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Justice in an Indigenous Community

I have recently completed my internship at Akwesasne, a cross-border Mohawk community near Cornwall, Ontario. I was specifically working for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, which governs the Canadian half of the community and is located partially in Ontario and partially in Quebec.


When I sat down to write this second blog post, I reflected on my time at the Akwesasne Justice Department, and tried to think of the most interesting thing about it. As I considered everything I had been exposed to at the department, about all the programs and services that they run, I was struck by the huge scope of their mandate.

The Justice Department of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is made up of only approximately 17 staff. But these 17 people cover a huge range of services. Their lawyer and paralegals provide legal assistance on all legal matters to community members and to the band; they have probation and parole services as well as an early release program in place for community members in both Ontario and Quebec; and they run the conservation and compliance offices. They also draft new legislation, conduct the local elections and referendums, and are currently in negotiations with Canada for a final self-government agreement. The Akwesasne Mohawk Court serves as a community court, addressing matters within a specified mandate. Finally, the Community Justice Program (a program within the department) assists with young offenders, organizes community service work, and runs diversion programs and circle sentencing. It is a huge portfolio, and represents an impressive move towards local control over justice.

Of course, many aspects of justice at Akwesasne are reflective of outside structures, since the system has had to be redeveloped from scratch in the last few decades. In a discussion of the Akwesasne Mohawk Court, the Director of the department, Joyce King, explained to me that when the court was set up, the department brought in Canadian lawyers to train Justices. As such, the court is reflective of the only system those lawyers knew: it is adversarial, with the Justice at the front and rules reflective of Ontario and Quebec procedure. Despite the strong Canadian influence, the Justice Department has worked to incorporate Mohawk traditions, values and laws. Community control has also been prioritized, and is central to law enactment procedures and other processes. It is interesting to see how the community has worked to regain a Mohawk system of justice on the territory.

What is also interesting about the justice department, and especially about the Community Justice Program, is its genuine focus on ameliorating the problems facing the community. Among other things, this means addressing such issues with youth, and helping them stay safe and out of the justice system. Between my research and writing, I had the opportunity to help plan and then attend the program’s Summer Cultural Youth Camp. The Camp was focused on culture, and provided youth in the community (and particularly those in contact with the justice system) with an opportunity to practice their culture, to listen to teachings, and to live Mohawk values. They fished, sang, danced, did crafts, made fires and listened to stories. Programming also addressed issues facing youth in the community, such as drug and alcohol abuse, the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and more generally the continued effects of colonialism. I was impressed by how well the participants responded to the camp.

In a small but incredibly complex community, the Akwesasne Justice Department does a lot. It attempts to rehabilitate community members who have been convicted. It works to keep youth safe and away from criminal activity. It incorporates Mohawk traditions and values into the justice system. It passes laws that reflect community priorities and ideas. Of course, it faces its share of challenges, and the structures in place are not perfect. Nonetheless, it is an impressive example of the kind of work that Indigenous communities are doing to regain control and assert self-determination.

Contemplating my Stay in ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

By Dominic Bell

I am currently on a First Air flight back to Montreal.

We just stopped for a brief layover in Kuujjuaq after departing from Iqaluit.

I feel like now is as good a time as ever to continue my blog.

Where to begin?

I think my circuit to Pond Inlet is a good place to start.


During their summers, students at Maliiganik sometimes get the chance to travel on what is referred to as a “circuit court”.  As the largest subdivision in Canada, access to justice in Nunavut is hindered by how interspersed the communities are across this great expanse of the far North.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer magnitude, the distance from Pond Inlet to Montreal is about the same as the distance from Montreal to Jamaica; and yet, both are located in the same country.


I travelled on circuit from July 17-24th.  Our trip began with a short layover in Clyde River.  Thereafter, we continued to our destination.  I am positively confident in saying that Pond Inlet is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.  The view from our hotel (the Black Point Lodge) spanned a large bay of ice blocks drifting gently with the current, and across the blue water stood the mountain range of Bylot Island: a bird sanctuary.  From higher up, Mount Yerodia was visible to the east and the distance to both was underscored by how spectacular the view was.


The day after arrival, we began preparations for the court circuit by interviewing clients, potential witnesses, etc.  The two lawyers and court worker who I accompanied on this trip, worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure that we were prepared for court on Monday.  In turn, I assisted in interviewing clients and witnesses, and prepared some youth cases as well.  Moreover, when the Crown prosecutors arrived later, I helped negotiate some joint positions.  This was a fantastic learning experience as I spoke to summary matters in court for the first time.


The beauty of Pond Inlet and the learning opportunity I have described mask the extreme pain which I witnessed during my time in the North.  Many of our clients have endured some absolutely horrific events in their lives and some of the trials were difficult to listen to at times.  The complexity of the situation is brought into full light when one considers present offences through a neo-colonial lens and sees the court as a continuing vehicle for past colonial injustices.  Indeed, there is a lingering feeling that justice is happening to the Inuit rather than for them.  Conversely, I am sensitive to the plight of the complainants who were often women and children.


There is quite simply, no simple answer.


I am grateful for the time I have spent in the North.  I have been introduced to such a rich culture which was built on the tundra and ice of the Arctic.  Before leaving, I had the chance to visit Qaummaarviit national park which is a short boat-ride away from Iqaluit across Frobisher Bay.  The ancient Inuit used this rocky outcrop which extends into the bay as a strategic outpost where they could hunt seal and walrus in the sea while maintaining land access to the caribou herds.  Moreover, they developed some ingenious forms of technology to assist in their hunting exploits.  One striking example that comes to mind is the toggling harpoon and float system that permitted the hunting of large sea mammals—such as whales—in open water.  On entry to the target’s skin, the specifically designed harpoon head would turn sideways, leaving the initial shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.  I am amazed by the brilliance of this crafty device.


I head back to the South with mixed feelings.  Sad to leave such an incredible place with equally amazing people, but happy to go home as well.

I have learnt a lot during my stay in Iqaluit and hope to return soon.

Des modèles d’inspiration au féminin

Dans cette publication, je désire parler du projet incroyable sur lequel l’Association où je fais mon stage travaille : l’Académie politique des femmes. L’an dernier, ce projet a permis à 25 femmes impliquées dans des partis politiques et désirant se présenter aux prochaines élections municipales de bénéficier d’un programme de formation complet afin de les aider à développer leurs capacités et renforcer leur confiance en elle. L’Association espère ainsi qu’elles seront capables de réussir à mener une campagne électorale avec succès et à se faire élire au sein des conseils municipaux.

J’ai eu l’opportunité d’assister aux deux dernières formations du programme et d’y rencontrer les participantes. Avant de les rencontrer, je ne savais pas trop à quoi m’attendre. Je ne connaissais que très peu la culture tunisienne, j’avais rencontré encore très peu de gens à l’extérieur de mes collègues de travail, et je dois l’avouer, j’avais des attentes assez peu élevées relativement aux capacités et connaissances des femmes impliquées en politique en Tunisie. De façon plus générale, je crois que j’avais des attentes assez peu élevées du débat politique en Tunisie considérant la relative jeunesse de leur démocratie.

J’ai ainsi eu droit à des belles surprises lorsque j’ai rencontré les participantes : des femmes brillantes, réfléchies, capables de s’exprimer avec clarté et surtout de façon convaincante sur des enjeux complexes. J’ai rencontré des femmes ayant une vision, une vision pour leur communauté et pour leur pays. Des femmes ayant des idées, un plan concret pour rendre la vie de leurs concitoyens plus faciles. Et surtout, des femmes ayant une détermination et un courage impressionnant. J’aimerais vous parler de certaines de ces femmes.

La première se nomme Ourida Touhami. Elle provient de la région éloignée de Tozeur et représente le parti Ennahdha, parti qui forme présentement la coalition au pouvoir et qui est considéré comme un parti conservateur sur le plan religieux. Ourida m’a immédiatement charmée par sa facilité d’approche. Dès mon arrivée, elle s’est montrée extrêmement chaleureuse et s’est mise à me jaser de l’Académie, de politique, et de bien d’autres sujets. Ourida est l’une de ses personnes qui défend ses opinions avec acharnement. Elle raconte qu’elles sont deux femmes sur 13 dans le comité local de son parti et qu’elle et sa collègue n’acceptent pas un refus pour réponse si elles considèrent que leur point de vue est justifié. Elle explique qu’elle réussi à bien faire passer ses idées dans un comité dominé par les hommes. Je n’en ai aucun doute, vu l’acharnement et la détermination dont elle fait preuve lorsqu’elle cherche à convaincre. Elle fera sans aucun doute une redoutable politicienne.

IMG_4851 Ourida Touhami, lors de la formation sur la Responsabilité sociale des collectivités locales

La seconde se nomme Jihen Maatoug. Jihen est juriste de formation et avocate d’affaires de profession. Elle provient de Tunis et fait parti du parti Afek Tounes,  parti socio-libéral séculier. Elle s’exprime avec aisance et accorde beaucoup d’attentions aux détails. Elle offre ainsi un discours raffiné et des idées élaborées pour résoudre les problèmes de sa communauté. Elle cherche à sa manière à briser les normes sociales, que ce soit en étant une porte-parole hors-pairs des droits des femmes ou en ajoutant une touche mode à son style d’avocate. Lorsque je l’ai rencontrée, elle avait en effet teint la pointe de ses cheveux en bleu, et m’a expliquée qu’elle voulait participer à sa manière à protester contre les normes sociales. Je tiens à souligner l’aide qu’elle m’a fourni pour mon travail de recherche sur les droits des femmes, prenant de son temps pour m’emmener à la bibliothèque de droit pour trouver de la documentation pour étoffer mes recherches.



Jihen Maatoug et moi

Si je le pouvais, je mentionnerais les qualités de chacune des femmes que j’ai rencontrée, le beau sourire de Chadia Soli, la détermination de Leila Keskes, et la confiance en elle que dégage Souad Hamdi. Les femmes qui ont participé à l’Académie ont très certainement le potentiel requis pour devenir de très bonnes représentantes municipales. Avec de la confiance en elles et une bonne dose de courage, elles arriveront à vaincre les nombreuses barrières qui se présenteront sur leur chemin en tant que femme politique tunisienne. Certes, ce ne sera pas facile. Elles devront faire face à des partis politiques qui sont réticents à promouvoir des femmes à des postes de responsabilité, des cocus fermés qui préfèreront placer des hommes en tête de liste pour augmenter leurs chances de gagner des sièges et une population qui jugera parfois qu’elles devraient être à la maison entrain de faire à manger plutôt que mener une campagne électorale. Or, elles ont les outils pour y arriver et je crois en leur potentiel.



Leila Keskes, lors de l’Assemblée politique des femmes organisée à Tozeur

Je tiens à souligner la solidarité et la collaboration dont cette équipe de femmes a fait preuve. Les différences idéologiques entre certains partis politiques représentés par ces femmes sont marquées. Or, cela ne les a pas empêché de les surmonter pour travailler à l’atteinte d’un objectif commun : la promotion des droits de la femme. Ce type de solidarité féminine sera indispensable pour permettre aux tunisiennes de mener le combat pour l’égalité vers la réussite. Ce n’est que grâce au dialogue entre les différents groupes idéologiques et sociaux tunisiens – les séculiers et les islamistes, les riches et les pauvres, les gens vivant en ville et les gens vivant en régions – que les tunisiens arriveront à comprendre les caractéristiques qui les différencient et à les accepter. Ce n’est qu’à travers la collaboration que les femmes arriveront à créer un front commun pour vaincre les barrières qui freinent leur émancipation.

For those wondering, that is tea, not coffee. PS: Thanks for taking time to read this post.

Coffee. Some people drink it religiously, whilst others, like myself, might (emphasis on might) have a sip once a year. It is a question of preference, no moral undertones whatsoever. I am not a bad or better person for not needing caffeine to function (Although some people are jealous of this ultra-human ability). This said, coffee has its positive and negative side-effects but remains socially acceptable. However, this is not the case for a panoply of drugs that are currently criminalized and drug users who are marginalized. As a communication studies major in a previous life, I have always been sensitive to how the media, particularly mainstream, depicts marginalized populations or deviant behaviour. From the Western world’s blanket depiction of devout Muslims as extremists, or criminal masterminds systematically depicted as leading drug rings, drugs seem to be an evil to be eradicated. Realistically, prohibiting drug use, production and distribution is outrageous. Various drugs have roots in medicinal and even cultural practices. Take for example the coca leaf used for centuries by the Bolivian peoples to help deal with altitude ailments. What does all this have to do with my internship at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (the Network)? The topic of my second blog post was inspired by recurring interrogations people have been having with the Network’s drug related projects. Goal #3 of the organization’s 2014-2017 aspirations include demanding human rights for prisoners and people who use drugs. This has been a source of confusion for many individuals as the link between drug users and HIV is not necessarily clear to everyone at first glance. The human right at risk here is access to health. People who use drugs face serious health risks closely linked to HIV transmission when adequate syringes and other drug-use equipment are not offered.

A classic example of how drugs have always had negative depictions in mainstream media would be Scarface (1983) where a Cuban refugee, Tony Montana (the dapper Al Pacino), rises to become a powerful drug kingpin.

Midway through my internship at the Network, I was lucky enough to witness the inner-workings and preparations of various important symposiums including the preparation of the Canadian Delegation to UNGASS 2016, on drug policy reform. Initially schedule for 2019, the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Drug and Crime was brought forward to 2016 in light of the outcry of various countries outraged and disappointed by the failure of the war on drugs. Notably, civil society is currently mobilizing to advocate for supervised consumption services, enhance political and legal support for needle and syringe programs, and ultimately defend the human rights of people who use drugs.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network demands access to comprehensive HIV and HCV services for people who use drugs and people in prison.

From the various conferences organized by the Network,  I quickly learned that punitive drug laws and policies impede access to harm reduction for people who use drugs, which indirectly also has an impact on indigenous peoples, black communities, and prisoners to name a few. The global war on drugs has failed and prohibitionist policies are crumpling people of various populations. Drug use in certain regions of the world are culturally accepted, and have been so for centuries. Bolivia, for instance, stopped campaigns of forced eradication of crops because chewing of coca leaves was and still is a part of their lives. The President ignored the international control system and did not accept the belief that the Coca leaf was a dangerous drug. This is a perfect example of how outdate laws and practices do not only impede the right to health but the autonomy and cultural practices of aboriginal peoples.

Bolivian President Evo Morales shows a coca leaf during a presentation before the UN, chewing this substance is a century old cultural practice frowned-upon by the proponents of the war on drugs.

In Canada, the Network has been part of various initiatives from Supreme Court interventions to cases based in Russia and other regions of the world. I had the opportunity to participate in our national contribution to an international campaign: Support don’t Punish, a global advocacy campaign calling for better drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights. While certain countries have been using the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26th) to publicly execute illicit drug users, civil society has come together to advocate for better policy reform. In collaboration with the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, the Network participated in a rally on June 26th of 2015. To prepare for the event, I worked with various members of the Policy Analyst and Communications Department teams to create the Network’s our spin on the Support don’t Punish campaign. Taking people of various backgrounds to take a stand against the war on drugs, we created the following social media piece:


What’s next for Quebec? Safer Injection Centre or Supervised Injection Site (SIS) are currently in the works for our beautiful province. Hopefully, we will be able to follow the footsteps of the 2003 safe injection site (Insite) based in British Columbia. Needle exchanges do exist in Montreal, but safe injections sites are the next step in the paradigm shift towards drugs. A sterile and safe place where drug users can use their own drugs under medical supervision and with access to a variety of services. With over ten years of scientific evidence, SIS do not promote criminal activity. In fact, they save lives by preventing overdoses, as well as HIV and hepatitis C transmission. That said, informed discussions surrounding sound drug policy are inevitable when talking about the right to adequate health services. Lives are at stake and Canada should become a leader in drug reform globally. Like coffee, drugs are consumed and who are we to judge? I do not judge people who drink coffee. So just because one does not consume such substances does not mean they are better people (duh!).

Women & Human Rights: Part II

By Yuan Stevens

This is the second of two blog posts about the work of women in human rights. You can find my first post featuring Salini Sharma’s work with Safecity in Delhi, India right here.


mali logo


I want to tell you about the fascinating work of Ibtissame (Betty) Lachgar in Morocco. She is a clinical psychologist with expertise in victimology and criminology. 

In 2009, Betty (her preferred name) founded MALI (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles, or in Arabic, مالي؟ الحركة البديلة من أجل الحريات الفردية). They’re a radical civil disobedience organization and Betty claims that they are the only movement of this kind in the country.

MALI fights for civil liberties such as freedom of conscience, religion and expression, abortion rights and LGBTQI rights.

They fight for change in what has been criticized as an authoritarian and Islamic state where, for example, both pre-marital sex and homosexuality are illegal (see this Wikipedia page for details on the latter).



Betty, left, in one of MALI’s Facebook photos. Used with permission.


How does an organization like this do their work? 

Those in the MALI community initiate premeditated and strategic actions that fight for specific rights and in specific places.

MALI’s first action was in 2009.

In order to fight for freedom of conscience and from religion, Betty organized a picnic in the middle of the day during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday where those who partake don’t eat or drink except before dawn and after sunset.

The act was also a part of MALI’s struggle to repeal article 222 of the Moroccan penal code whereby anyone who is “commonly known to be Muslim” can be placed in prison for up to 6 months if they violate the fast.

The active was symbolic, Betty told a group of us during the IHRTP. She said the purpose of the action was not to provoke nor shock people, but to symbolically fight against the state religion which seeks to control citizens’ freedom of conscience. The MALI movement wanted to “create a buzz”; to get people thinking. Find out more about the picnic here.


mali 1

Part of an exhibit that MALI showed to the Moroccan embassy in the Netherlands in 2012. Taken from MALI’s Facebook page with permission.


Another key action of MALI was in 2013.

Betty organized a “kiss-in” in front of the Moroccan parliament building to protest the arrest of two teens who posted on Facebook a photo of themselves kissing in public. The teenaged friend who took the photo was also arrested — all of them for public indecency. Betty told us that this event caused her to fear for her life due to the death threats that ensued.

Finally, the last MALI action I want to highlight happened just this year in 2015.

MALI members decided to take a huge risk and stood in front of Moroccan parliament with gay pride flags.

This occurred in the atmosphere of two French Femen activists who were expelled from Morocco after they stripped to the waist with “In gay we trust” written on their chests and kissed in front of a 12th century unfinished mosque tower. The women did this in reaction to the court’s prosecution of three homosexual men.

Betty says this particular action was very hard — it was tense, dangerous. An army of police was there. The secret service were there. They waited for her, she said — but she said it was, in a way, nonetheless fun for her; it’s part of the game she needs to play to fight for people’s rights.


betty 4

Betty at Hamburg’s 2014 Pride Parade. Used with permission.


There is no doubt that MALI is a radical organization that is sure to make people feel uncomfortable — that’s part and parcel of the work they do.

Regardless of our stance on MALI’s initiatives, Betty is a role model for all of us in her courage and choices — as a human rights activist and in her context — to rally people together to fight for their civil liberties and sexual rights. 

You can find MALI’s Twitter feed here and Betty’s personal Twitter account here.

Beau sur papier, mais en réalité?

2015 St-Jean FrederiquePar Frédérique St-Jean

Pour bien des Tunisiens et des gens vivant à l’étranger, la Tunisie est un pays plutôt égalitaire. Fréquemment, lorsque j’expliquais aux gens que j’étais en Tunisie pour travailler dans une organisation défendant les droits des femmes, ils me répondaient que la Tunisie n’avait pas de problèmes sur ce plan me citant le président Habib Bourguiba comme champion de cette cause. Dès 1956, Bourguiba a en effet promulgué le Code du statut personnel qui donnait des droits extensifs aux femmes, pour un pays de religion musulmane de l’époque. Ce code a en effet aboli la polygamie et instauré le divorce judiciaire, ce qui était très avant-gardiste considérant que la polygamie est encore permise au Maroc par exemple. Plusieurs considèrent que Bourguiba avait créé ce discours, afin d’obtenir l’appui de la communauté internationale pour le maintien de son régime. [1]

Sous le régime de Ben Ali, le peuple a continué d’être maintenu dans l’ignorance sur l’état réel des choses. En effet, l’information était largement contrôlée par le gouvernement qui muselait quiconque souhaitait contredire ses positions. Jusqu’en 2011, le discours officiel a ainsi continué de laisser croire aux tunisiens que l’égalité hommes-femmes en Tunisie était acquise.


La Tunisie a fait honneur à sa réputation en 2014, lorsqu’elle a adopté sa nouvelle Constitution. Ce document juridique contient non-seulement une disposition codifiant l’égalité des entre hommes et femmes et le principe de non-discrimination, mais codifie également le principe d’égalité sur le plan du travail et d’égalité des chances.[2] Le gouvernement s’engage d’ailleurs à protéger, soutenir et améliorer les acquis de la femme, à garantir la représentativité des femmes dans les assemblées élues, à œuvrer à réaliser la parité dans les conseils élus et à prendre les mesures nécessaires pour éradiquer la violence envers les femmes.[3] Cette Constitution codifie ainsi des protections qui rendront jaloux même les pays les plus égalitaires.


Ainsi, depuis 1956, le discours qui règne au niveau de la société est que la Tunisie est un pays égalitaire. Or, ce discours est loin de refléter la réalité des femmes au quotidien. La Tunisie se classe en effet au 123e rang mondial sur le plan de l’égalité des genres.[4] Les femmes consacrent 8 fois plus de temps que les hommes au travail domestique et au soin des enfants et des personnes âgées. Elles doivent assumer 40% plus de tâches que les hommes.[5] Il de plus en plus commun pour les femmes de travailler pour contribuer à subvenir aux besoins de la famille, même si elles doivent continuer d’assumer la quasi-totalité des tâches domestiques. Elle font face à un taux de chômage qui est de près du double de celui auxquels font face les hommes, même si elles sont plus nombreuses à obtenir leur diplôme de niveau universitaire chaque année. En 2013, 42% des femmes diplômées faisaient face au chômage. Elles ont de la difficulté à accéder aux postes de responsabilité représentant seulement 6,5% des chefs d’entreprise, 0.76% des postes décisionnels par rapport à la totalité des agents de la fonction publique et 8% des postes décisionnels au sein des syndicats.[6]


Le gouvernement ne montre d’ailleurs aucun signe d’une volonté de poser des gestes concrets pour respecter ses engagements constitutionnels. Il y de cela quelques jours, le 22 août 2015, le gouvernement a en effet remanié les nominations aux postes de gouverneurs et a sciemment omis de nominer une femme au 24 postes existant sur le territoire tunisien.[7]

L’une des difficultés de notre travail en tant qu’Association défendant les droits des femmes en Tunisie est donc de détruire ce mythe de la Tunisie égalitaire et de renseigner la population sur les inégalités qui persistent. Pour réussir, l’Association doit dédier une part importante de son travail à la sensibilisation et l’éducation. En tant que responsable des communications, la sensibilisation occupait une large part de mes responsabilités.

J’ai ainsi décidé de réaliser la campagne « Beau sur papier, mais en réalité? », campagne dénonçant le gap qui existe entre les lois, le discours officiel et la réalité. Cette campagne a été transmise à travers les réseaux sociaux, et principalement Facebook, qui est le principal moyen de communication utilisé par les Tunisiens. À l’aide d’images évocatrices et en exposant le contraste entre les articles de la Constitution et les statistiques révélant les inégalités qui persistent en Tunisie, nous espérions pouvoir faire réaliser aux gens que, même si les lois tunisiennes sont plus égalitaires que dans d’autres pays arabes, il reste beaucoup de travail à faire pour réaliser l’égalité substantive. Cette campagne de sensibilisation a fait l’objet d’un article du Huffington Post tunisien, publicité d’une valeur inestimable pour une petite association comme Aswat Nissa.[8]


Nombre des inégalités qui persistent sont étroitement liées à la religion et aux traditions qui sont encore bien ancrées dans la société tunisienne. Pour que le travail de sensibilisation de l’Association soit efficace, il est donc primordial de montrer que l’égalité peut être acquise dans le respect des croyances religieuses et des racines islamiques. L’Association doit chercher à créer un discours de renforcement des capacités de la femme, tout en respectant les libertés religieuses et les croyances de celle-ci. Le débat sur le voile qui a lieu actuellement en Tunisie est un sujet de réflexion fructueux. Certaines jugent que le voile est un symbole de domination de la femme et que l’augmentation de son port est un phénomène inquiétant. Ils considèrent qu’une femme moderne et émancipée ne devrait pas porter le voile.[9] Or, le port du voile n’est-il pas simplement un choix religieux personnel? Une femme voilée faisant des choix libres, poursuivant ses ambitions sans barrière pour la freiner n’est-elle pas aussi émancipée qu’une femme qui ne l’est pas?

Mon travail à l’Association m’a beaucoup fait réfléchir sur un concept que l’on nous a introduit dès les premiers cours de notre parcours en droit : la normativité. Mon travail en Tunisie m’a en effet permis de voir que le travail à faire pour qu’une loi devienne une norme, et acquière ainsi une force persuasive ayant un impact sur le comportement des gens au quotidien, il doit se produire un long et complexe processus. Pour protéger les droits humains, il est primordial d’élargir l’analyse juridique afin de comprendre les traditions, la culture, les normes religieuses et politiques qui ont bien souvent un impact beaucoup plus puissant sur les droits humains que les lois elles-mêmes. Une grande partie du travail à faire repose dans le changement des mentalités, l’adaptation des traditions et de la culture pour les rendre plus conformes au respect des droits humains, sans pour autant leur imposer un cadre étranger.

[1] Giulia Daniele, « Tunisian Women’s Activism after the January 14 Revolution:

Looking within and towards the Other Side of the Mediterranean », (2014) 15 Journal of International Women’s Studies 5, à la p 19.

[2] Constitution Tunisienne, art. 21, art. 40.

[3] Constitution Tunisienne, art. 46, art. 34.

[4] World Economic Forum, « The Global Gender Gap Report 2014».

[5] «Budget-temps des ménages ruraux et travail invisible des femmes rurales en Tunisie», CREDIF (Centre de Recherches d’Études, de Documentation, d’Information sur les Femmes), Ministère des Affaires de la Femme et de la Famille, 2000.

[6] Boutheina Gribaa et Giorgia Depaoli, Profil genre de la Tunisie 2014, Juin 2014, financé par l’Union Européenne.

[7] Kapitalis, « Nouveaux gouverneurs : «Où sont les femmes?», demande Bochra Belhaj Hmida », 23 août 2015 (en ligne) : http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2015/08/23/nouveaux-gouverneurs-ou-sont-les-femmes-demande-bochra-belhaj-hmida/; Mosaïque FM, « Nomination de nouveaux gouverneurs par Habib Essid », 22 août 2015, http://www.mosaiquefm.net/fr/index/a/ActuDetail/Element/56376-nomination-de-nouveaux-gouverneurs-par-habib-essid.

[8] Huffington Post Maghreb –Tunisie, « Droits des femmes en Tunisie: L’ONG “Aswat Nissa” relève les différences entre la Constitution et la réalité », 24 août 2015, (En ligne), http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2015/08/24/droits-femmes-tunisie_n_8030852.html?utm_hp_ref=maghreb.

[9] Faouzi Ksibi, La presse de Tunisie, « Jusqu’où ira la cabale intégriste ? », 19 août 2015, http://www.lapresse.tn/19082015/103007/jusquou-ira-la-cabale-integriste….html.


Human Rights Education: Teaching Right from Wrong

2015 Cichalewska VictoriaBy Victoria Cichalewska

In my last blog post, I made the observation that one of the reasons Human Rights Education (HRE) is important is because laws are not enough to ensure that rights are protected. Mentalities need to change first before laws can be properly enforced. Another reason why HRE is important was highlighted during the International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) at Equitas. HRE instructs people on what their rights are and thus helps them distinguish right from wrong.

During the IHRTP, participants were asked to watch a documentary entitled “A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahE0tJbvl78) which explores the positive outcomes of Human Rights Training in India, Turkey and Australia. In the documentary, Navi Pillay, the previous United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, states that the “full realization of Human Rights requires all human beings of being aware of their and other people’s rights and the means to protect their human rights, which is the task of human rights educators.” For example, in the documentary, one girl from India explained the gender discrimination present in her community and then said that HRE helped her understand that being a girl is not the problem. Rather, her human rights have been denied, and the problem is societal. She realized that the way her family and community was treating her was wrong. Such realizations allow individuals to feel more empowered and inspire them to work towards social change. This is something I heard a lot from participants at the IHRTP. Many have also gone through the same journey that led them to understand that their identity did not justify the abuse they suffered.

But who gets to decide where the problem lies, what is right from wrong and ultimately which rights should be protected? How can we convince people of what behaviour is wrong, and what needs to change? This was a huge topic of discussion at the IHRTP.

In fact, this year was the first one in which the thematic session on LGBTQI rights was mandatory for all participants, contrary to other sessions, like the one on freedom of religion, which was optional. This caused a lot of controversy among the participants. Although many of them, especially the LGBTQI activists, were very happy about the mandatory session, other human rights activists were not. Some did not understand why the LGBTQI session is mandatory. Some claimed that LGBTQI rights are NOT rights, and others compared it to bestiality. I was shocked at how many human rights educators and activists from around the world were against LGBTQI rights and did not believe in defending the rights of this minority group.

This controversy surrounding the mandatory LGBTQI session was amplified during the presentation on “Universality and Cultural Relativism” led by Yousry Moustafa. Many participants expressed their ongoing concern that the idea of Human Rights as universal is just another form of western imperialism. However, Moustafa explained that the rejection of the idea of Human Rights as universal and the promotion of cultural relativism usually comes up in discussions on minority and sexual and reproductive rights, including LGBTQI rights. States will rarely turn to cultural relativism when discussing civil and political rights, for example.

So how can we promote the rights of minority groups that are often controversial for many, and resist cultural relativism, without it being another form of western imperialism? How can we convince people of what is right from wrong? The facilitators of the groups (the people that would lead and facilitate the classroom discussions) would often discuss the strategies they would use when talking about LGBTQI rights. The approach that would most often come up is reminding participants that the LGBTQI community, like all other minorities, are human beings and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But is that enough?

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.



-       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.

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