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Is Three a Crowd? The Procedural Nature of the Inter-American Human Rights System

The Courtroom at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Courtroom at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Because Canada is not a State Party to the American Convention on Human Rights (also referred to as the Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica), many Canadians are not familiar with the Inter-American System for the protection of human rights.  Having returned to Canada just over a month ago, I have had the opportunity to discuss my experience at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter the Court) with a number of fellow law students, family and friends.  When describing the adjudicative body and function of the Inter-American System, I find that people are often surprised to learn that there are three parties to a dispute brought before the Court: the State, the alleged victims (or their representatives) and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (hereinafter the Commission) (Articles 23 – 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights).

In accordance with Article 33 of the American Convention, compliance by states with the provisions of the Convention is ensured by two supervisory organs: the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  Once domestic remedies have been exhausted,  an alleged victim may lodge a petition against a State Party before the Commission (Articles 44 & 45 of the American Convention).  The purpose of the Commission is to amicably reach a settlement between the parties (Article 48(f) of the American Convention).  If, however, the State fails to implement the provisions of the settlement agreement and/or does not comply with the recommendations made by the Commission within the period prescribed, the Commission may submit the petition to the Court, in accordance with Articles 48 – 51 and 61 of the American Convention.  States Parties may also submit a case before the Court.  Alleged victims or their representatives, however, may not bring a claim before the Court; rather, a claim must be brought on their behalf by the Commission.

The procedure for bringing a case before the Court is desirable as it encourages parties to engage in a dialogue with one another in a conciliatory fashion with the purpose of reaching an out-of-court agreement.   Only in cases where the State has not taken action to implement its commitments or the recommendations of the Commission will the adversarial dispute resolution organ of the Inter-American system be engaged.

So, to answer the question, ‘is three a crowd?’, I would say that no, it is not.   Although some may argue that, in essence, the alleged victim is represented twice before the tribunal, by both its own counsel as well as by the Commission, it is important to note that the Commission does not always put forward the same arguments as the representatives.  Furthermore, while there can be cost-efficiency arguments made in favour of a two-party dispute resolution mechanism, as having three parties to the dispute is inherently more costly and time-consuming, I would argue that the Commission is well placed to offer a balanced, informed position before the Inter-American Court and that, therefore, its presence is desirable.

My experience working at the Court this summer taught me that both the Court and the Commission play very important, yet distinct, roles in monitoring compliance with the human rights obligations of states.

Reflections from HRW

2015 Jabir HumeraBy Humera Jabir

Taking the time to reflect on my internship with a bit of distance, I am better aware of the important lessons I learned through this experience.

When I began the internship, I often set out with a mind to finding the limitations of the legal frameworks in question as I have been trained to do through law school courses. However, working closely with the advocates at HRW has shown me that identifying limitations is only the first step in the field of international criminal law, which is constantly developing and moving in new directions.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is how to think through options to move legal frameworks for accountability forward. By experiencing how the lawyers I worked with think through problems, I was able to learn how they identified advocacy options, what areas of the law they abandoned as options, and what others they emphasized as potential persuasive avenues for securing justice and accountability.

I was most impressed by their long-term thinking. On a number of projects, the lawyers I worked with developed their strategies with contingencies in mind. What would happen if a particular state changed its position? What would happen if a particular political context underwent change? And what mechanisms should they as advocates begin to put in place in the event that these changes came about? Most of the human rights work I have engaged with prior to HRW has always been stopgap, seeking to address and remedy immediate violations. While HRW lawyers also do this work, they do so thinking of the future, thinking of the implications on contexts that may develop and cases to come, and with a mind to paving the road for accountability if and when it becomes an international priority in a given situation.

The internship has taught me to think about problems of international criminal justice with flexibility and imagination by taking account of the inherent unpredictability of international politics. I have learned to think through the limitations of existing frameworks but also the limitations of advocating for “something new” or becoming too mired in the specificity of a particular context. I was very impressed by HRW lawyers’ ability to think outside the box. I really learned what it means to make one’s best case for the best available approach, all the while accepting unforeseen risks and limitations. It really is a challenge!

Dissonance, despondency, surprise – and LGBT rights in Africa

2015 Wettstein AnnaBy Anna Wettstein

About a month and a half after my return from The Gambia, my thoughts about my trip are split in the most profound way. And so maybe my ruminations can only be expressed by a cliché and overused quote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

I suppose any life-changing event in a person’s life is sure to elicit these sorts of emotions. I met some people who were the most gracious and welcoming I have ever met, yet at the same time some days I couldn’t muster up the courage to leave my apartment because of the dozens of men who felt entitled to my words, my time, and my thoughts. I felt, at once, supreme isolation, and a very real connection to certain people around me. I felt pride and hope about the work I and my institution were doing, and sometimes I felt our work was so hypocritical, counterproductive, and self-congratulatory that I couldn’t believe I had ever considered it worthy of changing the world in even the smallest of ways.

Now that I’m back and, with a bit more distance, truly reflecting on human rights work, I can’t say I’m less conflicted. But it’s important to channel that critical eye into something positive and productive, no matter how daunting that task seems to be.

One of the greatest moments of dissonance for me was hearing my colleagues speak about LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and the infamous case of the American baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. I knew going there that this was a very touchy subject – homosexuality is criminalized in The Gambia, and certain acts can land you in prison for life. Generally it’s as if it doesn’t exist there, as if the famous words of Iran’s Ahmadinejad: “We don’t have any gays in Iran” actually ring true in The Gambia. So the only time I heard anyone talk about it was when the US Supreme Court decision was published, and I heard my colleagues make some (to put it nicely) very disappointing remarks.

Just a few months earlier, the Coalition of African Lesbians was granted observer status at the African Commission after a 7-year battle. When their application for Observer Status was first rejected, the Commission provided as a reason that “the activities of the said Organisation do not promote and protect any of the rights enshrined in the African Charter.” The reversal of opinion was promising for the possibility of countering discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Africa as it seemed to signify that the Commission was open to recognizing that the rights of homosexuals are enshrined in the African Charter. Yet just a few months later, their observer status was rescinded. One step forward, two steps back? If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, it’s heartening to imagine that the Commission would grant such status at all, even if just for a few months.

Yet a colleague of mine was there during the debates at the Commission. He told me he heard some prominent human rights activists referring to ‘gays’ as rats or vermin – I’m not sure on the exact terminology he related, but it was something equally vile. He heard some of the most educated and progressive lawyers fight to deny even the rights to life and to be free from torture based on a person’s sexual orientation. A respected friend of mine said some equally hateful things. This dissonance was striking, but I was used to it at this point.

So in my eternal naiveté and hope, when my Institution tasked me with drawing up an internal memo on litigating sexual and reproductive rights, I decided that this was my prime opportunity to argue that we should be litigating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The arguments are solid – it would make a great case. Do I think they are ever going to do it? No, not in the foreseeable future. In fact I’m not sure my arguments and research will lead to anything positive at all because they seemed to fall on deaf ears. But I’m glad I tried.

I wish I could end this post on a positive note, but the hate I encountered left too bitter a taste in my mouth. Maybe the silver lining can be found in my surprise at my colleagues’ responses to the issue – that in almost every other way, their dedication to human rights, openness and tolerance taught me many things.

I suppose I think it’s unfortunate more than anything. At the very least, if my colleagues worked on such a case, I think their minds would be changed. I think they would be less apt to dehumanize gay people and others ostracized, beaten, and killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity on a regular basis. But maybe that would be too difficult to them – it’s hard to step out of your comfort zone, after all.

Violence at sea, without consequences

2015 Venney MarilynBy Marilyn Venney

One of the main focuses at Oceans Beyond Piracy is, of course, piracy. But piracy is itself a symptom of a much wider issue – the lack of effective governance over the high seas. This isn’t a new problem, and although there are a number of international conventions in place aimed at filling the gap, the fact is that people and vessels operating in international waters are not usually subject to a great deal of oversight. And part of the problem is that there isn’t much interest in this lawlessness or motivation to address it.

This lack of interest is something that OBP has struggled with in the past. Last year a cellphone video turned up on the internet depicting the brutal murder of four seafarers, filmed by some unknown sailor on board another ship. To watch the video, which is graphic and disturbing, see the New York Times article Murder at Sea http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/20/world/middleeast/murder-at-sea-captured-on-video-but-killers-go-free.html. For those who’d rather not watch, the video shows a group of large vessels surrounding four men in the water, who are hanging on to the floating remains of their small vessel. One by one they are shot to death by a person or multiple people on board one of the larger ships.

When the video surfaced, OBP sent it to mainstream news outlets (in addition to the maritime news sources that OBP often deals with), positive that this would be the incident that pushed seafarer issues and the problem of lawlessness at sea to a wider audience. While the video is now a centerpiece of one segment of the New York Times series The Outlaw Ocean, it took over a year to gain the type of attention that OBP hoped it would attract.

It’s possible that the murdered seafarers were a group of pirates whose attack had just been thwarted. Or maybe they were fishermen from a coastal West African town who got too close to a large international vessel, spooking the sailors and armed guards on board. Unfortunately, pirates don’t actually fly a skull and cross-bones flag, and in practice their small boats are not always distinguishable from the fishing vessels used by fishermen from the region. Sailors on board large international vessels and the teams of armed guards hired to protect them are understandably fearful when travelling through the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Guinea. However, that fear, combined with the knowledge that they enjoy relative impunity, can result in a dangerous propensity to assume that seafarers seemingly approaching them are pirates, and to react accordingly. Although it’s impossible to know what happened before the video begins, in the minutes before their murder it was obvious that they did not pose a threat: their boat was destroyed and they were all hanging on to its remains to stay afloat.

Either way the video is proof of a serious problem: even if the murdered seafarers were pirates, killing them when they were clearly incapacitated would not have been legal. And if they weren’t – if they were innocent fishermen who got a little too close for comfort – their murder is indicative of the danger faced by fishermen operating off the coast of West Africa. There is always the possibility that they could be mistaken for pirates, and there isn’t much protecting them. In this case a video of the incident turned up years later after the cellphone was forgotten in a cab in Fiji and its contents were discovered and released. Normally, though, no one would know. So how many innocent fishermen have faced this end?

The recent NY Times series on lawlessness at sea was definitely a welcome change for organizations like OBP pushing for improved governance over the high seas. Hopefully, it will bring the kind of attention that will make it easier to push for positive change. To read the whole series, go to http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/24/world/the-outlaw-ocean.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article.

A touch of sun with my café con leche: A glimpse into the day-to-day life of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights intern.

2015-lachapelle-kaleyBy Kaley Lachapelle

As I sit sipping on my coffee at a local coffee shop in Calgary, I reflect on my summer spent in Costa Rica.  What an enriching summer it was.

I was selected by the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism to participate in a Human Rights Internship for the summer, 2015 at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  The Court is located in San José, Costa Rica.

The internship at the Court provides a very comprehensive experience, professionally, culturally and socially.  In order to fully benefit from the experience, fluency in Spanish is a requirement for the position, as it is the working language of the Court.  During the course of my twelve-week internship, I was part of a group of approximately twenty visiting professionals and interns from across the Americas and Europe.

Interns and visiting professionals at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, summer 2015

Interns and visiting professionals at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, summer 2015

The Court is the judicial institution of the Organization of American States responsible for applying and interpreting the American Convention on Human Rights (Art. 1, Statute of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights).  While neither Canada nor the United States of America are state parties to the Convention, twenty-five American states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, thus providing the Court with jurisdiction over Convention related disputes.

During the course of the internship, my day-to-day generally consisted of providing legal research in a number of areas to support a team of lawyers and legal assistants.  The Court’s lawyers largely represent jurisdictions across the Americas.  The diversity of legal knowledge and experience in the area of human rights at Court is arguably unparalleled in the region.

For two and half weeks during my internship, the Court was in session and public hearings were held. I, along with the other interns and visiting professionals, was invited to attend the public hearings of the 109th session.  The hearings are recorded and can be viewed online.  It was a very unique opportunity to work at the Court during the public hearings, as I was able to meet and interact with the Court’s seven judges.

The Court is located in the city of San José at 1200 m (3700 ft) above sea level in the central valley of the small, Central American country.   Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, San José is the country’s largest city and its political and economic capital.  I travelled to Costa Rica during the rainy season; from May through November, the mornings in the Central Valley are hot and humid (between 25 – 30 degrees celsius), with the temperature often dropping in the afternoon with the tropical, torrential downpours.

The beauty of Costa Rica is that one can travel from a lush, green mountainous landscape (or, more accurately in my case, the bustling city of San José) to the sunny, sandy beaches along the coast in a short drive of a couple of hours.  There is so much to see and enjoy outside of San José, that small getaways form an integral part of the intern’s experience. From pineapples, to bananas, to sugarcane and coffee, Costa Rica has a diverse, breathtaking landscape.  Weekends are spent sightseeing, hiking, swimming and relaxing with colleagues, as there is always someone keen to escape the capital for a few days.

Undoubtedly, the greatest part of my experience in Costa Rica was establishing very positive professional relationships, that evolved into friendships, with lawyers, law students and Court staff from across the Americas as well as from Europe.  Today I feel very connected to the legal and human rights community globally; bonds that will endure well past law school and will undoubtedly shape my legal career.  My experience in Costa Rica this summer taught me that my legal education is not only about the destination; rather I have come to value this unique, unforgettable journey as a McGill law student.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. July, 2015

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. July, 2015

Boulder Hikes

2015 McLean LauraBy Laura MacLean

Working in human rights is an incredibly demanding career. The problems don’t have obvious solutions, progress is too slow, the red-tape is too thick, the list goes on. It would be nearly impossible for individuals who work with victims of human rights abuses to never feel depressed or burnt-out. Even engaging with heavy topics from arms-length can be overwhelming. That’s why it is important to occasionally leave the world’s brutality behind and appreciate it’s beauty. There’s no better way to do this in Colorado than to hike.

The city of Boulder rests at the base of the Flatirons, beautiful rock formations that have walking paths weaving through them. These trails are accessible from the city. The most popular Flatiron hike is the Royal Arch trail, where the view of the city does not disappoint. It’s a busy trail on the Fourth of July when fireworks light up the sky.

Of course, no trip to Colorado would be complete without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and hiking in the Bear Lake area. It’s an easy jaunt around Bear Lake, and then a steady climb to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. The views are wonderful, but the crowds are not. RMNP is wildly popular in the summer, especially on weekends when parking is at a premium and often the only way to access the trailheads is via shuttle.

Dream Lake in RMNP (Photo by Laura MacLean)

Dream Lake in RMNP (Photo by Laura MacLean)

There are other hikes that are just as beautiful and much more secluded. For example, beyond the little community of Eldora are the trailheads for Diamond Lake and King Lake. Hikers require a sense of adventure for these hikes as they are quite remote, often overrun by streams and deep snow can linger on the trail even during the summer months. However, the views more than make up for the physical toll.

Crossing a stream on the way to King Lake (Photo by Laura MacLean)

Crossing a stream on the way to King Lake           (Photo by Laura MacLean)

Not far from Boulder is the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, where moose often graze and there is a trail that leads to Lake Isabelle. The walk is not difficult and the pay-off is incredible, especially in mid-July when the wild flowers are in bloom.

A beautiful day at Lake Isabelle  (Photo by Stacey MacDonald)

A beautiful day at Lake Isabelle
(Photo by Stacey MacDonald)

Further north still, the hike to Chasm Lake is a personal favourite and has everything you could want on a hike. The trail starts in a forest, follows a creek with waterfalls up to a meadow above the tree line and then winds its way above a valley with Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls below. As the trail reaches a dead end at the rock face of the mountains, hikers become climbers as they are required to scramble up rocks for the pleasure of seeing Chasm Lake.

Admiring the view on the way to Chasm Lake (Photo by Laura MacLean)

Admiring the view on the way to Chasm Lake (Photo by Laura MacLean)

State Forest State Park is a three hour drive from Boulder. What the park’s name lacks in creativity, it makes up for with scenic hikes. Lake Agnes is a short, easy hike, and well-worth braving the narrow dirt road to access the trailhead. American Lakes (also called Michigan Lakes) and Snow Lake are at the end of a much longer and more challenging trail that starts in the Craig campground at campsite 16. The trail features many beautiful lookout points and if your timing is right, wild animals and millions of wildflowers.

The view of American Lakes from Snow Lake (Photo by Laura MacLean)

The view of American Lakes from Snow Lake (Photo by Laura MacLean)

Finally, Hanging Lake is located near Glenwood Springs. Though the hike is only 2.4 miles roundtrip, the trail is steep and the uneven rocks can make for a slow climb. The lake at the end is truly unique because its waters are a surreal green and the lake “hangs” in a canyon.

In some cities, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy rest and relaxation from arduous, emotionally demanding work. In Boulder, it’s right outside your door. These hikes offer more than sightseeing activities and beautiful pictures. Adopting the Boulder outdoor lifestyle means making your well-being a priority. Law school has a way of thwarting a healthy work-life balance, but in Boulder, the mountains on your doorstep have a way of inspiring a sense of adventure. Exploring Colorado’s natural beauty is a way to reconnect with the simple pleasures in life. Furthermore, the Boulder lifestyle forces one to challenge herself. Physical feats that seemed out of reach become exciting goals crossed off your bucket list. Weekend hikes also proved to be an excellent way to bond with others. Previously unknown classmates become fast friends when they brave sudden lightning storms and glacial lakes together.

Justice in an Indigenous Community

2015 Gilmer AnnaBy Anna Gilmer

I have recently completed my internship at Akwesasne, a cross-border Mohawk community near Cornwall, Ontario. I was specifically working for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, which governs the Canadian half of the community and is located partially in Ontario and partially in Quebec.


When I sat down to write this second blog post, I reflected on my time at the Akwesasne Justice Department, and tried to think of the most interesting thing about it. As I considered everything I had been exposed to at the department, about all the programs and services that they run, I was struck by the huge scope of their mandate.

The Justice Department of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is made up of only approximately 17 staff. But these 17 people cover a huge range of services. Their lawyer and paralegals provide legal assistance on all legal matters to community members and to the band; they have probation and parole services as well as an early release program in place for community members in both Ontario and Quebec; and they run the conservation and compliance offices. They also draft new legislation, conduct the local elections and referendums, and are currently in negotiations with Canada for a final self-government agreement. The Akwesasne Mohawk Court serves as a community court, addressing matters within a specified mandate. Finally, the Community Justice Program (a program within the department) assists with young offenders, organizes community service work, and runs diversion programs and circle sentencing. It is a huge portfolio, and represents an impressive move towards local control over justice.

Of course, many aspects of justice at Akwesasne are reflective of outside structures, since the system has had to be redeveloped from scratch in the last few decades. In a discussion of the Akwesasne Mohawk Court, the Director of the department, Joyce King, explained to me that when the court was set up, the department brought in Canadian lawyers to train Justices. As such, the court is reflective of the only system those lawyers knew: it is adversarial, with the Justice at the front and rules reflective of Ontario and Quebec procedure. Despite the strong Canadian influence, the Justice Department has worked to incorporate Mohawk traditions, values and laws. Community control has also been prioritized, and is central to law enactment procedures and other processes. It is interesting to see how the community has worked to regain a Mohawk system of justice on the territory.

What is also interesting about the justice department, and especially about the Community Justice Program, is its genuine focus on ameliorating the problems facing the community. Among other things, this means addressing such issues with youth, and helping them stay safe and out of the justice system. Between my research and writing, I had the opportunity to help plan and then attend the program’s Summer Cultural Youth Camp. The Camp was focused on culture, and provided youth in the community (and particularly those in contact with the justice system) with an opportunity to practice their culture, to listen to teachings, and to live Mohawk values. They fished, sang, danced, did crafts, made fires and listened to stories. Programming also addressed issues facing youth in the community, such as drug and alcohol abuse, the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and more generally the continued effects of colonialism. I was impressed by how well the participants responded to the camp.

In a small but incredibly complex community, the Akwesasne Justice Department does a lot. It attempts to rehabilitate community members who have been convicted. It works to keep youth safe and away from criminal activity. It incorporates Mohawk traditions and values into the justice system. It passes laws that reflect community priorities and ideas. Of course, it faces its share of challenges, and the structures in place are not perfect. Nonetheless, it is an impressive example of the kind of work that Indigenous communities are doing to regain control and assert self-determination.

Contemplating my Stay in ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

By Dominic Bell

I am currently on a First Air flight back to Montreal.

We just stopped for a brief layover in Kuujjuaq after departing from Iqaluit.

I feel like now is as good a time as ever to continue my blog.

Where to begin?

I think my circuit to Pond Inlet is a good place to start.

During their summers, students at Maliiganik sometimes get the chance to travel on what is referred to as a “circuit court”.  As the largest subdivision in Canada, access to justice in Nunavut is hindered by how interspersed the communities are across this great expanse of the far North.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer magnitude, the distance from Pond Inlet to Montreal is about the same as the distance from Montreal to Jamaica; and yet, both are located in the same country.


I travelled on circuit from July 17-24th.  Our trip began with a short layover in Clyde River.  Thereafter, we continued to our destination.  I am positively confident in saying that Pond Inlet is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.  The view from our hotel (the Black Point Lodge) spanned a large bay of ice blocks drifting gently with the current, and across the blue water stood the mountain range of Bylot Island: a bird sanctuary.  From higher up, Mount Yerodia was visible to the east and the distance to both was underscored by how spectacular the view was.


The day after arrival, we began preparations for the court circuit by interviewing clients, potential witnesses, etc.  The two lawyers and court worker who I accompanied on this trip, worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure that we were prepared for court on Monday.  In turn, I assisted in interviewing clients and witnesses, and prepared some youth cases as well.  Moreover, when the Crown prosecutors arrived later, I helped negotiate some joint positions.  This was a fantastic learning experience as I spoke to summary matters in court for the first time.


The beauty of Pond Inlet and the learning opportunity I have described mask the extreme pain which I witnessed during my time in the North. Many of our clients have endured some absolutely horrific events in their lives and some of the trials were difficult to listen to at times. The complexity of the situation is brought into full light when one considers present offences through a neo-colonial lens and sees the court as a continuing vehicle for past colonial injustices.  Indeed, there is a lingering feeling that justice is happening to the Inuit rather than for them. Conversely, I am sensitive to the plight of the complainants who were often women and children.

There is quite simply, no simple answer.


I am grateful for the time I have spent in the North.  I have been introduced to such a rich culture which was built on the tundra and ice of the Arctic.  Before leaving, I had the chance to visit Qaummaarviit national park, which is a short boat-ride away from Iqaluit across Frobisher Bay.  The ancient Inuit used this rocky outcrop which extends into the bay as a strategic outpost where they could hunt seal and walrus in the sea while maintaining land access to the caribou herds.  Moreover, they developed some ingenious forms of technology to assist in their hunting exploits.  One striking example that comes to mind is the toggling harpoon and float system that permitted the hunting of large sea mammals—such as whales—in open water.  On entry to the target’s skin, the specifically designed harpoon head would turn sideways, leaving the initial shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.  I am amazed by the brilliance of this crafty device.


I head back to the South with mixed feelings.  Sad to leave such an incredible place with equally amazing people, but happy to go home as well.

I have learnt a lot during my stay in Iqaluit and hope to return soon.

Des modèles d’inspiration au féminin

2015 St-Jean FrederiquePar Frédérique St-Jean

Dans cette publication, je désire parler du projet incroyable sur lequel l’Association où je fais mon stage travaille : l’Académie politique des femmes. L’an dernier, ce projet a permis à 25 femmes impliquées dans des partis politiques et désirant se présenter aux prochaines élections municipales de bénéficier d’un programme de formation complet afin de les aider à développer leurs capacités et renforcer leur confiance en elle. L’Association espère ainsi qu’elles seront capables de réussir à mener une campagne électorale avec succès et à se faire élire au sein des conseils municipaux.

J’ai eu l’opportunité d’assister aux deux dernières formations du programme et d’y rencontrer les participantes. Avant de les rencontrer, je ne savais pas trop à quoi m’attendre. Je ne connaissais que très peu la culture tunisienne, j’avais rencontré encore très peu de gens à l’extérieur de mes collègues de travail, et je dois l’avouer, j’avais des attentes assez peu élevées relativement aux capacités et connaissances des femmes impliquées en politique en Tunisie. De façon plus générale, je crois que j’avais des attentes assez peu élevées du débat politique en Tunisie considérant la relative jeunesse de leur démocratie.

J’ai ainsi eu droit à des belles surprises lorsque j’ai rencontré les participantes : des femmes brillantes, réfléchies, capables de s’exprimer avec clarté et surtout de façon convaincante sur des enjeux complexes. J’ai rencontré des femmes ayant une vision, une vision pour leur communauté et pour leur pays. Des femmes ayant des idées, un plan concret pour rendre la vie de leurs concitoyens plus faciles. Et surtout, des femmes ayant une détermination et un courage impressionnant. J’aimerais vous parler de certaines de ces femmes.

La première se nomme Ourida Touhami. Elle provient de la région éloignée de Tozeur et représente le parti Ennahdha, parti qui forme présentement la coalition au pouvoir et qui est considéré comme un parti conservateur sur le plan religieux. Ourida m’a immédiatement charmée par sa facilité d’approche. Dès mon arrivée, elle s’est montrée extrêmement chaleureuse et s’est mise à me jaser de l’Académie, de politique, et de bien d’autres sujets. Ourida est l’une de ses personnes qui défend ses opinions avec acharnement. Elle raconte qu’elles sont deux femmes sur 13 dans le comité local de son parti et qu’elle et sa collègue n’acceptent pas un refus pour réponse si elles considèrent que leur point de vue est justifié. Elle explique qu’elle réussi à bien faire passer ses idées dans un comité dominé par les hommes. Je n’en ai aucun doute, vu l’acharnement et la détermination dont elle fait preuve lorsqu’elle cherche à convaincre. Elle fera sans aucun doute une redoutable politicienne.

IMG_4851 Ourida Touhami, lors de la formation sur la Responsabilité sociale des collectivités locales

La seconde se nomme Jihen Maatoug. Jihen est juriste de formation et avocate d’affaires de profession. Elle provient de Tunis et fait parti du parti Afek Tounes,  parti socio-libéral séculier. Elle s’exprime avec aisance et accorde beaucoup d’attentions aux détails. Elle offre ainsi un discours raffiné et des idées élaborées pour résoudre les problèmes de sa communauté. Elle cherche à sa manière à briser les normes sociales, que ce soit en étant une porte-parole hors-pairs des droits des femmes ou en ajoutant une touche mode à son style d’avocate. Lorsque je l’ai rencontrée, elle avait en effet teint la pointe de ses cheveux en bleu, et m’a expliquée qu’elle voulait participer à sa manière à protester contre les normes sociales. Je tiens à souligner l’aide qu’elle m’a fourni pour mon travail de recherche sur les droits des femmes, prenant de son temps pour m’emmener à la bibliothèque de droit pour trouver de la documentation pour étoffer mes recherches.

IMG_4876 Jihen Maatoug et moi

Si je le pouvais, je mentionnerais les qualités de chacune des femmes que j’ai rencontrée, le beau sourire de Chadia Soli, la détermination de Leila Keskes, et la confiance en elle que dégage Souad Hamdi. Les femmes qui ont participé à l’Académie ont très certainement le potentiel requis pour devenir de très bonnes représentantes municipales. Avec de la confiance en elles et une bonne dose de courage, elles arriveront à vaincre les nombreuses barrières qui se présenteront sur leur chemin en tant que femme politique tunisienne. Certes, ce ne sera pas facile. Elles devront faire face à des partis politiques qui sont réticents à promouvoir des femmes à des postes de responsabilité, des cocus fermés qui préfèreront placer des hommes en tête de liste pour augmenter leurs chances de gagner des sièges et une population qui jugera parfois qu’elles devraient être à la maison entrain de faire à manger plutôt que mener une campagne électorale. Or, elles ont les outils pour y arriver et je crois en leur potentiel.

1908186_1071808529500092_3957079562933994582_nLeila Keskes, lors de l’Assemblée politique des femmes organisée à Tozeur

Je tiens à souligner la solidarité et la collaboration dont cette équipe de femmes a fait preuve. Les différences idéologiques entre certains partis politiques représentés par ces femmes sont marquées. Or, cela ne les a pas empêché de les surmonter pour travailler à l’atteinte d’un objectif commun : la promotion des droits de la femme. Ce type de solidarité féminine sera indispensable pour permettre aux tunisiennes de mener le combat pour l’égalité vers la réussite. Ce n’est que grâce au dialogue entre les différents groupes idéologiques et sociaux tunisiens – les séculiers et les islamistes, les riches et les pauvres, les gens vivant en ville et les gens vivant en régions – que les tunisiens arriveront à comprendre les caractéristiques qui les différencient et à les accepter. Ce n’est qu’à travers la collaboration que les femmes arriveront à créer un front commun pour vaincre les barrières qui freinent leur émancipation.

The criminalization of drugs and access to health

For those wondering, that is tea, not coffee. PS: Thanks for taking time to read this post.

By Jeansil Bruyère

Coffee. Some people drink it religiously, whilst others, like myself, might (emphasis on might) have a sip once a year. It is a question of preference, no moral undertones whatsoever. I am not a bad or better person for not needing caffeine to function (Although some people are jealous of this ultra-human ability). This said, coffee has its positive and negative side-effects but remains socially acceptable. However, this is not the case for a panoply of drugs that are currently criminalized and drug users who are marginalized. As a communication studies major in a previous life, I have always been sensitive to how the media, particularly mainstream, depicts marginalized populations or deviant behaviour.

From the Western world’s blanket depiction of devout Muslims as extremists, or criminal masterminds systematically depicted as leading drug rings, drugs seem to be an evil to be eradicated. Realistically, prohibiting drug use, production and distribution is outrageous. Various drugs have roots in medicinal and even cultural practices. Take for example the coca leaf used for centuries by the Bolivian peoples to help deal with altitude ailments. What does all this have to do with my internship at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (the Network)?

The topic of my second blog post was inspired by recurring interrogations people have been having with the Network’s drug related projects. Goal #3 of the organization’s 2014-2017 aspirations include demanding human rights for prisoners and people who use drugs. This has been a source of confusion for many individuals as the link between drug users and HIV is not necessarily clear to everyone at first glance. The human right at risk here is access to health. People who use drugs face serious health risks closely linked to HIV transmission when adequate syringes and other drug-use equipment are not offered.

A classic example of how drugs have always had negative depictions in mainstream media would be Scarface (1983) where a Cuban refugee, Tony Montana (the dapper Al Pacino), rises to become a powerful drug kingpin.

Midway through my internship at the Network, I was lucky enough to witness the inner-workings and preparations of various important symposiums including the preparation of the Canadian Delegation to UNGASS 2016, on drug policy reform. Initially schedule for 2019, the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Drug and Crime was brought forward to 2016 in light of the outcry of various countries outraged and disappointed by the failure of the war on drugs. Notably, civil society is currently mobilizing to advocate for supervised consumption services, enhance political and legal support for needle and syringe programs, and ultimately defend the human rights of people who use drugs.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network demands access to comprehensive HIV and HCV services for people who use drugs and people in prison.

From the various conferences organized by the Network,  I quickly learned that punitive drug laws and policies impede access to harm reduction for people who use drugs, which indirectly also has an impact on indigenous peoples, black communities, and prisoners to name a few. The global war on drugs has failed and prohibitionist policies are crumpling people of various populations.

Drug use in certain regions of the world are culturally accepted, and have been so for centuries. Bolivia, for instance, stopped campaigns of forced eradication of crops because chewing of coca leaves was and still is a part of their lives. The President ignored the international control system and did not accept the belief that the Coca leaf was a dangerous drug. This is a perfect example of how outdate laws and practices do not only impede the right to health but the autonomy and cultural practices of aboriginal peoples.

Bolivian President Evo Morales shows a coca leaf during a presentation before the UN, chewing this substance is a century old cultural practice frowned-upon by the proponents of the war on drugs.

In Canada, the Network has been part of various initiatives from Supreme Court interventions to cases based in Russia and other regions of the world. I had the opportunity to participate in our national contribution to an international campaign: Support don’t Punish, a global advocacy campaign calling for better drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights. While certain countries have been using the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26th) to publicly execute illicit drug users, civil society has come together to advocate for better policy reform. In collaboration with the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, the Network participated in a rally on June 26th of 2015. To prepare for the event, I worked with various members of the Policy Analyst and Communications Department teams to create the Network’s our spin on the Support don’t Punish campaign. Taking people of various backgrounds to take a stand against the war on drugs, we created the following social media piece:


What’s next for Quebec? Safer Injection Centre or Supervised Injection Site (SIS) are currently in the works for our beautiful province. Hopefully, we will be able to follow the footsteps of the 2003 safe injection site (Insite) based in British Columbia. Needle exchanges do exist in Montreal, but safe injections sites are the next step in the paradigm shift towards drugs. A sterile and safe place where drug users can use their own drugs under medical supervision and with access to a variety of services. With over ten years of scientific evidence, SIS do not promote criminal activity. In fact, they save lives by preventing overdoses, as well as HIV and hepatitis C transmission.

That said, informed discussions surrounding sound drug policy are inevitable when talking about the right to adequate health services. Lives are at stake and Canada should become a leader in drug reform globally. Like coffee, drugs are consumed and who are we to judge? I do not judge people who drink coffee. So just because one does not consume such substances does not mean they are better people (duh!).

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