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.

Justice in an Indigenous Community

2015 Gilmer AnnaBy Anna Gilmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Place

http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/327/cache/street-kolkata_32764_990x742.jpg

Street Scene, Kolkata
Source: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/327/cache/street-kolkata_32764_990x742.jpg

There are cities that you visit. Shining lights, framed portraits, manicured parks, picture-perfect moments. And then there are cities that you feel. The dust between your toes, the hazy, thick heat that envelops your body, those looks – some of joy, others of despair. To walk the streets of Kolkata is to feel. It is to register the way in which the extremes play out in the daily lives of the strangers that surround you – the begging child and the extended hand, the young student from Presidency College rushing to the library, the corporate Tata executive passing through security barriers, and the tourist, that perpetual outsider, looking in and observing the daily celebration of human existence with all the good and bad that that existence entails.

To walk the streets of Kolkata is to also appreciate the relevance and importance of place – those physical spaces imbued with history, memory, and meaning. To inhabit a place is to move beyond the crushing sea of humans, the honking horns of Park Street, the rickshaw wallahs jostling for space on the road, and those historic buildings wilting in the heat, tragic reminders of how nothing is immune from the rain, the wind, and the ticking hands of the clock. For Somini Sengupta, Kolkata as a place represents both the parochial and the modern. She writes, “India’s first global city, it is littered with the remains of many worlds: the rickshaws that the Chinese brought; an Armenian cemetery; dollops of jazz left by Americans in the war years.” (Note: In 2001, Calcutta was renamed Kolkata to match the Bengali pronunciation of the city name).

In my opinion, one of the best examples of this “littering” is the South Park Street Cemetery. In use from 1757 to 1840, the cemetery is the resting place for hundreds of British men and women who took up the colonial mission of the British Empire (serving in occupations as diverse as jail-keeping to school teaching to coopering). Venture off the central path and push past the jungle cover to discover the grand rotundas, soaring pyramids, and sober plaques. Rub your hands along the cold stone facades and read the names and descriptions of these people of a bygone era. There’s the large white pyramid in the center that belongs to Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society and one the foremost scholars of ancient India. There’s also Grave 363, containing only the following epitaph – “A Virtuous Mother (died 1825).” These markers offer us a glimpse into the colonial past of Kolkata. They also prompt us to extend our analysis and consider the ways in which individuals stake their claim to a particular space and attempt to make it their “own.”

Through an internship with the Calcutta Research Group, I’ll be taking up elements of this analysis as I explore the content and character of the claims (to housing, to water, to education, to citizenship) made by refugees and the displaced on the spaces of the city. The first part of this exploration will be historical – I hope to carry out an archival study of the lived experiences of refugees who settled in and around Calcutta following the events of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence (when East Pakistan seceded to become independent Bangladesh). Throughout the conflict, over 10 million people crossed the border into India, with the majority settling in and around the city of Calcutta (Bandyopadhyay 2000 37). To appreciate the sheer magnitude of this movement, consider that 12 million refugees were uprooted in Europe in the wake of the Second World War (35). While scholars have documented the state’s administrative response to this influx, very little has been written about the lived experiences of the refugees in the camp setting. The second part will be contemporary – I plan on analyzing the current urban design policies governed by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and asking what space (if any) is afforded to the displaced and the refugee.

Even though I haven’t yet formulated my theses or generated working hypotheses, my general hunch is that place matters when we think about the claims made on the city. That hunch might seem quite basic and obvious but I think the exciting and worthwhile intellectual pursuit lies in interrogating what it is about city space that makes it distinct and relevant as we think through if and how the displaced and the refugee claim rights to the space of the city. The ‘distinct’ and ‘relevant’, I believe, emerge from both the content and the approach. In terms of content, there is a renewed focus in the academic literature on cities, particularly the cities of the Global South, and what cities have to say about the larger nation-states in which these cities are located. According to Sassen, “After the long historical phase that saw the ascendance of the national state and the scaling of key economic dynamics at the national level, the city is once again today a scale for strategic economic and political dynamics” (2005 357). Consider one possible application. By situating the lived experiences of the refugee within the urban context of Kolkata, we should be able to better understand the crises of Indian national membership while rethinking the notion of the ultimate claim itself, that claim being citizenship (Holston and Appadurai 1996 202). In terms of approach, there is a push to move beyond the famous midnight hours of 14-15 August 1947 (India’s moment of Independence) and embrace both a postcolonial methodology and an integrated analysis (instead of divorcing India from the regional dynamics, attention needs to be paid to the plurality of voices from the region).

Even though the city represents just one strategic type of place, it is one that I think offers a powerful conceptual framework to work through these questions of recognition and entitlement, culture and identity, inclusion and exclusion. The Calcutta of 1971 and the Kolkata of 2014 thus challenge us to respond to the key question posed by Sassen – “Whose city is it?” (1996 206).

References:
Bandyopadhyay in Bose “Refugees in West Bengal” Calcutta Research Group 2000, 32.
Holston and Appadurai “Cities and Citizenship” Public Culture 1996, 187-204.
Sassen “Whose City Is It?” Public Culture 1996, 205-223.
Sassen “The Future of Urban Sociology” Sociology 2005, 343.
Sengupta “A Walk in Calcutta” New York Times April 29, 2009.

Injustice in the Malawian justice system and the objectification of victims

2013 Silvia Neagu 100x150By Silvia Neagu

While I’ve spent a substantial portion of my time so far doing legal research at the university, I also attended court to watch the proceedings of defilement cases. The difference between the Canadian justice system and the Malawian system was shocking at first.

Firstly, the magistrate met with us in his chambers before the hearing, discussed the case openly and made no effort to at least appear impartial. He commented that “you can tell a guilty conscience” because the defendant was not asking a lot of questions. During the proceedings, you could hear the magistrate’s phone vibrating and he also once interrupted a sentencing (before revealing the sentence) to have a  5-minute phone conversation. During the same sentencing, the magistrate wanted to make a point of how lenient he was being, so he passed around bits of paper to everyone in the room and asked us to write down what we thought the sentence should be. Although Alison and I tried to say everything to get out of it, he insisted we take part in the exercise and assured us this would not change the sentence.

The most shocking fact was that the accused was unrepresented and was expected to lead his own defence, despite a lack of basic education. The defendant’s questions to the prosecution’s witness were completely off-target and made the whole process feel like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Because the accused leads his own defence, this also means that he or she is expected to cross-examine the victim when he/she testifies, which is understandably hugely traumatizing for victims. However, in this particular case, the three-year old victim had testified at an earlier date and the accused had not asked any questions. The defendant’s complete lack of understanding of the justice system also meant that the magistrate further compromised his appearance of impartiality. At one point the magistrate was suggesting possible issues that the defendant could raise.

The court room at the Magistrate Court in Zomba, Malawi.

The court room at the Magistrate Court in Zomba, Malawi.

Our meeting with the magistrate and some police prosecutors was also revealing of some of the subversive attitudes towards sexual assault victims and women in general. When discussing the issue of consent, the magistrate explained that they would expect a woman to show evidence of her lack of consent, depending on the relative sizes of the accused and the victim. To illustrate this point, the magistrate then began suggesting that I, for example, would not necessarily be able to accuse one of the thinner police officers in the room of assault. When I looked incredulously at him, he then took the female prosecutor in the room as an example and someone joked about her “huge” size. The magistrate and some of the prosecutors’ attitudes toward victims of defilement also varied with the victim’s age: the older the victim, the less sympathetic they appeared to be.

When discussing the case that day, everyone repeatedly praised how clever the 3-year old victim was and what a shame it was that we had not been present during her testimony. The magistrate and police repeatedly offered to have us meet the girl, which we declined, explaining that we did not wish to trouble her further, even more so because she did not speak English. Despite our refusal, the next time Alison and I were in court, they brought the victim to meet us. It was very awkward and extremely uncomfortable to watch the magistrate question the victim for our benefit – and it was frustrating to realize that there was nothing we could do to stop it. The child was confused as to why two “azungus” (term for white people/foreigners) were there and apparently thought we were adopting her.  When we told this story to our director, Fiona Sampson, she commented that this was an “objectification of the victim”, which is a fitting description.

Another issue that was troubling us was the influence of our physical presence in the court room. When we tried to sit at the back of the court, the magistrate immediately motioned for us to come to the front. In fact, when the magistrate was reading out his judgement at the end of the trial, his judgment included a reference to “our guests from abroad.”

On another occasion, we had informed the prosecutor the particular day that we would be attending court. When we arrived, a clerk told us that the cases were cancelled that day because the President was in Zomba and all the police officers and vehicles were therefore busy. As we walked back to our hostel, we ran into the police prosecutors on the road, who were bringing the accused to the court house specifically because they knew we would be there that day. So Alison and I walked with three accused, two police officers (and the dog from our hostel that was following us around) back to the court house. We were quite the sight !

L’état de la justice au Cambodge: Quand l’appareil judiciaire devient une arme politique

Par Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste

J`ai débuté ma journée en feuilletant le Code Criminel du Cambodge. Bon matin! Au premier coup d`œil, ce Code  Criminel n`a rien d`exceptionnel, il contient des crimes, des défenses, des circonstances aggravantes et atténuantes,  et la plupart des crimes et des sentences semblent raisonnables, comparable a ce que nous avons au Canada. Bien sur,  certaines nouveautés me sautent aux yeux, tel “Article 433: Régicide”…je n`ai jamais entendu parler de Régicide…et  lorsque je tourne les pages, je comprends pourquoi, il s`agit de l`assassinat d`un Roi…Cela dit, une fois que je regarde  un peu plus en profondeur son contenu, un nombres d`articles me font sourciller.

Le but de cette lecture matinale est de répertorier les articles les plus souvent utilisés contre les défenseurs des droits de  la personne. Au Cambodge, malgré le fait que l’indépendance et l’impartialité du système judiciaire sont garanties par la Constitution, les tribunaux demeurent une arme de choix contre ceux qui dérangent le gouvernement. Activistes et militants se portant à la défense des droits de la personne se retrouvent donc fréquemment devant la justice et, un certains nombres d’articles du Code Criminel à teneur assez vague sont déployés contre eux afin de les dissuader de continuer leurs travails. Les accusations les plus communes : incitation à commettre un acte criminel, diffamation, insulte, attaque aux travail des autorités, destruction de propriété. Et ces provisions du Code Criminel, qui sont à prime abord questionnable compte tenu leur définition vague, sont appliqué de façon très libérale par la Cour qui se permet de redéfinir les provisions pénales à sa guise afin de mettre des bâtons judiciaires dans les roues de ceux qui dérangent les intérêts personnels et commerciales du Gouvernement et des Compagnies privés proche du régime.

Pourtant, alors que l’appareille judiciaire est très efficace contre les défenseurs des droits de la personne, celui-ci est complètement inadéquat lorsque ce sont les victimes qui demandent justice. Compte tenu du manque d’Indépendance des tribunaux, ce n’est pas surprenant, mais ça reste excessivement dérangeant, surtout vue la violence perpétuée par la police et l’armée ces derniers temps. Depuis le début de l’année 2012, la police et l’armée ont ouvert le feu à plusieurs reprises contre des manifestants pacifiques, sans qu’aucune investigation indépendant s’en suive. En Mai dernier, une adolescente de 14 ans a été tué par balle alors que l’armée a ouvert le feu contre des villageois durant une opération d’éviction. Plutôt que de chercher à éclairer la situation et amener en justice les responsables de cette tragédie, le gouvernement a plutôt cherché à justifier l’incident en expliquant que cette force létale était nécessaire pour freiner le plan sécessionniste des villageois…pourtant rien ne prouve qu’en tel plan existe, et même s’il existait, je doute que les coups de feu amélioreraient la situation.

L’impunité ne protège pas uniquement les forces armées, les personnes influentes aussi n’ont pas trop à craindre la justice. En Janvier dernier, alors que plus de 1,000 employés des manufactures du Manhattan Special Economic Zone manifestaient pour de meilleures conditions de travail, un homme a ouvert le feu sur la foule avant de s’enfuir en moto. L’homme, qui est en fait l’ancien gouverneur du district, a été accusé d’avoir causé des blessures non-intentionnelles, sans pourtant être arrêté. Trois jeunes ouvrières ont été grièvement blessé au haut du corps…L’impunité s’est ça aussi, être accusé d’un crime moindre que celui réellement perpétué.

Donc, voilà l’état de la justice au Cambodge. Les victimes n’y ont pas droit et les innocents en sont victimes. Bien que le Cambodge soit une démocratie en théorie, ou du moins, considérer comme un pays en transition vers la démocratie, mon expérience jusqu’à date me révèle tout à fait le contraire. Et il semblerait que la situation s’empire depuis quelques temps. En fait, les élections approchent et le Premier Ministre travaille très fort pour consolider son pouvoir. La répression des libertés fondamentales d’expression et d’association est une de ses stratégies préférées. Et tout ceux qui de proche ou de loin semble s’opposer au gouvernement écope.

Par exemple, la fin de semaine dernière, le propriétaire de la seule radio indépendante du Cambodge, Beehive Radio, a été arrêté deux jours après son retour au pays. Il est accusé, entre autres, de complot sécessionniste et risque jusqu’à 30 ans de prison. Étrangement,  cette arrestation survient un mois après que Radio Beehive ait diffusé sur ses ondes un reportage sur la poursuite pour crime contre l’humanité menée au Tribunal Pénale Internationale par le Khmer People Power Movement contre le gouvernement Cambodgien. Bien que le Cambodge possède une Loi sur la Presse qui contient des provisions pénales spécifiques pour les journalistes ayant enfreint à leur devoir, le gouvernement préfère ignorer la liberté de presse et promouvoir l’autocensure en envoyant un message très puissant à tous ceux qui croient encore en le devoir des journalistes dans une société démocratique.

En fait, en plus de la répression violente et de l’utilisation des tribunaux, le gouvernement utilise aussi la législature comme arme contre les critiques. Au courant des dernières années, le gouvernement a développé plusieurs nouvelles lois qui enfreignent les libertés fondamentales des Cambodgiens. En plus du nouveau Code Pénal, le gouvernement a mis sur pied une loi sur les Démonstrations Pacifiques qui entrave à la tenue de manifestation et rend très vulnérable leurs organisateurs. La nouvelle loi anti-corruption met les dénonciateurs dans une position très précaire si leurs accusations s’avèrent fausse, mais compte tenu de la partialité des tribunaux, on peut prévoir que les accusations incommodes seront soudainement déclarées fausses…De plus, trois lois sont actuellement en route, une loi sur les ONGs, une loi sur les syndicats et une « cyberlaw ». Bien qu’encore au stage préliminaire, les derniers brouillons de ces lois laissent présager le pire.

Tous ces développements récents sont assez curieux, compte tenu de l’approche des élections l’an prochain. Plusieurs spéculent sur la santé du Premier Ministre Hun Sen et y voient une dernière tentative de consolider son pouvoir avant de mourir…Le Cambodge n’est pas un pays très connu, et figure rarement à la une des journaux. Pourtant, un niveau politique, le Cambodge est d’une certaine façon comparable au monde arabe. Hun Sen est reconnu pour son langage incendiaire. À titre d’exemple, voici quelques charmants mots qu’il a prononcé récemment “I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.” Démocratique dit-on…Hun Sen fait aussi partie du club des dirigeants qui sont au pouvoir depuis plus de 10,000 jours. Faites le calcul…10,000 divisé par 365, ça fait beaucoup d’année ! Suite au printemps arabe, de nombreux dictateurs ont été déchus, réduisant la liste des membres du club des 10,000 jours à moins de 10 et Hun Sen en fait partie. Démocratique dit-on…Hun Sen possède aussi une fortune personnelle estimé à plus de $500 millions. Je doute qu’un simple salaire de Premier Ministre soit suffisant pour amasser une simple fortune, même pour les plus économes, et à voir les propriétés de Hun Sen, je doute que celui-ci soit très économe. Démocratique dit-on…

Bref, on oublie trop souvent le Cambodge, on ignore trop souvent ce qui se passe au Cambodge et pourtant, la situation se détériore et le gouvernement se raffermie, au détriment de la population, au détriment des droits de la personne. Malgré une des Constitutions les plus progressistes en Asie du Sud Est, le Cambodge est loin d’être un exemple d’un pays où règne la primauté du droit. Bien au contraire, au Cambodge l’État de droit se résume ainsi, tel que décrit par Phil Robertson, Directeur du Bureau d’Asie de Human Rights Watch, « The laws in Cambodia are what Hun Sen says they are, not what’s written down ».

 

 

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