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Challenging Narratives: Development, Duvalier, and interning at ASFC

By: Sarah Cha

“The solutions to Haiti’s suffering are usually characterized by images of engineers digging wells, construction workers building houses, and especially doctors treating the sick. But the physician most associated with Haiti relief, Dr. Paul Farmer […] places much of his hope for the country in the hands of lawyers. “The current justice system’s shortcomings […] underlie almost all of Haiti’s problems”.[1]  

I came across this passage a couple of weeks ago sitting at my desk at Avocats sans frontières Canada (ASFC), knee-deep in research on the Duvalier case. This was a case that had made international headlines in 2011 when it began and once again in 2014 with former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s (untimely) death. How about since then? For all intents and purposes, the case has more or less been relegated to the shelf.

I had heard little about the case before starting this internship in Québec City. While aware of Haiti’s turbulent political history, Haiti was a country whose name was much more likely to evoke thoughts of earthquakes, poverty, and cholera than it ever would dictatorship, international crimes, or impunity.

Now, given that the 29-year dictatorial reign of the Duvalier father-son duo ended in the mid-1980s and that the legal case has yet to reach trial (after over five years), maybe this isn’t so surprising.

But, this is the story of a dictator who suddenly came home in 2011 after a comfortable 25-year exile abroad – not to face justice for crimes which continue to affect Haitian society today, but instead to live lavishly among many of his former victims and their families. Personal invitations by then-President Martelly to official ceremonies, loosely-enforced house arrest, and talk of amnesty under the guise of reconciliation all effectively served to trivialize the charges of crimes against humanity and financial corruption he officially faced. As aptly remarked by Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch: “Where is the outrage we [the international community] would have if the brutal leaders of Iraq or Serbia were walking around free? We would not allow this anywhere else.”[2] Indeed, there is nothing quite like having the former dictator – the “living embodiment of ultimate impunity”[3]  – freely walking around a nation’s capital to reveal the rule of rule in a country to be little more than a myth. While Duvalier can no longer be personally prosecuted so as to provide a measure of justice to his regime’s victims, his “consorts” (similarly accused of committing countless atrocities) most certainly can.

So, what makes this case (and Haiti) different? Why were we and do we continue to be so willing to provide Haiti with lots of development aid, while distancing ourselves when it comes to prosecuting a former dictator (and members of his regime) whose very lack of accountability for crimes against humanity arguably laid the foundation for Haiti’s current pattern of impunity?[4] Where is the involvement of the U.S., so readily immersed in Haiti’s political matters for two centuries, but all of a sudden unwilling to implicate itself much beyond the provision of humanitarian relief?[5]

Given there is arguably little serious legal controversy surrounding the Duvalier case, scholar Fran Quigley believes that only political controversy is left to explain the lack of political will—both national and international—behind the case. More specifically, a “Duvalier prosecution would inevitably expose embarrassing details of the long U.S. pattern of supporting the Duvaliers financially and militarily despite awareness of the regime’s brutality and thievery.”[6] From this perspective, the lack of Western involvement in the Duvalier case can be better understood by recalling its past complicity in permitting the very same human rights violations targeted by that case to go on for as long as Duvalier was seen as being key in the fight against communism.[7]

Focusing on development aid (and promoting the narrative that features such aid as being the key solution) conveniently helps avoid delving into such messy controversy. In this light, the association of earthquakes with Haiti really couldn’t be better, for the simple reason that, unlike dictatorships, an earthquake can be seen to be a natural, unpreventable, and, most importantly, fault-free, disaster.

Here’s another related example. Both the Haiti cholera outbreak and earthquake happened in 2010, while the Duvalier case about nearly thirty years of brutal international crimes began a year later – and yet, it is the earthquake with which many associate Haiti the most. Why is that? At least part of the reason may have to do with the fact that both the cholera outbreak and the Duvalier case illustrate a crisis of accountability for past abuses in a way that the earthquake simply doesn’t. As many are now aware following the 2016 admission by the U.N. of its role in the cholera epidemic brought in by its peacekeepers, this outbreak wasn’t merely a humanitarian matter, but a human rights crisis that easily might have been and should have been avoided.

And, so, it suddenly becomes less surprising to me that earthquakes and poverty easily make it into the dominant Haitian narrative – the one casting it as “the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere”[8] – while impunity and Western complicity in the Duvalier regime’s human rights violations are easily ignored. This narrative is compelling in its simplicity, as perhaps any good narrative should be. But, it is also one that is undeniably distorted if it is meant to be a representation of the whole reality – key if the “solutions to Haiti’s suffering” (as worded by Dr. Farmer in the quote above) are to be found. While development relief undoubtedly remains important, the aftermath of both the Duvalier regime and the cholera outbreak significantly underscore “charity’s inadequacy as a stand-in for justice”.[9]

The way I see it, by supporting victims of human rights abuses under Duvalier’s regime in demanding justice and insisting that violations not be left in the past, organizations like ASFC are helping to stitch an important but often-neglected narrative into this dominant narrative for a more complete picture of Haiti. The strategic litigation of emblematic cases like the Duvalier case is just one part of the work ASFC carries out in countries around the world, working closely with domestic lawyers on the ground to develop the human rights jurisprudence in a country. In this way, it helps to build a justice system that can help correct wrongs and to allow for a real, rather than apparent, rule of law.

Listening to the voices of Haitians demanding justice for past human rights violations and an end to the cycle of impunity – having them write the narrative of their own country – would be a good place to start.

(Another reason the passage above struck me? Given the seemingly unrelenting reminder of the limits of law as a tool for social justice – and that it just isn’t all about lawyers – that has been my law school experience (only exaggerating a bit here), seeing positive representations of lawyers and law’s potential in human rights work really just never gets old.)

 

[1] Fran Quigley, “‘Judge Him’: Pursuing Duvalier” from How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2014) at 41.

[2] Ibid at 41.

[3] Jorge Heine, “Jean-Claude Duvalier Should Be Tried for More than Corruption” The Toronto Star (5 February 2012), online: <https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2012/02/05/jeanclaude_duvalier_should_be_tried_for_more_than_corruption.html>.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “Thirst for Justice: A Decade of Impunity in Haiti » 8:7(B) (September 1996), online: <https://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Haiti.htm>.

[5] For example, commenting on Duvalier’s return, the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State P.J. Crowley remarked that “What happens at this point forward is a matter for the people of Haiti … This is their concern, not ours”. See: <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-duvalier-usa-idUSTRE70H5WN20110118>.

[6] Quigley, supra note 1 at 39.

[7] “It’s a Shame Jean-Claude Duvalier Died a Free Man, Says Ex-UN Prosecutor” CBC News (4 October 2014), online: <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/it-s-a-shame-jean-claude-duvalier-died-a-free-man-says-ex-un-prosecutor-1.2787931>.

[8] This dubious honour may now belong to Venezuela. See: http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/headline-Venezuela-takes-over-from-Haiti-as-the-poorest-country-in-the-hemisphere-33573.html

[9] Fran Quigley, “Haiti’s Earthquake Was Devastating. The Cholera Epidemic Was Worse.” The Nation (16 October 2015), online: <https://www.thenation.com/article/haitis-earthquake-was-devastating-the-cholera-epidemic-was-worse/>.

[10] M.R. O’Connor, “The World’s Favorite Disaster Story: One of the Most Repeated Facts about Haiti is a Lie”, Vice News Canada (13 October 2016), online: <https://news.vice.com/story/one-of-the-most-repeated-facts-about-deforestation-in-haiti-is-a-lie>.

Access to Justice and Health Services for Women in Rural Uganda

by Jillian Ohayon

I came to Uganda this summer to work as an intern for the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development in the city of Kampala. I want to use this post to focus mostly on one aspect if the work that I have done here, and will likely use the next to write more generally about life in Kampala (which, spoiler alert, has been pretty amazing and an incredible experience of self-growth).

The Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development is an organization comprising about thirty employees. Most of them are lawyers, although vital members of the organization also include administrators, research officers, communications officers, and accountants. CEHURD has three programs which generally function separately from one another, though they are intentionally and intrinsically interlinked. They are Community Empowerment; Research, Documentation, & Advocacy; and Strategic Litigation. In Ugandan NGO terms, I have come to understand that CEHURD is a rather well-known name, despite it being a young organization of only about seven years.

I began my time at CEHURD by attending a court session regarding Ugandan tobacco laws with the Strategic Litigation team, but was soon after incorporated into a project with the Community Empowerment program. This will be a two-year long project supported by The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). CEHURD’s project is under a PEPFAR partnership with the DREAMS project, which stands for “Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe Women.” The DREAMS goal is to create country-owned and country-driven sustainable programs to address the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. The vision is to combine evidence-based approaches with regards to the structural drivers that directly affect adolescent girls and young women in their risk of contracting HIV. This is where CEHURD comes in. CEHURD’s fieldwork on the DREAMS project involves going into villages to interview adolescent girls and young women as well as a variety of stakeholders. The work is focused predominantly on access to HIV services and the legal and societal context surrounding sexual assault. Due to the societal framework and corresponding views prevalent in rural Uganda, young women who are village dwellers are heavily susceptible to sexual assault. This, in turn, drastically heightens their risk of contracting HIV.

My work on this project began in the Kampala office, where I wrote a literature review for the Community Empowerment team. I researched past work that had been done on this topic, and noted the successes, failures, and recommendations that came out of those studies. This helped to shape and inform the fieldwork. I was also involved in editing and writing many of the research tools for the interviews we conducted in the field. Once the surveys were completed and the stakeholders had been mobilized, I joined the team to spend a week in the district of Gomba, about three and a half hours outside of Kampala. We visited three villages where we interviewed adolescent girls and young women, as well as various stakeholders, including police officers, parole officers, healthcare providers, NGO officers, and various members of local government. I had the opportunity to engage both with the stakeholders and women alike.

Village of Kanoni, District of Gomba

sitions in local government. In relative terms, these interviews were relatively encouraging experiences. Most spoke English very well, and they were all quite highly educated. They were also all quite familiar with the prevalence of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in their district, and seemed to have been very aware the structural drivers that perpetuate the problem. They shared with me their plans and programs that are being developed to address the problem, and all of them seemed serious and committed to the work. I am confident that CEHURD will be able to work with them toward the implementation of programs that will improve upon this situation in a significant way.

Health Facility Assessment

On my last day, I conducted a facility assessment, which took the form of an interview with the in-charge at a health facility in the village of Mamba. Luckily, I had been given a detailed assessment tool, because if I had been told to assess this facility according to my own standards, I’m not sure how I would have proceeded. The health facility does not have a doctor. From what I understood, the in-charge is trained in nursing, and, occasionally, they have a midwife come by. The facility has no electricity, no bathrooms, no running water, and had run out of stock on about half of its medication. Unfortunately, CEHURD’s area of expertise does not lie directly in facility improvement. From what I understand, it is the government that is responsible for that.

Interviews with Adolescent Girls and Young Women

In total, I surveyed 17 girls. 15 of them were transactional sex workers, all of whom were in relationships, some of whom were married, and all of whom had been tested and were HIV negative. I asked them questions about their experiences with gender-based violence, ranging from verbal abuse to being violently forced into sex using a weapon. Only one of the 17 told me she had never experienced any abuse, and the translator seemed to think that she wasn’t telling the truth. One of the girls, after I asked her whether her husband insults her and humiliates her in public, looked deeply confused, and then replied, “Of course.” Others laughed when I asked whether or not their partners had ever slammed them against the wall as if to say, “What kind of a question is that? Doesn’t that happen to everyone?”
To say the least, it was a lot to process.

One main issue that revealed itself from the interview responses we received is the lack of access to justice and the necessary HIV services in cases of sexual assault. The problems that amount to this issue are extensive and interlinked. Girls are very often married off at a young age in order to bring money to their families. If a girl has been sexually assaulted, she may be considered impure and possibly not suitable for marriage. Therein lies the first problem. Next, there is a 72-hour window in which a person can visit a clinic after sex in order to get the medication that would prevent HIV had they contracted it. However, since many girls are too afraid to tell anybody when they have been assaulted, and are also unaware of the 72-hour window, many do not receive the proper preventative care. Furthermore, most of the women with whom I spoke told me that they were too afraid to tell police officers about their experiences with sexual assault. They fear not being believed, being stigmatized, and having to face the anger of their perpetrator and/or their families. Furthermore, often, private negotiations will take place between the victim’s family and the perpetrator, and so the perpetrator is rarely formally punished. Beyond this, even if a victim does go through with the process of successfully filing a police report, there are two related access to justice problems that lie beyond that. The first is that the only court that hears those cases is quite a significant distance away from the village, and transport is both inconvenient and costly. The second is that the law states that the health worker who examines the victim after the assault took place must testify at the hearing. However, there exists no means of compensation for the worker’s time or transportation. Therefore, the large majority of the time, the health worker simply does not show up. When this happens, the case is thrown out.

***

On a more personal note, I have to say that as emotionally challenging as it was, speaking with these girls and women was a humbling privilege. Despite the hardships they shared with me, I sensed nothing but kindness and positivity radiating from them.


I sincerely hope that the empowerment programs that CEHURD implements will effect real change in the lives of these girls and women. Given the passion, focus, and dedication of the Community Empowerment team, I have faith that they just might.

Sunset over Lake Walamo in the village of Mamba

Divisional Court as a small world: cultural homogeneity or a forum for dialogue?

 

“Small world,” remarked another Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) summer student sitting next to me. We were looking around the Ontario Divisional courtroom at Osgoode Hall in Toronto and we were both waving at or pointing out friends and acquaintances dotted across the wooden benches.

“Ah, there’s my friend Ella, I guess she’s working at the firm that’s doing pro bono for another intervenor.”

“Oh, there’s my classmate Sean, I forgot that he’s at the Attorney General this summer.”

“Woh, I think that woman pleading right now is a cousin of my good friend Dave!”

We’d taken the day out of the CCLA office to sit in on closing arguments for Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) v College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO), a constitutional challenge to policies requiring that doctors give “effective referrals” when the doctors are themselves religiously or morally opposed to certain procedures—procedures like abortion and doctor-assisted dying.

CMDS’ counsel was arguing that with the new requirement that they give referrals, CPSO is making medical professionals decide between their religious beliefs and their professional role, and hence infringing their section 2(a) freedom of religion Charter rights. CPSO, on the other hand, asserted that the rules around effective referrals adequately balance the competing rights and freedoms with the statutory objective, maintaining access to healthcare services, while only minimally impairing certain physicians’ freedoms.

Fascinating though the case may have been (and may continue to be once the decision is rendered and potentially appealed), what I initially took away from the courtroom was an eerie feeling of cultural homogeneity. In part by virtue of my attendance at a central-Canadian law school, I was acquainted with a sizeable percentage of the people in the room before I walked in the door. Drawn largely from an urban, white, progressive background, a set of like-minded folks appeared to fill the benches.

But what dawned on me as the day unfolded was that not everyone in the room was cut from the same cloth. After speaking over the lunchtime adjournment to a couple of students and young lawyers whom I did not recognize, I realized the intervenors and partisan spectators on the other side of the argument brought with them noticeably more religious and conservative worldviews.

It became clear that the demographics were not homogenous after all, but rather reminiscent of a kind of bifurcation that I’d observed while working on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. There, my colleagues in the Parliamentary Internship Programme were generally progressive and more often than not believers in the positive potential of state power. But while we would mostly socialize amongst ourselves on the Hill, the program placed us in both opposition and government offices, at a time when the Harper Conservatives ran the show. I realized through that experience that a steady stream of young conservatives churned through those offices as well, many drawn from evangelical backgrounds and many of them more fiery and committed to politics than I’d previously grasped.

Like on the Hill, the population in the courtroom was lined up mostly along partisan lines, even sitting on different sides of the room. These proceedings could be understood, I realized, as politics in another arena. Charter rights would take the place of policy, judges opinions the place of MP votes—but the crowds would still root for their side and one would temporarily prevail over the other.

What’s more, at least in one framing of the dispute, each side had its own bit of the Charter to root for; the CMDS was rallying behind the importance of the section 2(a) freedom of religion while the CPSO and many of its allies were arguing that section 1 should carry the day, saving any apparent infringing policies in the process.

“Nobody here is doubting the sincerity of your clients’ beliefs,” said one judge to the CMDS counsel in the dying moments of the hearing. The judge was staring the counsel down as if to act out the drama of the Charter, as if to say: yes, your clients have this right but whether it prevails depends upon what we find to be necessary for the functioning of a free and democratic society.

In that courtroom and mediated by the language of law, the perspectives of people like me hopefully came into dialogue with those of people from a markedly different background and set of convictions. In that sense, it would be all of our arguments and sentiments that would constitute the real small world of this case—the microcosm of opinion, arrayed around this particular dispute and working itself out in the reasoning of the judges, striving in their way to do justice to each and to all.

Opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.

Civil Rights and the Achievements of the Charter and the CCLA

By Didier Chelin

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

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

THE CCLA AS A POLITICAL PLAYER

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

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

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

THE CHARTER AND THE CCLA’S INCLUSIVE CULTURE

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

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

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

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

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

By Brianna Gorence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without the Rule of Law

Alexander Agnello

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

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

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

 

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

 

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

Human Rights Interns Group Arawatan at a retreat in Tagaytay.

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


[1] The Black Law Students’ Association of McGill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income Inequality and an Appetite for Change

By Zachary Shefman

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

Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek, Namibia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My office at the Law Reform and Development Commission

My office at the Law Reform and Development Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Ibid at 8, 62.

[20] Ibid at  28–9.

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

Life at the Commission

By Zachary Shefman

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

The downtown core of Windhoek.

The downtown core of Windhoek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Emilie de Haas 

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

 

Goal 1: Learn about the field of Human Rights

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

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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

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

That made sense to me.

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

 

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

IMG_20160502_185056

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_20160701_074321

Majestic view of Lake Titicaca

 

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

IMG_20160702_091755

My host family on Islas de los Uros, Lake Titicaca

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Getting my hair braided by my host sisters

 

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

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

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

 

IMG_20160714_132017

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

 

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

 


Stop planning, Start trusting, but keep asking

By Nour Saadi

As human rights interns, we might go to a certain country with the objective of empowering a community, and most importantly, with a preconceived idea of what this entails. These communities are, often times, the victims of extreme violence. Working at Human Rights Watch, in an environment so remote from the victims I wanted to work for, I started asking:

How much do we know of the needs of the victims?

Do the victims really want accountability for the perpetrators? Would a court judgement really change their lives, especially if it comes from some far away court they have never heard of, in the Western world?

I sometimes found myself thinking that victims might not want accountability. This looked more like what Western countries want. It looked like an imposed mentality.

My desk at HRW

Mon stage à New York a été très enrichissant professionnellement. Les avocat-e-s et la coordonnatrice du Programme de Justice Internationale sont des perles. Les discussions sont enrichissantes, les stratégies ingénieuses, le travail exigent, le soutien sincère, et les commentaires des stagiaires toujours bienvenus. Travailler au sein d’une organisation aussi large que Human Rights Watch m’a aussi permis d’explorer nombreux de mes intérêts par la rencontre avec des professionnel-le-s travaillant pour d’autres divisions : discussions sur le droit fiscal international, la corruption en Afrique et ailleurs, la règle de droit au Moyen-Orient et son application en temps de guerre, double-standards et stratégies employées avec l’ONU; et plus encore.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Brooklyn Bridge Park

 

 

Vivre à New York pendant trois mois a été particulièrement enrichissant personnellement. Le chaos humain qui pèse sur la ville a lentement généré un repli sur moi-même. Ceci m’a permis de faire des découvertes où ma belle Montréal n’aurait su me guider.

 

 

 

 

Nour Saadi

Lessons learned?

Today, I am going back to Montreal with this in mind.

 

Humanity is doomed.

Beauty and happiness lies in the little things.

How can you work, with no hope of seeing change happening?

Without, in your eyes, any light sparkling?

I, dear, cannot work without a purpose.

I, dear, will not work without a purpose.

 

I will keep asking,

Without forgetting,

To stop planning, and start trusting.

 

New York City, you have been good

Oh how many times have you changed my mood

How many times have you hit my shoulder?

Walking too fast, to not miss the light?

If only you knew, if only I knew,

That time is eternal, it will not disappear,

Only you will

 

So walk, run! If you will

But make sure to stop and

Look around

Ask the sky and

Ask your heart

If the direction you’re running towards

If that light, burning your jaded eyes

Without you blinking

Oh how can you?

You need to cross, you need to run,

Hit a few shoulders under the sun,

 

But make sure to stop and

Look around

Ask the sky and

Ask your heart

If that light across the street

The one attracting your frantic feet

The light burning inside it can meet

Or is it,

stealing it from you.

 

Uptown

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