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Updates from Malawi

  By Julia Bellehumeur

The Surprise Internship:

On May 10th I arrived in Blantyre, Malawi to work with the Equality Effect and the local organization WLSA (Women and the Law in Southern Africa).  Although I had been preparing for months to travel to Africa to work with this organization, this internship came to me by surprise.

My original placement with the Equality Effect was in Meru, Kenya.  A few days before my departure I got an email informing me that my internship in Kenya was cancelled due to concerns about the political climate.  My Equality Effect director and McGill’s IHRP director worked very quickly to arrange my new internship placement and a few days later, I was leaving for Blantyre, Malawi.  I knew very little about Malawi and I knew even less about what I would be working on, or where I would be living.  But I accepted the placement, trusting that this would be an adventure at the very least.

This last-minute switch seems to have foreshadowed and prepared me for my summer in Malawi. It set the tone for the internship in that I’ve had to be very adaptable and ready to take initiative in situations of uncertainty.  The work that I am doing is very different from what I would have been doing in Kenya, and the Equality Effect projects in Malawi aren’t quite as far along as they are in Kenya. Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to have been granted such a wonderful and unique opportunity in Blantyre.

 

The Projects

The Corroboration Litigation 

The Equality Effect together with WLSA has been working on a constitutional claim against the Corroboration Rule in Malawi for cases of rape and defilement (defilement is Malawi’s legal term for sexual intercourse with a child).  Corroborative evidence is defined as any independent evidence over and above the complainant’s testimony that confirms that a crime was committed and connects the accused to the crime.  The Corroboration Rule comes from Malawi’s colonial past and is based on the discriminatory assumption that women and girls tend to fabricate claims of sexual violence, and that these claims are easy to make but difficult to disprove.  An example of corroborative evidence often required is a medical examination of the victim to prove that a rape or defilement did in fact occur. . . Of course, this is often impossible to provide for countless reasons.  The Corroboration Rule requires the judge to warn him or herself about the danger of convicting on uncorroborated evidence.  You can imagine how problematic it is to impose this additional requirement on women and girls when there are already so many other barriers to access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

My co-intern Michelle and I have been going to court to try to find new claimants for the case, although the bulk of our work for the litigation will pick up near the end of our internship.

 

The Workshops

WLSA has suggested developing a legislative campaign as another route to tackle eliminating the Corroboration Rule.   They’ve suggested that a conference would be a great way to get people talking about this rule and share some of the available knowledge and information within the community.  Michelle and I have taken on organizing this conference, which has proved to be quite a challenge.  Planning these initiatives usually requires a significant amount of time and funding.  Fortunately, we have been meeting with many engaged members of the community and have been coming up with creative ways to overcome these challenges before the end of our short stay in Malawi.

 

The One Stop Centers

We have observed many barriers to access justice for survivors of sexual violence in Malawi.  For example, police corruption, inconclusive or lost medical exams, a lack of education and awareness about the laws and resources, and most notably a lack of funding for fuel and transportation to bring victims into court or to the police stations.  These barriers all contribute to a high rate of withdrawal of cases, and are exacerbated for women and girls living in rural communities.

Michelle and I attended court twice this week and witnessed how some of these challenges come into play.  For the first case, we waited an hour after its start time for the magistrate to arrive.  Once he arrived, he informed the prosecutor that we could not proceed until the victim attended court.  Earlier the prosecutor had told us that the victim could not attend court because she lived too far away and they had no way of getting her.  A couple days later we came to see another case at 10am.  There was a small 7 year old girl waiting with her mother along with a doctor who came from the hospital to testify.  We all waited for over 3 hours for the magistrate who the prosecutor claimed was stuck in traffic.  Eventually the case was rescheduled to a later date.

The Blantyre One Stop Center has stood out to me as a beacon of hope among these obstacles for survivors of sexual violence.  At the OSC, victims and their families can come and report an experience of sexual or gender-based violence.  The OSC has social workers, a police officer, a doctor, a nurse, and a counsellor available onsite. They are all very committed to helping each person get the justice they deserve and the counselling they need to move forward.  They also organize awareness-raising events in local schools.  Unfortunately, these centers do not receive any funding beyond the minimal salaries provided to them by the government.  From what we’ve seen, the work of the OSC provides the most immediate results for individual victims. If they had even slightly more funds, the OSC has the potential to create widespread change. Michelle and I hope to help them create a crowdfunding type of fundraiser, and possibly even a student legal clinic to help them reach their potential.

 

Malawi

When I was told that we would be going to Malawi instead of Kenya, I had to quickly check on a map to find exactly where this tiny country was located.  I am not sure if it would have ever crossed my radar as a place to visit in my lifetime.  Yet now, it’s starting to feel like home.

Although Malawi is one of the continent’s poorest countries, it is known as the warm heart of Africa.  This was immediately apparent, Malawians tend to be very friendly and welcoming.  We have a lot of fun with our co-workers and we’ve enjoyed immersing ourselves in the very welcoming arts community at the weekly poetry nights and at an arts festival/party.

We arrived in their winter time so the landscape is incredibly lush. The fresh air and hilly backdrop makes Malawi feel like paradise.  In our yard, there are two avocado trees from which the best avocados I’ve ever had, measuring about the size of my face, fall almost daily. At night, I could spend hours looking up at the brightest starlit sky you can imagine.  I have found inner peace in Malawi – this country is truly breath-taking.

The first half of this internship has been amazing so far and I have learned so many unexpected things.  Navigating a role where I am encouraged to take initiative in a foreign country with a colonial history can at times be very challenging.  But I have learned a lot about what it takes at the primary stages of a human rights initiative, and I am working hard to ensure that the many skills I develop are appropriately balanced with a positive and sustainable impact on the women and girls in Malawi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qamutik

Matyas David

By: David Matyas

A few weeks ago a friend took me out on the ice. There were three of us with just one snowmobile, and so for the first leg of the journey I rode in a ᖃᒧᑏᒃ (qamutik) attached by thick steel hitch to the back of the Ski-Doo. Though I’d seen qamutiks around Iqaluit, resting next to houses or snow-flecked on the back of a Bombardier or Arctic Fox, it was my first chance to ride the famous sledge.

The qamutik is one of those traditional designs that has maintained its relevance over time and has continued to outperform newer technologies. Explorers from Britain and the United States, who thumbed their noses at the Inuit design at the start of their expeditions, saw sleds imported from Europe reduced to splinters naught but a few miles into journeys. And locally, one friend told me that while many Inuit have replaced dog teams with snowmobiles, the qamutik design has endured, with only the smallest of changes in material.

The first part of our trip crosses the rough ice next to the shore—a field of towering chunks and gnarled fissures, cracked and compacted by a winter of shifting currents and reaching sea-ice. The qamutik heaves. Bounces. I’m tossed and jostled like an apple forgotten in the flatbed of a pickup on a country road. The wood squeaks and flexes but holds fast and before too long we are out on the smooth ice.

The genius of the qamutik design lies in the knots that bind the cross-pieces (or napooks) to the runners. Where the repeated thud of wood on hard ice is enough to wriggle ever the most resolute of nails free from their place, the knots and cord give the design flexibility, allowing it to maintain its integrity as it pounds across the rough terrain.

I’m banged and bruised but the ride is much more fluid on the open ice. The snow-mobile weaves around patches of blue ice and the qamutik bends along behind like a slinky. We stop and look at the mountains on the far side of Frobisher Bay. A small flock of geese flaps over the ice. In a landscape without trees to blow through, I find the wind sounds lower, throatier.

Beyond the functional importance of the qamutik, the traditional sledge-runner is also represented in art and architecture, carvings and design. At the busiest intersection in town, the four corners, there is a large red building designed to look like a qamutik. At galleries around Iqaluit, I’ve seen miniature qamutik carved from caribou antler or serpentine. And, in one of the courtrooms, the barrier (or bar) that separates the gallery from the bench and counsel tables, is made to look like two long qamutiks.

At the far end of the Bay I get out of the qamutik. I hear creaking beneath my feet. The ice, I’m told, will be solid for several weeks. In the interim, puddles form and freeze upon its surface that you can still fall through—not enough to reach the swift tidal current below but sufficient to ruin a good outing. The qamutik floats like a barge on this frozen sea and I return to its safe confines.

As we turn and head back towards town, I look out on islands in Frobisher Bay. They seem to peek through the ice like mountaintops through clouds. I think about the qamutiks represented in the courthouse, wondering how they are meant to relate to justice in the North. Are they meant to reflect the system as it is? Or, are they presented as aspiration, an allegory of what the system might become? Are efforts like the Gladue reports that are considered when sentencing offenders of aboriginal background the flexible knots in an otherwise harsh carriage of justice as it bumps and crashes across a socio-cultural landscape? I reflect on judicial processes adapted for the context, from decentralization efforts to official Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun language requirements, wondering if they will endure. I think about certain imported features of southern justice and if they are as doomed to fail in this context, like European explorers’ sleds dashed upon the ice.

I hop out of the qamutik feeling privileged to have had the ride. I’ll look at them differently as I walk through town. Hopefully, another chance to ride in a qamutik will glide past again.

Au pays de la Téranga

2017-Boily Audrey Par Audrey Boily

La chaleur me berce tranquillement dans l’autobus public qui m’amène au travail. Chaque matin, je quitte ma famille d’accueil pour me rendre à mon lieu de stage à proximité du centre-ville de Dakar. Je prends la grande route où se trouvent une foire, de nombreux immeubles commerciaux et plusieurs gratte-ciels. Je descends de l’autobus et le trajet pour me rendre au bureau se fait facilement. Je réalise mon stage auprès de la « Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO) ». Il s’agit d’une organisation non gouvernementale sénégalaise fondée en 1990 à Dakar. Depuis 2013, la RADDHO est partenaire avec Equitas dans un projet innovateur sur le droit des femmes se nommant «  Autonomisation et participation citoyenne des femmes et des filles ». Le but du projet est de créer des communautés plus sûres où les jeunes et les femmes exercent leur leadership pour la promotion des droits humains.

La beauté du projet est que le principal travail est effectué sur le terrain par des acteurs de la société civile. Des comités locaux ont été mis en place dans trois localités au Sénégal; ils sont responsables d’organiser ou de superviser des actions communautaires ou toutes autres activités liées au projet. Dans le cadre de mon stage, j’ai eu la chance de participer aux réunions organisées par ces comités locaux. Suite à ces rencontres et à la réception des rapports narratifs d’activités communautaires qui se sont déroulées au printemps, j’ai été mise responsable de comparer les résultats des activités communautaires et de les analyser en détail.

Dans le cadre de mes lectures, j’ai appris davantage sur la problématique de l’état civil, l’une des thématiques importantes du projet. Dans une école où s’est déroulée une action communautaire, 522 élèves sur 1200 ne possédaient pas d’acte de naissance. De ce fait, ils ne pouvaient pas passer l’examen final pour obtenir leur diplôme du secondaire et ainsi pouvoir poursuivre leurs études à l’université. L’accès à l’éducation est considéré comme un élément clé pour l’autonomisation des femmes et des filles. Par conséquent, les membres des comités locaux organisent des activités de sensibilisation sur cet enjeu et supportent la tenue d’audiences foraines pour que les jeunes puissent obtenir leur acte de naissance.

À la fin de  ma journée de travail, je retournerai auprès dans ma famille d’accueil pour partager le souper et passer la soirée avec eux. Les différents membres de ma famille d’accueil m’ont rapidement intégrée au cœur de leurs activités. Vivre dans une famille me permet de me plonger dans la vie quotidienne des gens, de partager des moments de qualité et de comprendre leurs différentes réalités. Je suis vraiment au pays de la Téranga, ce qui signifie « hospitalité » dans la langue courante du Sénégal, le Wolof. Je finirai par m’endormir aux différents sons de la vie active de mon quartier.

Research, Policy, Advocacy and the Messy World of International Affairs: My Adventures in Colorado

Greenberg AnastasiaBy Anastasia Greenberg

Having just finished first-year law school exams at the end of April, I had about seven days to visit family and friends in Toronto that I hadn’t seen in ages, take care of a massive pile of errands that are naturally set aside to cultivate and grow during exam periods, pay attention to my husband who has been neglected during the past months; leaving me with just about a few hours to pack my bags and move to Colorado for the summer. I barely had any chance to process what had taken place in the last eight months of law school, and I really started to feel disengaged and confused about why I was studying law to begin with.

I arrived in Colorado on a Friday and had two days to settle into my apartment before starting work on Monday. I showed up that morning at the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF), not really knowing what to expect. I was warmly greeted upon my arrival and immediately rushed into a room where I was shown an emotional video about what OEF does, what its mission is, how it operates and so forth. All this was followed by a heavy stack of mundane paperwork to fill out: important steps before embarking on solving world peace. In the video (and in the mundane paperwork) phrases such as: “peace through governance” and “stakeholder engagement” were frequently used, but did not really make much sense until I started communicating with my co-workers and putting the pieces together of how this very interesting and unusual organization was functioning.

OEF is essentially an international “Think” and “Do” Tank. The organization is a non-profit and views its role as providing high quality research and intelligence on issues of inter- and intra-state violent conflict, while engaging various “stakeholders” such as government and non-government actors to implement policy action. There are several departments within OEF that each focus on different issues such as departments working on the role of women in peace and security, issues related to ocean piracy, micro-financing in so-called “fragile” states, as well as the largest department: the research department, which is my home for the summer. OEF is a bit unusual in comparison with many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in its choice to use rigorous empirical methodology within its research mandate and in its choice of adopting a “neutral” approach to advocacy. In a sense, they would like the research to speak for itself and prefer to stay away from “cherry-picking” information that fits advocacy goals.

On the other hand, OEF has very broad mission statement objectives such as “a world without war in 100 years”. This is clearly a value laden statement (yes, it’s idealistic) but an overarching one, lacking specificity. In this way, I feel that their approach does have a clear advocacy angle, while also being broad enough to allow for issue-specific adaptability, within this broader framework, that is ultimately informed by their research. The whole idea that a world without war is possible is supported by famous psychologist Steven Pinker who is, interestingly enough, an adviser to the organization.

OEF produces all kinds of different work including academic publications, policy reports, documentary films, op-ed articles, as well as on-the-ground work through their partners and staff members that are located in various countries of interest where programs are directly implemented. Many staff members are themselves either from, or have lived for years in, the countries that they focus on. From what I have seen so far, while their approach is rigorous, it is also rich in quality and multifaceted.

So what have I been working on?

Having come into the organization with a research background behind me prior to starting law school, my supervisor (who is the director of the Research Department) decided to allow me to define my own project that touches on my interests in human psychology. I have been working with a large dataset collected from thousands of people across 60 different countries that asked people questions related to all sorts of beliefs and personal values. Broadly speaking, I am interested in which types of reported beliefs are associated with people’s tendency to justify violence against others, including support for war, as well as how country-level socio-economic and political factors may interact with personal-level beliefs. For example, how do country-level factors such as GDP, income inequality, homicide rates, and years of civil war modulate the relationship between various beliefs and violence justification at the individual level?

Another project that I am assisting with is the creation of a Maritime Security Index. The idea is to take in massive amounts of data from many different sources and try to build an intuitive index that will help identify which countries are doing a poor job and which countries are doing a good job at ensuring security on their coasts and in their waters. This includes measures related to human trafficking by water, illegal fishing, environmental violations, piracy, drug trafficking, and so on. I have been having a lot of fun “geeking-out” over index methodology with some PhD scientists on the team. While this highly mathematical approach may seem (and most definitely is) far removed from the qualitative reality of people who are suffering as a result of violence at sea, it is really important that we get the numbers right. In delving into some of the index methodology of various indices created by other NGOs, there are instances where the creation of these indices is questionable at best. For example, one such organization (which shall remain unnamed) decided on the “weighting” of various sub-indices based on how many hits came up on a Google search of the topic. OEF’s index will be used to single out countries that are under-performing in relation to some of their international agreements, and therefore, the nerds do have an important role to play here.

What other cool things have been going on at OEF?

I have also been learning about other really interesting initiatives at OEF. The research team has an ongoing project whereby they try to predict the onsets of coups d’état in different countries. OEF also recently co-hosted an event on “Peace Through Technology” which discussed ways in which technological innovations could be leveraged to promote peace-building. The Oceans Beyond Piracy team is also heavily involved in hostage rescue operations in Somalia. One of my favourite ongoing projects that I learned about from my next-door office cubicle mate Roberta Spivak is an event-series that she has been working on as the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Governance Journal. Every year, the editorial team of the journal select an article and host an event at one of the United Nations headquarters during which the author of the article gets to presents their research to a group of UN Ambassadors. These Global Governance Discussion Series are meant to stimulate conversations between researchers and policy makers.

Do I have a life?

Outside of work, I have been trying to take full advantage of the gorgeous Colorado landscapes. Just two weeks after my arrival in early May, we saw an unexpected massive snowstorm. While I was not at all prepared, I decided to make the most of it and went snowboarding at a resort west of Denver called Arapahoe Basin. Since then, the weather has been very warm and lovely which gave me lots of opportunities to explore hiking trails not far from Boulder. I’ve also enjoyed a lively Art Walk event in Denver with art galleries opening their doors to passersby until late into the night. On top of it all, OEF also held a cultural experience event for us non-American interns at a Rockies baseball game. I am not a huge fan of baseball, but it was pretty great having a day off and a chance to get to know my colleagues in their “natural” American habitat.

What’s next?

While I am still not exactly sure where my career is going to take me next, so far, this summer internship experience has been a really refreshing and eye-opening adventure. I can now appreciate the true value of an interdisciplinary team working on complex interdisciplinary issues. OEF has staff members with backgrounds all the way from PhDs in Psychology and Political Science, to lawyers, to former NATO guys, to artists such as an in-house filmmaker. Tackling complex issues requires expertise and skills across a range of disciplines, and ultimately, I see myself working in such a dynamic environment in the future.

 

A few thoughts…

 By Caroline Lavoie

I can’t believe it’s already been nearly a month since I arrived in Morocco- time flies!

One of my tasks over these past few weeks has been to compile a list of NGOs based in Africa and North America. I was expecting a straightforward task of simply searching for these organisations and copy-pasting their mission and contact information, and while technically that’s what it was, I found myself unexpectedly moved by it.

It was deeply humbling to see the sheer multitude of people organising themselves, around the world, to make lives better- whether it was the lives of members of their communities, of people like themselves, of future generations, of their loved ones, of strangers, or their own. What’s more, these activists sometimes put themselves at great personal risk to do this work. One NGO I stumbled across, “Awid Women’s Rights,” has an online memorial that “honors feminists and Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who have died and whose contributions to the advancement of human rights are very much missed.”(1) Needless to say, it was hard to read about people- many of whom I identified with, who are a part of my community and/or advocate on behalf of it- getting killed because of their work in human rights. It was a serious reminder that it’s thanks to the work of people like this, over generations and still happening now, that the good life I have and the opportunities available to me exist.

To conclude, a list of a few random thoughts outside the context of the internship itself…

-Something I’m missing from home: Dancing!

-Something I know I’ll be missing from Morocco: Those fresh, fresh juices.

-Something I’ve learned: Where to line up to catch the shared commuter taxi.

-Something I’m grateful for: Rabat’s ocean breeze, usually keeping the temperature in the very pleasant 20-30C range, unlike in other Moroccan cities (looking at you, Marrakesh.)

-Something I’m listening to: Elida Almeida, “Bersu d’Oru” (thanks for the introduction, Festival Mawazine!)

-Something I’ve read: Amin Maalouf, “Leo the African” (a great read when you’re in the midst of travelling yourself.)

-Something I dislike: Still dressing modestly when the temperature climbs…

-A place I loved: Essaouira!

-Something I’m nervous about: attempting a few days (too optimistic??) of fasting for Ramadan, or as my coworkers call it, ‘aww, the equivalent of a child’s first Ramadan!’ Wish me luck!

 

FOOTNOTE: (1) https://www.awid.org/about-whrd-tribute

Civil Rights and the Achievements of the Charter and the CCLA

By Didier Chelin

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

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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?

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