned. The country has gone through turbulent episodes in history, and parts of it are a bit chaotic at times. Nevertheless, they are a very resilient nation. This was depicted in the relentless effort I witnessed from my colleagues at the Institute as well as in the every day life I experienced outside of work. Despite the various obstacles that researchers in the field of human rights have to overcome in Peru, they still put their heads down and do it, simply because it has to be done. Their determination is remarkable, and I’d like to think that my lasting impression of this observation is what I am taking away from the experience and will hopefully be able to apply down the road.

 


« Older Entries
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.