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India, an Idea

No guidebook, no first-hand narratives, no newspaper reports, nothing really can prepare you for an experience in India. I say India but having spent the past four months wandering the streets of Kolkata, sipping tea in Darjeeling, seeing the dead float down the Ganges, drifting through temples scattered around the North, and sitting through traffic (lots of traffic), there really is no such thing called India. This so-called nation is as diverse as it is large as it is old. It is the cultures, the languages, the foods, the clothing, the religious beliefs, the superstitions. For me, India is, above all, an idea. This is a country that, in so many ways, really shouldn’t work. Yet it does.

There is, of course, the real risk that the Westerner, in his or her immersion in this land exoticizes, even fetishizes, India. I think that for every visitor to India who has “found” himself or herself, there is a visitor who leaves the country more confused, more unsettled, more restless. As I get set to leave this country, I find myself identifying with the latter. This is a place that has, all at once, proved to be as overwhelming as it is calm, as ugly as it is beautiful, as miserable as it is happy. In the middle of my archival research, I came upon the following editorial in The Statesman written by James Cameron on May 31, 1971. This is what he had to say about Calcutta and India more generally:

When I finally came to India it took about thirty seconds flat to put me in my place, and there I have remained. Every time I return to Calcutta I feel it must be surely impossible that it can continue much longer like this; yet it always does. An interval of a year makes the visual impact more painful, the squalor more squalid, the poverty more militant, the despair more desperate. There is no way of rationalizing Calcutta. It is Indian acceptance, which may be torpor; Indian resilience, which may be opportunism; Indian philosophy, which may be indifference; Indian ingenuity, the instinct for survival. I find Calcutta an intimidating and even infernal city, unredeemed, and probably doomed. In a month or so I shall probably be back, to eat my words, as I always do, and find, as one always finds, a flash of redemption in the company of a friend, and the remembrance, more humbling now than ever, that India has gone on for a very long time.

I have to admit that like Cameron, I too have eaten my words more than once. Calcutta is a city, as I pointed out in my first blog post, of extremes where the drama over justice, equality, and fairness envelops you like the sweltering heat. You can’t avoid it and it usually leaves you feeling powerless, vulnerable, and weak. You sense it when you read about the rape cases, or when you hear firsthand testimony about the unequal power dynamics within the court system, or when you study changes in the law that have re-written the rules to favour developers over the poor farmers. These experiences can leave you on the margins, forced to observe what I described as the “daily festival of human existence with all the good and bad that that existence entails.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. My experience at the CRG – listening, reading, writing, asking questions, debating – has highlighted the place and role of academic research in the framing, structuring, and influencing of this drama. Working at the CRG was certainly more than visiting archives, producing original research, and publishing a paper. It was an experience with and of ideas – ideas that extended far beyond the law and refugee rights. These were ideas encompassing topics as diverse as class and culture, economics and equality, bollywood and hollywood. Instead of describing these ideas, I’d like to invite you to join in the conversation. I conclude my last blog post with a mock syllabus (what some might call a summer reading list) that I’ve organized around some of the key themes that have sustained my thinking this summer. There are no papers, no finals, no quizzes. I look forward to carrying on this summer of ideas back in Montreal.

India 1971: Between the Camp and the City

Week 1: India at the (geopolitical) crossroads
(Book) India After Independence: 1947-2000 (2000) Bipan Chandra
(Book) The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013) Gary J. Bass
(Films) The Apu Trilogy – Pather Panchali, Aparajuto, and Apur Sansar (1955, 1956, 1959) Directed by Satyajit Ray
(Novel) A Golden Age (2012) Tahmima Anam
(Novel) Such a Long Journey (1991) Rohinton Mistry

Week 2: Theorizing borders, boundaries, and spaces of difference
(Article) The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences (2002 – The Annual Review of Sociology) M Lamont, V Molnar
(Book) Borders, Histories, Existences: Gender and Beyond (2010) Paula Banerjee
(Book) Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality (1992) M Lamont, M Fournier
(Book) Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics (1997) B.J. Moore-Gilbert
(Book) Understanding Postcolonialism (2012) Jane Hiddleston

Week 3: Building the urban spaces of India
(Book) Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi (2014) Rana Dasgupta
(Book) City of Djinns (1993) William Dalrymple
(Book) Maximum City (2004) Suketu Mehta
(Book) Violence in Urban India: Identity Politics, ‘Mumbai’, and the Postcolonial City (2005) Thomas Blom Hansen
(Film) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Directed by Danny Boyle
(Press) The Slumdog Millionaire Architect (June 19, 2014) Daniel Brook, New York Times Magazine [Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/22/magazine/the-slumdog-millionaire-architect.html?_r=]
(Press) Mumbai Land Grab (October 24, 2012) Faiza Ahmed Khan [Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/activate/2012/10/20121014113746742151.html]

Week 4: Modernity and the Urban
(Book) Calcutta Requiem: Gender and the Politics of Poverty (2007) Ananya Roy
(Book) Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India (2009) Raka Ray
(Book) Places on the Margin (1991) Rob Shields
(Book) The Global City (1991) Saskia Sassen
(Book) The Urban Sociology Reader (2012) J Lin, C Mele
(Novel) Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012) Katherine Boo
(Film) Mahanagar/The Big City (1963) Directed by Satyajit Ray

Week 5: Violent streets, Violent cities
(Article) Urban Violence and Insecurity: An Introductory Roadmap (October 2004 – Environment and Urbanization Volume 16 Number 2) Caroline Moser
(Book) Calcutta: Two Years in the City (2013) Amit Chaudhuri
(Book) Cities and Citizenship (1999) James Holston
(Book) The Naxalite Movement in India (1995) Prakash Singh
(Book) Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (2013) Loic Wacquant
(Film) Calcutta Trilogy – Pratidwandi (The Adversary), Seemabaddha (Company Limited), and Jana Aranya (The Middleman) (1970, 1971, 1976) Directed by Satyajit Ray
(Novel) The White Tiger (2008) Aravind Adiga

Week 6: Managing displacement
(Article) Conceptualizing Forced Migration (2003 – Refugee Studies Centre) David Turton
(Book) Managing Displacement: Refugees and the Politics of Humanitarianism (2000) Jennifer Hyndman
(Book) Refugees and the State: Practices of Asylum and Care in India, 1947-2000 (2003) Ranabir Samaddar
(Book) Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism (2005) Barbara Harrell-Bond
(Book) The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path (2001) G Loescher, DR Baldwin, H Rothstein

Week 7: (International) law and (international) institutions
(Article) The Geopolitics of Refugee Studies: A View from the South (1998 – Journal of Refugee Studies) BS Chimni
(Article) International Refugee Protection (1986 – Human Rights Quarterly) David Kennedy
(Document) 1948 Declaration of Human Rights [Link: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/]
(Document) 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees [Link: http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html]
(Book) From Resettlement to Involuntary Repatriation: Towards a Critical History of Durable Solutions to Refugee Problems (1999) BS Chimni
(Book) Governing Refugees: Justice, Order and Legal Pluralism (2014) Kirsten McConnachie
(Book) The Refugee in International Law (1996) GS Goodwin-Gill, J McAdam

Week 8: War as humanitarian intervention?
(Article) A Few Words on Mill, Walzer, and Nonintervention (2010 – Ethics and International Affairs) Michael W. Doyle
(Article) After Bangladesh: The Law of Humanitarian Intervention by Military Force (1973 – American Journal of International Law) Thomas M. Franck and Nigel S. Rodley
(Article) Bad Neighbors, Bad Neighborhoods: An Inquiry Into the Causes of Refugee Flows (1996 – International Security) Myron Weiner
(Article) On Humanitarianism: Is Helping Others Charity, or Duty, or Both? (2011 – Foreign Affairs) Michael Walzer
(Article) The Externalities of Civil Strife: Refugees as a Source of International Conflict (2008 – American Journal of Political Science) Idean Salehyan
(Book) Pakistan: Failure in National Integration (1995) Rounaq Jahan

Week 9: Repatriation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction
(Article) Dilemmas of Diaspora: Partition, Refugees, and the Politics of “Home” (2006 – Refuge) Pablo Bose
(Article) Refugees in Diaspora From Durable Solutions to Transnational Relations (2006 – Refuge) N Van Hear
(Article) Refugees, Return and Reconstruction of ‘Post-conflict’ Societies: A Critical Perspective (2002 – International Peacekeeping) BS Chimni
(Book) UNHCR and Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees: A Legal Analysis (1997) Marjoleine Zieck
(Book) The End of the Refugee Cycle? Refugee Repatriation and Reconstruction (1999) Richard Black, Khalid Koser

Week 10: Conclusion – “…the proper use of verbs of movement”
(Novel) The Shadow Lines (1988) Amitav Ghosh

Legal developments regarding Canadian mining

by Matthew Millman-Pilon

Anecdotally, the Canadian flag is commonly found sewn on to the backpacks of our international travelers. The conspicuous yet modest display of our nationality used to make perfect sense, given our reputation as holders of progressive values and friendly demeanors. However, while I value genuine patriotic sentiment, I would caution that, from a strategic point of view, this approach may backfire in certain parts of the world today.

The inertia in our approach to environmental stewardship is certainly a general factor behind the decline of our reputation, and this post will focus on a particularly aggressive aspect of this neglect. Canadian mining companies are dominant players on the international mining scene, and in some cases may have contributed to human rights violations without ever having been held liable. The point of this post is to highlight recent and ongoing legal developments pertaining to these issues.

While I am currently working for One Earth Future on a report about human rights concerns surrounding state-owned oil companies from emerging economic powers such as China, I learned that Canadian enterprises are also seriously implicated in these issues. Approximately 75% of the world’s mining companies are Canadian in the sense that they are based here and listed on our stock exchanges, such as the TSX.

A leaked report commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada found that out of 171 companies identified in incidents involving extractive companies in the decade leading up to 2009, 34% involved Canadian companies. Incidents included cases of community conflict, environmental degradation, and unethical behaviour. It should be noted that methodological issues with the report have been raised, and that the numbers correspond with Canada’s position in global mining. The scope and severity of Canada’s contributions to these violations may be hard to precisely assess, but at the very least and in careful language, I think one could say that there is a problem that needs fixing.

Of course, mining operations within Canada are certainly contentious, particularly with regard to their impact on the environment and ignorance and neglect of aboriginal rights, and I look forward to learning about our domestic situation in this fall’s mining law seminar course. But when it comes to mining operations abroad, the situation is absolutely void of Canadian regulation.

Instead of regulation, there are voluntary principles and corporate social responsibility practices. In 2010, private member’s Bill C-300 was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons by a final vote of 140 to 134. The bill would have mandated DFAIT to set corporate accountability standards for Canadian oil and mining operations abroad. More importantly, it would have established a process whereby foreigners impacted by the operations could lodge complaints, which would then be investigated. If the investigation confirmed corporate non-compliance with the standards, then public financial support, such as from Export Development Canada and the Canada Pension Plan, could have been withdrawn as a consequence.

The extractive industry was vigorous in its opposition to the bill. For example, in its lobbying effort, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada stated that the proposed measures were unprecedented and would have rendered Canadian companies uncompetitive. Interestingly, it advocated waiting for specific recommendations to be made by John Ruggie, who at that time was leading the incorporation of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The very same month that the vote took place, Ruggie actually stated that “the option of denial of public advantages must be kept on the table”.

In opposing the bill, former Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt argued “The complaints process itself in the bill is irresponsible because it would offer no protection for responsible Canadian companies that are faced with false allegations.” This concern seemed to echo that of the Association of Mineral Exploration British Columbia, which worried that “Although section 4(7) of C-300 allows the Ministers to dismiss a complaint determined to be “frivolous or vexatious,” they must also provide reasons for this determination and publish these reasons in the Canada Gazette. This requirement will make it almost impossible to dismiss a complaint, out-of-hand, without some sort of an examination”. Personally, I do not consider out-of-hand dismissals as an effective method for change, and I consider the underlined portion to be desirable.

The vote was close. The issue is clearly divisive. I don’t agree with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network that CSR and voluntary principles are “meaningless industry jargon”, but I certainly believe they should be supplemented by “hard laws” to deal with serious violations.

Since C-300 was shot down, human rights violations surrounding resource extraction have remained global impediments to peace and sustainable development. For example, Hudbay Minerals, a Canadian mining company founded in 1927, is facing three lawsuits regarding alleged murders and rapes committed in 2009 by security personnel belonging to one of its subsidiaries in Guatemala. The victims were Mayan Q’eqchi’ opposing mining operations or occupying contested territory (after these incidents, Guatemala’s highest court ruled that the Q’eqchi’ had legal rights to the contested lands).

Hudbay’s defense alleged that there was no cause of action. First, it argued that the subsidiary operating in Guatemala was a distinct legal entity and that the criteria for piercing the corporate veil were not met. It also argued that there was insufficient foreseeability and proximity to establish a duty of care between Hudbay HQ and the Q’eqchi’, and that holding them responsible would be akin to holding them vicariously liable for the actions of their subsidiary. Of note, Hudbay’s defense also argued that policy considerations negated the recognition of a novel duty of care, and listed Bill C-300’s defeat as evidence of that policy.

In June 2013, the Superior Court of Ontario dismissed Hudbay’s motion to strike, ruling that it was possible for the plaintiffs to prove that the subsidiary was acting as an authorized agent of Hudbay and that the elements of a novel duty of care could be demonstrated. NGO’s have interpreted this to mean that a “Canadian company could be held legally responsible for crimes committed in Guatemala”. I would put emphasis on the “could”.

On the legislative side of things, in the U.S., the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act mandated the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue a rule that would require SEC-listed extractive companies to issue an annual report disclosing any payments made to foreign governments, including the type and amount of payment for each individual project. The main idea is that by making the exchanges between extractive companies and foreign governments more transparent, citizens in resource-rich countries will be able to hold their governments more accountable for their use of the revenues, decreasing corruption and increasing benefits to the population and affected communities.

The SEC issued a strong rule in 2012, requiring that the disclosures be public, disaggregated, and free from exemptions. The American Petroleum Institute successfully challenged the SEC’s rule, arguing that full public disclosure would render extractives companies uncompetitive and would violate contracts with countries that prohibit public disclosure. The U.S. District Court remanded the rule to the SEC to be rewritten, ruling that the SEC misread Dodd-Frank’s mandate regarding public disclosure and that its refusal to recognize exemptions was “arbitrary and capricious”. The SEC plans to release its second attempt at a rule by March 2015.

While the U.S. efforts have stalled, they have spurred similar endeavors in the EU, Norway, and Canada. In June 2013, Stephen Harper announced that Canada would adopt transparency rules requiring disclosure of payments by Canadian extractive companies to foreign and domestic governments. In March, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver asked for provinces to adopt the measures through their own securities regulators. Otherwise, the plan is for federal legislation to be enacted by April 2015.

Considering that similar legislation will be implemented in Europe and the States, it is unlikely that these measures will be successfully attacked as anti-competitive. Hopefully, legislators won’t be deterred by the petroleum lobby’s challenge of Dodd-Frank and will draft strong laws requiring project-level and public payment disclosures without exceptions, as recommended by the Resource Revenue Transparency Working Group.

Although revenue transparency by itself is far from sufficient to tackle the resource curse, it is a laudable first step, and hopefully one that we can take without faltering. Eventually, however, if Canada truly seeks a reputation as an international leader in promoting human rights, I believe a closer examination of our extractive industry is called for, along with mechanisms to hold Canadian corporations accountable for any possible contributions to human rights violations.

La antigua panaderia, la Sele et Ban Ki-Moon

Être stagiaire à la Cour interaméricaine des droits de l’homme, ça implique travailler des heures incalculables à décortiquer et analyser les pires cas de violations des droits de la personne en Amérique latine[1]. Mais ça implique également travailler sur des dossiers confidentiels, il m’est donc difficile de commenter mon travail quotidien à la Cour. Voilà pourquoi je vais vous parler pêle-mêle aujourd’hui de trois sujets, de la bizarrerie quotidienne de San José à certains évènements marquants qui ont généré bien des réflexions parmi les stagiaires de la Cour.

200 metros sur, 100 este de la antigua panadería

San José, Costa Rica, c’est une ville sans adresse, sans nom de rue et sans numéro d’édifice. Je crois bien c’est la seule capitale d’Amérique latine ainsi. Le stagiaire s’en rend compte dès le premier jour, où trois lignes entières du formulaire d’identification sont dédiées à « expliquer » son adresse. À San José, on se retrouve (ou plutôt, seulement les taxis s’y retrouvent!), avec une adresse comme celle-ci : 200 metros sur y 100 metros este de la antigua panaderia de San Pedro (l’ancienne boulangerie). Il y a plusieurs éléments à décrypter dans cet énoncé. D’abord, est-ce qu’on doit vraiment évaluer la distance parcourue en mètres? Heureusement non, bizarrement, un coin de rue équivaut à 100 mètres, peu importe sa réelle longueur! Il faut aussi constamment savoir où est le nord, sud, est et ouest pour s’y retrouver. Mais le pire selon mon collègue tico (lire ici : costa ricain), c’est l’incompréhension intergénérationnelle qui résulte de ce système géographique. Parfois, le point de repère principal n’existe plus, comme c’est le cas de l’ancienne boulangerie. Les personnes âgées et les chauffeurs de taxi vont savoir où la trouver, mais les jeunes et les voyageurs de passage, aucune chance. Donc attention, si vous passez par San José, oubliez votre GPS, amenez votre boussole!

La Sele

Vivre la Coupe du Monde 2014 au Costa Rica a généré en moi des sentiments bien contradictoires. La Sele tica (sélection de soccer costaricaine) a atteint pour la première fois dans son histoire les quarts de finale, devenant la « surprise » du Mondial. Des milliers de personnes ont déferlé à chaque victoire à la « Fuente de la Hispanidad » à 500 mètres de chez moi (cinq coins de rue!), le point de ralliement des festivités, qui est pourtant un rond-point d’autoroute. Ma première entrée dans la salle d’audience de la Cour interaméricaine, une belle salle solennelle avec tous les drapeaux des pays membres de l’Organisation des États Américains, a justement eu lieu pour regarder l’un de ces matchs avec tous les stagiaires et avocats de la Cour, tous pays confondus. match cour

J’ai suivi le match où le Costa Rica a perdu à un cheveu en pénalités contre la Hollande dans un petit village de la côte caraïbes et je n’oublierai pas de sitôt la vieille dame afro-descendante derrière moi qui pleurait en se lamentant bien fort : « hijos mios, se merecian la victoria, pero les amamos, les perdonamos… ». Même si on n’aime pas nécessairement regarder le soccer, comme c’est mon cas, impossible de ne pas se laisser emporter par cet enthousiasme et ce patriotisme. Justement, à bien y réfléchir, là est mon inconfort.

Mentionner les milliers d’expropriations et d’expulsions pour les constructions des stades dans 12 villes brésiliennes, les dépenses exorbitantes dans un pays où les inégalités sont si fortes, les opérations controversées de « pacification » dans les favelas ou le mouvement de boycott du Mondial m’a attiré au mieux un regard d’indifférence, au pire une réaction outragée. J’étais aussi surprise de constater que peu de stagiaires et d’avocats de la Cour ont mentionné ces enjeux durant les maintes rencontres sportives. Les discussions de couloir et de cafétéria portaient presque seulement sur les résultats des diverses Sele d’Amérique latine et la fierté d’être colombien, mexicain ou tico. Nuancer les bienfaits du fûtbol et du Mundial au Costa Rica, c’est pratiquement sentir qu’on est contre l’intérêt patriotique du pays. Je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser que si autant d’énergie, de ressources et de solidarité étaient dédiées au changement social, les résultats seraient incalculables.

Ban Ki-Moon à la Cour interaméricaine

selfie bon banki
(Selfie des stagiaires avec Ban Ki-Moon et le président du Costa Rica)
Autre moment historique : la première visite du Secrétaire Générale des Nations Unies à la Cour interaméricaine le 30 juillet 2014. Alors que la plupart des stagiaires tentaient d’intercepter Ban Ki-moon pour prendre un selfie avec lui (ils ont d’ailleurs réussi, avec les Présidents du Costa Rica et de la Cour en prime), une manifestation de dizaines de personnes s’organisaient devant la Cour. Tout un contraste! Mentionnons que la plupart des stagiaires de la Cour proviennent des universités privées d’Amérique latine ou font partie de la classe sociale favorisée de ces pays et ne sont généralement pas très portés sur la manifestation[2]. Les manifestants tentaient d’attirer l’attention de Ban Ki-Moon et des médias sur deux enjeux de grande importance: les titres autochtones dans la région de Salitre et l’invasion de Gaza par Israël. Puisque le monde entier a les yeux rivés su Gaza, parlons de Salitre.

(Manifestation devant la Cour interaméricaine)

La reconnaissance légale des territoires autochtones au Costa Rica est à des années-lumière du système de réserve prévu par la Loi sur les Indiens au Canada. Alors que « sa majesté détient des réserves à l’usage et au profit des bandes »[3] au Canada, la Ley indigena de 1977 au Costa Rica prévoit que les communautés autochtones ont la pleine propriété de leurs territoires, lesquels sont « inaliénables et imprescriptibles, non transférables et exclusifs aux communautés indigènes qui les habitent ».  8 groupes autochtones se partagent 23 réserves à travers le Costa Rica. Mon collègue colombien m’a un jour affirmé qu’en théorie, la Constitution colombienne est celle qui garantit le mieux les droits humains dans le monde, même si la réalité en est bien loin. La même équation semble s’appliquer aux droits territoriaux autochtones au Costa Rica.


(Peuples et territoires autochtones au Costa Rica)

Les dirigeants de la communauté bribri de Salitre estiment que 40% de leur territoire est occupé par des finqueros non autochtone, ce que la Ley indigena interdit. Certains ont occupé par la force ces terres, alors que d’autres les ont acheté, ce qui est également interdit par la Ley indigena. En 2008, les tribunaux ont réaffirmé l’illégalité et la nullité juridique des achats et transferts de territoires à des non autochtones. En juillet, de nombreuses familles autochtones ont érigé des campements sur ces terres occupées, mais certains ont été incendiés et une centaine de finqueros ont bloqué l’accès au territoire bribri dans la nuit du 5 juillet. La tension est redescendue depuis et la Vice-ministre a clarifié que les non autochtones devront quitter le territoire. La solution qui se profile à l’horizon? Le gouvernement offrira probablement des compensations aux finqueros afin qu’ils quittent définitivement le territoire.


(Campement incendié à Salitre)

[1] Notons tout de même que fort malheureusement, de terribles cas de violations de droits de la personne n’arrivent jamais à la Cour, faute de ressources, de connaissances des victimes de leurs droits, de peur des représailles, de ratification par l’État concerné, etc.  Je dis ici Amérique Latine puisque ni le Canada ni les États-Unis n’ont ratifié la Convention Américaine relative aux Droits de l’Homme, qui ouvre la possibilité pour la Cour de recevoir des plaintes individuelles.

[2] Je fais ce constat avec tout l’amour et le respect que j’ai pour mes adorables collègues. De nombreux facteurs peuvent l’expliquer: le fait que les stages à la Cour ne sont jamais rémunérés, que beaucoup d’universités privées en Amérique Latine sont de fervents participants et gagnants des divers concours de plaidoirie en droit interaméricain, que la pratique juridique en droit international des droits de la personne n’est généralement pas une branche lucrative du droit, mais attire une forte aura de prestige, etc. Je tire ces hypothèses de mes conversations avec mes amis et collègues.

[3] Art.18 (1) de la Loi sur les Indiens, L.R.C. (1985) ch. 1-5.


Matthias Heilke

My colleagues asked me to write a retrospective of my twelve weeks at CEHURD. Much as I am looking forward to cheese curds, CanLII, and public transit, it has been a spectacular summer. I came to Uganda hoping to learn about how law interacts with ground realities to produce good or bad outcomes. My experiences here taught me a great many things about working in law, and the issues surrounding ground realities were chief among them. The real lessons tend to be fairly specific, so this summary is slightly trite, but bear with me anyway.

Let’s start out really obvious: ground realities are shocking. I spent some time on a lawsuit against a hospital whose doctor took several hours to attend to a woman named Irene, even though she had a ruptured uterus. Irene ended her life begging for mercy while her husband watched helpless. Around a quarter of HIV-positive Ugandans do not receive public anti-retroviral treatment — yet HIV-positive mothers are sometimes forced by their families to breast-feed their children, giving them HIV in turn. I have read hundreds of pages of Ugandan health policy, and much of it is first-rate. But policy solves nothing without implementation, in which case it isn’t much comfort to Irene’s family.

People are varied and pragmatic, and Ugandans are as varied and pragmatic as anyone. At a trivial level, people’s response to a mzungu varied from cynical opportunism to kind hospitality — more of the latter, happily! Less trivially: many doctors in Uganda demand bribes from the patients, even when the patients’ conditions are life-threatening. However, there are also Ugandan doctors who travel long distances by motorcycle to deliver urgent care to patients who cannot reach the hospital. Others even pay for emergency treatments out of pocket when the patient is destitute. Health interventions tend to aim at the median of the target group — that isn’t a bad thing — but it is worth remembering that generalizations about a country of thirty million are, well, generalizations.

Gender relations and other inequalities have an enormous impact on access to health, especially as it relates to combatting HIV. Both women and men hate to get tested, and rarely tell sexual partners their HIV status — men because nobody will sleep with an HIV-positive person, and women both for that reason and because they are afraid their husbands will throw them out. Wives don’t always have a choice about whether to sleep with their husbands, which also transmits HIV. Health centres try to overcome the testing barrier by including HIV testing with regular services like antenatal care — but men see ANC as a women’s job, don’t like sitting in waiting rooms full of women, and don’t come. Then the health centres resort to discrimination to try to bring in the men. NGO’s, incidentally, make the problem worse — NGO’s usually present testing men as just another way to protect women and children, so men don’t perceive the health benefit to themselves. Poverty has comparable effects: the impoverished lack resources to protect themselves against exploitation, and yet cannot afford to be exploited. Reduce inequality, and the right to health improves.

However, the dominant issue I have seen everywhere this summer is limited capacities. I went on a field visit in June to meet with doctors. They complained of lacking surgical gloves, blades, and essential medicines. Boxes of pharmaceuticals reach health centres almost empty. Health centres never receive the beds they need. There are never any funds to repair equipment — if something breaks, it just rusts. Private health providers pop up everywhere to fill the gaps, but many people cannot afford to pay — so they die instead. Private clinics are often run by public doctors; doctors barely earn a subsistence wage, so they illicitly open private clinics and try to force patients to use their clinics instead of the health centres. Policies can ameliorate such problems: for instance, donors should always budget for training and repairs, and good lines of accountability keep corruption in check. That said, funding levels always limit services, and that in turn limits outcomes.

Limited capacities also affect the law. Good policymaking takes time and expertise, and time and expertise cost money. Uganda does not always end up with the laws, regulations, and programmes it deserves, simply because the funds are lacking to create innovative solutions. CSO’s are constrained, too — there are ideas and strategies that CEHURD would undoubtedly pursue much further if there were donors to support them. Just like doctors and patients, policymakers, lawyers and CSO’s have to make do with what they have.

However, there is reason to hope. At a grand level, Uganda’s health is improving: more people are getting vaccines, ARV’s, etc.; health facilities are slowly improving; people are living longer. At the ground level, the people I met, from elites to subsistence farmers, pay attention to health issues, are learning how to make the most of their situations, and are ready to hold the authorities accountable for upholding Ugandans’ right to health. Dear authorities, take note. People are unusually afraid of the future in Uganda — Milton Obote, Idi Amin, and Joseph Kony (among many others) have given people good reasons to think of the current peace as an aberration — but Uganda is getting wealthier, and its people increasingly want a hard look at how that wealth is spent. Health is improving, and expect it to improve a whole lot more.

Canada meets Colorado!

by Stacey Smydo

I was super excited when I found out that I would be working at the One Earth Future Foundation this summer, both because I knew it would be a fascinating place to work and because I had never spent any significant amount of time in the U.S. and was curious about what it would be like to live here. Throughout the last months of interacting with my co-workers and roommates, I’ve made some fascinating discoveries!

The Fourth of July (I kept getting in trouble for calling it “July 4th”!) showed off American culture at its finest! The Fourth of July is not a day but a week-long celebration which became apparent when one of my fellow interns went to a class at the gym a few days prior and was greeted with a passionate speech about America’s greatness with “I’m proud to be an American” playing in the background at the end of class. I had a similar experience when I went to a yoga class the morning of the Fourth and was asked to incorporate the American ideals of freedom and benevolence into my practice. Then the group of interns went tubing on Boulder Creek – never have I seen so many full-sized barbecues in a park in my life! Coloradans take their meat seriously (and here I had thought that everyone in Boulder was vegan….)! And apparently Colorado is pretty tame!

Colorado, and specifically Boulder, fits the stereotypes. Boulder is often called the fittest city in America, and I can definitely see why! Everyone runs marathons, or ultra-marathons for that matter, does triathlons, ironmans, rock-climbs, does yoga etc. It’s both terrible for my own ego and fantastic motivation! Also, everyone is always dressed like they’re on their way to do one of these activities.

Politics comes up quite frequently in conversations (I might have something to do with this…) So far, I’ve learned that it’s perfectly normal to have election signs on your lawn supporting your favourite candidate for the local coroner (apparently it’s out of respect for the U.S.’s British heritage) and to discount a candidate in an election because of his or her favourite sports team. Somewhat counterintuitively, marijuana was legalized in Colorado in January of this year, yet gay marriage is not. I asked around about this and found out that Colorado has both some of the most liberal and most conservative cities in the country. This results in some seemingly inconsistent laws.

In terms of local perspectives about Canada, we discuss healthcare a lot (of course), and I found out that Rob Ford has overtaken Justin Bieber as the most famous Canadian. Excellent. Similarly, talking about Canadian and American history yields some interesting discussions. For some reason or another, I started talking about the Loyalists and was immediately shot down with a “You mean the Tories??”. I’ll stop talking now.

On the work side of things, I’ve noticed a difference in how Canadian and American universities approach political science (my undergrad). I talked a little bit about how OEF is “relentlessly empirical” in my last post. American universities approach political science similarly, very quantitatively, while Canadian political science is more qualitative. Well, my first assignment required a decent knowledge of working with data sets and statistics … Luckily I used one of my electives in undergrad to take a statistics class!

Some fun tidbits:

  • BBQ’s here do not actually require a BBQ and can, in fact, involve take-out. However, as discussed above, when a BBQ is actually present, it’s a “go big or go home” attitude!
  • It’s impossible to split the bill at a restaurant. We went to Utah this past weekend and, for the very first time since we’ve been here, one restaurant was able to split the bill BUT it had to include the gratuity because it made “so much extra work”. Right.
  • In some parts of the U.S., they call toques “toboggans”.
  • Don’t try to tell me that the metric system doesn’t make sense or that Colorado has “the coldest winters ever”.
  • Apparently, I have the “most Canadian accent ever”. Why, thank you!

So there haven’t been many major adjustments and the few that we have come across are more entertaining than anything. Hiking (and driving) in miles seems to take forever, I still spell “Canadian”, and don’t even get me started on my hatred of dollar bills. But, overall I love Colorado!

2014-08-03 20.15.09

Human Rights Education, Hot Topics and Turkey Necks

The International Human Rights Training Program organized by Equitas for the past 35 years has been a site of participation, learning, teaching, laughter and dance. Participants from all around the world gather to learn from one another and explore methods of human rights education. Over the years, the program and its curriculum has evolved but maintained a strong focus on education and gender.

As a training program for human rights educators, Equitas does a fantastic job of creating a comprehensive manual and emphasising the participatory element of education. Its program starts with the individual and spirals outwards until it involves the greater international community. What interests me is the fine balance of choosing topics of discussion that will engage everyone without being too western centric in nature. How you chose what to teach in a program that brings together such a diversity of participants?

First, let’s consider the plenary session on aboriginal rights. This is the most Canadian focused presentation at the IHRTP and I think one of the most important plenaries because it offers an image of Canada as a country that continues to struggle with, and infringe, human rights. Participants were shocked to hear about the living conditions of some aboriginal communities in Canada and the plight of native women. I think even many Canadians would be shocked if they knew the situation of aboriginal people in Canada and that this reflects a purposeful blindness and silence in our education. What I wonder, however, is whether a Canadian centric plenary is appropriate in a program that brings together people from all over the world. Isn’t it privileging a particular country’s version of the issue?

Another thing that surprised me, as someone with a background in religious studies and gender studies, was that discussions about freedom of religion and LGBTI rights, while addressed, were additional evening sessions. Participants had to sign up for them. In North America, these topics are at the forefront of conversations about human rights. They remain extremely controversial around the world. We can’t ignore them but as one participant said, “maybe there are other issues that are more at the forefront of human rights violations in my country”. While this may be the case, more than 2/3 of participants attended the LGBTI session. The freedom of religion session, while smaller, brought together people who engaged directly with this issue and people who felt religion affects their work and wanted to talk about ways in which to address this underlying issue. These are issues people want to talk about. Are they truly so divisive that integrating them in the actual curriculum would be exclusionary? If you cant talk about it here, where can you?

I didn’t write this entry to come up with answers. There are pros and cons to whatever way you chose to implement “hot-topics” in a training conference about human rights. I think that my own engagement acts as a great example of how our own cultural perspective shapes our study of human rights. What is most important is to be reflective and aware of where these opinions and beliefs come from.

To end, I’d like to retell a small story I heard during my first week at Equitas. While the impact might be lost in the retelling, it was a great way to start me thinking about cultural relativism and the importance of self-reflection.


There’s a young girl who asks her mother – Mama, why do we cut off the turkey’s neck at Thanksgiving? Is it important?

Her mother answers – I don’t know, we’ve always done it.

The young girl goes to her grandmother and asks her the same question. The grandmother’s answer is the same – I don’t know, we’ve always done it.

As the little girl asked more and more people, she keep getting the same answer. She was sure there must be a significant reason since it was something they had always done.

Finally, the young girl ask her great-great-aunt. Her aunt looked at her and said – It’s simple, the bird doesn’t fit in the oven if you don’t chop off the neck.




HIV and Sex – Not a Risky Business

IMG_3251[1]Four girls in downtown Toronto, a little bit of gin, and a conversation about one-night stands. It didn’t take too much time before we argued the proper etiquette to adopt before engaging in some gymnastics under the sheets with a total stranger. Each one of us had a different idea of what was appropriate to ask, what we should expect from our partner… and how these opinions would be completely different if the other person was actually HIV-positive. One of us said, quite categorically, that she would never sleep with someone who was HIV-positive, even if he’d wear a condom. ‘’You do know that there’s no risk of transmission when a condom is used, right?’’, ‘’I don’t care’’.

This remark made me cringe. As an intern at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, I learned all about the myths surrounding HIV transmission and how these misconceptions negatively affect the lives of people living with HIV. Yet, I couldn’t blame her for saying that; I’m not sure my opinion three months ago would have been much more different from hers. It is scary to realize that we were four educated girls, but we had such a poor understanding of how HIV may be transmitted. And I wonder whether the law is not in fact perpetuating (if not strengthening) this misinformation and therefore this stigma and discrimination around HIV.

Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada’s rulings on HIV non-disclosure fail to reflect actual scientific knowledge on the matter. Under Canadian law, HIV-positive individuals may be charged and convicted of aggravated sexual assault if they do not disclose their status to their sexual partner unless they use a condom and have a low viral load. This is in contradiction with scientific and medical evidence which establishes that the possibility of transmission is negligible, or even nil, when only one of these requirements is satisfied. With such a legal interpretation, people living with HIV end up being labeled as criminals even when their actions pose no realistic possibility of transmission.

So I wonder what makes us think there’s a risk. Science doesn’t seem to have much influence on popular beliefs. Every time I mention the current state of HIV-related science, people tell me that it doesn’t matter, they wouldn’t want to take the chance – ‘’it’s too risky’’, they say. On the other hand, they do believe that our highest court is right in criminalizing such sexual behaviours. So are we keener to believe the law over science?

And what exactly is our responsibility as individuals to protect ourselves? In a generation where casual sex is more frequent, is it ever realistic to expect our sexual partner(s) to reveal such an intimate part of their life? Do we have to expose our whole life story every time we take off our clothes, especially to individuals we may perhaps never see again? Those in favour of non-disclosure prosecutions argue that individuals ought to be fully informed before taking a decision on whether to accept or refuse sex. But it’s hard for me to see how this rationale for HIV criminalization could stand. Considering that the scientific consensus is that the risk of transmission is negligible or nil, I don’t think a ‘’right to know’’ is defensible. How far do we want to go about the vow of telling ‘’the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’’? Such a vow may exist in courts and Hollywood movies, but it has no place in our bedrooms.

To be clear, I am not arguing that people should change their mind about having sex with HIV-positive partners on the basis that their fears are unfounded – absolutely not! No one should have to justify why they would or wouldn’t want to sleep with someone. But what I’m asking is: should it really be a crime not to disclose your status? Given that there is no realistic possibility of transmission, the answer seems obvious to me. Where there is no intention of transmission and where the HIV-positive partner had a low viral load or a condom was used, this sexual behaviour should not constitute a crime. As a society, we should give more weight to scientific facts in the establishment of our policies and laws. The four girls living in downtown Toronto, as most Canadians, respect and trust the authority of our judicial institutions and their rulings can have significant impacts. Therefore, our courts have a responsibility to ensure we do not discriminate against some groups in our society, including people living with HIV.

Private Maritime Security in West Africa

Kyle Best

Source: http://gcaptain.com/shipping-industry-iso-standard-for-private-security/

Source: http://gcaptain.com/shipping-industry-iso-standard-for-private-security/

Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) have proven to be an effective means by which ship owners can deter pirate attacks. In 2013, between $767,144,000 and $876,736,000 was spent on armed guards aboard ships in East Africa alone.[1] These significant sums of money were not expended frivolously, and because PMSCs have achieved results, many shipping companies are eager to make use of them in regions of emerging piracy. One of these regions is West Africa. However, unlike East Africa, West African laws are highly restrictive as to the use of PMSCs in their territorial waters. In some cases, these laws create a situation where ship owners must, in their efforts to bolster security, turn to either (1) security personnel sanctioned by the state or (2) national forces such as the navy. This approach to maritime security has been fraught with difficulties, two of which are detailed below.

Jurisdictional issues:

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides that the sovereignty of a state extends to the territorial sea, which is measured 12 nautical miles from the baseline. Thus, as long as a ship is within the territorial sea of a West African state, that state may prohibit private security aboard the ship without contravening international law. However, there have been reports of these laws being enforced beyond the territorial sea in Nigeria. A recent statement made by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) warned all of its members operating vessels within Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that “[t]he Navy has seemingly begun enforcing its alleged authority to prevent the employment of armed guards”. The authority of the Nigerian Navy is described as “alleged” because international custom does not allow a state to apply its national law throughout the EEZ. As per UNCLOS, the EEZ extends 200 nautical miles from the baseline, and gives a state exclusive jurisdiction over the exploitation of the resources therein. Thus, while Nigeria has exclusive rights over fishing, oil, and gas in its EEZ, enforcement of national laws beyond territorial waters is contrary to international law. This issue brings to light the overall uncertainty faced by the maritime industry: not only do seafarers and ship owners face the risk of unpredictable pirate attacks at sea, but they are further subject to the arbitrary exercise of jurisdiction by littoral states.

“Blue on blue” incidents:

One solution to the problem of jurisdiction would be to rely exclusively on security either sanctioned by or provided for by the littoral state. However, even this approach has proven to be problematic, and has resulted in a number of “blue on blue”, or friendly fire, incidents. One notable incident occurred in 2013, where members of the Nigerian police opened fire on a small ship, believing it to be in the process of committing an act of piracy. In fact, the crew of this ship belonged to the Nigerian Navy, and, as a result of the initial attack, a standoff between the two sides ensued, forcing the policemen to lock themselves inside of the citadel for multiple days. The Nigerian Navy has asserted that the police only have jurisdiction over riverine territory, and they have expended efforts to enforce this ban. However, these efforts continue to result in clashes between the Nigerian authorities, and have further contributed to the uncertainty and lack of coordination in the region.

PMSCs have become a significant part of the maritime industry, and their continued use by shipping companies facing tight budgets suggests that it is a successful method of deterring maritime crime. However, much like piracy clauses, it must be kept in perspective that this counter-piracy measure is preventative. In order to address the problem of piracy directly, we must not only protect the lives and livelihoods of seafarers through such security measures, but further address the root causes of piracy that exist both ashore and at sea.

[1] Oceans Beyond Piracy, State of Piracy Report 2013, page 18.

Asile A et B

2014-Navarrete-InakiIñaki Navarrete

Je pris une profonde inspiration avant d’entrer dans l’arrière-cour de l’asile B. C’était le second établissement que nous visitions ce jour-là. Des patients assommés par la chaleur et les psychotropes gisaient à moitié nus dans leurs excréments au centre d’un cercle formé par d’autres patients. Un garçon de mon âge touchait son membre d’un air absent.

L’asile B était pire que l’asile A.

L’asile A, visité en matinée, en était un réservé aux femmes de tout âge. S’il prêtait largement flanc à la critique, il avait au moins le mérite d’être relativement propre : les murs n’étaient pas couverts de zut, le sol n’était pas couvert de fluides, et on pouvait y marcher sans avoir à se boucher le nez. L’affaire était tout autre ici.

Disability Rights International, l’organisme avec lequel je travaille cet été, effectue régulièrement des visites dans les hôpitaux psychiatriques locaux afin de documenter les conditions inhumaines et dégradantes dans lesquelles vivent les personnes handicapées. Lors de ces visites – toujours guidées –, la stratégie est simple. Certains suivent le guide tandis que d’autres trainent le pas à l’arrière pour voir ce qu’on ne veut manifestement pas qu’on voit.

Après un moment à l’arrière, je m’éclipsais donc dans une chambre isolée. Un jeune homme, appelons-le Victor, s’y trouvait, complètement nu et emmitouflé dans un nuage de draps sales d’où dépassaient des bras convulsifs. Notre guide, le directeur-neurologue, me rattrapa rapidement. C’est à grand renfort de termes techniques qu’il m’expliqua que Victor était un “cas perdu”. Plusieurs psychotropes étaient “nécessaires” pour apaiser son ”trouble”. Bref, Victor était une machine qu’il n’arriverait jamais à réparer.

(Photo de Victor, prise avant l’arrivée du directeur)

En regardant Victor planer dans une sorte d’apathie, sans ressort et aisément influençable, et en pensant à la facilité avec laquelle il avait été laissé à son sort dans cette chambre, je n’aurais su dire si ces psychotropes  étaient “nécessaires” ou s’ils s’inscrivaient plutôt dans un schéma de contrôle visant à faciliter la prise en charge de patients trop nombreux par un personnel trop réduit. Il s’agit d’une pratique courante.

J’insistais pour en savoir plus. Victor est un abandonado. Il fait partie de ce groupe de personnes dont les familles, souvent par manque de moyens, parfois par manque de soutien dans leur communauté, se sont résignées à les abandonner dans un hôpital psychiatrique. Parfois aussi, l’abandon découle de la honte et du stigma attaché au handicap. Victor ne reçoit jamais de visites.

En droit, la conséquence immédiate de cet abandon est la mise en place d’un régime de prise de décisions substitutive. Le directeur devient le tuteur et représentant légal des abandonados, ce qui lui donne un chèque blanc gros comme la lune sur leurs vies. Victor, objet de protection et non sujet de droit. Mais c’est compréhensible:

“Voyez-vous, il est comme un enfant qui ne sait pas ce qui est bon pour lui”.

Ce genre de discours du “meilleur intérêt”, on l’accepte d’autant mieux qu’il peut se justifier d’un côté, par des fonctions de protection et de sécurité, de l’autre, par un statut technique et scientifique.  Mais il ne faut pas se méprendre. Le meilleur intérêt dérape souvent. C’est pourquoi le paradigme social du handicap, présent dans la nouvelle Convention relative aux droits des personnes handicapées, demande que l’on congédie ce discours médical dépassé, ces régimes de prise de décisions substitutive ainsi que toute forme d’internement. Il faut plutôt laisser place à l’autonomie des personnes handicapées. Victor, comme sujet de droit.

Dans cette optique, l’asile A et l’asile B sont tous deux condamnables pour leur seule existence. Cela dit, comprendre ce changement de paradigme n’est pas toujours simple et on peut se demander : qu’est-ce que cela signifie concrètement pour ce jeune homme complètement nu et emmitouflé dans un nuage de draps sales? Une comparaison entre l’asile A et l’asile B rendra la chose plus claire.

Avec la question du travail.

Les femmes de l’asile A sont invitées à suivre plusieurs modèles de carrière. Elles peuvent fabriquer des vêtements, des jouets ou cuisiner des plats. Ce qu’elles font avec leur argent ne regarde qu’elles. En m’offrant des biscuits, l’une d’elles m’expliqua dans un Anglais impeccable qu’avec son salaire elle aimait aller au restaurant chaque vendredi. Je souriais. Les biscuits étaient bons. Sur l’emballage, l’inscription “Le travail rend digne”.


(À l’heure du dîner, cette femme est restée étendue sans recevoir aucune aide)

Et les patients de l’asile B? Regardez cette dame dans la photo. Au mieux, certains participent aux corvées quotidiennes en échange de “cadeaux”, comme des petits gâteaux. Mais l’autonomie et la dignité ne se nourissent pas de petits gâteaux.

Au pire, les patients de l’asile B se trouvent dans un isolement sensoriel dégradant.  La télé, une thérapie musicale une fois par mois ainsi que des sorties sporadiques dans le jardin (plutôt une cage avec des barbelés) résument l’essentiel des activités disponibles. Alors, ils déambulent. D’autres sont attachés à leurs fauteuils roulants toute la journée. Depuis combien de temps? 60 ans. J’imagine que c’est aussi dans leur “meilleur intérêt”.

Faut-il insister plus encore sur la différence entre A et B?

Je voulais visiter ces établissements pour savoir pourquoi je travaille avec DRI. Aujourd’hui, la raison est on ne peut plus claire. Avec ses yeux bleus sévères et son sourire bienveillant de Big Brother, le directeur aux tempes grisonnantes de l’asile B restera pour moi le visage de l’institution totale.

India and its 1971 Refugee “Problem”

“Do they know we are coming?”

In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India (UNHCR 2000 59). The sheer magnitude of this movement of people – the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century (59) – is staggering. Writing from the town of Barasat, a city located in the outskirts of Calcutta, West Bengal, Sydney Schanberg, a journalist with the New York Times, describes the town as a “swarm” with refugees “so thick in the streets that cars can only inch through” (Schanberg 17 June 1971). The refugees seemed to be everywhere – sitting in the streets, crouching in doorsteps, sleeping on porches, occupying empty buildings, and cooking in the fields (Schanberg 17 June 1971). They attempted to build lean-tos only to have the monsoon rains rip them apart (Schanberg 17 June 1971). The refugees, Schanberg writes, appeared “anxious and troubled … look[ing] for someone to answer their questions … ‘Do they know we are coming?’” (Schanberg 17 June 1971).

Refugee Influx (Time Magazine)

Refugee Influx (Time Magazine)

After having “trodden long distances on foot in grim agony and in a desperate effort to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army” (Luthra 1971 2467), to ask such a question seems out of place, even unnecessary. With its odd mix of apology, affirmation, and imposition, it is the question of a guest who is extended a welcome by the host and yet seems unsure as to the nature and extent of that welcome. Such an interaction reflects what Ranabir Samaddar describes as “the double imperative of how the State governs – a contradictory logic of power and care, and a paradoxical injunction built on the heritage of rule” (Samaddar 2010 113).

Like other mass influxes of populations that sought refuge in India – the Tibetan refugees who arrived in the 1950s and the Chakma refugees who arrived in 1964 (Chimni 1994 378) – the 1971 refugees were indeed welcomed. However, unlike the two previous mass influxes of refugees, the 1971 refugees were extended a limited welcome and were accorded hospitality “only until such time as they were able to go back to their country of permanent residence with dignity” (Mukherji(2) 1974 399). The policy for the 1971 refugees, as articulated by the Indian state, makes no mention of rehabilitation, integration, and absorption (399). Their existence in India was to be temporary and their status was to remain as foreign nationals (399). Their existence would ultimately prove to be temporary when, on December 15, the Pakistan army with 93,000 soldiers surrendered in Dacca (Jahan 1995 202). Following decisive military action led by the Indian army, the independent nation-state of Bangladesh was born (202). Just as the 1971 refugees made history with their arrival, so too did they set a record with their departure. Beginning in December of that year, millions of the refugees returned to a new homeland in what would be and remains the largest repatriation operation of the post-Second World War era (UNHCR 2010 59).

The story of the 1971 refugees – their exodus, reception, and eventual return – forms part of a wider narrative that brings to life the disintegration of one nation – Pakistan – and the birth of another – Bangladesh; the revival of historic grudges between two bitter neighbours – India and Pakistan; the international indifference manifested against a backdrop of Cold War politicking; and the miserable conditions that greeted the 10 million souls who sought refuge in India. The story that serves as the basis of this paper is that of the Indian state, namely the way in which its articulated policies on the 1971 refugees shaped, on the one hand, the state’s understanding of refugeehood and its response towards refugees, and, on the other hand, the refugees’ own understanding of this label and the implications the policies had on their sense of belonging and identity formation. Through an analysis of the decisions taken by the Indian state, the labels administered, and the bureaucratic institutions established, this paper explores the tension between the notion of charity and the notion of rights (Samaddar 2010 114) by asking: On what grounds did the Indian state justify repatriation as the only viable solution to the situation of the 1971 refugees? Since the answer to this question goes beyond the constraints of a blog post (and forms the basis of a paper that is forthcoming from CRG Policies and Practices) I outline one conceptual framework – the legal – to think through the state’s response.

The Legal Approach

Repatriation, along with resettlement and local integration, form the ‘three durable solutions’ to refugee problems as recognized by international law and supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (Bradley 2006 1).[1] To repatriate, in its most basic form, is to send the refugee or asylum seeker from their country of asylum back to their country of origin (1). The key principles underlying repatriation are the right to return (as codified in Article 13(2)[2] of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the right not to be forcibly returned to situations of persecution or serious danger i.e. the right of non-refoulement (as codified in the negative terms of refoulement in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1951 Convention”))[3]. The solution of repatriation is thus premised on the country of asylum’s right to withdraw refugee status so long as it has determined that protection in the country of origin is viable (Hathaway 1997 551). Once withdrawn, the refugee becomes subject to the regular rules of immigration control and may be required to return to their state of origin (551). The challenge of situating the 1971 refugee influx and state response within the legal conceptual framework is that India is not a party to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol (Chimni 1994 379). Furthermore, India only acceded to the two Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1979, several years following the return of the refugees to Bangladesh (379). The value of this conceptual framework therefore does not derive from what it tells us about India not signing these documents but rather the way in which this non-accession defined and configured the state’s responsibility (Samaddar 2010 115).

Indira Gandhi meeting a group of refugees from East Bengal at the Kaliganji camp, Assam, in June 1971 (Source: http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/00866/17TH-opedBanglaRumi_866425g.jpg)

Indira Gandhi meeting a group of refugees at the Kaliganji camp, Assam, in June 1971 (Source: http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/00866/17TH-opedBanglaRumi_866425g.jpg)

In a meeting with economic editors, Indira Gandhi described the solution to the refugee influx this way: “I am just going to send them back. I am determined to send them back” (Statesman 18 June 1971). This policy of “sending them back” served as a constant reminder that the refugees “belonged to Bangladesh … and were going back as soon as the situation returned to normal” (Rangan 29 December 1971). Had the policy not been this clear and forceful, members of the government feared that they would be giving the wrong impression, namely “that [the refugees] are going to be absorbed in this country” (Statesman 24 May 1971). The policy had two principal implications. First, it was used by the state to justify limiting the refugees’ access to the labour market, relegating the refugees to camps, and discouraging the dispersal of refugees from the Border States to other parts of India (Statesman 21 April 1971). Second, it was employed by the newly created Bangladesh government to encourage and foster feelings of patriotism for the new state. In his tour of the refugee camps, the Bangladesh Minister of Home and Rehabilitation urged the refugees to “not stay here as evacuees but go back and take part in the national reconstruction” (Statesman 31 December 1971). The policy of “sending them back” was realized in a surprisingly successful manner. Funded by the Indian state (Rangan 23 December 1971) and coordinated with international relief agencies and the administration of Bangladesh (Durdins 3 February 1972), over 6.8 million of the 10 million refugees returned within two months of the end of the conflict (Durdins 3 February 1972). Each family was given two weeks’ worth of rations that included rice, wheat-flour, lentils, charcoal, cooking oil, and a small cash allowance (Rangan 2 January 1972).

While the Indian state was not constrained by the international legal regime, refugee rights were recognized in practice, albeit in a limited sense. In an August speech, Indira Gandhi commented that repatriation would only occur if the “conditions for their (refugees) safe return were created” (Statesman 31 August 1971) and again in a September speech, where she articulated her vision of returning the refugees “in safety and dignity” (Rahman Volume 12 80). In the absence of any legal regime according to which the state response can be evaluated, phrases such as “safety and dignity” become highly malleable, even strategic tools to be employed by the state according to its own needs and demands. One editorial roots the responsibility of the state in the notion of humanity (Statesman 22 April 1971). However, to what extent does humanity guide state action? The editorial proposes one understanding of the term by focusing on housing, feeding, and clothing the refugees but arguing against the “dispersal to other States or arrangements for permanent rehabilitation” (Statesman 22 April 1971).

There emerge two principal limitations with this legal conceptual framework. First, the legal framework is unable to account for the situation of those refugees who feared a return to this so-called “home” (Rangan 23 December 1971). For some refugees, particularly the Hindu minority population, this fear stemmed from the threat of religious persecution whereas for others, a desperate economic situation in Bangladesh seemed discouraging (Toffler 5 August 1971). Pervading both the religious and economic concerns is a questioning of this notion of “home.” Toffler discusses repatriation with a group of refugees who respond to him this way: “‘Why should we go back?’ many replied.’ This is our country.’ To the Pakistani Hindu, India has always been Amar Desh – ‘my homeland’” (Toffler 5 august 1971). The state’s use of repatriation as the only solution is premised on the faulty assumption that “everyone wants to return … home,” a premise that the state did not assess since it appeared, “in the absence of other options, to be largely irrelevant” (Zieck 1997 447). Second, the legal framework is unable to evaluate the nature and extent of the voluntary dimension of the repatriation effort. Reports from the press describe the Indian state withholding rations and future transport to encourage the refugees to leave. According to Rangan, “although the refugees were not compelled to return they were not being given much choice either” (Rangan 8 January 1972).


Bradley, Megan. “FMO Research Guide: Return of Forced Migrants.” Forced Migration Online. 2006. http://www.forcedmigration.org/research-resources/expert-guides/return-of-forced-migrants/fmo042.pdf.

Chimni, B.S. “The Legal Condition of Refugees in India.” Journal of Refugee Studies, 1994.

Durdins, Tillman. “Bengalis in Dacca Coping with Problems.” The New York Times, 3 February 1972.

Hathaway, James C. “The Meaning of Repatriation.” International Journal of Refugee Law, 1997: 551-558.

Jahan, Rounaq. Pakistan: Failure in National Integration. University Press Limited, 1995.

Luthra, P. N. “Problem of Refugees from East Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly, December 11, 1971: 2467-2472.

Mukherji, Partha N. “The Great Migration of 1971: II: Reception.” Economic and Political Weekly, March 9, 1974: 399-408.

Rahman, Hasan Hafizur, and Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Ministry of Information. History of Bangladesh War of Independence Volume 12. Dhaka: Bangladesh Government Press, 1982.

Rangan, Kasturi. “Hindu Refugee Returns, Finds Ruins in East Pakistan.” The New York Times, 29 December 1971.

Rangan, Kasturi. “Refugees to be Returned.” The Statesman, 23 December 1971.

Rangan, Kasturi. “India Begins Returning Bengal Refugees.” The New York Times, 2 January 1972.

Rangan, Kasturi. “Return of Bengali Refugees is Gaining Momentume.” The New York Times, 8 January 1972.

Samaddar, Ranabir. “Refugees and Dynamics of Hospitality: The Indian Story.” In Immigration Worldwide Policies, Practices, and Trends, by Uma A Segal, Doreen Elliott and Nazneen S Mayadas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Schanberg, Sydney. “South Asia: The Approach of Tragedy.” The New York Times, 17 June 1971.

The Statesman. “Evacuees Will Not Be Pushed Back.” The Statesman, 31 August 1971.

The Statesman. “Refugee Dispersal in Big Way From Tomorrow.” The Statesman, 31 December 1971.

The Statesman. “214,000 Refugees Have Come to W. Bengal So Far.” The Statesman, 21 April 1971.

The Statesman. “Mrs. Gandhi Says… I am Determined to Send Them Back.” The Statesman, 18 June 1971.

The Statesman. “Evacuees Not To Be Sent To Other States – Khadilkar.” The Statesman , 24 May 1971.

The Statesman. “Editorial: Yet Another Exodus.” The Statesman , 22 April 1971.

Toffler, Alvin. “The Ravaged People of East Pakistan.” The New York Times, 5 August 1971.

UNHCR. “The State of The World’s Refugees 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action.” Geneva, 2000.

Zieck, Marjoleine. UNHCR and Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees: A Legal Analysis. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1997.

[1] For a legal analysis of UNHCR and the voluntary repatriation of refugees, consult Zieck (1997). For a critical perspective from the Global South on UNHCR and the voluntary repatriation of refugees, consult Chimni (2004).

[2] Article 13(2): “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (United Nations 1948)

[3] Article 33: (Prohibition of Expulsion or Return) 1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. 2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country” (UNHCR 1951).

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