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Additional Hurdles in Accessing Justice

2016 Moreau AndreBy André Moreau

Over the course of my internship at the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in Kampala, I’ve witnessed some challenges with some of the cases and petitions we brought forward to the courts.

In particular, one difficulty was caused by the influx of election petitions triggered by the recent Ugandan general election, which was held on February 18, 2016. This was the 6th general election since the Uganda Bush War (1979-1986) where the National Resistance Army, led by current president Yoweri Museveni, overthrew the autocratic and militaristic regime.

February’s election saw Museveni’s controversial re-election ­–his sixth consecutive term as the President of Uganda. The election results sparked protest, arrests and a series of formal election petitions. These election petitions have put much strain on the Ugandan judicial system, which has resulted in an even longer wait before Ugandans and Ugandan organizations can access justice before the court.

This is a photo of the Ugandan Constitutional Court's Registrars Office

This is a photo of the Ugandan Constitutional Court’s Registrars Office– files upon files

Last week, Justice David Batema came to speak to the CEHURD’s staff about his experience working as a judge at the High Court of Uganda. He spoke about the courts’ challenge to process cases in a timely manner, especially during the post-election period.

When I asked him how the High Court prepares for the flood of election petitions, Justice Batema explained that the High Court developed a new strategy to minimize backlog. The High Court’s new strategy consisted of selecting 26 judges (almost two thirds of the High Court Judges in Uganda) and training them on best practices when dealing with the petitions.

To ensure nonpartisan decisions, the judges would then be relocated to a different district where they’d hear the petitions. This process, Batema explained, is designed to address all the submitted election petitions ­–hearing, trial, and judgement– within 60 days. This ambitious plan, however, is expected to exceed that timeframe. Further, if petitions are appealed, the process will take even longer.

Despite the Court’s effort to limit the backlog of cases, law firms, organizations such as CEHURD, and all the others parties involved are left with even more delays in their attempts to access justice.

Furthermore, Justice Batema has been vocal about the Courts being short-staffed: “we have very many cases, but we are few, we don’t want our people’s cases to delay here,” he said to one of the national newspapers, New Vision.

As CEHURD continues to fight for health and human rights in Uganda, this unfortunate influx of election petitions has created an additional hurdle in bringing forward cases and seeing them resolved.

Adventures in the North

2016 Lyons TheoTheo Lyons

It has already been six weeks since I arrived in Whitehorse, which means that I’m now about half way through my internship at the Yukon Human Rights Commission. I think this is a good moment to pause to reflect on what I’ve experienced so far, and what I am looking forward to doing in my remaining time here.

When I flew straight north from Vancouver on June 1, passing over seemingly endless mountains and glaciers, I had little idea of what lay in wait for me. As I sat in the loud propeller plane, I leafed through Frances Backhouse’s book, Women of the Klondyke – lent to me by my ex-Yukoner roommate, Suzanne. The stories of the wild women who participated in the gold rush did little to calm my vague feeling of apprehension. I was particularly struck by the words of Georgia Powell who, in an 1898 letter to a friend back home, wrote “Let me say right here, for number, size and ferocity these mosquitoes cannot be exaggerated, and despite leggings, gloves and the inevitable veil we were badly bitten.”

Aside from the mosquitoes, prominent among my sources of stress upon my arrival was the fact that I still hadn’t managed to find a room to sublet in Whitehorse, and town’s only hostel had just been able to offer me two nights of accommodation. These doubts evaporated the moment I walked into the Human Rights Commission and met the team with whom I would be working for the summer. I was welcomed with amazing warmth and enthusiasm, and within minutes I had been offered at least three different places to stay at while I looked for a sublet. It didn’t take me long to find a room to rent, and I’m currently living in a big shared house full of adventure-loving Yukoners and their dogs.

Author taking selfies while scrambling down from the summit of Mount Lorne

Author taking selfies while scrambling down from the summit of Mount Lorne

During my first week in Whitehorse I was given plenty of opportunities to dive into various aspects of the work of the Human Rights Commission. I studied the Yukon Human Rights Act and Regulations and learned about the structure and procedures of the Commission and the Board of Adjudication (the administrative tribunal which makes findings of violations). I was also briefed on all the cases the Commission is currently working on (about 35 different complaints), participated in interviews with several complainants, and began work on a research memo about a complex and particularly harmful form of systemic discrimination against persons with mental disabilities. At this point I have drafted several complaints, conducted interviews, researched and written responses to inquiries, and started work on my own investigation.

I’ve also been making the most of my free time in this amazing place. I’ve been going for three-hour evening rides on the huge network of mountain bike trails that surrounds Whitehorse, have hiked up four different mountains with new friends, have gone camping, and have volunteered with both a theatre festival and a folk music festival, both of which were great. While exploring the forests and mountains of the Yukon I’ve encountered ravens, eagles, friendly foxes, grouse, a huge porcupine, two territorial beavers, and a moose. Although I haven’t yet to run into any bears, I have followed the examples of the local bikers by strapping a can of bear spray to the frame of my bike, just in case!

Panorama view from the top of Monarch Mountain, above Atlin lake

Panorama view from the top of Monarch Mountain, above Atlin lake

Just as I begin to feel accustomed to the 24 hours of daylight that northerners enjoy every summer, the night skies have finally begun to get a little darker. Last weekend, while camping in Atlin, in northern BC, I saw a couple of stars for the first time since I left Montreal. I will take this reminder of the passing time as encouragement to redouble my efforts to contribute and learn as much as I can while at the Human Rights Commission, and to explore and experience everything I can while visiting this beautiful part of the world.

*UPDATE: I saw large black bear while on a bike ride several hours after writing this post… escaped unscathed!

Lives on “stand-by”

 Par Nour Saadi

 

Assise sur ma chaise, les yeux cloués sur mon écran.

They ripped off my pants with a knife and three violated me, one after the other. They pointed their guns at me, saying they were going to kill me, and beat me with their rifles. They beat me in my sex after they had finished. As this was happening, I saw a girl about five meters from where I was being raped. After they got off of her, one of them shot her in the abdomen as she was lying there. They shot her with one of their long guns. I saw the blood running down her body…. I saw this just after they had finished with me, but it wasn’t the same group.

C’est frappant, malaisant, de se retrouver dans une position où, du haut du 35e étage de l’Empire State Building, je lis sur des massacres ayant lieu chez moi, puis, à l’indication de l’aiguille passant les 18 heures, je sors du bâtiment et marche dans les rues, presque comme si de rien n’était. Mettant les cris de ces personnes sur “mute”, la vie de ces personnes en “stand-by”, alors que je rentre, prends une douche, mange et dors, puis retourne à mon écran le lendemain matin.

Voici déjà un mois de ceci.

View from the top of the Empire State Buiding

View from the top of the Empire State Building

Travailler pour Human Rights Watch reste toutefois enrichissant. Entourée de 4 avocat-e-s, aussi occupé-e-s les un-e-s que les autres, j’ai eu l’opportunité de faire de la recherche sur le Moyen-Orient, la Guinée et la Corée du Nord. La présence de 2 autres stagiaires au sein du bureau apporte son propre lot d’apprentissage. J’apprends qu’en voulant être compatissante avec l’expérience négative d’une stagiaire, justifiée ou non, je risque la mienne. Par ailleurs, je développe une certaine conscience de l’impact associé au travail que je produis, et à l’importance de lui donner une couleur qui est mienne.

L’approche de Human Rights Watch en termes de défense de droits humains repose sur l’utilisation stratégique de son influence sur des acteurs clés de la communauté internationale. Le rôle de la Cour pénale internationale ainsi que les défis auxquelles elle fait face commencent à prendre forme, ce qui génère en moi de nombreux repositionnements.

The more I understand how the ICC works, the more I am shocked to see the difference with Canadian domestic courts, the Supreme Court for instance, which writes decision with an air of “the Court has spoken”, while the International Criminal Court, with the mandate to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes etc. –the most serious international crimes – needs permission to speak.

 

In the middle of this organized mess, I ask myself: where do I stand? Where do I start?

 

As I sat there, no more than three meters away, I saw them shoot an old man dressed as an imam in the head while he was praying. The old man was in the process of praying, because in the Muslim faith, if you are going to die, it is necessary to pray before dying. He was in the process of praying and a red beret walked up to him and shot him in the head with a pistol. Nearby, there was another man who wanted to pray. As he kneeled there, one of the ones wearing gris-gris said, “Don’t say another prayer,” and came up behind him and slit his throat.

 

On these last nights of Ramadan,

I pray with all my heart. I pray for the people I might not know, for the people I might not see, but for the people I can feel. I pray, because I am confused. What is my role, as a jurist? What can I do as a lawyer, really? What has law ever done for humanity, other than providing a sophisticated knife to deep-pocketed opportunists, other than providing rules conveniently drafted to relieve the anxiety of complicit observers, other than manufacturing hope?

 

On these last nights of Ramadan,

I pray for a night of peace.

Only one.

 

Nour Saadi

 

Air Train

Air Train, New York City

 

First testimony: A 26-year-old housecleaner who was gang raped by three members of the Presidential Guard on the September 28, 2009 massacre and rapes in the Conakry Stadium.

Second testimony: A 19-year-old student who was beaten by security forces and hid in an area under construction behind the stadium.

La détermination des peines au Nunavut : un exercice sui generis

Étienne F. LacombeÉtienne F. Lacombe

Quelles que soient ses connaissances au préalable, l’étudiant(e) qui effectue son stage auprès du bureau d’aide juridique d’Iqaluit ne peut s’empêcher de développer une intime familiarité avec la détermination des peines (sentencing). Qu’un dossier n’en soit qu’à ses débuts ou que la cause tire à sa fin, le criminaliste se doit de pouvoir estimer une peine appropriée – et il revient souvent à l’étudiant(e) de parvenir à une estimation. Il s’agit d’un curieux travail étant donné l’unicité de la criminalité au Nunavut et le peu d’arrêts publiés. D’ailleurs, il est souvent possible de survoler l’ensemble des décisions de la Cour de justice du Nunavut sur une infraction du Code criminel sans y repérer d’arrêts semblables.

Il y a quelques semaines, je discutais de mon travail à Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik avec un juge de la Cour suprême en visite pour la première fois à Iqaluit. Celui-ci me demanda alors si l’on pourrait qualifier la détermination des peines au Nunavut de sui generis. À mon sens, la détermination des peines dans ce vaste territoire se distingue de celle des autres juridictions canadiennes, quoique la compétence fédérale en matière de droit criminel lui impose tout de même certaines contraintes. D’une part, les juristes nunavummiuts ont su s’approprier les concepts reconnus dans l’ensemble du pays—tels les rapports Gladue et la justice réparatrice—pour y infuser des valeurs inuites et refléter les préoccupations propres à leur territoire. D’autre part, des limites au plan structurel, dont les peines minimales et les ressources au niveau correctionnel, restreignent le caractère sui generis de la détermination des peines au Nunavut.

Les principes qui encadrent la détermination des peines figurent à l’article 718.2 du Code criminel. Parmi ceux-ci, l’alinéa e) impose aux tribunaux « l’examen, plus particulièrement en ce qui concerne les délinquants autochtones, de toutes les sanctions substitutives qui sont raisonnables dans les circonstances et qui tiennent compte du tort causé aux victimes ou à la collectivité ». La Cour suprême s’est prononcée sur cet alinéa dans les arrêts R c Gladue et R c Ipeelee, entre autres, pour prescrire aux juges qui imposent une peine à un délinquant autochtone de considérer toute solution de rechange à l’incarcération. En l’absence de telles solutions, la peine d’emprisonnement devrait être restreinte. Étant donné les tristes réalités historiques et systémiques qui affligent de nombreux accusés, la Cour de justice du Nunavut est en mesure d’imposer avec régularité des sentences qui tiennent compte de l’unicité de la population majoritairement autochtone.

Les juristes nunavummiuts ont également su tailler la détermination des peines à leur façon par le biais de la justice réparatrice. La justice réparatrice existe dans l’ensemble des juridictions canadiennes. Elle permet aux victimes et aux membres de la communauté de joueur un rôle actif pour régler le tort causé par le délinquant en facilitant un dialogue entre les parties, par exemple. Au Nunavut, il existe un comité de la justice dans chacune des communautés du territoire. Ces comités, nous expliqua-t-on lors d’une formation au début de l’été, se servent de valeurs sociétales inuites pour que la justice réparatrice reflète les attentes et les besoins du Nunavut.

Dans certains cas, il est possible pour les juges du Nunavut d’imposer une peine qui tient compte des problèmes sociaux les plus importants du territoire. Les effets de la toxicomanie et de l’abus de stupéfiants, par exemple, se ressentent nommément dans le Nord canadien. Les juges ne se gênent donc pas pour souligner l’importance particulière de lutter contre le trafic de stupéfiants au Nunavut (voir par exemple R v KP et R v Qrunngnut).

Par contre, d’autres préoccupations ne peuvent être convenablement reflétées dans la détermination des peines en vertu des limites au plan structurel. En ce qui concerne la législation fédérale, les peines minimales restreignent le caractère sui generis de la détermination des peines au Nunavut.

Dans un premier temps, la promotion de la culture inuite est particulièrement importante au Nunavut. Bien entendu, il est plus facile pour les détenus inuits de vivre leur culture dans le territoire. Comme me l’expliquait un des gardiens, les employés des prisons territoriales ont pour mandat de faciliter un encadrement culturel pour les détenus. La possibilité de purger sa peine dans un des établissements d’Iqaluit n’est toutefois ouverte qu’aux délinquants condamnés à moins de deux ans de prison. Pour ceux à qui les peines minimales imposent une sentence de deux ans ou plus, le juge ne peut empêcher que l’individu soit transporté à un pénitencier dans l’une des provinces.

Dans un deuxième temps, un défi semblable s’impose quant à l’employabilité. Les juges sont conscients du peu de travail rémunéré qui s’offre à certaines tranches de la population du Nunavut. Pour nombre d’infractions, une peine discontinue permet au délinquant de conserver son emploi en purgeant sa peine la fin de semaine. Puisque cet accommodement n’est disponible que pour les sentences de moins de 90 jours, un juge qui se doit d’imposer une peine minimale de 120 jours, par exemple, se trouve dans la fâcheuse obligation de compromettre l’emploi du délinquant sans savoir s’il pourra le regagner.

Enfin, la disponibilité des ressources sur le plan correctionnel limite la flexibilité dont jouissent les juges du Nunavut dans la détermination des peines. Ailleurs au pays, il est possible pour le tribunal de reporter la détermination de la peine afin que le délinquant puisse participer à un programme de traitement agréé par le gouvernement (voir l’article 720(2) du Code criminel). Or, le gouvernement du Nunavut n’a à ce jour approuvé aucun programme de ce type ; ceux-ci n’existent pas dans les communautés. En effet, les programmes de traitement pour la toxicomanie et la violence conjugale ne sont principalement offerts que dans les prisons. Compte tenu de cette situation, le juge doyen de la Cour de justice du Nunavut constate que « [t]he court has had to adjust its sentencing posture to reflect the stark realities of Nunavut » (R v JN).

Les juges du Nunavut sont appelés à infliger des peines dans un contexte sans pareil. Il n’est donc pas étonnant que ceux-ci se soient approprié les concepts reconnus dans l’ensemble du pays afin que leurs sentences reflètent l’unicité du territoire et de sa population. L’on pourrait ainsi qualifier la détermination des peines au Nunavut de sui generis. Toutefois, force est de constater que certaines préoccupations telles la promotion de la culture inuite et l’employabilité ne peuvent être pleinement prises en compte dans le cadre qu’impose la législation fédérale et la distribution des ressources. C’est dans ces circonstances qu’évolue la détermination des peines au Nunavut : confrontée d’une part par d’uniques problématiques et d’autre part par les bornes qui lui sont imposées.

Just Keep Swimming

By André Capretti

In the past few months, Cambodian civil society has made concerted efforts to lobby foreign governments who are among Cambodia’s biggest aid donors, in the hopes of pressuring the government to cease violating human rights and making a mockery of the justice system. By using aid money as leverage, foreign governments can advocate for improvements in the State’s treatment of its citizens and for the respect of fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.

However, for a long time embassies in Phnom Penh were disturbingly quiet about the politically motivated repression of the State’s most ardent critics and high-profile opponents. While activists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders were being thrown into prison one after the other, far too many foreign delegations limited their statements to “expressions of deep concern”. “Concern”, no matter how deep or heartfelt it may be, is not an effective tool for bringing about serious change in the ruthless Cambodian political landscape. It is even less appropriate from actors like the United States EmbassyUN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon, or the European Union delegation, who have the gravitas and influence necessary to make a difference through their words and actions.

So when the European Parliament voted for a resolution on June 9, which called for the body’s 410 million€ of aid to be made conditional on improvements in Cambodia’s human rights situation, there seemed to be signs for potential rejoicing. And yet the Cambodian government’s response to the EU’s diplomatic move was harsh and dismissive. Prime Minister Hun Sen made a speech in which he stated, “China has never made a threat to Cambodia and has never ordered Cambodia to do something…You threaten to cut off aid; please cut it and the first person who will suffer will be the people who work with NGOs.”

These comments present two worrisome issues. Firstly, what to do when countries like China, who have no qualms about less than stellar human rights records, present themselves as aid partners for developing countries, making withholding aid no longer a viable means of affecting change? Secondly, what to do when a government calls your bluff and appears to relish the possibility of cutting off money from NGOs?

The government of Cambodia has long prioritized economic development and security at the expense of democracy and human rights, without acknowledging that those do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. Cambodia’s recent response to the threats made by the EU is alarming, as it demonstrates that they are not afraid to expand the chasm between development and human rights even further.

Here’s an interesting Op-Ed from the New York Times on the role of human rights in the World Bank’s development policies.

 **********

            Lorsque je lis les nouvelles cambodgiennes sur les réseaux sociaux, il m’arrive parfois de me demander si l’article que je lis est une parodie ou un article sérieux. L’absurdité des propos des membres du gouvernement dans leurs entrevues et dans leurs déclarations aux médias rend la tâche particulièrement difficile.

Prenons par exemple le vidéo intitulé « Using Rights in Anarchic Way », produit récemment par le gouvernement. Dans ce vidéo, le gouvernement avertit les cambodgiens que si ils utilisent leurs droits « de la mauvaise façon », ils risquent de reproduire les mêmes sortes de guerres civiles qu’ont vécues la Libye et la Syrie, après que le peuple s’est opposé au gouvernement. Sans aucun signe d’ironie, le narrateur raconte que l’usage excessif des droits amènera la destruction, des familles éclatées, la perte d’une centaine de milliers de vies et d’habitats, et le carnage. Le narrateur conclut qu’après toutes ces horreurs, il ne restera que des souvenirs douloureux.

Le message transmis au public par le gouvernement dans ce vidéo est clair. Arrêtez donc de manifester, de vous exprimer, de vous plaindre contre la corruption, la répression de l’État, l’abus du système judiciaire et l’harcèlement de la société civile. Si vous ne restez pas en silence, on n’hésitera pas à utiliser la violence et la brutalité pour vous écraser, comme ils ont fait en Syrie et en Libye. Il est encore plus difficile de croire que l’organe du gouvernement qui a publié la vidéo est le Cambodian Human Rights Committee, un organe qui est censé promouvoir les droits humains !

En bref c’est ça la situation des droits humains au Cambodge : la ligne entre la réalité et l’absurde est floue. C’est un pays où le ministre de la défense menace d’emprisonner les gens s’ils manifestent pacifiquement sans demander de permission. Un pays où le passetemps préféré du premier ministre semble être de faire taire ses adversaires et ses critiques avec des poursuites en diffamation. Un pays où le gouvernement déclare que les manifestants doivent demander la permission du gouvernement pour s’exprimer sur les réseaux sociaux. Un pays où le double standard entre les partis critiques du gouvernement et les amis proches du régime est flagrant et injuste. Pendant que le chef député de l’opposition fait face à des chefs d’accusions banals motivés par des intérêts politiques, des haut placés dans le gouvernement sont protégés des regards du tribunal chargé de réprimer les crimes de l’ère des Khmers rouges. Ce type d’impunité est tout simplement inacceptable pour un pays qui prétend respecter les droits humains et la justice.

            Ce qui est le plus absurde dans tout ça c’est de voir comment le droit, le système de justice et le discours des droits humains peuvent être maniés d’une façon aussi grotesque, par un gouvernement qui a si peu de respect pour son peuple.

 **********

            Last summer I followed with great interest Brodie Noga’s blogs, where he recounted his experiences as an intern with LICADHO. In particular, one of his blogs caught my attention, and left a lasting impression in my mind: Monitoring a Trial for Insurrection.  

Recently, I had the chance to witness the second act of this case, as three members of the youth wing of the opposition political party were being put on trial for the same events as their predecessors, accused of leading and participating in an insurrection, for their actions in a 2014 peaceful protest turned violent.

What I witnessed during the two hearings I attended was a shocking display of political theatre. The judge made no effort to conceal that the defendants’ presumption of innocence had been replaced with a presumption of guilt. One of the defendants, Yea Thong, provided compelling testimony which indicated that he had very likely been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and possibly the victim of a case of mistaken identity. Yet the judge made absolutely no effort to probe his claims further, making it clear that the defendants’ guilt had been predetermined.

What was most appalling was the ridiculous case presented by the prosecutor, who brought forth no evidence to corroborate the allegations and barred the defence from calling on key witnesses for additional questioning. The prosecutor made the absurd argument that although the defendants’ actions did not involve the constituting acts of the offence of insurrection, their arrests and prosecutions were justified on the grounds that this offence had to be dealt with pre-emptively.

I felt confident that there was no way a reasonable judge would convict the three men of any crime, much less a crime like insurrection which carries a sentence ranging from seven to 15 years of imprisonment. I soon learned that was naïve of me.

On the day the verdict was handed down, I observed a similar scene to that which Brodie had witnessed a year prior. While waiting for the judges to show up, the three defendants smiled and laughed with their family members in the audience. My eyes lingered on Yea Thong, the defendant whose testimony I had heard and who I was convinced was completely innocent. He seemed relaxed and unworried, laughing along with his fellow defendants. He even gave a reassuring wink to his wife, sitting two rows behind him, as if to say, “Don’t worry honey, this will all be over soon enough”.

And then the judge entered the chambers. Immediately the mood in the room changed. The tension was palpable as the judge began to rattle off the charges and read out the verdicts. My Khmer colleague whispered in my ear, “7 years. All three of them”. My heart sank. I looked over to the defendants, to Yea Thong in particular. From behind I could see that his hands had begun to shake. And then his arms began to tremble as well. As the prison guards took away the three –now convicted – men, their families started to shout and scream, many of them in tears.

In that moment, I was dumbfounded by the verdict. That feeling would slowly be replaced in equal parts by feelings of fury and sorrow. Yea Thong later denounced his verdict, noting that “[n]othing about this is remarkable because the courts in Cambodia are not fair to people.” His wife would go on to add that “[t]here is no justice, brother, because my husband did not do anything wrong. Courts in Cambodia are not fair for the powerless people.”

I didn’t have much time to recover from that disturbing scene before we zoomed off on a tuk-tuk to the Appeals Court. Once there, we waited to hear whether the five human rights defenders who had been in pre-trial detention since May 2 would have their requests for bail allowed. Once again, being a young, naïve and idealistic law student, I thought they might actually be granted bail. Under the law, they certainly qualified for it. Yet as I had just seen in the insurrection case, and as my colleagues had repeatedly reminded me, the law was not a prime consideration in cases like these. Inexplicably, the five were denied bail by the court, which tried providing some semblance of a justification for its decision to mask the clear political motivations behind the case. With a heavy heart, I headed home. In one day I had had a front row seat to two major injustices perpetrated by Cambodia’s justice system. I am beginning to realize that the struggles of human rights work can erode even the most hardened layers of optimism and idealism.

Advocacy material for the Black Monday campaign
Advocacy material for the Black Monday campaign
The beach on Rabbit Island near Kep
The beach on Rabbit Island near Kep

 

Luckily, the LICADHO team held its annual staff retreat soon after in the seaside town of Kep. The idyllic locale, with the calming smell and sound of the ocean, did wonders for my morale. The time spent together, laughing, sharing meals, playing games, lifted everyone’s spirits. It was much needed. No matter how demoralizing, disheartening or depressing human rights work can be, it is far too valuable to ever give up. While we may sometimes lose hope, I was reminded of an important lesson when I recently went to the movie theatres to see Finding Dory.

When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do?

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.  

Let’s Talk About Drugs

2016-KohutRachelBy Rachel Kohut

Last Friday, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network co-hosted the conference Chartering the Future of Drug Policy in Canada. The conference had a strong start. Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott opened the conference by calling Canada’s opioid problem “nothing short of a public-health crisis”.

One-Day Post-Canadian Public Health Association Conference Session

In response to this crisis, the Minister announced that she has ordered an expedited review of naloxone nasal spray. Known by its trade name, Narcan, this nasal spray can be used as an antidote to opioid overdoses. It is currently used in primarily western Canada to combat the ever-increasing number of fatal fentanyl drug overdoses.

[read more about her announcement here in The Globe and Mail]

Minister of Health during her speech at the conference.

Minister of Health during her speech at the conference.

This announcement came at the same time as the B.C. Centre for Disease Control admitted that steep prices are hindering access to naloxone, and authorities across the country are calling for the crisis of the number of opioid overdoses to be declared as a public health emergency. To note, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has now distributed over 9 700 free “Narcan kits”, of which 1 400 have been used to help people from overdosing, and about 8 900 people have been trained to administer the antidote through a provincial harm reduction program, Toward the Heart.

A drug considered to be 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, an investigation by the chief coroner of British Columbia found that fentanyl was detected in the blood of 148 people who died of a drug overdose in the first four months of 2016 alone. This is more than three times the number in the same period of last year.

In Vancouver, this translates to one death every five days.

[see more about the use of Narcan in the response to fentanyl overdoses in this article]

Following the Minister of Health’s speech, she gracefully took questions from the audience, including from people who use drugs, many of whom flagged the need to do something about the increase of opioid drug overdoses, particularly in western Canada.

João Goulão—the National Drug Coordinator of Portugal, who is often heralded as the architect of the country’s national drug policy—was also in attendance at the one-day conference to present on Portugal’s experience decriminalizing drugs. That’s right. The country decriminalized every drug, from marijuana to cocaine to heroin.

If you are caught with less than a 10-day supply of any narcotic today in Portugal, the penalty is almost the equivalent of a speeding ticket.

Before decriminalizing drugs, the former physician said that “it was impossible to find a Portuguese family that did not have (drug-related) problems”. But in treating drug-use as a public health problem, and not a criminal one, the theory goes that more people are likely to seek treatment and support.

Instead of heading to jail, it is more likely that the person caught with less than a 10-day supply will be referred a committee consisting of a health professional, lawyer and social worker that determines the best step forward. This multifactorial approach attempts to get to the bottom of the issue. So the national strategy was not just to decriminalize: it was to create a complete package of policies that focus on treatment, prevention, harm reduction, reintegration and methadone treatment, among other avenues.

And even though there has been hesitations and critiques about this strategy, the numbers have illustrated very positive public health outcomes.

Although drug use did appear to climb in the first few years after decriminalization, it has since decreased, with the number of cocaine and heroin addicts steadily decreasing. And with the decrease of intravenous drug use, the number of new HIV and HCV infections due to intravenous drug use has also plunged, falling from 1 000 in 2001 to less than 100 in 2013. And drug-caused deaths? They dropped from 80 to 20 per year, far below the European Union average.

[read more in this National Post article, and in this Toronto Star article]

But what the Canadian federal government is currently proposing is not as broad sweeping. They aren’t going to decriminalize all drugs, instead seeking to legalize one: marijuana. But in ignoring other drugs from this strategy, are they glancing over a more pressing public health emergency? Could Canada learn a thing or two from a country of 10 million people right across the Atlantic on how to create a more complete package of policies? So Canada, let’s start talking about not just one drug, but all drugs.

Fellow UofT intern, Chelsey, and I at the end of the conference.

Captions generated from the #SupportDontPunish photo campaign held during the conference.

Captions generated from the #SupportDontPunish photo campaign held during the conference.

Advocating Taboo Issues in Health and Human Rights

2016 Moreau Andre  By André Moreau

I’ve been in Uganda for a month now and I am really enjoying my experience thus far!

Kampala, Uganda’s capital, is a big bustling city laid out over a series of hills and valleys on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. Kampala appears to be continuously developing. The city is undergoing countless construction projects, which are improving the city’s infrastructure and the art/music/culinary scenes are becoming increasingly prominent.

My internship at the Center for Health, Human Rights & Development (CEHURD) is providing me with an opportunity to learn about some of the issues relating to health and human rights in Uganda in particular and East Africa as a whole. From visiting Uganda’s Constitutional Court, to drafting memos and conducting legal research, I have had the privilege of being exposed to some of the key initiatives of this dedicated organization.

A bird's eye view of Kampala

A view of Kampala taken from atop of the Uganda National Mosque

Recently, I was given the task of conducting research on some of the Sexual Offences Acts that have been implemented in various countries around the world. More specifically, I was asked to compare and contrast these pieces of legislation in order to find out whether the rights of sexual assault victims have been emphasized. Fortunately, of the seven pieces of legislation that I analyzed, only one jurisdiction did not make mention of the wellbeing and protection of victims within its Sexual Offences Act. The purpose of this research is clear: the Ugandan government is currently in the process of drafting its own Sexual Offences Bill and CEHURD is advocating for the inclusion of the rights of victims, notably when it comes to the issue of abortion.

The Ugandan Constitution states: “No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorised by law.” As it stands, abortion is only permitted in Uganda when the mother’s life is in danger. As CEHURD pushes to advocate for the rights of victims of sexual assault, the organization hopes to broaden the range of exceptions to include situations of rape, incest, and/or defilement.

This is no easy task. Abortion is a topic that carries a considerable amount of weight in Ugandan society, a taboo. Even lawyers who are advocating for these changes appear to be wary of having their names ascribed to the file.

The Ugandan government made its views regarding abortion heard when it nearly rejected the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (commonly known as the Maputo Protocol). The product of eight years in the making, the Maputo Protocol felt strong resistance from the greater Ugandan society, namely its religious groups.  The main point of contention was subsection (2)(c) of article 14, which seeks to protect the reproductive rights of women by permitting abortion in the cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. In the end, Uganda ratified the protocol but with a reservation to subsection (2)(c).

Despite the attached stigma and legal ramifications, Ugandan women still resort to clandestine abortions. Roughly a quarter of the maternal deaths in Uganda are from unsafe abortions where roughly four women in Uganda die each day as a result. The gravity of the issue is impossible to ignore. Seeking inspiration from nearby jurisdictions such as Rwanda and South Africa, CEHURD continues to put pressure on the government to draft victim-centric legislation.

Although post-abortion care in Uganda is decriminalized, the health workers who provide medical services to abortion survivors are often persecuted. To help assure the rights of health care workers, CEHURD has formed the Legal Support Network (LSN) ­–a coalition of lawyers throughout the country to provide pro-bono services to help health workers who require legal assistance.

In a society that still presents many barriers, this is one example of how the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development has embarked on the long struggle of protecting and advocating women’s health rights and the rights of health workers throughout the country.

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

2015-lachapelle-kaley By Kaley Lachapelle

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).

The Courtroom at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Courtroom at 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.

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