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A glimpse at ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

By Dominic Bell

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

The North is as vast as it is beautiful.

I am humbled by the immensity of the Arctic and by the remarkable people who inhabit it.


My new home is in Apex which is a small community about 5km Southeast of Iqaluit, accessible by causeway.  Luckily, my host family has allowed me to use their ATV to make my way to and from work each day.  The drive is about 15 minutes which can be quite harsh due to stinging winds.


The temperature in Iqaluit has hovered at -1 since my arrival, with alternating snow and rain.  This pales in comparison to the -70 temperatures (wind-chill included) that the Nunavummiut face during the winter.  Earlier this month, I was able to participate in the sixth annual Yurt Fest which took place out on the massive expanse of ice that is Frobisher Bay.  It was my first time out on the land and I came across teams of dogs near their sleds peering at us with one eye as they slept under the bright sky.  After meeting many new people and partaking in the festivities, I sat with an Inuk hunter who told me a bit about her life and her encounters.  She had traveled down South on many occasions and was familiar with the urban life and modernity as I have come to know it living in a big city.  After telling her a bit about the nature of my work at Maliiganik, she proceeded to inform me that the Inuit do not have a word for “criminal”.  For them, the world is not cast in black/white and neither are people wholly good nor wholly evil.  I recognized that the legal paradigm I have been instructed in has minimal relevance to the old and new Inuit way of life which is built on its own set of premises.


I have been troubled by this realization in my work for legal aid at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik.  Thus far, my research has been primarily focused in criminal defence and civil (poverty) claims.  The office environment is fantastic and I find much of the work to be very morally rewarding.  However,  I cannot help but wonder if the superimposition of Western legal values is but another form of neocolonialism within a nation which, perhaps falsely, prides itself on multiculturalism.  A few days ago, I read part of the TRC commission as part of a social media movement pioneered by my host who is also a criminal defence lawyer at Maliiganik.  I find it quite timely that I am in the territories at a time when we have begun to peel back a dark layer of Canada’s recent history, the effects of which can still be felt in this gigantic expanse.

So far during my brief stay, I have done my best to immerse myself as much as I can and to learn from those around me.  I have gone jigging for fish out on the melting ice, participated in a local “feast”, volunteered at the annual Alianait Festival, and hiked in the mountains/hills near Apex, inter alia.  Moreover, I have cooked seal, sampled raw narwhal and dried caribou, and eaten Arctic char.  Lastly, I coach youth in soccer on Wednesday nights at the Arctic Winter Games Complex.


I am hesitant to exocitize my experiences further, lest I become the intrepid international intern.  My brief stay in Iqaluit has cautioned me against simple solutions in wake of a truly complex array of institutional and social relations which play out in Iqaluit and the smaller communities of Nunavut.  I am wary of merely echoing the voice of the transient population that is so apparent in the territories; the people who travel here with ulterior motives and fail to truly appreciate this place.  Luckily, I have started to build–what I hope will be–lasting bonds with the locals who are often skeptical of Southerners who are simply here in passing for a couple months or a year and then return from whence they came with fond memories.  I am aware of the profound sense of distrust of “well-intentioned” foreigners–reminiscent of the oppressive colonizer.

As such, I endeavour to remain open-minded and perceptive.

I still have much to learn and see before departing.


Human Rights Education in Quebec?

During Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) here in Montreal, I have met multiple fascinating individuals from around the world hoping to develop effective and practical strategies to transform their communities through Human Rights Education (HRE).

Before my internship, I have never seriously thought about the importance of HRE for social change. However, after weeks of work at Equitas, its importance is now clear to me. Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner of Human Rights, also expressed the importance of HRE when he said that the most powerful instrument in the arsenal we have against poverty and conflict is the weapon of massive instruction.” (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15628&LangID=E)

After three years at the Faculty of Law, I now understand that laws are not enough to ensure peace and respect. If people do not learn to love and truly respect one another first, even the best anti-discrimination laws will not be enforced. These laws will merely give a misleading appearance of harmony and non-discrimination.

Since HRE is crucial for a healthy society, it should undoubtedly be infused throughout the programs of every school, from the earliest age. I began to wonder whether I have ever been exposed to HRE in my own education in Quebec. I am sure that most participants at the IHRTP come to Montreal assuming that HRE is part and parcel of our education system here in Canada. Yet, I realized that most of my years in school were completely devoid of any aspect of HRE.

During the IHRTP, HRE has been described as the contrary of indoctrination, since it encourages critical thinking and is based on a participatory approach to learning which starts from the experience of each individual. This is contrary to the expert model, in which one individual thought to be an expert lectures an entire group. If HRE is the contrary of indoctrination, it would therefore discourage the propagation of myths or stories that are misleading. Unfortunately, I can think of many such myths that I have been encouraged to accept during my time in school.

Throughout my years in elementary school, high school and Cégep, Canada’s racist and colonial identity has never been revealed to me. I have only heard about Residential Schools coincidentally a few years ago while doing my own research. The first time I was asked to read about Canada’s racist history was in the Critical Race Theory seminar I took last semester when we read Constance Backhouse’s “Colour Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada.” The myth of Canada as a state that has never been racist has been ubiquitous throughout my education before law school.

Moreover, present systematic oppression has also rarely been discussed throughout my education. When oppression is mentioned, it is often situated in the past. For example, consider Montreal Police’s recent commitment to improve the way police interact with First Nations people. These efforts have been described as a way to “try and combat the continuing effects of colonization,” therefore implying that colonialism and oppression is a thing of the past (http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/montreal-police-aboriginals-partner-up-to-improve-relations-1.2441359). However, many, such as Professor Glen Sean Coulthard, would say that the continuing dispossession of Indigenous land and the present pain endured by Indigenous people are not just “effects” of colonialism, but are indicative of the continuing colonial relationship between the state and Indigenous people in Canada (Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014) at 106). These are only some examples of myths that pervade our society, including our education system.

For all these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that, from my own experience, HRE seems to be quite absent in Quebec, especially in elementary and high school. Classes that resemble HRE only seem to be available in university and are not mandatory. However, as Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated,  this model of education is important in the long-term project of rewiring how many people think. My time with Equitas has showed me that only such a project can lead to durable social change and a more peaceful world.


Portrait d’un peuple ébranlé par de la violence qui ne lui ressemble pas

Hier, vendredi 26 juin, la Tunisie a été ébranlée par un attentat terroriste qui a fait, à ce jour, 37 morts. La cible : la plage d’un hôtel touristique. Cet incident fait suite à une tuerie qui s’est produite au musée du Bardo il y a près de trois mois faisant 22 morts. Ces deux évènements ont en commun leur cible : les touristes, des occidentaux. Le message que cette similarité révèle est bien clair. Les djihadistes s’opposent à la modernisation de la Tunisie, qu’ils qualifieraient d’ « occidentalisation ». Ils s’opposent au fait que la Tunisie a réussi avec succès sa transition démocratique, que la charria n’est pas appliquée par l’État, que les standards qu’imposent la religion sont imposés de façon libérale. Le meilleur moyen de faire payer la Tunisie pour ces changements non-souhaitables est de s’attaquer à un secteur vital de son industrie et à son point de contact direct avec l’Occident: le tourisme. C’est aussi, tristement, le meilleur moyen d’assurer que l’incident fasse les nouvelles partout dans le monde.

Cet attentat a ébranlé les tunisiens, tout comme le dernier. Ces gestes de violence sont en effet en parfaite contradiction avec leur nature et leur identité. Au cours des prochains paragraphes, je tenterai de vous dépeindre le portrait du peuple tunisien, un peuple que j’apprends à aimer, pour illustrer à quel point ces évènements ne sont pas représentatifs de la situation du pays.

Les tunisiens et tunisiennes ont une joie de vivre contagieuse. Ils aiment la musique, la danse, rire, manger, chanter et danser. Ils aiment leur café bien fort, leur thé à la menthe bien chaud et leur baguette de pain fraichement sortie du four. Durant le mois de ramadan, chaque soir, ils se rassemblent dans les étroites rues de la médina, la vieille ville, pour fêter la rupture du jeûne. Entre amis, en famille, jeunes et moins jeunes se réunissent pour célébrer. Des spectacles sont offerts à presque tous les coins rues. C’est à peine si l’on peut marcher à travers les étroites rues cintrées par les maisons blanches aux accents bleus. Le ramadan, tradition qui peut sembler complètement insensée pour un étranger, est un moyen de rapprocher les familles et les communautés, de donner au prochain, de bâtir une solidarité qui les aide à affronter les moments plus difficiles de leur quotidien.


Les rues de la médina

 Les tunisiens et tunisiennes sont ouverts d’esprit. La religion est pourtant encore bien ancrée dans leurs mœurs. La plupart ne boivent pas d’alcool, font le jeûne durant ramadan, ne mangent pas de porc et vivent avec leur famille jusqu’au mariage. L’appel à la prière peut encore être entendue à travers toute la ville cinq fois par jour. Or, ce qui est admirable chez les tunisiens est que chacun est libre de choisir la façon dont il souhaite pratiquer la religion. Ils m’ont expliqué que la relation entre dieu et un individu et la façon dont ils entretiennent cette relation ne regarde qu’eux. Il n’est ainsi pas rare de rencontrer au sein d’une même famille, d’un même groupe d’amies, une fille portant le voile et l’autre pas, l’une priant plusieurs foispar jour et l’autre pas.  Elles seront pourtant toutes aussi soucieuses d’être à la mode : les femmes portant le voile agençant parfaitement cet accessoire avec leurs souliers ou encore leur sacoche. Chacun se respecte dans ses choix religieux et c’est remarquable.

Les tunisiens et tunisiennes tiennent à leurs droits et ils sont prêts à lutter pour les défendre. La Tunisie a probablement l’une des sociétés civiles les plus actives que j’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer. Les organisations non-gouvernementales se sont mises à foisonner après la révolution et elles mettent la main à la pâte pour aider les plus démunis et pour promouvoir l’égalité. L’un des cafés de la ville est d’ailleurs surnommé le café des « NGO », illustrant que suffisamment de gens travaillent dans ce domaine pour remplir un café à semaines longues. Il est d’ailleurs assez commun que les jeunes soient actifs au sein de ces organisations. Les libertés civiles sont de mieux en mieux respectées, bien que certaines limites à ne pas franchir existent encore.

Photo groupe aswat

L’équipe d’Aswat Nissa

 Les tunisiens et tunisiennes aiment la politique. Ils sont fiers d’avoir réussi leur transition d’un régime autoritaire à un régime démocratique de manière pacifique. Ils sont fiers d’appartenir à ce pays stable et moderne situé dans une région où la stabilité politique est périlleuse et où la religion prend des tendances de plus en plus extrémistes. Il y a plus de 100 partis politiques enregistrés, c’est-à-peine si l’on peut s’y retrouver. Les Tunisiens discutent de santé, d’éducation, d’économie, suivent l’actualité et imaginent un futur meilleur. Ils sont prêts à collaborer pour faire avancer les enjeux qui leur sont chers. Au cours du projet de l’Académie politique des femmes organisé par Aswat Nissa, l’association où je travaille, des femmes provenant de partis politiques différents, de droite et de gauche (le gap est grand, je vous l’assure), ont été capables de collaborer durant une année entière pour faire avancer la cause des droits des femmes. Elles ont dépassées leurs préjugés pour faire de la Tunisie un monde meilleur. Même si leur Parlement ne réussit pas à faire des changements aussi rapides et efficaces qu’ils le souhaiteraient, les tunisiens croient en son pouvoir et surveillent attentivement son évolution afin de protester si la situation se détériore.


Les femmes de l’Académie au travail

 En somme, les Tunisiens forment un peuple incroyablement ouvert d’esprit, chaleureux, éduqué et brillant; un peuple plein d’espoirs envers un futur meilleur. Les tunisiens sont arrivés à définir une identité qui est en accord avec leurs racines islamiques et qui est pourtant tournée vers l’avenir, vers le monde. Ils sont fiers d’être tunisiens et ils ont raisons de l’être.

Il est certain qu’il reste encore du travail à faire afin de rendre ce pays totalement égalitaire et respectueux des libertés civiles. La patriarchie est encore présente de façon intangible au quotidien. Les hommes sont toujours plus nombreux que les femmes dans les endroits publics : les cafés, les plages, les spectacles, ce qui révèle que les femmes sont, pendant ce temps, à la maison entrain de prendre soin des enfants et de l’entretien ménager. Les hommes vous dévisageront d’ailleurs sans gêne dans les rues et vous passeront des commentaires plus ou moins adéquats s’ils vous trouvent joli. Les inégalités entre les riches et les pauvres sont marquées. Le contraste entre les villas à couper le souffle de la banlieue Nord de Tunis, et le centre ville où la vie va à mille à l’heure et où les rues sont sales et puantes est marqué. Le Parlement est loin d’être efficace et neutre, les derniers projets ayant fait l’objet de délais indus. Les élections municipales prévues tardent à venir, tout comme le projet de loi sur la décentralisation qui créera ces institutions. Les défis sont nombreux. Or, les tunisiens ont tous les outils pour les surmonter.

J’espère que ce portrait vous donnera envie de découvrir ce peuple et de venir visiter ce beau pays. Les attentats sont de tristes évènements provenant d’influences extérieures nullement représentatives de la culture tunisienne. La Tunisie n’est malheureusement que l’une des nombreuses victimes de l’islam extrémiste et du terrorisme, joignant les rangs de la France, du Koweït, qui ont aussi été victimes d’attentat durant la journée d’hier, et de bien d’autres états. Je vous invite à ne pas tourner le dos à Tunisie, à y affluer pour découvrir sa beauté et pour aider les tunisiens à bâtir le pays dont ils rêvent.

Trans*clusivity: a call to action

CW: Conversion Therapy & RPDR7 Spoiler
Hi folks, rain & fog have become my new friends in Toronto. - Jeansil Bruyère

Hi folks, rain & fog have become my new friends in Toronto.
- Jeansil Bruyère

We are all born with privileges & barriers. More often than not, we overlook the privilege we benefit from while denouncing the barriers that hinder us. As a good friend of mine once said, privilege is not something we have per se but rather something we don’t have; it is a lack of barriers that spare us from stigma and discrimination. I am French-Canadian, biracial, male, gay, atheist of Muslim and Catholic decent, enrolled in legal studies at McGill University. Until recently, I never realized that being cisgendered could be added to that list of privileges and barriers that compose my identity. Cis-ness is a privilege because I do not face barriers to the same extent as lived by the trans*  members of our LGBTQ community: health, employment, immigration & education (just to name a few). In light of my cis-privilege and field of interest (i.e. human rights law), I am taking the platform offered by the McGill Centre of Legal Pluralism and Human Rights to call all other human rights activists to be more trans* inclusive, or trans*clusive as I titled this blog post.
Toronto City Hall proclamation of the international day against homophobia transphobia and biphobia.

Mayor John Tory proclaimed May 17th of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia.

Within a week of being at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Network (the Network), I was given the opportunity to meet mayor John Tory and Queer Ontario New Democrat MPP Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo at a City Hall Proclamation declaring May 17th, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Notably, DiNovo introduced Bill 77, the “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act” and is urging Kathleen Wynne to pass it by Pride in the upcoming weeks. The Act would prohibit conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, and prohibit doctors from billing Ontario Health Insurance for conversion therapy conducted on any patient. That said, Ontario isn’t the only province with groundbreaking trans* developments. Only a few days later in Quebec, amazing activists such as Gabrielle Bouchard, Samuel Singer and Jean-Sébastien Sauvé were speaking to the Committee on Institutions which included the Minister of Justice at the National Assembly at special consultations and public hearings on the draft regulation concerning the Regulation respecting change of name and of other particulars of civil status for transsexual and transgender persons. An issue of great concern for volunteering at the Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Clinic and many trans* people living in Quebec.

Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Network held a Barreau du Québec continuing education workshop this past May.

Clinique Juridique Trans* Legal Network held a Barreau du Québec continuing education workshop this past May.

Zomming out to what western-mainstream culture has been depicting of trans* folk, who can omit to mention Caitlin Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, following in the footsteps of more mainstream trans* icons such as Lavern Cox (Time) and potentially Aydian Dowling (Men’s Health Ultimate Guy Search). Be it the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race (spoiler alert) crowning Violet Chachki as the next Drag Superstar or the fact that I actually live above a drag-crossdressing shop (wildside.org) with the most eclectic and amazing landlady in all of Toronto, LGBTQ developments are in my face and have been garnering more attention than ever. However, more coverage does not mean more understanding and awareness. For this very reason, I call my colleagues within the legal and human rights fields to acknowledge cis-normativity and fight back: attend workshops, get informed.
Yes, my front yard has a bedazzled motorcycle & my living room is an art gallery.

Yes, my front yard has a bedazzled motorcycle & my living room is indeed an art gallery.

In closing, within the various projects assigned by the Network, I have taken the time to integrate trans* oriented statistics and concerns. Did you know that the HIV prevalence rate, (i.e. the proportion of people in a population who have a particular disease at a specified point in time) among male-to-female transgender persons in North America is at 27.7%? Sorry, no Canadian-specific data is available and this is part of the problem. A problem that we can solved by being part of the trans* agenda and working towards a more inclusive environment for all. Whether it be policy analysis, academic research or just plain day-to-day conversation – keep in mind that we live in a heteronormative & cisnormative world where we often forget the benefits and hindrances of our privileges and barriers. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be part of a society where our children can live their lives with dignity and respect be they trans* or cisgendered/seropositive or seronegative/LGBTQ or allies. Honoured to be a jurist of the LGBTQ community, I truly believe that we have a duty to future generations to be more trans*clusive.

A glimpse into my first day as a Policy Analyst Intern at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

A glimpse into my first day as a Policy Analyst Intern at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Rethinking Scholarship

2015 De Santi JessicaBy Jessica De Santi

In my experience as a student educated in “Western” institutions, most of the scholarship to which I was exposed, and which was touted as particularly high-quality or important, was almost invariably written in a detached, impersonal manner. Political science as I studied it emphasised the importance of theory-building, of a theory’s explanatory power, and discovering patterns and trends across cases. Increasingly, scholarship in the discipline has attempted to incorporate quantitative analysis into its work; think, for example of the Correlates of War project which has been ongoing since the 1960s and is maintained to the present.

In law, this detached, impersonal approach can be even more evident. The bulk of what we study comprises of case law and the Civil Code of Quebec, with some doctrine or other scholarship. We are even taught to write in a way that is devoid of personality, that stresses the importance of conveying information in a specific way for a particular audience. While I was very much aware that such an impersonal approach to scholarship could not tell the full story, I was rarely exposed to alternative types of scholarship – to experience those I needed to take courses outside the discipline.

The past five weeks interning at the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) have given me much to think about in this regard. The CRG is a research centre which publishes original research, in its own journal, Refugee Watch, in books, and other short compilations of articles. Staff members also occasionally contribute to local news publications. Much of their research concerns refugees and border studies, with a South Asian focus and frequently an interdisciplinary approach. Since my main project as an intern is to produce a piece of research which the CRG could eventually publish, my first task was to read what had already been published.

It was jarring at first. Many of the pieces, though their subject matter certainly fell under the scope of political science, were unlike what I had grown used to considering “political science scholarship.” Ethnographic research, often conducted in refugee populations and border communities, was the prevalent methodology. Neutral language was occasionally eschewed in favour of withering criticism of authorities who either failed in their duties or whose policies encouraged grave human rights abuses. A compassionate tone often accompanied particularly harrowing cases.


Work station at CRG.

Rarely were scholars attempting to build or prove a particular theory. Rather, the focus of the scholarship concentrated on the effects of government practices, bringing real-world experiences into the foreground. I was confused, occasionally frustrated, and uncertain of what I was supposed to be taking away from what I was reading, as fascinated as I found the work. It took a few articles before I started to “get it.” The research, whether ethnographic, legal, or otherwise, was bringing to the academic world the perspective that is often overlooked by Western scholarship: the human.

In writing this blog post, my goal is not to suggest that theory-building, prescriptive scholarship ought be abandoned, or that all scholarship needs to focus on the experiences of a person. Both types of scholarship, and many other types of scholarship, serve important functions in advancing our understanding of the world, particularly in areas where clearly measurable variables are not evident or possible. Nor are they mutually exclusive. I also do not intend to essentialise scholarship into “Eastern” and “Western” forms: beyond this being a problematic and arguably false division of the world, I think it is coincidental that my first in-depth exposure to different, less impersonal research approaches is occurring while in India. However, my experience thus far has certainly encouraged me to be more critical about what is presented as “authoritative” scholarship, to more actively seek out alternatives, and to make more of an effort in synthesising differing perspectives on the same issue.

On first impressions and perceptions

2015 Wettstein AnnaBy Anna Wettstein

Africa has some of the most progressive human rights legislation in the world. This is what made me optimistic and hopeful when I came to The Gambia to work as a legal intern for the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). I was ready to learn more about human rights in the region, and excited to apply this to prospects for human rights development in other parts of the world where such instruments do not even exist.

Indeed, many people seem surprised when I tell them just how progressive human rights are here – on paper. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, for example, which has been ratified by 53 countries (all AU member states except for South Sudan) guarantees that “[a]ll peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.”[1] Such a collective right would likely never exist in the European or North American context – and indeed, it does not (yet). In addition, the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on women’s rights guarantees the right to a safe abortion.[2] The African Youth Charter also sets out the duty for the state to “institute comprehensive programmes including legislative steps to prevent unsafe abortions.”[3] No other major human rights instrument even mentions abortions.

The realities on the ground, however, are quite different. I was asked by the IHRDA to draft a document on prospects and challenges for litigation of sexual and reproductive rights in Africa. Despite the codified right to a safe abortion, it has been estimated that only 3% of abortions in the region were safe in 2008.[4] In the same year, 14% of maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions,[5] and around 1.7 million women in the region are hospitalized annually for complications from unsafe abortions.[6]

Similarly, despite the collective right to a generally safe environment, in addition to the rights to property and housing guaranteed by numerous human rights instruments, many people are forced off their land thus deprived of their entire livelihood. Whether this is in the form of expropriation or the government turning a blind eye to police action or the actions of private parties is irrelevant. Depriving someone of their land is often to deprive a person of every material and non-material good in the world. Children cannot go to school, families have no source of food or clean water, and people lose their right to dignity. The harm is compounded by the lack of possibilities for redress. All of this is tolerated despite clearly and unequivocally violating core human rights instruments.

They call The Gambia “the smiling coast”. I can imagine this name is pretty self-explanatory. People here are in good spirits. Make no mistake, The Gambia is a developing country and there are many problems. But the people I’ve met are kind and happy and incredibly helpful. There are a few phrases that you’ll hear Gambians tell you, repeated as if refrains of the country’s unofficial national anthem. Countless times I’ve been told ‘you are welcome!’, not in response to my ‘thank you’, but as if to usher me into their country and culture. I’ve also heard ‘black or white, it doesn’t matter, we are all people’ and ‘you know, here in The Gambia, we are poor but we are happy.’

I met a friend on my way to the beach the first week I was here. A few days ago I was having a JulBrew (local Gambian beer) with him on that same beach in the evening. He is an autodidactic Gambian from a small village. His life was not easy growing up and he did not have many opportunities, so he taught himself about books and politics by poring over whatever he could get his hands on until he understood every word. In a moment of uncharacteristic despair that night, he told me: “you know, they call it the smiling coast. People seem happy and carefree. But people are hungry. There are a lot of people that you meet who will go home and be sad. Life is not easy here.”

It was a heartbreaking moment of honesty that reflected much of my work experience at the IHRDA. It may seem trite to say ‘not everything is as it seems’, but maybe sometimes we need to be reminded of that, especially in the field of human rights where grandstanding and self-congratulations are rife.

This is not to say that I am pessimistic – far from it. I believe human rights can and has made huge differences in countless peoples’ lives. (For a dash of optimism, check out this article on the reduction of famine around the world.) But I have found that it is important to constantly remind myself that human rights work deals with just that – humans. A legal instrument is only as effective as the people who enforce and respect it. And a human right is only as powerful as the life it has changed.

[1] African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 27 June 1981, 1520 UNTS 217 art 24 (entered into force 21 October 1986).

[2] Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, 13 September 2000, 1 Afr Hum Rts LJ 40 art 14(2)(c) (entered into force 25 November 2005).

[3] African Youth Charter, 2 July 2006 art 16(2)(i).

[4] S Singh,Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress” (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2009).

[5] World Health Organization, “Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008”, 6th ed (Geneva: WHO, 2011).

[6] S Singh, Hospital admissions resulting from unsafe abortion: estimates from 13 developing countries (2006) 368 Lancet 1887.

Learning To Be A Good Lawyer

By Michael Ayearst Ayearst

My time as a Legal Officer at Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has given me a glimpse of what it will take to be a good lawyer.  This role was similar in many ways to that of a practicing lawyer: I acted as my clients’ legal counsel, and I used my knowledge of the law, procedures and guidelines to help my clients navigate a legal system and to secure fair and correct outcomes. I was given an incredible amount of responsibility in this role and I learned a lot about essential skills that I will need to continue to work on as I move forward in my legal career. Here are three major lessons that I learned about what it takes to be a good lawyer.

1.  Be organized!

With well over 15 clients at any given time, while also juggling side projects, walk-in clients, daily emergency situations and a growing waiting list for legal services, one of the most important things I could be was organized.  Legal officers have to manage their own case load, and this means dozens of competing deadlines.  Missing these deadlines has serious repercussions on the wellbeing of my clients and so missing anything is simply not an option.  Clients look to you to be a stable and reliable resource for them in the middle of often chaotic situations.  Disorganization affects clients.  For example things like overbooking, rushing an interview, not being prepared and not following up all gives the impression that you don’t really know what you are doing and this can justifiably make a client wary of you and your services.  Also, it helps to prevent the panic of waking up in the middle of the night worried that you missed an important deadline or detail. I think that while all lawyers have to juggle competing priorities and responsibility, good lawyers make sure to do so as efficiently as possible.  There are many ways to accomplish this, but all require strong organizational skills and diligence.

2. Always be improving upon your knowledge and command of your area of law.

It has been very interesting for me to see the level of expertise that I will need to have to be a good lawyer.  The main purpose of my role at JRS was to help our asylum-seeking clients be recognized as refugees as per the 1951 Refugee Convention. I did this by providing advice and constructing legal arguments and submissions on my clients’ behalves. To do this well I needed to know everything I could about international and domestic refugee law, legal procedures and country of origin information to build each case. There is no way around this. When I was assigned a case but didn’t have experience with that type of persecution or a particular profile, I spent a lot of time preparing by doing research and reviewing leading cases in this area. Casework requires significant choices to be made and careful consideration of case details when choosing the direction of your argument.  A good lawyer will be able to quickly identify the major legal issues within a given context and the craft solutions best suited to this situation.

I was fortunate to work under the supervision of an excellent lawyer whose dedication and years of experience made him an invaluable resource on any refugee law related question that I had. He knew it all: He always delivered an instant response to any of my questions, including formulated arguments, reviews of key decisions and verbatim quotes of key passages.  While there is no substitute for experience, being prepared and knowledgeable is essential for being a competent and good lawyer. This experience allowed me to gain an appreciation for the level of mastery that I will need to be a good lawyer and I will always work towards this.

3.  Interpersonal skills are crucial.  Be forthright, truthful and transparent.

My clients were often extremely vulnerable and my job required that I gather extensive details from them about very traumatic experiences and their ongoing daily issues.  I found that strong interpersonal skills were essential for me to do this work well.  I had to listen closely to my clients, work to establish strong working relationships with each one, act as an educator on the laws affecting their lives and wellbeing, and provide them with emotional support.

I found that the key to doing all of these things well was to always be forthright and transparent with my clients. Being forthright is challenging in many cases because it forces you into very difficult conversations. In my role, these conversations included having to tell a client that I didn’t believe their story, that I haven’t worked on a certain case due to time and resource constraints, that I didn’t know how a mother would feed her children, or that some clients had a no chance of being recognized as a refugee at all.  However, being forthright, truthful and transparent during these conversations went a long way to helping my clients to trust that I was always providing them with my honest legal opinion and best work, and in doing so this helped many of my clients disclose sensitive yet essential information to support their cases. By far the most enjoyable part of my internship was developing strong working relationships with clients.  I really appreciated that as a lawyer clients trusted me with the intimate details of their life and with the outcome of their case, and in return I tried to always be transparent and forthright with them. Transparency requires that you explain to clients the ‘why’ of what you are doing during the various elements of your service.  This takes a lot of time.  But I found that it really helps clients to trust you and to be empowered in their legal process.  It also improves your ability to gather targeted information from your clients that you need for effective casework, while also allowing your clients a chance to learn about their case throughout the process of your working together.


Drive Through a Legal Labyrinth

2014-Capela-CecilaBy Cecile Capella-Laborde

map-akwesasne-mohawkLearning about the geography of Akwesasne is essential to understanding the daily struggles of the Akwesasne Mohawk Community, and the jurisdictional conundrums that were at the heart of my research this summer.

I will take you through my daily drive to get to work and back, which begins to give you a sense of the complexities underlying the Akwesasne territory. I resided in the City of Cornwall, and was working at the Akwesasne Justice Department in Kanakaton (St Regis). Leaving from Ontario, the first stop is a bridge toll for the Three Nations Bridge, which crosses the St Lawrence River to Kawehnoke (Cornwall Island), connecting Canada to Akwesasne. The Island, as the locals call it, is the part of the reserve situated in Ontario.

st regis mapGetting off the bridge, it becomes clear that you’ve entered a different Nation. You soon see a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy flag, a tax-free gas station, road signalization and advertisement in the Mohawk language, a sign saying “You Are on Indian Land”, and another “Cocaine and crack will cost you more than money”.

Within a few hundred meters, you come to a stop sign, which stands in front of an abandoned Canadian border-crossing checkpoint. The Cornwall Island port of entry was closed in 2009 as a result of protests resulting from the Canadian Government’s decision to arm border agents. The Akwesasronon (the people of Akwesasne) refused to have armed CBSA agents in a residential area.

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After you pass by the abandoned border station, you reach the foot of a bridge, which marks the Canada-US border. On your right you will see the Aluminum Corporation of America plant (Alcoa), which in 2013 negotiated a $20 million with the Mohawks for a more than 60 year legacy of polluting the St Lawrence River Watershed. These seriously inadequate funds are intended for the restoration of recreational fishing, fish and wildlife, and Mohawk traditions and languages. On the other side on the bridge, you soon come to the Massena US border checkpoint, situated on the US-NY state side of Akwesasne.

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photo 2A sign bearing the message “Welcome to the Empire State” greets you at the first traffic light, which leads you on to the prosaically named Road 37 that crosses the Raquette River taking you through “US side” of Akwesasne.

Here one views more tax-free gas stations, both of the operational and abandoned variety, an abandoned Casino, craft-stores, outlets for tax-free tobacco and alcohol, and several Tribal administrative buildings. After ten minutes, you turn left turn just before crossing the St Regis River.

The smaller road that brings you to Kanakaton stretches through a residential area on the US side. Owing to a lack of zoning regulations the houses are aligned in an unconventional way on this part of the road, and properties are rather large. However, the landscape drastically changes once you arrive at Kanakaton, commonly referred to as “the Village”. Streets are smaller, narrower, properties are smaller and it is more densely populated.

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When you arrive at the Village on that small road, it is easy to not realize that you have crossed the Canadian border. Apart from a small seam in the road where the American paving crew stops and the Canadian one begins, and some metric signage, there are no landmarks suggesting that you have entered Quebec.  No border crossing checkpoint, no sign, so surveillance camera, etc. Yet, for non-Akwesasronon, missing the border can very costly.

Although there is no checkpoint in St Regis, there is a border, and it means that since you have entered Canada, as a non-Indigenous person, you have to report at one of the US border checkpoints, be it Massena, Fort Covington, etc… when you leave the Village to go anywhere else in the US or on your way back to Canada. Furthermore, once you leave St Regis, you are not allowed to stop anywhere in the US before “reporting in”. If you fail to report in or stop somewhere on the way, the US border agency can impound your car and charge you $1000 to retrieve it on the first occasion, $2000 for the second, $3000 the third time, after which they will confiscate it permanently.

Returning to the City of Cornwall from the Akwesasne Justice Department, you must first stop at the Massena US border checkpoint. You have to park the car, go inside the building, and show your passport. The first few weeks, I was asked by the border agents whether I had stopped anywhere on US territory on my way back from St Regis, and whether I had bought any goods in Canada. After a month of stopping everyday they ceased to ask me any questions or look at my passport. They would say “Reporting in? You’re set.  Free to go.” You might, as I did, find this attitude upsetting, as Akwesasranon waiting behind you receive a very different treatment from border agents.

Once cleared, you drive back across the bridge to Cornwall Island, and have to make sure to not stop anywhere on the Island as you make your way to the Canadian border check-point. You must head straight to the Three Nation Bridge, cross the St Lawrence to Mainland Canada, pay a $3.25 bridge toll, then pass through the Canadian border checkpoint. It’s only at this point that you may backtrack to Cornwall Island if that is your final destination.photo 2 (1)

Again, it is because Cornwall Island is technically Canada and there is no border crossing on the Island, you are not allowed to stop on your way, and must head straight to the Canadian border checkpoint. If you don’t follow these rules, this time you risk the Canadian officials confiscating your vehicle. However, and importantly, Canada is less flexible than the US, and applies this rule to Akwesasranon and non-Akwesasranon alike.

This has serious implications for the residents of Cornwall Island, and of Akwesasne more generally. It means that whenever someone is going to Cornwall Island from other parts of Akwesasne, they must take the extra step to cross the Island without stopping, cross the toll bridge, get cleared by the border (they are often subjected to discriminatory treatment and other human rights violations, which has spawned several lawsuits), cross the toll bridge again, and across the bridge, before finally reaching their destinations on Cornwall Island.

I will leave it at that for now, and look forward to telling you more about my work at Akwesasne, and hearing about your experience on Friday. Happy Labour Weekend! Oh, and if you’re interested, Akwesasne is having one of its most anticipated events of the year next weekend, check it out at: http://www.akwesasnepowwow.com/. In July, I went to the  Kanhawake Pow Wow, and it’s worth the trip!

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Photos by Neal Rockwell

India, an Idea

2014-Grbac-PeterBy Peter Grbac

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

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

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

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

India 1971: Between the Camp and the City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La antigua panaderia, la Sele et Ban Ki-Moon

Jacinthe PoissonJacinthe Poisson

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

200 metros sur, 100 este de la antigua panadería

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

La Sele

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

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

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

Ban Ki-Moon à la Cour interaméricaine

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

(Manifestation devant la Cour interaméricaine)

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


(Peuples et territoires autochtones au Costa Rica)

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


(Campement incendié à Salitre)

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

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

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

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