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

The Courtroom at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Courtroom at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

Travailler de concert

Par Michel Bélanger-Roy

Liste de choses que je ne m’attendais pas à faire lors d’un stage en droits humains au Cameroun :

#1 – Organiser un concert

Oh, je vois que vous froncez déjà les sourcils. Pas de problème, je prends les questions.

@FanDuCameroun : Mais Michel, pourquoi un concert? Je croyais que tu travaillais avec une organisation pour les droits des femmes.

#Action2015

#action2015

-       Bonne question, @FanDuCameroun. Mon organisation participe à une campagne mondiale intitulée Action/2015. Dans le but d’attirer l’attention sur une importante conférence de l’ONU, différents événements étaient organisés partout à travers le monde le 11 juillet dernier. L’idée était d’exposer le soutien populaire à un meilleur financement pour le développement international. Un concert avec des artistes « engagés » était une façon pour nous de rejoindre un large public de façon agréable tout en faisant passer notre message. En effet, il y avait aussi une portion du concert dédiée à discuter avec le public de thèmes chers à Women for a Change, comme la santé sexuelle et reproductive des femmes.

@PetitMalin : Le titre du billet est un jeu de mots?

-       Oui, @PetitMalin. Mes excuses.

@jaimelamusique : Comment on fait pour organiser un concert quand on est dans un nouveau pays et que notre organisation n’a jamais tenu un tel événement?

-       Tu vois juste @jaimelamusique : c’est un défi! Il faut trouver des artistes, des musiciens, une salle de spectacle, de l’équipement de scène, un technicien de son, des bénévoles. Et en quelques semaines seulement. On trouve peu d’information sur internet, alors on utilise le bon vieux « bouche à oreille ». On dit à tous ceux qu’on connaît qu’on veut faire un concert, puis par contacts interposés on fait beaucoup de rencontres jusqu’à trouver les bons partenaires.

@SRHR237 : Et pour la promotion?

-       Même chose! On a été très actifs sur les médias sociaux, mais on est aussi allé rencontrer les gens directement : sur le campus universitaire et même à la messe du dimanche!

@Africaincoquin : Épatant! Et vous aviez de bons artistes?

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent "We Must Survive"

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent “We Must Survive”

-       Oui, excellents! Tiens, @Africaincoquin, écoutes par toi-même leurs vidéoclips:

Dr Sley & The Green Soljas

Mr Leo

Ils sont bien connus dans la région pour leurs chansons qui dénoncent la guerre ou la corruption. C’était donc des choix naturels pour nous. Ils ont même écrit une chanson thème spécialement pour l’événement! Ça s’appelle « We Must Survive ».
(AJOUT : Cliquez sur le lien pour voir un extrait filmé lors du spectacle)

@Junglegirl8 : La soirée a été un succès?

-       Tout à fait! @Junglegirl8, tu peux imaginer qu’avec de tels artistes,  la salle s’est vite réchauffée et le public a beaucoup apprécié. La portion « séminaire » a provoqué de fructueux échanges sur le développement du Cameroun. Je crois que mon organisation a pu rejoindre un nouveau public et passer son message. Et on a terminé la soirée en dansant sur scène avec les musiciens!

@Fascinee : Fascinant! Et quelle a été la clef de ce succès, selon toi?

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

-       Le travail d’équipe! Même si Women For A Change n’avait jamais organisé de concert, mes collègues se sont lancées dans l’aventure et ont fait un travail formidable. Les artistes, les musiciens et l’animateur ont été d’une grande générosité. De nombreux partenaires nous ont aidé à faire la promotion du spectacle. Les déléguées régionales du ministère de la promotion de la femme et de la culture ont assisté et soutenu l’événement. Nous avions une superbe équipe de jeunes bénévoles, les « Iam15 ambassadors » et le public a participé activement au succès de la soirée.

@PetitMalin : Bon, au moins ton jeu de mots avait un véritable double sens alors.

-       Ce n’est pas une question @PetitMalin. Mais merci pour le commentaire. Je travaille fort sur mes jeux de mots, ça fait chaud au cœur.

C’est ce qui clôt la période de questions. Merci et à bientôt!

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.

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

Canada meets Colorado!

2014-Smydo-Staceyby Stacey Smydo

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

The Fourth of July is not a day but a week-long celebration. The group of interns went tubing on Boulder Creek and had a fantastic day!

Colorado, and specifically Boulder, fits the stereotypes. Boulder is often called the fittest city in America, and I can definitely see why! Everyone runs marathons, or ultra-marathons for that matter, does triathlons, ironmans, rock-climbs, does yoga etc. It’s both terrible for my own ego and fantastic motivation!

Politics comes up quite frequently in conversations (I might have something to do with this…)  Somewhat counterintuitively, marijuana was legalized in Colorado in January of this year, yet gay marriage is not. I asked around about this and found out that Colorado has both some of the most liberal and most conservative cities in the country. This results in some seemingly inconsistent laws.

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

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

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

2014-08-03 20.15.09

Human Rights Education, Hot Topics and Turkey Necks

2014-Corobow-ArielleBy Arielle Corobow

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

 

 

HIV and Sex – Not a Risky Business

By Isabelle Rémillard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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