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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.

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.

Dissonance, despondency, surprise – and LGBT rights in Africa

2015 Wettstein AnnaBy Anna Wettstein

About a month and a half after my return from The Gambia, my thoughts about my trip are split in the most profound way. And so maybe my ruminations can only be expressed by a cliché and overused quote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

I suppose any life-changing event in a person’s life is sure to elicit these sorts of emotions. I met some people who were the most gracious and welcoming I have ever met, yet at the same time some days I couldn’t muster up the courage to leave my apartment because of the dozens of men who felt entitled to my words, my time, and my thoughts. I felt, at once, supreme isolation, and a very real connection to certain people around me. I felt pride and hope about the work I and my institution were doing, and sometimes I felt our work was so hypocritical, counterproductive, and self-congratulatory that I couldn’t believe I had ever considered it worthy of changing the world in even the smallest of ways.

Now that I’m back and, with a bit more distance, truly reflecting on human rights work, I can’t say I’m less conflicted. But it’s important to channel that critical eye into something positive and productive, no matter how daunting that task seems to be.

One of the greatest moments of dissonance for me was hearing my colleagues speak about LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and the infamous case of the American baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. I knew going there that this was a very touchy subject – homosexuality is criminalized in The Gambia, and certain acts can land you in prison for life. Generally it’s as if it doesn’t exist there, as if the famous words of Iran’s Ahmadinejad: “We don’t have any gays in Iran” actually ring true in The Gambia. So the only time I heard anyone talk about it was when the US Supreme Court decision was published, and I heard my colleagues make some (to put it nicely) very disappointing remarks.

Just a few months earlier, the Coalition of African Lesbians was granted observer status at the African Commission after a 7-year battle. When their application for Observer Status was first rejected, the Commission provided as a reason that “the activities of the said Organisation do not promote and protect any of the rights enshrined in the African Charter.” The reversal of opinion was promising for the possibility of countering discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Africa as it seemed to signify that the Commission was open to recognizing that the rights of homosexuals are enshrined in the African Charter. Yet just a few months later, their observer status was rescinded. One step forward, two steps back? If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, it’s heartening to imagine that the Commission would grant such status at all, even if just for a few months.

Yet a colleague of mine was there during the debates at the Commission. He told me he heard some prominent human rights activists referring to ‘gays’ as rats or vermin – I’m not sure on the exact terminology he related, but it was something equally vile. He heard some of the most educated and progressive lawyers fight to deny even the rights to life and to be free from torture based on a person’s sexual orientation. A respected friend of mine said some equally hateful things. This dissonance was striking, but I was used to it at this point.

So in my eternal naiveté and hope, when my Institution tasked me with drawing up an internal memo on litigating sexual and reproductive rights, I decided that this was my prime opportunity to argue that we should be litigating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The arguments are solid – it would make a great case. Do I think they are ever going to do it? No, not in the foreseeable future. In fact I’m not sure my arguments and research will lead to anything positive at all because they seemed to fall on deaf ears. But I’m glad I tried.

I wish I could end this post on a positive note, but the hate I encountered left too bitter a taste in my mouth. Maybe the silver lining can be found in my surprise at my colleagues’ responses to the issue – that in almost every other way, their dedication to human rights, openness and tolerance taught me many things.

I suppose I think it’s unfortunate more than anything. At the very least, if my colleagues worked on such a case, I think their minds would be changed. I think they would be less apt to dehumanize gay people and others ostracized, beaten, and killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity on a regular basis. But maybe that would be too difficult to them – it’s hard to step out of your comfort zone, after all.

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!

Cameroun : Parmi les inégalités

2015 Belanger Roy MichelBy Michel Bélanger-Roy

Bien sûr, la différence frappe. Avant même d’atterrir, en voyant par le hublot les banlieues délabrées de Douala, on comprend qu’on n’est plus en Occident. Puis, une fois au sol, le choc s’amplifie. La saleté. Le bruit incessant des klaxons. Chaque première expérience est une surprise : s’entasser avec 6 inconnus dans un taxi collectif (Ah, le siège prend 2 passagers? Bien sûr, assoyez-vous sur mes genoux); faire son marché (Les œufs ne sont pas au froid? Ah tiens, la viande non plus); chercher un appartement (Il n’y a pas d’adresses? Ah bon, les rues n’ont pas de nom). Parlant de rue, la traverser entre taxis et motos qui ne s’arrêtent pas demeure une frayeur quotidienne

Mais on s’habitue. Un peu. Et on découvre les différences qu’on apprécie : la nourriture de rue délicieuse et abordable; la musique africaine; les fruits savoureux; les paysages verdoyants; l’attitude décontractée; la générosité. Je me suis même surpris à souhaiter voir des taxis collectifs à Montréal.

Et au fil des jours, c’est autre chose qui m’a frappé : l’ampleur des inégalités. Il faut dire que mes rencontres sont variées. Entre un repas cuit sur le feu d’une femme de campagne et un scotch versé sur le minibar d’un riche avocat, je fais connaissance avec des gens qui eux ne se côtoient pas. Le mur encadrant la villa de l’avocat y est peut-être pour quelque chose.

Inégalités socio-économiques donc, d’abord. Ici, les Mercedes roulent en bordure des bidonvilles. Comme ailleurs, on affiche sa richesse comme gage de réussite. Mais dans un pays du tiers-monde, le contraste impressionne particulièrement.

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Atelier sur les droits des femmes à Mudeka

Inégalités de genre ou condition féminine, le thème de mon stage avec Women for a Change Cameroon. Au Cameroun, la loi limite encore l’égalité, notamment en criminalisant l’avortement (Code pénal du Cameroun, Article 337). Plus encore, ce sont des normes culturelles qui perpétuent les inégalités. Le harcèlement de rue demeure pratique courante. Et le passage aux toilettes d’un bar ou d’un restaurant (souvent 3 simples panneaux de tôle dans une cour) rappelle que ces lieux sont conçus pour les hommes. Par ailleurs, inégalités sexuelles et économiques restent intimement liées, les femmes ne possédant que 2% des terres au Cameroun (Cameroon Gender Equality Network, 2011).

Inégalités linguistiques, ensuite. Pour un Québécois, il est fascinant de se retrouver en région anglophone au Cameroun. En effet, la minorité anglophone camerounaise défend fermement ses droits linguistiques face à une parfois oppressante majorité…francophone. Elle revendique même la protection de son système juridique distinct (de Common Law). À part l’inversion des rôles, rien de très dépaysant. Cependant, avec plus de 250 langues locales et dialectes parlés au pays, le portrait linguistique demeure autrement complexe.

Parmi les autres vecteurs d’inégalités, quelques uns sont plus encourageants. Malgré une diversité impressionnante, le Cameroun connaît peu de tensions ethniques ou religieuses et reste très tolérant à ces égards. En revanche, l’état des droits LGBT demeure déplorable.

Finalement, inégalité… internationale. Celle qu’illustre ma présence. Étant l’un des rares « blancs » (mon bronzage impressionne peu) en ville, j’attire forcément les regards. Outre quelques rares remarques moqueuses et des prix parfois gonflés, je n’ai vraiment pas à m’en plaindre. Mais en parlant du Canada avec des Camerounais, je sens bien leur envie. Légitime. Et je constate que même si on les déplore, notre système de santé, nos infrastructures et notre système d’éducation sont autant d’immenses privilèges.

Ce « privilège occidental », facile à oublier à Montréal, est ici exposé aux regards par la couleur de ma peau. Et forcément, ça confronte. Quoi faire avec ce privilège?

À cet égard, une femme demandait récemment à ma collègue ce que je faisais ici.

–       « A human rights internship »

–       « How long? »

–       « 3 months »

–       « And after that…? »

Bonne question, Madame. Bonne question. And after that…?

 

L’autre 50%

Suzanne Zaccour

Lorsque j’ai décidé d’appliquer pour un stage à la CONGEH (Cameroun), plusieurs facteurs sont entrés en ligne de compte. Certains n’étaient que de simples préférences, mais une chose était certaine : je voulais travailler pour promouvoir les droits des femmes. Heureusement pour moi, le stage qui était à la fois le plus accessible, le seul en français et situé dans un pays où ma famille a déjà vécu concernait également les droits des femmes. Plus spécifiquement, les droits fonciers et successoraux des femmes, en particulier celles infectées ou affectées par le VIH/sida. Après presque deux mois de stage, j’en suis venue à la conclusion que ma volonté de travailler pour les femmes n’était pas qu’une simple question de préférences. En réalité, tenir compte du genre dans le contexte du développement est tout simplement incontournable. Comme je le disais hier à un collègue à la recherche de financement, les bailleurs de fonds sont nombreux à exiger que les projets ciblent les femmes. L’industrie du développement a, semblerait-il, enfin découvert cet autre 50% de la population mise de côté depuis… toujours? Quoiqu’il en soit, deux anecdotes vécues cette semaine dans le cadre de mon stage m’ont confirmé l’importance des questions de genre même dans les domaines les plus apparemment « neutres ».

Je suis en train de compléter une (imposante) demande de financement pour un organisme qui appuie des projets visant l’autonomisation économique des femmes et la promotion de leurs droits. La CONGEH (Coalition des ONG et OCB du Cameroun œuvrant dans le domaine des Établissements Humains) conduit justement depuis plusieurs années le projet de Cliniques de Consultation Foncière (CCF) pour la réduction des inégalités envers les femmes infectées ou affectées par le VIH/sida. Ces cliniques offrent des services gratuits d’information, de consultation et d’accompagnement pour les femmes victimes de violations de leurs droits fonciers ou successoraux ou désireuses de mieux les protéger. Dans les communautés où elles sont implantées, les CCF permettent donc aux femmes de connaitre et de faire reconnaître leurs droits, en particulier dans un contexte de VIH/sida. Elles organisent également différentes activités de sensibilisation communautaire et de plaidoyer auprès des autorités locales et traditionnelles.

La CONGEH étant un réseau d’organisations, de nombreux projets sont élaborés par ses membres avec plus ou moins de centralisation. L’un de ces projets « périphériques » consiste en l’assainissement et l’installation de latrines dans une communauté, l’objectif étant de favoriser une meilleure hygiène et notamment de limiter les maladies opportunistes au VIH/sida. Préoccupée par mon application, je constate qu’il ne cible pas spécifiquement les femmes. Mon superviseur me détrompe : ce sont les femmes qui portent le fardeau des soins aux enfants et aux malades. Ce sont elles également qui entretiennent le foyer familial. Ainsi, tout changement dans la sphère dite privée les affecte directement. Une hygiène décente améliore grandement leur qualité de vie, tandis que des enfants ou un mari malade représente un défi supplémentaire à relever dans leur quotidien déjà surchargé. Si elles sont commerçantes ou agricultrices, leurs revenus fluctuent selon l’état de santé de leur famille.

Pour moi qui ai cette préoccupation à cœur, c’est un plaisir de constater que la situation des femmes est prise en compte dans la planification des activités de la CONGEH. Négliger les questions de genre peut faire d’une bonne idée un échec. Cela m’amène à ma deuxième anecdote.

S’immerger dans un pays en voie de développement permet de constater de nombreux problèmes qu’on n’a jamais vécus. D’un autre côté, les pays dits développés ont beaucoup à gagner en prenant pour exemple leurs voisins du Sud relativement à certains enjeux. Les préoccupations environnementales, notamment, semblent intégrées dans le quotidien des Camerounais-e-s. Cela n’est guère surprenant quand on sait que le gaspillage des ressources renvoie à des pertes financières et que les pays du Sud souffrent davantage de l’impact des changements climatiques. Ainsi, l’élimination des emballages en plastique s’est récemment ajoutée à des pratiques respectueuses de l’environnement telles l’alimentation sans gaspillage et la réutilisation des contenants en verre. Plus précisément, « la fabrication, l’importation et la commercialisation des emballages non biodégradables (plastiques) sont interdites sur l’ensemble du territoire camerounais » depuis le 1er avril – mais certain-e-s ne l’ont pas trouvée drôle. L’interdiction s’accompagne de systèmes de surveillance et de sanctions; ainsi, même si les sacs de plastique sont encore parfois utilisés « en dessous de la table », la plupart des commerçant-e-s ont usé d’inventivité pour trouver des moyens alternatifs d’emballer leur marchandise. Les résultats sont parfois assez surprenants. Par exemple, on a empaqueté mon marché dans des boîtes – on aurait dit que je déménageais. Le vendeur que je visite tous les matins « emballe » mon pain dans une feuille manifestement arrachée d’un cahier de rédaction. Il est également populaire d’enrouler d’une bande de papier les tablettes de chocolat : sans attaches, c’est à mon humble avis totalement inutile, mais les vieilles habitudes sont résilientes.

Un pays qui bannit totalement les emballages en plastique, quand on sait le désastre qu’ils représentent pour l’environnement, ça ne peut résonner que comme une bonne nouvelle. Or, il y a bien un hic. C’est la responsable d’une des organisations membres de la CONGEH qui me l’a fait découvrir. Son organisme vise le renforcement des capacités économiques des femmes, dont des veuves et des femmes atteintes du VIH/sida (des personnes vulnérables, donc), par la production et la vente de chips de plantains. Vous savez, celles qui se vendent dans de petits paquets transparents… en plastique? Cette activité, dont dépendaient de nombreuses femmes démunies, a donc dû être interrompue. En raison de la crainte de visites d’inspecteurs environnementaux, les magasins ont interrompu les commandes. Le plus choquant, c’est qu’il n’existe aucune production d’emballages conformes (biodégradables) au Cameroun. Les femmes qui bénéficient des actions de cette ONG sont réellement prises au piège, et elles ne sont pas les seules. Ce sont les femmes qui préparent et vendent la plupart des aliments, et la santé de leurs enfants dépend de leurs revenus. Il semblerait que le gouvernement camerounais ait négligé de tenir compte des femmes dans son plan à la rescousse de l’environnement.

Les gouvernements du monde résistent à l’ADS (Analyse Différenciée selon les sexes), « un processus d’analyse favorisant l’atteinte de l’égalité [en discernant] de façon préventive les effets distincts sur les femmes et les hommes que pourra avoir l’adoption d’un projet ». De leur côté, les mouvements sociaux (socialiste, nationaliste, environnementaliste…) ont tous un jour où l’autre laissé tomber les femmes. On ne peut pas sacrifier les femmes au développement; le développement doit être réalisé par et pour les femmes. « L’avenir de l’homme est la femme » disait Aragon. Je n’ai aucun mal à le croire, quand je vois ces commerçantes déterminées saisir l’ambassade des États-Unis en vue d’organiser l’importation d’emballages biodégradables. Je n’ai aucun mal à le croire quand j’entends parler des initiatives que les femmes prennent au sein des communautés et des sommets qu’elles peuvent atteindre, à condition qu’on croit et qu’on investisse en elles.

Aider les femmes à réaliser leur potentiel n’est définitivement pas une préférence. C’est une obligation.

Terrorism, Ethnic Divisions and a National Day of Protests

2014-ODell-AnnieAnnie O’Dell

It’s now week 6 in Meru, Kenya. Since we have arrived, Kenya has made the international news on several occasions.

  • May 3, 2014: two bombings in Mombasa.
  • May 4, 2014: two buses bombed in Nairobi, four killed.
  • May 10, 2014: I arrived in Nairobi.
  • May 15, 2014: travel advisories for most Western countries increased to include a high threat of terrorism. British nationals are evacuated from Mombasa and the coast.
  • May 16, 2014: a bombing in a market in Nairobi killing 12, wounding 70.
  • June 10, 2014: a Muslim cleric was shot in Mombasa, followed by more clerics killed and some rioting.
  • June 15, 2014: 48 people killed in a small town on the coast and near the border of Somalia, only non-Muslim men were targeted, though apparently 12 women were abducted.
  • June 16, 2014: near the town attacked the day before, ten more killed while watching the World Cup.

This follows a history that includes the Westgate mall shooting (killing 74) only last September. It also includes an attack on the international airport in Nairobi in January. As well as many other smaller-scale attacks that I did not bother listing above because they happened more than a week before my arrival.

In 2011, Kenyan troops entered Somalia. This move has increased terror attacks by the terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab.

However, the situation is more complex than Somali terrorism. Last year, President Kenyatta (racially a Kikuyu) won a much-disputed election against Prime Minister Odinga (who is Luo). Odinga claimed the elections were rigged, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The election results caused riots but pales in comparison to the violence that erupted after the elections in 2007. President Kenyatta has been charged by the ICC for inciting and financing parts of that 2007 violence.

Odinga, is currently calling for a day of protests on July 7th, the Saba Saba day. Saba Saba (meaning “seven seven”) is the anniversary of a revolution overthrowing an apparent dictatorship in 1990. This day is expected to be filled with riots and roadblocks.

Al-Shabaab has apparently taken responsibility for the two most recent attacks. But the President is claiming they are part of a political ploy to divide the country among the ethnic lines of Kikuyu and Luo. This conflict is increasing tension and distrust among the population, particularly those near the Somali border who are now arming themselves.

Where we are stationed has never been affected by any violence, terrorist or political. The violence and upsets are not affecting our work in the region but it is affecting our ability to travel on weekends and our parents’ sense of security. We booked a trip to Nairobi this weekend. We haven’t had running water for four weeks now, and this is practically our only opportunity to bathe. We are also looking forward to some Western comforts, such as burgers and movie theatres. But now, though Nairobi hasn’t been attacked in a few weeks, we have had to seriously evaluate whether we should cancel our trip. It’s kind of an odd feeling to weigh options like showering and burgers against the relatively remote, but not unlikely, threat of terrorism.

Kenyan Courthouses: Handwriting, Missing Witnesses and Wrong Numbers

2014-ODell-AnnieAnnie O’Dell

This is my fourth week in Kenya for my internship with the Equality Effect. I am working in Meru, with a student from the University of Toronto. We have been placed with a partner organization, who does almost everything. It has an orphanage, a health clinic, it provides micro-loans, there’s a school, and most importantly, a rescue centre. The rescue centre currently houses about 25 children, most of whom have been defiled (sexual assault of a minor). They offer them counselling, legal support, medical support, and aid during the transition into motherhood for the girls who become pregnant. Only those girls who either have nowhere to go or are in danger within the community are admitted, others are treated at home.

 Our job is to comb through the files since the 160 Girls decision was made last year to document how police treatment has changed, if at all. The decision clearly stated that the police must diligently fulfil their obligations to all children who bring a complaint of defilement to them. The belief is that, as Meru was ground zero for 160 Girls, the police here are the most likely to be compliant (the decision was binding across the country).

The most interesting part of our job is going to court. We’ve so far seen been to two trials… sort of. The Kenyan legal system is slow and delays happen regularly, mostly for reasons that would not fly in Canada.

Our first court date was at the courthouse in the city. Most of the Courthouse is outdoors, while the courtrooms are indoors. We checked a typed list posted on a notice board to see in what order our case would come. It was supposed to be a mention for an elderly man who had allegedly defiled a girl of 14. (I’m still not entirely certain what a mention is, but in this case, it meant the accused had a chance to accept or deny the evidence placed against him). We waited outdoors, on three long benches under a corrugated roof, for the accused’s name to be called. We sat at one end of the bench with the social worker and the mother of the victim. At the other end of the bench, probably no more than 20 metres away, awaited the accused who was out on bail. While I am not so familiar with Canadian courthouses, I was upset by the casual nearness the accused and the victim were expected to endure. Particularly in such a sensitive case.

Eventually, the accused’s name was called and we followed him into a magistrate’s chambers. The Courts are undergoing a transition, and the magistrates are currently hearing cases in their chambers. The room was barely big enough for the magistrate’s large desk, a desk for a bailiff/secretary, a bench crowded with the accused and his lawyer, and us four standing partially out in the hallway. Kenyans are very soft-spoken people, so I unfortunately did not hear anything. But we were in out and out of that room within a few minutes.

Apparently, a new magistrate was assigned to the case. When this happens, the accused is asked if he wished to re-start the trial or continue. I am unsure what the accused chose, but I believe he did choose to continue. The mention never came though, because the case notes were not typed. The magistrate then adjourned for another month or so, even though the case has been on-going for over a year already. This sort of delay is a frequent occurrence.

Another, even more frequent type of delay, is the absence of witnesses at trial. The second day we spent at a different courthouse. Once again, we checked for our accused’s name on a bulletin board and saw that it would take place in Courtroom 1. We waited for the courtroom to open (about an hour later than it was supposed to) and entered. We, and many others, squeezed into a tiny courtroom on three very uncomfortable wooden benches. A female magistrate eventually walked in. They called one accused at a time to begin their mention or hearing. While it took place in Kiswahili, it was easy to understand that many witnesses and some accused were missing. It was finally our accused’s turn. He was accused of defiling his tutee, his defence was that he thought she was over 18. He stood up. Some questions were asked in Kiswahili. One name was called. Silence. Another name called. More silence. Neither the doctor nor the police appeared to testify. Case adjourned for another month.

We then headed to the police station to enquire why the officer never showed up. We waited on the compound for over an hour to get an answer. The officer was back in the city (about 90 minutes away). But the officer who was helping us went above and beyond. He dug through handwritten files to discover we had with us the wrong court file number. He found us the right one (one digit off). That case has been closed for several months. The accused had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment! Great news! Though we still have no idea whose trial we witnessed…

Piracy, Universal Jurisdiction, and Domestic Law in the United States

Andrew Higdon, One Earth Future Foundation. Broomfield, Colorado, USA.

2013 Andrew Hidgon 100x150On November 7, 2008 the Bahamian flagged cargo ship CEC Future was attacked by Somali pirates on the high seas in the Gulf of Aden. The attackers, armed with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades, fired shots and boarded the ship. The ship and her crew (eleven Russians, one Georgian and one Estonian) were released a month later when the Dutch ship owners paid a $1.7 million USD ransom. In order to negotiate with the outside world, the pirates employed Ali Muhammad Ali who acted as a facilitator and interpreter onboard the ship.  Ali made $16 500 USD from his cut of the ransom, and negotiated an additional $75 000 USD from the ship owners for coordinating the release – all without leaving Somali territorial waters for any significant length of time.

In addition to being a pirate negotiator, Ali also served as the Director General of the Ministry of Education of Somaliland – a fact that neatly conveys at the scale of the problems facing Somalia. US prosecutors used his position to lure him into the US by inviting him to a fake education conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Upon arrival he was immediately arrested and charged under US piracy and hostage taking laws. How could the US claim jurisdiction over a non-national who committed a crime in another country against a ship sailed and owned by foreign nationals?

Under international law, states must have jurisdiction over the person and the offence in order to affect a legitimate prosecution. In the case of piracy, nations rely on customary international law and the UN Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) to ground their jurisdiction. Unique among crimes, piracy has long been treated as an offense that any nation can prosecute. Unlike other theories of jurisdiction (such as “the territoriality principle” which gives states jurisdiction over events that take place within their territory,  or “the nationality principle” with gives states jurisdiction over actions committed by a their nationals) piracy is a crime that requires no nexus for a state to properly assert jurisdiction. Basically, any state that finds a pirate on the high seas can prosecute him. Traditionally, this unique jurisdictional aspect of piracy has been viewed as a consequence of the fact that pirates committed their crimes on the high seas, outside of anyone’s jurisdiction, and against the international community at large.

But Ali hadn’t operated on the high seas; he had helped facilitate piracy from Somali territory. The prosecutors charged Ali under 18 U.S.C. § 1651 – the US law that prohibits piracy – which states that individuals commit an offence where they commit piracy as defined by international law. This meant that the court had to examine the provisions of UNCLOS. Despite a long history of academics and law makers articulating the belief that piracy was something that could only occur on the high seas, the court took the opposite view. Brown J. ruled that since the sub article criminalizing the facilitation of piracy did not explicitly mention a high seas requirement (while other articles did) this indicated that no high seas requirement existed. While the position is defensible, it does suggest a challenge to the accepted order of jurisdiction.

It is highly unusual for a state to claim jurisdiction over the actions of a foreign national who committed a crime within the territory of his own nation, and where there is no other nexus with the prosecuting state. This is predicated on the understanding in international law that states will not interfere with the internal affairs of others. With this ruling, the US appears to be signalling its willingness to do so in certain situations. Perhaps the court decided as it did because of the fact that in Somalia there is little chance that men like Ali will ever see a courtroom. It seems unlikely that they would have decided the same way in a case that concerned a more developed nation. In any event, it illustrates the seriousness with which US prosecutors regard international crime and their comfort with dealing with it domestically. It is something that I think we should watch carefully.

A Government of Customary Law

2013 Angela Slater 100x150By Angela Slater

The belief that a society should be ‘a government of laws, not of men’ is a cliché that all law students are familiar with. For many it has come to signify the idea behind of the rule of law. For me, it contributed to my belief that the law was a neutral, predetermined, formal set of rules. Though law school has twisted my former beliefs beyond recognition, there is no question that this conception of the rule of law has immense importance in western legal systems. Ghana’s legal system however, does not easily submit to this type of thinking.

Like many African nations, Ghana’s legal system is heavily influenced by traditional, regional legal systems. While it would be easy to categorize these legal systems as ‘informal’ and call it a day, this would not really reflect what is really going on in Ghana’s legal climate.  The constitution itself suggests otherwise and speaks to the level of importance people place in their customary laws. Article 11 of the 1992 Constitution specifically adopts customary law as part of Ghana’s common law. The constitution identifies customary law by location and ethnic group, meaning that the many customary traditions from different geographical regions form part of Ghana’s formal legal system. And we thought Canadian law was pluralistic!

As part of Ghana’s unique cultural and intellectual heritage, these traditional ways of thinking influence Ghanaians both politically and legally. However, Ghana is a society in flux and some of these changes are testing their particular brand of legal pluralism. One such trend is increasing rural to urban migration. Many Ghanaians are flocking to major cities such as Accra or Kumasi. While urbanization is nothing new, this trend is having a particular effect on Ghana’s legal culture. Customary legal systems were based on small villages of extended family members. These systems can no longer support an urban population increasingly structured around the nuclear family unit. Extended families have broken and with them have broken the practices which supported and cared for extended family members.

Unsurprisingly, it is the vulnerable members of Ghana’s society who seem to fall into the increasing gap between the traditional and formal legal systems. The fosterage system, where poorer children were sent to live with wealthier relatives, is often cited as one example of a formerly healthy traditional practice which has become problematic. Nowadays, this practice often denotes little more than slavery with children toiling in the homes of strangers for no pay, little food, and no opportunity to attend school. The conditions of these children require LAWA-Ghana to use the term domestic servitude, rather than domestic assistant, to better reflect these children’s situation.

Another trend Ghana grapples with is the changing role of women in society. Though Ghana is literally a government of men, with only 29 female MPs sitting out of 275 seats, women have been transitioning from the home into the workforce. For the first time in history Ghana’s chief justice is a woman. However, many of Ghana’s customary practices are not particularly favourable to women. Traditional gender roles mean that polygamy is widely practiced in Ghana, girls are not considered proper objects of higher education, and marital rape was not considered a crime until very recently[1]. Due to the position of customary law in Ghanaian legal culture the Matrimonial Causes Act (Act 367) recognizes all sorts of customary marriages. However, urban migration, changing roles of women and the breakup of extended families have caused problems for customary marriages and consequently inheritances resulting from them. Extended families once responsible for caring for widows and their children may not want to carry out their customary responsibilities. The situation is even more complicated in polygamous marriages, where several widows and children may be left with little support once the spouse dies.

Because of these concerns in 1985 Ghana introduced a law dealing with successions for those who die without a will. The intestate succession law was revolutionary when it was passed, offering unheard of protections for spouses and children. As much of Ghanaian law it is extremely legally pluralistic, allowing for a portion of the estate to be devolved via the customary practices of a given region. However, several portions of the law are unclear and some provisions continue to discriminate against women. In 2007 LAWA-Ghana joined other civil society organizations in a push to have this law amended. Though the bill got as far as the last reading, it ultimately failed. The current intestate law remains on the books, causing difficulties for many of the women and children left behind after the death of their partner.

Ghanaian treatment of customary law is a fascinating example of how cultural heritage affects what people are willing to accept as the rule of law. Where Canadians would recoil in horror at the idea of such apparently changeable legal practices, this diversity is central to how Ghanaians think about law. In this way acceptance of legal pluralism is hardwired into Ghana’s legal culture. While Ghana faces many challenges one thing is clear: their challenges cannot be solved by attempting to copy Canadian or European legal systems. Customary traditions will always be part of the conversation in Ghana. Whether this turns out to be a strength or a weakness will depend on Ghana’s willingness to confront the challenges posed by a changing society while staying true to their legal heritage.


[1] The Coalition on the Women’s Manifesto for Ghana, The Women’s Manifesto for Ghana (Accra, Ghana: Combert Impressions, 2004) at 34.

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