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Learning to Sing: A Look Back on my Summer in Peru

Melisa DemirBy Melisa Demir

There are a number of ways that I could describe my fifteen-week journey to Peru –  an amazing adventure which often times all seems like a blur to me now.

“How was your trip?” is the most common question I’ve been faced with since my return – one that I expected, and yet still have trouble answering. “There’s not enough time in the world to tell you all about it,” I say.  Sometimes, I confess that it all went by so quickly – that it feels like I never even left.

Still, I find myself saying that my trip was busy, as I spent most of my days working hard to meet deadlines, or travelling back and forth from airports or bus stations early in the morning to get back to work on time after weekend getaways. When including it on my CV, I will probably write about how this was the summer in which I developed my research skills, perfected my Spanish, and learned about national and international human rights protection through my contributions to reports, events and other projects with the IDEHPUCP. My friends know it as the unforgettable trip where I managed to live by myself in a foreign country, made friends from all over the world, and climbed a countless amount of mountains – both physical and figurative.

To me, this was the summer where I learned how to sing.

**

In Lima, life is always bustling – cars and busses honk through stop signs instead of actually stopping, bus drivers scream the route out of the window instead of having a formal system like we have here in Montreal, and nearly everyone listening to music fearlessly belts their hearts out as they sing along, no matter where they are.

I was shocked the first time I heard my colleague – who later became one of my best friends – singing her favourite reggaeton music in the middle of the office on my first day. I rolled my eyes and chuckled as the person behind me during the walk to the grocery store sometime early on in my trip sang and danced to his music. In Montreal, this would be seen as obnoxious and disruptive – but in Lima, it was a form of expression that had not yet become taboo or subjected to the social expectation that, in public or at work, one must be discrete. Where I was used to being expected to fit into a set of social standards, to mold into the rest of society and stay in the shadows, they would charge forward in individuality and expression, full of life and heart-warming spirit.

Walking through the streets of Magdalena del Mar on Peruvian independence day

It wasn’t long before I stopped jumping in surprise when someone in the Institute’s academica department broke the concentrated silence of the area with a few words of one of the summer’s top hits, and instead, started smiling and dancing along to their melody. Their voices and music ended up being the soundtrack to my summer, characterizing my walks home, my evening dinners with my Peruvian family as they sang “El gato nero” to their one-year-old son, and, of course, my time at work. As this aspect of Peruvian culture lost its foreignness, my initial role as the young, shy Canadian intern terrified of speaking Spanish at the risk of sounding stupid slowly morphed into one of sociability and confidence. The country that once seemed so distant from everything I knew began to transform into a home – or as my colleagues and I liked to call it, mi patria. On Peru’s independence day, I attempted to belt out their national anthem. I joined in many birthday celebrations at the office in which the entire Institute gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” in choir around a large strawberry shortcake from the bakery down the street. Eventually, I even found myself humming along to my music as I typed.

What at first glance appeared to be an example of the care-free stereotype we often associate to Latin American culture eventually revealed itself to be a beautiful expression of happiness, confidence, and hope. A life in human rights research, I quickly realized, can be a daunting one. The nine-to-five work days, which often dragged out to nine-to-eight days during busy periods, are a constant realization of the terrible things that occur around the world, sometimes as close as within the city you work or live in. Every hour is filled with reminders that the world can be a terrible place for some, and that having the opportunity to advocate against human rights violations is a product of your privilege to not be on the other side of them. When one project ends, it’s on to the next one, dealing with similar hard realities, only with regards to a different violated right, and rarely with any assurance that the work you submitted will ever make it into the hands of a policy-maker, or even make a dent in the international hardships you are trying to alleviate. Most of the time, all you can do is hope that what you invested your heart and soul into makes a difference, even if by just raising awareness about the issues around you, and keeping pushing forward until the change you work for finally comes. And so, they sing.

**

I had never worked in human rights before my experience in Peru. I now have the utmost admiration for those who do – who dedicate their lives to making the world we live in a better place, if only for some.

On my last day of work, I submitted my final project, took pictures with my friends in the department – who I would see later for a final goodbye party – and emotionally emptied my desk. As I left, I closed the mahogany doors of the Institute behind me for the last time. I hugged Señor Ochoa, the security guard that greeted me every morning, goodbye.

During the walk home, I sang along to Ed Sheeran’s Perfect.

Blog Post 1: First Lessons and Impressions

By: Sara E.B. Pierre

A few months preceding my internship, I saw a news story on my Facebook page about how the President of a small country in West Africa accepted defeat after 22 years of dictatorship, but quickly changed his mind. The President’s name was Yahya Jammeh, and the country was The Gambia – where my internship was taking place in the summer. For a long time after this news, I was not sure whether the internship would happen. In the end, Jammeh was pressured enough to accept defeat and left the country. I did some more research on him before I left for The Gambia. It was only later that I found out how the Gambians I saw on my screen, cheering him in the streets, were forced to do so every time he made a public appearance. Through my work, I started to realize how he ruined the reputation and endangered the health of those he claimed to have personally healed of AIDS, and how terrifying it must have been to live in a place where any member of your family could go missing and be tortured without ever getting any answers.

   

The first week of May I was greeted into the New Gambia. Billboards, T-Shirts and graffiti all proclaimed, “Gambia Has Decided”. I saw people selling smartphone data plans, shoes and fruit on the side of the street, I saw monkeys waiting for a safe time to cross those same streets, and I saw vultures resting on top of the street lights. I ate mangoes every day and soaked in the sun at the beach.

On my first day of work I took multiple taxis which have designated stops, kind like the public transportation system I was used to back in Montreal. After getting lost and telling the taxi driver I was working in human rights, I was dropped off at the African Human Rights Commission. This was not actually my workplace. It was, however, as I would soon come to realize, the place our complaints (“Communications”) would sometimes be sent, seeking redress for those across the continent whose rights have been violated by their government.

Some cases and presentations I have done research for include those advancing the complainant’s right to health, right to work, right to not be tortured, right to education and to freedom of expression. These, and many more, are enshrined in a Charter I have gotten more and more familiar with over the months – the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The part that I find most impressive about this Charter (which was set up in The Gambia itself), is that it not only protects civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, but it also protects group rights (such as the right to a “generally satisfactory environment”), and lays out duties incumbent upon these same individuals and peoples.

After a very friendly Gambian woman helped me find my actual workplace, I realized it was only a short walk away from the Commission. We walked past the roundabout (adorably named “Turn Table”) and found The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHDRA).

I was impressed with the pan-African non-governmental organization even before I arrived in The Gambia. Besides reading about their mission to defend, educate, and inform, what struck me most was how they included professional pictures of staff members, such as the gardener and cook, on their staff page. The idea that justice and the fight for human rights involves so much more than what superstar lawyers do is a big lesson that I am learning. At our staff meeting, we all had the chance to say what we had been working on, whether this had to do with the organization’s website, a conference someone would be presenting at, or making sure we have clean and running water. When everyone’s voice was heard, I felt there was transparency, accountability and fellowship. The value of these things cannot be dismissed because it reinforces the underlying truth that we, those who work to uplift the dignity of human beings, are not there to “save” or “fix” anyone; we are there to build safer and more just communities, and to empower people. And what a better way to project that vision than by reflecting it in the way we uplift our own neighbours?

¡Buenos días desde Argentina!

Gillespie TaylorBy Taylor Gillespie

Since I’m the first McGill student to intern in Mar Del Plata, I think it’s appropriate to use my first blog post to describe what life is like here in Argentina.

Mar Del Plata is a city of about 1 million some 400km south of Buenos Aires. The city is known within Argentina as a summer resort spot owing to its beautiful coastline, which stretches for 47km along the Atlantic Ocean (and makes for a spectacular view on morning runs).

One interesting thing about Mardel is that unlike Buenos Aires, which is an international tourist hub, very few tourists come from outside of Argentina. In fact, I’m the first Canadian that most people I know here have ever met. Similarly, English is not widely spoken here, and the only way to learn it is by attending costly private institutes.

The food here is nothing short of incredible—milanesas, empanadas, locros, alfajores, and of course a steak with chimichurri sauce and a bottle of red wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina are must-haves for anybody visiting the country. One thing to know, however, is that supper in Argentina is not normally served until around 9 or 10pm, and trust me, you will be laughed at if you go to a restaurant at 6pm and ask for the dinner menu. Another thing to get used to is that most stores, offices, and buildings close between 1 and 4pm for siesta. Personally, I think a 3-hour naptime is something we should bring to McGill.

MDP offers some of the best nightlife in the country, but a Saturday night out in Argentina is very different from a night out in Canada. An average night on the town consists of meeting up with friends around 1am to catch-up and enjoy a few drinks together. Then, around 3 or 4am, head to the bar, which will only be beginning to get busy. Stay and dance to the hottest Latin-American music until the bar closes at 630am—by the time you get home the sun will be rising, and you’ll probably hungry enough to eat breakfast before going to bed.

Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego

Climbing Monte Olivia in Ushuaia

 

Argentina is incredibly geographically diverse. Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Ushuaia, the capital of the Tierra Del Fuego Province of Argentina, and the southernmost city on the planet. It is the middle of winter there and the temperature hovered around -5 to -10 degrees.

On the other hand, last week I went on a two-day trip to Las Cataratas del Iguazú, breathtaking waterfalls in the north-eastern part of the country along the border of Paraguay and Brazil. The climate in Iguazú was tropical and the temperature reached nearly 35 degrees with the humidity. The distance between Ushuaia and Iguazú is roughly 4,500km. In perspective, this is double the distance from Winnipeg (my beloved hometown) to Montreal.

Iguazú Falls

 

A view from the Brazilian side of the falls

Between Mardel and Iguazú lies Buenos Aires, the largest city in Argentina and one of the largest on the continent. During my 2 day layover between Iguazú and Mar Del Plata, I had the chance to tour some key landmarks of the city: Boca Stadium, the old sea port, and the Recoleta cemetery. Likewise, I made a day trip to Uruguay in order to see Colonia Del Sacramento, which is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When I returned to Buenos Aires that same evening (July 1st), I went to a Canada Day party organized by the Canadian Embassy where there were over 100 Canadian travellers and expats. At the bar, I got the chance to sit down and have a beer with Robert Fry, the Canadian Ambassador to Argentina and Paraguay. We had some very interesting conversations about my internship, his daily life as an ambassador, and of course argued about which NHL team was the best (go Jets).

Hanging out with some lobos marinos on the beach

Argentine lifestyle, in most respects, is not all that different from life in Canada, but there are a few quirks. One thing that I have noticed is that people here are much more affectionate. For instance, every time you meet someone or see someone you know, instead of shaking their hand, you give them one kiss on the left cheek…Needless to say the first time I met a group of 5 male coworkers, the greeting caught me off guard.

All in all, my experience here in Argentina has been absolutely amazing so far and I’m looking forward to the last few weeks of my internship.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be providing an update on some of the human rights work I’ve been up to.

¡Nos vemos!

Be Patient; Stay Fearless

Melisa DemirBy Melisa Demir

Nearly eight weeks ago, I stepped off a plane and into the chaos of the Jorje Chavez airport parking lot in Lima, Peru. My first experience on South American soil began with a wave of taxi drivers calling out “Taxi! Taxi” and waving their permits at me as I searched for my Uber somewhere near Gate 11. Towering ahead of me was an enormous billboard, advertising LATAM Airlines, which read: “Welcome to Lima.”

It took about half an hour and many WhatsApp phone calls – all of which served as a stark reminder of just how different the language in in a Spanish-speaking country was from the Spanish I had learned in high school – before I finally met up with Rodrigo, my driver. I threw my suitcases and my backpack into the trunk of his grey Hyundai, almost exactly like the one my parents drive at home, and hopped into the backseat, ready for what I knew would be the adventure of a lifetime.

A lot has happened since that first day. The sun that I was met with when I first stepped through the airport’s sliding doors has started to disappear, making only its signature rare appearances as “the Grey city” falls into its winter months. I’ve seen penguins and sea lions off the coast of Paracas, sand-boarded down the dunes of Huacachina, rafted through valleys in Arequipa and spent five days hiking through glaciers and the high Peruvian jungle to the beautiful Machu Picchu. I’ve finally figured out how to properly unlock the front door of my apartment after too many hours spent on the verge of tears, locked out with my groceries lying on the front steps. The family that I once knew as simply Kat and Gus from AirBnB have become like my second parents, including me in their family celebrations and mornings to the market, sitting with me at dinner, and teaching their one-year old son to walk towards me and, occasionally, roll me his ball.

On top of the sand dunes in Huacachina

Standing in front of Humantay Lake at the beginning of my Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

On top of Machu Picchu after 5 days of trekking!

Of course, I have also become quite familiar with the corner desk I was given at the Institute of Democracy and Human Rights (IDEHPUCP) – once empty, its drawers are now filled with notes bearing my handwriting, the airplane headphones I use to drown out the sound of my coworkers’ singing when I need to concentrate, the books on human rights I have read since my first day, and the box of vanilla cookies I bought from the grocery store down the street to snack on with my afternoon coffee.

I first stepped through the gates of the big yellow building on calle Tomas Ramsey and into the doors of the Institute at the end of May, one month ago. I had been slightly anxious to start my internship – at twenty years old, I have never had a desk job, and as a first year student, I’ve never worked in the legal field before. I nervously gave the security guard my name on that first morning, and he greeted me with a large, warm smile – one that I’ve gotten used to these past weeks, and that I still see every morning as I walk into work with my morning coffee in hand. That first morning, his smile acted as a sense of comfort in the new adventure I was about to embark on. “Good morning, Melisa,” he had said as I signed my name in the registry. “Welcome.”

Since the beginning of my time here at the IDEHPUCP, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about many different aspects of international human rights law – particularly, I’ve studied the notion of corporate responsibility in international law, participated in discussions on corruption in Peru, and helped the Institute run two parallel events on rethinking gender roles in Latin America and on the continued reality of human trafficking in the area. Yet, in these past three weeks filled with great learning opportunities, two lessons have stuck out to me so far: be patient, and stay fearless.

On Being Patient: Learning to Leave My Fast-Paced Lifestyle Behind  

My internship at the Institute began with a warm welcome from the entire IDEHPUCP family – I was given a tour of the different departments, greeted with a signature one kiss on the cheek or a dynamic wave by everyone I met and even invited to the Institute’s events during my first week, as if I had already become one of the team.

However, my work also began at a time where the organization of two of the Institute’s biggest projects (hosting two conferences within the same week) was just nearing its end – a time where there was just enough work for those who had already been involved in the preparation of these events to keep busy, yet not enough for me to join in too extensively. As a result, for my first two weeks of work, I was only given two books to read – one on the effects of international law on corporate activity, and another on the functions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – and some translation work from Spanish to English. I began to worry if my Spanish skills were seen as not strong enough to handle more heavy workloads, or if my lack of experience in human rights law deterred my supervisors from including me in big research projects.

Then came the week of the events, and I quickly found myself busier than ever, running around the University campus making sure everything was running smoothly, being tasked with small jobs here and there. I even had my first of what I expect to be many late nights within my legal career, when I was asked to help a colleague find information on the biographies of the events’ panelists due the following morning. Since then, my days at the Institute have been filled with a variety of different tasks, making every moment spent at work unique – in addition to my translation work, I have been assigned to do research on the international and national protection of elder rights, have co-written an article on labor rights violations within Peru which was published on the Institute’s website, and, most recently, have been asked to help with a jurisprudential study on recent constitutional decisions in the country.

Not only has my work life gotten busier, but my Spanish has already improved tremendously, giving me the confidence to start coming out of my shell more, going to more social events and becoming good friends with my colleagues. Lima really is starting to feel like home – so much so that the barista at the Starbucks on my way to work has started to greet me with “Hola Melisa, que tal?” and knows my order almost by heart.

Life in Lima is not nearly as different than life in Montreal as I thought it would be – its streets are bustling with busy busses and cars and large boulevards lined with shopping malls and gourmet restaurants, and its nightlife in Miraflores and Barranco rivals that on Blvd St-Laurent. One of the biggest culture shocks for me was definitely learning to take a breath, and coming to terms with with not having heavy workloads all the time. I grew up in a culture where I was taught that being hardworking and being productive often meant being busy every second of every day. Here, things are different: being a good employee is more about being available to lend a hand to your teammates when they need it, and doing everything you do, no matter how little work you’re given, as best as you can.

All in all, I have definitely come a long way in my month by myself here in Lima, and most of my adaptation happened simply with time. I have come to realize that the IDEHPUCP is largely a place for learning – my supervisor ensures that every project I am given can somehow tie back to Canada, even in the smallest way. One of the biggest lessons I have learned so far is how to be patient, to wait for my opportunities to arise (or even to create my own), and, in the meantime, to take advantage of the little things this internship has to offer, such as the experience of simply being in one of the most important research centres in the country, learning from some of the most dedicated human rights workers in the area, and being able to help out with their work, even in the simplest ways.

On Staying Fearless: Nothing Worth Doing Ever Came Easily

Like many people I know in McGill’s Law Faculty, I came to law school mainly driven by a love and passion for international law and human rights. Also like many in my Faculty, I have become well aware of how difficult pursuing a career in this field will be.

My experience so far at the IDEHPUCP has opened my eyes to the merits of pushing through obstacles and overcoming seemingly impossibly high mountains – of always staying fearless, whether it be when crossing the street in Lima’s busy traffic, swallowing my pride and joining in on conversations and social events with my colleagues even when I still sometimes have trouble keeping up with the local jarga (Peruvian slang), and most importantly, when making decisions about my future career choices.

Here at the Institute, I spend most of my time immersed in a culture of devotion and passion

The controversial panel on the respect of gender and LGBTQ rights in religion

for human rights work. I watch my colleagues, some of which are still students, juggle their work with their studies, running back and forth from the Institute and the PUCP campus, putting their theses that they need to complete in order to graduate on the back-burner in order to complete what they see as more urgent tasks, like writing up on pressing human rights issues or conducting studies on international law. During the panel on Gender Rights, I watched the head of the Institute, Doctora Elizabeth Salmón – one of the most respected and successful people in the field of international law and human rights law in the country – defy social norms by setting up a panel on the continued struggle to find balance between the protection of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights and religion in Lima.

More recently, one of my best friends at the Institute told me that her dream job is to spend time working with the International Red Cross in Iraq or Iran protecting human rights, fully aware of the dangers attached to this career, because she wants to spend every day of her career being able to tackle human rights violations in these countries face-on: “I have a friend who worked with the ICRC in Iraq, and she had the power to see these violations every day, and to say ‘Enough,’” she had said. “My dream is to be able to do that, too.”

Everyone at the Institute, I have come to realize, spends the better part of their careers making sacrifices for the bigger cause of defending human rights, both within their country and beyond. They are all fearless in their work, not only because of their passion for their jobs, but because they know that what they do needs to be done in order to make a change – no matter how difficult, or scary, it may be.

 

As the halfway point of my time here at the IDEHPUCP approaches, I am already so grateful for all of the experiences this internship has brought me, and for all of the important lessons that I’ve learned, and will continue to use in the future – wherever my career, and life in general, take me.

 

Look-back on the last day

By Laetitia Yantren

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Ultimate Summer Experience in Budapest

By Jacinthe Dion

In retrospect…

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

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

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

The people

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

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

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

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

 

 

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

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

Zóra and I

Zóra and I

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

A final reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanderlust will always be a part of my life.

Full Circle Moment

By Anna Goldfinch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sad Goodbyes

2016 Awj NigahPar Nigah Awj

Alors déjà je suis à ma dernière semaine de stage avec DRI au Mexique. Ces trois mois ont passé comme une flèche, mais j’ai eu la chance de me bâtir une vie pas mal complète ici. Ah que c’est dure les adieux!

Depuis mon arrivée, je me suis bâti des relations familiales, amicales, spirituelles, d’amour, ainsi que de travail. Les gens autour de moi m’ont constamment choyé avec tant d’amour et d’encouragements, je me sens bénie. De plus, le travail au sein de l’organisme m’a appris énormément et m’a fait grandir. C’est un rêve devenu réalité pour 3 mois, j’ai appris que me battre pour les droits humains pour apporter les changements nécessaire, c’est ce qui me motive dans la vie!

Durant ces trois mois avec DRI, j’ai visité 2 institutions psychiatriques, une pour femmes (CAIS), une pour enfants

Children with disabilities are kept lying down for hours without any activity.

We found cage-like bars around beds in this institution where they lock children.

;  interviewé une victime d’une institution abusive dans sa maison ; participé aux réunions du Colectivo Chuhcan, seul organisation au Mexique constitué de personnes handicapées qui offrent des services de support et guides; participé à une formation d’analyse de sécurité de Peace Brigades International et Coperativa Tierra Commun ; émis des commentaires et suggestions sur la réalisation d’un protocole gouvernemental au sein de la fiscalité national ;  répondu à des évaluations de pays de la commission des droits humains des Nations Unis ; élaboré des analyses légales sur les droits reproductives des femmes handicapées au Mexique pour la Commission Interaméricaine des droits humain ; écris des articles sur l’institualization au Guatemala ; émis des commentaires sur les recommandations de la comité CEDAW des Nations Unis ; et dans mes temps libres escaladé des montagnes, nagé dans l’océan ; visité des musées, vu des villages historiques, dégusté milles saveurs du Mexique et appris à danser.

 

Indeed it is a beautiful life!

My involvement with DRI made me realise that there is a lot of work and change needed to give a life of dignity to people with disabilities. I am impressed by the strategy and impact of DRI in the world. Small offices, but amazing work! DRI Mexico take cares of Mexico and Guatemala’s cases; two people taking care of two nation’s advocacy for disability rights, that is immense!

Across the world, persons with disabilities are abandoned in large segregated institutions, where they often face abuse and torture. DRI report, Abandoned and Disappeared, documented horrific and pervasive abuse and generalized segregation of people with disabilities in institutions across Mexico. Even with good conditions institutions are inherently dangerous places for people with disabilities, where they are segregated for life. Investigators discovered that children with disabilities disappear and are trafficked; within institutions, people are left in permanent restraints which constitute torture; the use of lobotomies and psychosurgeries persist; abandoned people languish in institutions for their lifetimes; there is discrimination against children with disabilities in outplacement and adoption; there is an extreme lack of treatment and rehabilitation; living conditions in institutions are often inhumane and degrading; people are denied legal capacity and access to justice. It also finds that in Mexico there are no alternatives to institutions so, once children and adults are detained in one, they will stay there for life.

DRI report on institutions in Mexico.

With the adoption of the CRPD, there has been an international recognition that institutionalization of people with disabilities is a serious human rights violation and is an outmoded and an unacceptable form of “care” in the 21st Century. However, this outdated model is still prevalent in many countries and people with disabilities’ human rights are still forgotten in human right talks around the world. The life conditions of people with disabilities are still dealt with in a frame of medical perspective, which is most often unfounded or based on eugenic theories, and not seen from a human rights perspective.

DRI is pushing both Guatemala and Mexico’s government to move from a system of institutionalization to community based services for persons with disabilities, in accord with article 19 of the CRPD for the right to community living. For this change to happen through advocacy, awareness and litigation, all three levels have to be involved: the local, the national and the international. DRI works closely at the local level through monitoring and interviews with victims, institution workers, families; also with the government at the national level to report cases, work on policy changes, and recommend the development of community programs; DRI also reports to international bodies with standing such as the IACHR, the CEDAW, the CAT, UNHRC to pressure the unwilling government to fulfill its international responsibilities.

Colectivo Chuhcan during their biweekly meetings with persons with disabilities.

 The local presence is very important to understand the needs of people with disabilities and what impacts the programs might have on them. International models are of great use to help implement much needed programs and elevate the life conditions of persons with disabilities; however each country comes with their limitations and ways of doing things. Without local presence, awareness and understanding the implementation of such development programs might end in disaster. There has to be a change of mentality and understanding within the general society itself to push for respect and understanding of the rights of people with disabilities. As well, persons with disabilities must be present in each level of the planning and implementation of changes as they know best what is needed for them.

At a national or governmental level, I have experienced how difficult change might be when faced with an oppressive and unwilling government. The State of Guatemala, with a lot of international pressure have moved to sit for negotiations and starting many pilot projects to move persons with disabilities in community based programs and help their integration. DRI is involved in negotiations to push the government to fulfill these obligations and hoping to guide the start of these projects. In Mexico, however, DRI is facing oppression, threat and defamation from the government. Even with the ratification of international conventions oriented towards protecting the rights of person with disabilities, Mexico’s government is unwilling to make changes and investigate abuses against this vulnerable group. They have blocked all access to DRI, refuse to process complains and actively threatened DRI workers to not publish reports. In Mexico, these events have forced the workers to seek some kind of legal protection, take classes on security and have created a lot of tension. DRI is working on multiple different strategies to figure out how to continue their mission through international support of United Nations and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights without which it would be almost impossible to hold corrupted unwilling governments accountable.

The Case of Casa Esperanza

In Guatemala, DRI has admitted a petition against the government of Guatemala to the IActHR for the National Mental Health Institution, Federico Mora, one of the most dangerous intuitions in Latin America and hoping to hold the government accountable for the abuses. This year, in Mexico, DRI would like to repeat the same kind of petition in regards to a very dangerous institution where multiple abuses have been reported called Casa Esperanza. I have been working on the legal analysis for this case, especially trying to qualify forced sterilization happening in this institution as torture to hold the government accountable and urge its international obligation to protect people from torture, especially when these practices take place in public hospitals.

It is great to be part of this movement, slow but effective. There is so much more to learn, see and experience within this field of law and I am hoping to continue my involvement with this organization.

 

Same, same, but different

2016 Goldfinch AnnaAnna Goldfinch

I find that whenever I go somewhere new I play the “same, same, but different” game. I think it is human nature to try to find similarities between new places and home, but we are also quick to spot differences. My first few weeks in Colorado have not been an exception to this human quirk. Everywhere I go, I find myself relating it back to home in some way, while finding strange but subtle differences. For example, all the amenities in kitchens here are obviously the same as at home, except for the fact that all sinks have garburators (which are banned in most Canadian cities). My roommate makes fun of me for how afraid I am to turn it on.

Where I’m from, there are lots of mountains just like there are here in Colorado. However, the mountains at home are little, rolling and green; the tail end of the Appalachians. Here, we are at the height of the Rockies in all their glory; towering and jagged. While I’ve done quite a bit of hiking on the east coast, nothing could have prepared me for the outdoors culture of Colorado. I spend at least one day per weekend scampering up mountainsides, cursing the altitude, and marvelling the views.

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Kitchens and mountains aren’t the only place where things are same, same, but different. Having worked at a student-run not-for-profit organization for two years, working at One Earth Future (OEF) has a comfortable familiarity about it. I am, once again, surrounded by passionate and incredibly intelligent people, working for a cause they believe in. One Earth Future has similar successes and growing pains that most not-for-profits have. In a lot of ways working here is very “same same” as my previous job.

However, the organization I previously worked for was structured much like a union; we recognized that students could not accomplish much individually, but collectively they could advocate for a better world and create change. One Earth Future is the complete opposite. The organization was born out of one family’s generosity and vision for world peace. This is the greatest difference I have noticed so far.

One Earth Future’s unique structure speaks to the reality of a large portion of international human rights work. With a lack of global governance, individual actors who care about specific problems try to make a difference in whatever way they can. The founders of One Earth Future saw maritime piracy as an issue that was receiving little attention, and focused their resources there as a result.

In my first few weeks here, I spent a lot of time thinking about this dynamic. I wondered what the state of maritime piracy would be like if One Earth Future had not chosen to focus its resources in that direction. Would piracy off the coast of Somalia have decreased in the same way as it has under the watch of OEF? I also wondered about all the other important causes that don’t get attention from international human rights organizations. I worry about the “too small” issues, and the “too political” issues. Who is caring about them?

I haven’t stopped worrying and I haven’t stopped wondering about this, but I have forged ahead with my work on piracy. I don’t expect these questions to ever go away. In fact, I expect any time I work in international human rights I will ask similar questions, just maybe about a different topic. Same, same, but different.

 

Trouver la balance

2016 Awj NigahPar Nigah Awj

Voilà que cela fait déjà une semaine que je suis au Mexique. Depuis mon arrivée le vendredi dernier, ce fut une semaine intense. Le lendemain de mon arrivée, je me rends au bureau de Disability Rights International (DRI). Nous allons, ensemble avec Colectivo Chuhcan, une organisation conduite par des personnes souffrant d’incapacités mentales qui milite pour une vision renouvelée du handicap et qui partage le même bureau que DRI, visiter un Centre d’assistance d’intégration sociale (CAIS) pour les femmes au nom de CAIS Villa Mujeres.

Nous sommes une équipe de trois personnes de Colectivo Chuhcan, deux de DRI, une photographe en mission pour Médecin Sans Frontières et un journaliste de Vice Media. L’accès à ce genre d’institution s’obtient très difficilement. Nous nous passons pour un organisme charitable qui aimerait distribuer des vêtements et quelques collations aux femmes dans l’institution pour avoir la permission de rentrer et interagir avec les femmes. Le garde de sécurité montre un peu de résistance, mais finalement fini par nous laisser le droit de distribuer les petits biscuits et jus aux femmes.

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Most psychiatric institutions hold people for a lifetime, however there are some exceptions in which cases the patients are discharged to Mexico City’s locked, residential shelter system, the CAIS, due to lack of resources in the community. The CAIS Villa Mujeres is surrounded by tall walls and a solid smell of urine surrounds the place. The conditions are degrading and unhygienic. There are feces and urine on the floors and the whole place is very dirty.  Furthermore, the institution is unequipped for dignified living and incapable of providing adequate treatment to the people under its custody, including lack of professionalized staff. CAIS Villa Mujeres holds around 450 women and only around 20 staff members to take care of them.

It is ironic that this institution is called “Centro de Asistencia e Integración Social”, but the residents have no contact with society and are kept isolated within the walls of the institution. Most stay here for life with no contact with family or friends. When we entered, all the women were surprised to see us and came running to give us hugs and collect snacks. They don’t usually get visits, so they were very grateful and enjoyed interacting with us. Their stories were very sad and all of them wanted to get out.

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One lady who lost her leg during an accident in the metro and lived on the streets before being placed in this institution told me that she has her brother’s phone number and that her family have no idea where she is, but she is not allowed to contact anyone. Most women are abandoned by their families with no contact; some don’t even have an identity. Furthermore, the institution not only holds women with psychosocial disability, but also women from the street and abused women, whom the government should be helping but instead they are also placed in this institution as abandonados.

I saw a young lady with her nine months child, who was crying. Her boyfriend continuously abused her and she ran away on the streets before she was placed in this institution with her child. Many women had bandages around their ankles or arms from falls or accidents. Another woman said that she was sexually abused multiple times by a former staff member. Many were just homeless, living of poverty, and thrown in the institution.

DRI is advocating for the rights and full participation in society of people with disabilities. The goal of these visits is to collect evidence and document abuses in these institutions. In September 2014, DRI took part in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Committee’s evaluation of Mexico’s efforts to implement the CRPD and submitted information contained in their 2010 Abandoned and Disappeared report as well as the preliminary findings of their 2015 Twice Violated report. The UN CRPD Committee urged the Mexican government to reform its institutional system, and expressed concern about the total lack of strategy or plan to de-institutionalize people with disabilities in Mexico, contrary to article 19 of the CRPD.

Most of the week, I have come to the office to read the DRI reports on abuse, torture, human trafficking and problems with institutionalization. In recent years, the conditions in CAIS facilities in Mexico City have been documented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Federal District Human Rights Commission. In 2014 the UN Rapporteur on Torture reported that individuals at the CAIS live in unsanitary conditions, in a state of abandonment, and lack medical attention or any hope of return to life in the community (Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).

According to the CRPD Committee, “there has been a general failure to understand that the human rights-based model of disability implies a shift from the substitute decision-making paradigm to one that is based on supported decision making”. (UN CRPD Committee, General Comment No. 1 (2014) Article 12: Equal recognition before the law). In Mexico, the moment a person is diagnosed with a disability, he/she is stripped of all his/her rights and these can be overruled by an appointed guardian (family or director of institution). The violation of the right to legal capacity in Mexico is a grave violation of the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, especially of those detained in institutions where there may be sexually abused or be subject to forced sterilization, in which cases their consent is substituted by the guardian’s decision.

Reading these documents is emotionally very demanding and hard. All my colleagues have advised me to also go around and look at the city to see the beautiful side of Mexico City as well. Reading about the very inhumane conditions in which people with psychosocial disability live and how society and government treats them is very depressing.

Thus, the first week has mainly been about finding the balance between the very emotionally demanding work and my mental health. Most colleagues exercise, meditate or dance. I have taken walks before and after work around the beautiful historic center of Mexico, Zócalo and Bellas Artes. I also go jogging in the evening to keep active and change my ideas. My colleagues are very loving and I always enjoy going out for lunch and talking about life; it is the happy part of my day at DRI.

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For more information: http://www.driadvocacy.org

 

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