Time, Suffrage and Disability

By Leila Alfaro

If I had to choose one aspect for which I am most grateful when travelling, it would be the resilience I am forced to develop as I find myself in new, challenging situations. Beyond my love for visiting new sights, tasting different foods and meeting new people, I appreciate being challenged when facing cultural aspects so different from my own to the point I must undertake a process of deep introspection, contemplating the Other as well as my own reflexes and the things and practices I take for granted. Since arriving to Argentina, I have had plenty of time to experience and, most importantly, to reflect on not only the cultural, but also the geographical, infrastructural and economic gaps between this side of the pole and home, up in the North.

Having had the privilege of knowing Mexico and most of Central America, I knew coming here that I should brace myself for an experience in which time could not be measured the same way as back home. It amazes me that, even with everything I know and have lived, I am still surprised seeing how time can move so slowly here. Through meetings postponed, messages unanswered, workshops cancelled, last-minute schedule changes and strikes, my patience has been tested on several occasions. However, as I learn to expect the unexpected, I grow more comfortable with this kind of difference, knowing I am being confronted to my biggest flaw (impatience) and that at the same time I have the opportunity to build on some very valuable skills, namely autonomy, resourcefulness and, of course, resilience.

While I recognize the slow tempo of the city has kept me from achieving the most of this experience work-wise, I also recognize the good it entails – I appreciate this stress-free lifestyle, which is a nice break from the North American way. I also admire the role of family in Argentina, the importance of making time for those around us and for self-care. More time on my hands also means I can enjoy more walks on the beach and more delicious parillas with my family. It also allows me to be more critical about the experience itself; whenever a situation arises, I can truly take a moment and reflect on the why and the implications of whatever is happening for the Argentinian people and for me as a visitor (strikes related to the weakened economy, classes cancelled due to bad weather affecting infrastructure, unavailability of certain goods are some examples of circumstances which I have faced during my time here).

Work may be slow here, but it still happens. I have had the chance to join an interdisciplinary, graduate clinical group working on promoting voting rights for people with disabilities. So far, this has taken the shape of workshops in schools and community centers for individuals with disabilities, lectures aimed at undergraduate students and inter-faculty discussions. I take this work very seriously as it has taught me a great deal about political perspectives and disability rights in the region. In any democracy, we can reasonably expect people with disabilities to have more difficulty enforcing their right to vote without proper accommodations provided by the State – but, what happens when voting is also a duty? In Argentina, an absence to the polls must be justified in order to avoid sanctions; this certainly entails a new set of complex challenges for anyone, and for citizens with disabilities in particular. Because of the unique nature of suffrage in Argentina, addressing it in light of issues of diversity and inclusivity is of utmost importance. I appreciate this opportunity especially given the precarious situation in the country in the context of the upcoming elections this fall.

As the last half of my internship begins, I am starting to feel a bit homesick, but I look forward to new learnings and to continue discovering what this country has to offer (I am excited to visit Mendoza and Buenos Aires this upcoming week!), and in the end I know it will have seemed like it all happened in the blink of an eye.

La cause des femmes en Tunisie: une cause qui m’interpelle! 

Dans les ruelles de la médina

Par Aurélie Derigaud-Choquette

En arrivant en Tunisie, un certain choc culturel me semble inévitable. Même si ce pays maghrébin est demeuré sous le joug colonial de la France jusqu’en 1956, celui-ci a su conserver sa culture propre : une langue riche (l’arabe tunisien), une architecture colorée, une activité citadine incessante, etc. J’ai eu la chance de voyager quelques jours avant le début de mon stage au pays pour ainsi découvrir cette richesse, et certes, le potentiel touristique du pays. Je parle ici de « potentiel » puisqu’un petit nombre de touristes occidentaux explorent réellement le pays (j’exclue donc les vacanciers des hôtels luxueux au bord des nombreuses plages azur du pays et les visiteurs européens de passage à Tunis pour un week-end). Je m’explique cela par la perception encore forte de la Tunisie comme un pays instable; l’insécurité politique (suite à la révolution et la chute du régime dictatorial de Ben Ali en 2011) et les attentats terroristes contre les touristes survenus à la ville balnéaire de Port El-Kantaoui en 2011 et au musée Bardo de Tunis en 2015 n’ont certainement pas aidé la Tunisie à se hisser au sommet du palmarès des destinations voyage! Pourtant, en réalité, la Tunisie est un pays relativement sécuritaire et agréable à visiter lorsque le touriste prend certaines précautions de base.

Une vue splendide de la ville de Sousse (à 200 km de Tunis)

Cependant, je dois m’admettre qu’en tant que femme voyageant seule dans un pays encore profondément enraciné dans certaines traditions culturelles sexistes, le choc culturel que j’ai ressenti en était un de taille! Dès mon arrivée au pays, les regards et commentaires des hommes et les questions « tu voyages vraiment seule au pays? » ont ponctué mon quotidien. Malgré des vêtements semblables aux femmes locales (et je souligne que l’habillement d’une femme n’est jamais un prétexte permettant de justifier certains comportements masculins déplacés!), je me faisais régulièrement siffler dans la rue par de jeunes hommes cherchant à obtenir mon attention. Ce genre d’événements dépassait pour moi le simple dépaysement pour aller jusqu’à me faire sentir parfois inquiète de me déplacer seule.

Chez Aswat Nissa…

Bref, débuter mon stage au sein d’Aswat Nissa me semblait tout à fait approprié après ces courtes vacances en sol tunisien. Aswat Nissa (qui signifie « Voix des Femmes » en arabe) encourage les femmes à prendre leur place au sein de la société tunisienne. Cette organisation, créée suite à la chute du régime dictatorial de Ben Ali en 2011, joue aujourd’hui un rôle important au sein de la société civile tunisienne. Cette organisation lutte contre la discrimination basée sur le genre et pour l’intégration de l’approche genre dans les politiques publiques tunisiennes. Elle accompagne et forme aussi les candidates tunisiennes aux élections du pays (que ce soit municipales ou législatives) en leur partageant des compétences et des connaissances, et en appuyant leur leadership. Rapidement, les membres de l’ONG m’ont accueilli au sein de l’équipe en m’encourageant à lire de nombreux rapports et analyses produites par l’organisation. J’ai aussi rapidement mis la main à la pâte pour participer à l’écriture, la correction et la traduction des documents produits par Aswat Nissa.

Avec ma collègue Maissa et l’étude sur l’intégration du genre

Ainsi, deux semaines après mon arrivée, j’ai assisté à la table ronde organisée par Aswat Nissa pour la présentation de son étude sur l’intégration de l’approche genre dans la législation tunisienne relative au secteur de la sécurité entre 2014 et 2018. Ce rapport analyse comment les législations étudiées adoptent une approche genre (le “genre” y étant défini de manière large), c’est-à-dire à quel point la loi prend en compte toutes les tranches de la société (que ce soit les femmes, les personnes âgées ou les LBTQI++). En effet, comme l’indique l’étude, même si une loi ne crée pas de discrimination directement, elle n’inclue souvent pas certaines dispositions législatives qui permettraient de prendre en compte (comme il se doit) les différentes populations marginalisées de la société. Ainsi, l’objectif est de favoriser une égalité réelle (et non seulement une égalité formelle).

Distorsion entre loi et réalité…

Comme mentionné par les auditeurs de la table ronde, malheureusement, même si ces changements législatifs étaient faits, les protections légales ne sont pas une solution miracle. En effet, par la Constitution tunisienne adoptée en 2014, l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes est déjà formellement reconnue.  Par exemple, à l’article 46 de la Constitution de la République tunisienne, on peut lire à l’alinéa 2 « l’État garantit l’égalité des chances entre l’homme et la femme pour l’accès aux diverses responsabilités et dans tous les domaines ». Cependant, le manque d’allocation budgétaire pour mettre en œuvre la Constitution (et les lois qui en découlent) est un frein important à une réelle égalité homme-femme. Par-dessus tout, un changement de mentalités demeure à faire pour que les femmes tunisiennes soient réellement les égales des hommes au pays.

Dans le centre-ville de ma nouvelle ville d’adoption, Tunis

Ce genre de distorsion entre les protections législatives et la réalité s’illustre pour moi par les actes de harcèlement de rue trop fréquents en Tunisie, et aussi de violence de rue (heureusement que je n’ai pas vécue), alors même que le pays a adopté une loi en 2017 pour contrer la violence commise à l’égard des femmes et les actes discriminatoires (Loi nº 58). Il reste donc du chemin à faire pour assurer la pleine sécurité des femmes, et cela passe surtout par un changement des mentalités de la société. Je me suis ainsi vu rappeler que les changements législatifs ne servent à rien s’ils ne sont pas accompagnés d’une mise en œuvre efficace et d’un changement sociétal. Quelque chose qu’on peut facilement oublier en étudiant dans une faculté de droit!

J’ai donc bien hâte de continuer mon travail chez Aswat Nissa, surtout considérant que la cause des femmes en Tunisie m’interpelle fortement! Et bien-sûr, je suis contente de pouvoir continuer mes aventures en sol tunisien!

Maritime security research, fisheries legislation, and lots of canyons: my first few weeks at One Earth Future

Derek PaceBy Derek Pace

This internship has been an immense learning experience (learning curve?) already. In just a few weeks of work at One Earth Future Foundation in Colorado, I have done research on the oil and gas reserves of African and Asian countries, looked at maritime security legislation, read human trafficking reports from the US State Department, and seen just how applicable a law degree can be.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was nervous I wouldn’t fit in at this job. There are people here who have PhDs. Some have served in the military and some are former professors. In any case, it can be intimidating. What I do have, though, is some experience with law. Although this experience is admittedly very limited, this job has helped me discover ways in which law students who aren’t too excited about the idea of being a lawyer (which is my case, as those who know me may have guessed by now) can use their education in a different way.

Researching maritime legislation in dozens of countries has been fascinating. I’ve learned more about maritime law in the past few weeks than I thought possible. I’ve learned the importance of including in legislation things like a ban on poisonous and/or explosive fishing gear and a requirement that foreign-registered fishing vessels report data to the government of the country in the waters of which they’re fishing. Now, it’s true that in some countries, this legislation is essentially worthless; it is neither enforced by the government nor widely known by the people. That’s a problem, but having something recorded in a law is a good first step.

OEF aims to provide empirical data to foreign governments and other international actors to help countries increase maritime security. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of that project this summer. While I felt intimidated by the qualifications of my coworkers at first, I now realize that I too bring something valuable to the table: experience with law and legal research skills. These things have certainly come in handy in the research that I’ve done. And here, I would be remiss not to give some credit to the bilingual law program at McGill; reading legislation from Africa, much of which is written in French, has been….well, not a breeze, but certainly not out of my comfort zone. I’ve found that my legal research skills, and particularly my ability to read dense legal texts, are highly valued here at OEF, as the organization works substantially on African maritime law and security.

I’ve never worked at a law firm (yet?), so I can’t truthfully say what that experience is like, but I can say that the environment in which I’m currently working is a good fit for me. The people are wonderful and accomplished; their experiences continue to impress me. The office culture is open and laid-back, not at all the kind of stuffy, corporate atmosphere that I’m doing my best to avoid. I feel fortunate to have been placed at an internship that gives me essentially exactly what I was hoping to find this summer.

On a lighter note, I’ve already fallen in love with Colorado. A cousin of mine spent a few years living here when I was younger; she returned when I was slightly older with plenty of stories of hiking, national parks, and various other adventures. Last Christmas during a family gathering, I told her that I was going to spend the summer working in Colorado and she immediately told me that I would fall in love with it. I didn’t quite understand it then, but I did as soon as I set foot outside the Denver airport. No matter where you are, you can always see mountains– snow-capped even in late June–as far as the eye can see. Opportunities for outdoor recreation here are just about endless. Things just look different than they do on the east coast, and the change is exciting. I finally understand why my cousin gushed about Colorado, and I can certainly see myself living here after law school.

The Colorado legislature

 

Unbelievably gorgeous canyons in Utah, taken during a recent hiking trip

 

The Denver skyline, seen from the South Platte River

 

The Denver City Council building

The EU, Trade and Human Rights in Cambodia: An Uncertain Future

By Adelise Lalande

Food stalls in the Russian Market.

I have never been much of a fan of dentists, and yet I now find myself living in an apartment building owned by a (seemingly) charming Cambodian professional who runs his practice out of the first floor. My new home is mere steps from Phnom Penh’s famous Toul Tom Poung market, nicknamed the “Russian Market” because of its popularity among Russian expats living in the city during the 1980s, a period when the Soviet Union supported Vietnamese occupiers in their rebuilding efforts after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Today, set up next to the market’s dozens of street vendors (who sell everything from snails to knock-off designer running shoes) are hipster-certified coffeeshops and a Domino’s Pizza. Indeed, Phnom Penh as a whole is a mix of the old and new. But what has struck me, and others, is that the new is quickly encroaching on the old.

Cambodia has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, largely due to international trade. In 2017 alone, trade in goods between Cambodia and the European Union (the country’s second largest trading partner) equaled a whopping €6.2 billion. Approximately 99% of Cambodian exports to the EU, including textiles, footwear and agricultural products, are presently eligible for preferential duties. But this could soon change.

In early June, the city’s tight-knit NGO community was buzzing as EU representatives arrived in Phnom Penh to meet with government officials, business people, civil society organizations, activists, and community representatives. These meetings centered on whether the EU would allow Cambodia to remain part of its EBA scheme. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with what “EBA” even stands for.  Here are a few key points:

  • The EBA: As a least developed country, Cambodia benefits from the Everything But Arms (EBA) trading scheme. Essentially, the EBA gives Cambodia duty-free and quota-free access to the EU Single Market for all goods, except arms.
  • Respect for human rights: In order to benefit from the EBA, a country must (theoretically) comply with international conventions on core human and labour rights—I write this hesitantly knowing that Myanmar, for example, still benefits from the EBA despite ongoing attacks on the Rohingya peoples.
  • Suspension talks: In February 2019, the EU launched an intense 18-month process of monitoring and engagement with Cambodian government officials which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of the country’s EBA status. Why? According to the EU, because of the continued deterioration of democracy and respect for human rights in the country. Specifically, the EU pointed to increasing government crackdowns on political opposition, independent media, human rights defenders and NGOs.
  • Is this an international first? No. Countries that have had their trade preferences temporarily withdrawn for rights violations in the past include Myanmar, Belarus, and Sri Lanka.

My first week of work at LICADHO, I was tasked with legal research related to land tenure insecurity issues in Cambodia. I thus became particularly interested in the EU’s specific concern about land rights violations, many of which are connected to Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). These long-term government leases give private (and generally foreign) corporations the green light to clear land and engage in agro-industrial development. ELCs certainly contribute to economic and job growth, but they also illustrate how the burdens and benefits of development are rarely equitably allocated. Granting ELCs is a profitable practice: the government has made $6.6 million in leasing over 2.1 million hectares of Cambodian land to companies. While a moratorium was announced in 2012, land conflicts linked to ELCs continue to arise and remain unresolved in the country.

Driving past a construction site in Sihanoukville. 

Cambodians affected by land grabbing and forced evictions rarely receive fair compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. They become more vulnerable to malnutrition and forced migration, and are more likely to take their children out of school to have them enter the workforce. Further, land conflicts are linked with the curtailing of freedom of assembly in Cambodia. In March 2018, armed forces opened fire on villagers and farmers protesting their forced evictions and inadequate compensation by a rubber company in Kratie Province. Women and urban poor communities are particularly vulnerable to land tenure insecurity, as are indigenous peoples: I learned that Cambodia has an estimated 455 indigenous communities, and those affected by ELCs have lost subsistence farmlands, spiritual forests and sacred burial sites. Hence, Europe’s concerns about rights violations connected to land in Cambodia are well justified.

An EBA withdrawal would effectively declare to the world that Europe is willing to place democracy and the respect of human rights ahead of trade—a significant declaration albeit one likely to be labelled sanctimonious. A withdrawal would almost certainly create economic turmoil in Cambodia, which could result in even greater hardship for the country’s most vulnerable. Thousands of Cambodians currently work in factories producing goods for export to the EU; should the withdrawal happen, businesses’ efforts to remain competitive (e.g. by decreasing wages) would likely hit workers the hardest. It is also worth noting that greater distance between the EU and Cambodia could increase China’s influence in Cambodian affairs. China is already Cambodia’s biggest trade partner and has heavily invested in large-scale development projects across the country. Given its human rights track record, China is unlikely to act as a government watchdog and apply the same pressures as Europe.

Talks of an EBA withdrawal raise the question of whether a country’s respect for human rights ought to be a prerequisite for trade or, alternatively, whether trade and human rights can be mutually reinforcing. On the one hand, countries that engage in trade with authoritarian, rights-violating regimes help finance (and profit from) these regimes’ actions. On the other hand, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has long touted “constructive engagement” with human rights violators as being beneficial for achieving greater individual freedoms in a country.  Jean Chrétien repeated this message while on a trade mission in Indonesia: “Isolation is the worst recipe, in my judgement, for curing human-rights problems.”

Visiting rural Kampot.

While I am certainly no political economist, in my opinion neither position on trade fully withstands scrutiny. I find Chrétien’s opinion to be unconvincing given that Cambodia has benefitted from the EBA (and international trade more broadly) for years and yet its human rights situation continues to deteriorate. Furthermore, based on the work I have witnessed so far, community-led activism and organizing, and the work of CSOs like LICADHO, are largely to thank for the human rights progress that has been achieved in the country; while international support (via diplomacy and trade) is certainly beneficial to grassroots actors, it is insufficient for achieving sustainable change. But, conversely, I also believe that decreased European influence would give the Cambodian government more freedom to shrink the country’s civic space even further.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what an EBA withdrawal—or, alternatively, a continuation of the status quo—will mean for Cambodians and the protection of their rights moving forward.  My time in the country has been a reminder that, while economic growth is important, it is not in and of itself a development goal.

Aerial shot of the Russian Market.

 

A French-owned pepper plantation in Kampot.

 

Early mornings at the LICADHO office.

 

Weekend trip to Koh Rong Samloem island.

 

Abortion in the Americas: Article 4(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Kelly O’ConnorBy Kelly O’Connor

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I arrived in Costa Rica to start my internship at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights! Of course, when I think back on all of the experiences I’ve had in the past 6 weeks, professionally and personally, I can see that I have been busy during this short time.

My idea for this post came as I was doing research for my last blog post on Canada’s place in the Inter-American Human Rights System. In my reading, I learned that Article 4(1) is frequently cited as a potential obstacle for Canada’s ratification of the American Convention of Human Rights. The article reads:

Not just work: I got to go hiking in Rincón de la Vieja National Park in the province of Guanacaste one weekend.

Article 4: Right to Life

  1. Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.[i] (emphasis mine)

… What??? I could not believe my eyes. In my opinion, the right to end a pregnancy (whether potentially dangerous, unviable, or simply unwanted) is intrinsically linked to bodily autonomy and gender equality. How could an international human rights instrument include such a clause that undermined gender equality? I was flabbergasted.

Article 4(1) of the American Convention reminded me of the 8th amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which was repealed in 2018. The amendment read:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.[ii]

Savita Halappanavar, Irish Times

As a feminist, and as an Irish woman, I have had strong feelings about abortion since I was an undergraduate student. I was living in Ireland in the fall of 2012, when Savita Halappanavar died of sepsis in an Irish hospital after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy. Even though it was a much-wanted pregnancy, she was having a miscarriage that quickly became a danger to her life.[iii] Her doctors refused to accelerate the end of her pregnancy because the fetus still “had a heartbeat,” while hospital staff reportedly told her husband that Ireland was a “Catholic country.”[iv] Protests ensued. Feminists replied that “she had a heartbeat too.”[v]

At the time, Ireland had one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.[vi] The public outrage at the injustice done to Ms. Halappanavar and the tireless effort of feminist groups eventually led to a successful 2018 referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and legalize the procedure in the Republic, now allowed regardless of reason until 12 weeks gestation. The Irish Times wrote after the vote that “[m]any point to a young woman called Savita Halappanavar as the reason they became revolutionaries.”[vii] I guess I could say the same of myself.

“ABORTO YA” (“ABORTION NOW”) graffiti on my way to work in San José, painted in the same green colour used by the Argentinean movement.

Abortion has long been a controversial issue in Latin America, home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The Center for Reproductive Rights, an NGO that uses law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights around the world, writes:

Latin America and the Caribbean are home to some of the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in the world. In El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Suriname, abortion is completely illegal—with no exception. In El Salvador, the government has taken this even further and interpreted the law such that women are imprisoned for obstetric emergencies out of suspicion of their having had an abortion. In Guatemala, abortion is criminalized in all instances except when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk, which is typically interpreted to mean immediate and imminent death.[viii]

In recent weeks abortion has been a hot topic in Latin America from Guatemala to Argentina. On May 29th, four women from Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Guatemala filed complaints against their respective governments before the UN Human Rights Committee, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights.[ix] The women were all under 14 years old when they became pregnant as a result of rape perpetrated by older men. They argue that their lives were put at risk when their governments denied them abortions.

Activists hold green handkerchiefs, which symbolizes the abortion rights movement, during a rally to legalize abortion, outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

There is more optimism happening in Argentina, where on May 28th, when an attempt to legalize abortion was introduced to Argentina’s congress for the 8th time. Last year, a similar bill passed the House of Deputies but was narrowly defeated in the Senate.[x] One of the loudest opponents of the effort to legalize abortion is the Catholic Church: on May 25th Pope Francis, who is Argentinean, compared abortion to “hiring a hitman.”[xi]

An Argentinean colleague at the Court, named Nina, told me that she wished she could be home to participate in the demonstrations in favour of the bill, which have come to be symbolized by the pañuelo verde (green hankerchief) that pro-choice protesters wear. Currently, abortions are available in Argentina only in cases of rape and when the mother’s health is at risk.[xii] However, in practice, many women are not able to access the care they are allowed by law. In February of 2019, a 12-year-old girl was forced to deliver a baby by cesarean section after hospital and government administrators blocked her request for an abortion. She had become pregnant after being raped by her grandmother’s boyfriend.[xiii] A similar abortion law also failed to save Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.

My work colleague, Nina, with her symbolic pañuelo verde that she wears to pro-abortion demonstrations in her home city of Córdoba, Argentina.

Given this context of strict abortion laws, it is perhaps unsurprising that there would have been pressure to include a provision such as Article 4(1) in the drafting of the American Convention. In the case Baby Boy vs United States of America (1981), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights talked about the origins of the clause.[xiv] The American Convention was preceded by the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. Canada accepted the American Declaration when it became a full member of the OAS in 1990, although it didn’t participate in the drafting of either document. Article 1 of the Declaration made no mention of conception. According to the Commission, the preliminary draft of this article protected life from the moment of conception, but was dropped in the final version due to the objection of states that permitted abortion in some circumstances (Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela at the time).[xv]

According to the Commission in Baby Boy, the first draft of the American Convention sought to protect life from the moment of conception. However, the words “and, in general” were added by majority vote of the Council of the OAS to accommodate states that permitted abortion in cases such as “to save the mother’s life, and in the case of rape.”[xvi] Some states, such as Ecuador, objected to this change.[xvii] Given this history, the Commission firmly established that the right to life from the moment of conception is not absolute.[xviii]

After Baby Boy, there was no jurisprudence on the subject of the rights of embryos under Article 4(1) until the 2012 case Artavia Murillo and others vs. Costa Rica, which related to the legality of in vitro fertilization.[xix] In Artavia Murillo, the Inter-American Court said that the addition of the words “and, in general” means that the right to life from conception is not absolute, but rather is gradual and evolves along with the development of the fetus.[xx] The Court also concluded that it was impossible to consider an embryo to have full legal personhood, and noted that no other international human rights instruments grant personhood to the unborn.[xxi]

Nevertheless, Article 4(1) has been pointed out as a potential obstacle to Canada’s adherence to the convention. In 2003, there was a Senate Commission on Canada’s involvement in the Inter-American system. The Commission said:

Even though article 4(1) does not impose an obligation to prohibit abortions, it may impose an obligation to regulate them. However, at the moment, there is no Canadian legislation or regulation with respect to abortions. The Supreme Court of Canada found in R v Morgentaler that the procedure created under section 251 of the Criminal Code for obtaining an abortion was incompatible with a woman’s right to the security of her person. No new provision has been adopted to replace s. 251.[xxii]

Despite this concern (and others), the Senate ultimately recommended that Canada join the system.[xxiii] Sixteen years later, Canada’s law on abortion has not changed, and therefore, in my opinion, the concerns of the Senate Committee remain valid.

This photo with the flag of the Organization of American States was taken in the room where the judges of the Court deliberate important cases such as Artavia Murillo and others vs. Costa Rica.

Even with the limits on Article 4(1) circumscribed by the Court, I do not think that the right to life as set out in the American Convention is compatible with Canadian law on the subject of abortion. Bernard Duhaime writes in “Ten Reasons Why Canada Should Join the ACHR” that the interpretations of the Article in Baby Boy and Artavia Murillo bring the Article in line with obligations of other human rights treaties ratified by Canada, and would not pose an obstacle for Canada’s acceptance of the Convention.[xxiv] I respectfully disagree. It is clear from the jurisprudence that Article 4(1) allows abortion in some circumstances, such as in the case of rape and to save the life of the mother. However, the jurisprudence is silent on whether the Article permits the termination of a pregnancy that is simply unwanted, as is currently allowed in Canada. Duhaime does acknowledge that “any remaining concern could also be addressed by entering a reservation or an interpretative declaration as to specific aspects of the American Convention, when adhering to it.”[xxv] On this point I agree: any adherence by Canada would require such a reservation, which would relieve Canada of the obligation of Article 4(1).

In conclusion, the lack of protection of a women’s right to end a pregnancy is a pressing issue in Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico, and, increasingly the United States as well (but that’s another issue[xxvi]). The American Convention, unfortunately, does little to protect women’s reproductive rights due to the protection of a fetus’s right to life in Article 4(1). Clearly, the Inter-American Human Rights System allows abortion in at least some circumstances, but it is not clear whether a legal framework such as Canada’s would be allowed. Consequently, if Canada were to ratify the American Convention, it would be essential to include a reservation with regards to Article 4(1). The complex topic of abortion in the Americas, therefore, should not necessarily prevent Canada from playing a bigger role in the Inter-American Human Rights System.

—————

[i] American Convention on Human Rights, available at: https://www.cidh.oas.org/basicos/english/basic3.american%20convention.htm

[ii] Constitution of Ireland, available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/d5bd8c-constitution-of-ireland/?referrer=/DOT/eng/Historical_Information/The_Constitution/Constitution_of_Ireland_-_Bunreacht_na_h%C3%83%E2%80%B0ireann.html

[iii] BBC, Woman dies after abortion request “refused” at Galway Hospital, 14 November 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-20321741

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See, for example, Ann Rossiter, “‘She Had A Heartbeat Too’: The Tragic Death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish Hospital,” 21 Jan 2013, Feministing, http://feministing.com/2013/01/21/she-had-a-heartbeat-too-the-tragic-death-of-savita-halappanavar-in-an-irish-hospital/

[vi] For a comprehensive look at the state of abortion rights in the world, see: Center for Reproductive Rights, “The World’s Abortion Laws 2019,” updated in real time, http://worldabortionlaws.com/

[vii] Kitty Holland, “How the death of Savita Halappanavar revolutionised Ireland,” The Irish Times, 28 May 2018, online: <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/how-the-death-of-savita-halappanavar-revolutionised-ireland-1.3510387>.

[viii] Center for Reproductive Rights, “They Are Girls: Reproductive Rights Violations in Latin America and the Caribbean,” 2019, online: <https://www.reproductiverights.org/document/just-girls-reproductive-rights-violations-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean>.

[ix] The Guardian, Latin America rape survivors who were denied abortions turn to UN, May 29, 2019, online: <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/may/29/latin-american-survivors-who-were-denied-abortions-turn-to-un>.

[x] BBC, “Argentina abortion: Senate defeats bill after polarising debate,” 9 August 2018, online: <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45125687>.

[xi] Semana, “‘Abortar equivale a contratar un sicario’: Papa Francisco,” 25 May 2019, online: <https://www.semana.com/mundo/articulo/papa-reitera-que-abortar-es-igual-a-contratar-un-sicario/617162>.

[xii] Walter Bianchi, “Argentine activists try again with new bill to legalize abortion,” Reuters, 28 May 2019, online: <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-argentina-abortion/argentine-activists-try-again-with-new-bill-to-legalize-abortion-idUSKCN1SY2NO?>.

[xiii] El País, “Obligada a dar a luz por cesárea otra niña argentina que había sido violada y pidió un aborto,” 28 February 2019, online: <https://elpais.com/sociedad/2019/02/27/actualidad/1551292176_461936.html>.

[xiv] Baby Boy vs United States of America [1981], Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Res 23/81, Case 2141, online: <http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/80.81eng/USA2141.htm>.

[xv] Ibid., at paras 18-19.

[xvi] Ibid., at para 25.

[xvii] Ibid., at para 29.

[xviii] Ibid., at para 30.

[xix] Artavia Murillo and others vs. Costa Rica, Decision 28 November 2012 (Preliminary exceptions, merits, reparations and costs), online: <http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_257_ing.pdf>.

[xx] Ibid., at paras 188 and 264.

[xxi] Ibid., at para 223.

[xxii] Senate, Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, “Enhancing Canada’s Role in the OAS: Canadian Adherence to the American Convention on Human Rights (May 2003), online: <https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/Committee/372/huma/rep/rep04may03-e.pdf >, at p. 43.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Bernard Duhaime, “Ten Reasons Why Canada Should Join the ACHR,” Revue générale de droit, Vol. 49 (2019), at p. 196.

[xxv] Ibid, at p. 197.

[xxvi] The Guardian, “US abortion policy is ‘extremist hate’ and ‘torture’, says UN commissioner,” 4 June 2019, online: <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jun/04/us-abortion-policy-extremist-hate-torture-un-commissioner-kate-gilmore>.

Trudeau’s Formal Apology and Exoneration of Chief Poundmaker

By Sophie Kassel

On Thursday, May 23rd, I had the pleasure of attending the exoneration of Chief Poundmaker at Cut Knife Hill with the Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre and its students from the Summer Program.

 

Chief Poundmaker was convicted of felony-treason in 1885. Earlier that year, Chief Poundmaker went to Fort Battleford to speak with Indian Agent Rae about the worsening of conditions on his reserve and that the rations promised under Treaty 6 were not being supplied. Upon arrival, they were met with an empty town, as townspeople barricaded themselves in the police post. Chief Poundmaker and his men waited two days to speak to the Indian Agent but to no avail. The town was looted although the identity of the looters was never confirmed. The federal government then sent troops in response and attacked Poundmaker and his band at Cut Knife Hill but were driven back. Poundmaker told his warriors to not pursue the retrieving army. To keep the peace, Chief Poundmaker turned himself in. He was charged and found guilty of felony-treason.

The event highlighted the false nature of the narrative previously put forward by the government that Poundmaker was a traitor to the Canadian State. Emphasizing Poundmaker’s leadership in driving his men to abstain from attacking the retrieving Canadian troops led by Lieutenant-Colonel Otter at Cut Knife Hill. Poundmaker’s leadership saved hundreds of lives. Trudeau’s apology sought to highlight Poundmaker’s mark in history as being that of a peacemaker, and not that of a traitor (as he was previously labelled).

The event placed emphasis on the notion of reconciliation. In his speech, Trudeau argued for the importance of the Canadian government to acknowledge its past wrongs in order to move forward with reconciliation in the future. Referencing the story of the man who sat by the trail too long that the trail grew over and he could no longer find his way, Trudeau stated that the government has been “sitting beside the trail for far too long.” Pushing for further government actions, Alma Favel stated that she hopes that other communities seeking the exoneration of their leaders can also achieve such a goal.

On Tangible Consequences

Riley Klassen-Molyneaux

June 17, 2019

 

The Meeting

 

I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. Every person in the room was waiting expectantly for me to explain what Stable Seas had accomplished recently, what it’s working on right now, and what it’s looking to accomplish in the coming years. I could feel my colleagues cringe as I stammered through an unhelpful explanation of the importance of gathering data and of assessing reality objectively.

 

While I wasn’t technically wrong, my explanation did not do justice to the program.

 

My coworkers at One Earth Future (OEF) in Colorado forgave me for my bumbling. They said “no one noticed” and “it’s only your second week.” I appreciated their sympathy. I eventually stopped pouting over my ill-advised choice to take the microphone and explain something I knew nothing about. Since the foot-in-mouth incident, I think that I’ve reestablished my status in the office as the gregarious Canadian intern.

 

I took the mic that day because I wanted to help my colleague out, not because I felt myself particularly qualified to speak to our program’s operations just two weeks into my internship. The colleague I was trying to help out had just finished eloquently articulating what her department had accomplished and what they wanted to do, but she was struggling to find someone from my department to take the mic. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was only one of two people present in the room who worked in the Stable Seas department: the others were away on work trips.

 

The other person at the meeting from Stable Seas was its founder and director, Dr. Curtis Bell. Curtis was and is far more qualified than me to speak about Stable Seas, not to mention many, many other subjects, but I thought that trying to articulate what I had learned so far would be helpful to my panicked colleague and a good exercise for me.

 

As it turns out, it was a good exercise, but for an entirely different set of reasons.

 

Reminiscences

 

My failure to articulate what my department does during my internship vividly reminded me of when I applied to law school. Then, like during the meeting, I had to explain how my work had made a difference in the world.

 

When applying to law school, I had to show how my graduate studies helped further a certain cause and how law school was the most logical next step in righting a particular wrong in the world. As with Stable Seas, I was tasked with explaining how my work has positively contributed to the world I live in.

 

Despite winning scholarships and getting into the law school I wanted, I never felt like I had a good answer to the question: “and how did you make a difference?” I couldn’t explain it to my satisfaction.

 

Both at the meeting and when applying to law school, I had a hard time expressing the particular difference that was made in the world: at the meeting, I could not express what Stable Seas had accomplished. In my personal statement for law school, I had a hard time showing how my thesis actually mattered. To justify my thesis to myself and others, I reasoned that everything that I had learned about Indigenous history and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was important, therefore my thesis, which dealt with these things, was also important. Completely ignoring the composition fallacy, I thought that my thesis as a whole was equal to the sum of its parts. To this day, I’m pretty sure that no one other than my evaluation committee has read my thesis.

 

Lessons Learned

 

Like when I wrote my personal statement for law school, the Stable Seas meeting debacle was instructive. The first lesson I learned from the incident was to keep quiet when objectively no one would expect me to speak up: they probably don’t expect me to speak up for a good reason.

 

The second lesson is more introspective: when I grow up, I want to be able to coherently articulate what my job is, unlike how I had to appeal to blind humanism and broad themes to justify my thesis. I still want to make a difference, but lately I’ve been thinking more about what that actually means.

 

For me, “making a difference” means having a positive impact in the world that I can point to and say “I did that.” It’s kind of like mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow and looking back at what you’ve accomplished with a sense of pride. To take this one step further, it’s important to me that something bad can happen if I don’t do my job right. If I don’t shovel the snow, people can slip on the sidewalk. If I do my job right, however, I will have bettered peoples’ lives in some appreciable way.

 

I want my work to matter.

 

I realize that the sort of appreciation one gets from mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow is not possible in many fields of work. Obviously if it was visual satisfaction I was looking for, I wouldn’t have signed up for law school. What I mean is: if a civil engineer doesn’t correctly design a bridge, it might fall apart, but if she does, people get to work faster. If a waiter doesn’t deliver food on time or has bad customer service, it’s reflected in the tip and on the restaurant. If he does, then the customer is happy and he and the owner earn a tidy profit. If a police officer doesn’t do her job, the rule of law is called into question, but if she does, then people feel safe and, hopefully, crime rates go down.

 

People rely on engineers, waiters, and police officers and there are tangible consequences when they do their jobs poorly, just as there are tangible consequences when they do their jobs well. There are ways to see whether these people have done a good or a bad job, and this evaluation does not depend completely on their fellow engineers, waiters, and police officers. It’s independently verifiable.

 

In Intellectuals and Society, author Thomas Sowell calls into question the difference that studying certain subjects really makes in the world. He says that in some areas of study, someone with a bad idea might at worst suffer some political shuffling in an academic department, but at best the bad idea might even get him or her a promotion. He takes former American President Woodrow Wilson as an example of someone whose ideas looked great on paper, but when translated into a foreign policy of appeasement, Wilson’s Fourteen Points might have led to thousands of unnecessary casualties by delaying America’s involvement in the Second World War. Until he became President, it didn’t really matter if he was right or wrong in his foreign policy ideals. Indeed, many folks in his field thought the Fourteen Points were just what the doctor ordered for global power relations.

 

I’m not here to debate the merits and demerits of Wilson’s Points or Sowell’s interpretation of them. In fact, I happen to like some of the Points and was initially very skeptical of Sowell’s conclusions about the fields of study that he criticizes in the book. However, I have since become equally as skeptical of why I choose to study certain things and where they could potentially lead me later in life: am I studying this or that subject because it can actually help someone in the world or am I just indulging my own curiosity and justifying it after the fact by appealing to abstract humanistic ideals?

 

Looking to the Future

 

 

This is why I want a career with measurable and significant risks and rewards. I want my performance to mean something to me and to others. I want negative consequences for a poor performance and positive ones for a good one.

 

This is why I came to law school instead of continuing on to academia: in my opinion, my thesis made me and people in my field happy, but it didn’t matter very much to people outside of the institution*. Maybe I was setting unrealistic goals for myself, but after law school, I hope that the things I write will matter to people outside my field of study. Whether it’s a contract, a brief, a factum, or a judgement, I hope that people will rely on the veracity of my claims and I hope that there are tangible consequences to being wrong. Rather than have my writing submitted to a repository of theses and dissertations or be read only by the people I cite in my work, I want the things I write in law to have a measurable effect in the world that would not have come about but for my intervention.

 

The tangible consequence of me not correctly performing my function as an intern at the OEF meeting––be quiet and soak up the experience––was a temporary demotion from outgoing newbie to inarticulate blabbermouth. (Like I said, I think that my colleagues have restored me to the former category.) I cannot expect them to trust me with more responsibility than that during a three-month internship, and clearly I had already bitten off more than I could chew. I’m happy with what I’m doing here in Colorado and I’m excited for what I have left to learn about the organization.

 

 

Knowledge is Power

 

The key difference between having to justify my thesis for law school and my faceplant summary of OEF’s work is that when I chose to speak up at the meeting, I didn’t actually know what OEF does. I hadn’t thought enough about the question we were asked and I spoke out of turn. But I do know what graduate studies are. In the two years I spent as a graduate student, I learned what it is to go to different conferences, apply for scholarships, and try to publish. And I know what it is to teach.

 

The point is that in my future legal career, once I know what my job is and what my organization does, I want it to make sense to other people when I explain it to them. When I choose to explain something I know very well, I don’t want to elicit the same reaction I got at the OEF meeting. This is something that happened a fair bit in graduate school. Maybe I was just plain bad at articulating what I was studying, but maybe it was the subject matter itself.

 

Just maybe.

 

I want reactions like those I got from my OEF colleagues to come only when I don’t know what I’m talking about. Personally, I don’t want a career where I get a puzzled look every time I try to explain something that I understand reasonably well, like why I’m studying this kind of poetry or writing about that kind of novel.

 

I would prefer that what I do matter to people other than just those who are also interested in the same poetry or the same novel. This is my goal, and I’m not trying to call down anyone who chose or choses academia as a career path. Not at all. I’m just expressing my own motivations in a blog on the internet.

 

Four weeks after starting my internship, I now have a better, albeit still imperfect, idea of what OEF does. I would be more comfortable taking the mic now, though I would give it a serious, sober second thought before doing so. My colleagues at OEF are a bunch of passionate “academic badasses” in the words of a colleague. I think they’re––we’re––doing something useful here in Broomfield, Colorado and abroad.

 

I can only hope that I’m able to put the lessons I’m learning here into practice one day.

 

* I speak only to my own influence in my academic field in this blog. I have had many professors that have had a profound influence on my thinking and the trajectory of my life whom I love and adore. I owe many of them a great deal and consider them lifelong friends. This blog is in no way a criticism of any particular profession; it’s a personal reflection on my own motivations.

La 40e édition du PIFDH!

Par Lauriane Palardy-Desrosiers

L’équipe d’éducation aux droits humains du PIFDH 2019 composée de Vincenza Nazzari, directrice de l’éducation, Jean-Sébastien Vallé, spécialiste principal en éducation et Stéphanie Pelchat, stagiaire en éducation.

Un mois s’est écoulé depuis le début de mon stage chez Equitas et je n’ai pas vu le temps passer ! Les journées sont bien remplies, mes tâches varient énormément et l’équipe est aussi inspirante qu’hilarante. Ceci étant dit, heureusement que l’on m’avait avertie de la charge de travail… !

Le stage en éducation aux droits humains est très exigeant, mais extrêmement gratifiant. Après de longues heures passées à préparer un rapport sur le contexte régional des droits humains tel que perçu par les participant-e-s du Programme international de formation aux droits humains (PIFDH) 2019, j’ai eu la chance de voir les fruits de mon travail. La première matinée de formation des animatrices et animateurs de la 40édition du PIFDH fut dédiée à analyser le contexte régional des droits humains en comparant ce rapport avec celui produit par Amnistie Internationale.  J’avoue avoir ressenti une grande fierté en écoutant ces humain-e-s admirables discuter en s’appuyant sur les informations que j’avais colligées.

Or, la gratification liée au PIFDH dépasse le travail formel. C’est pendant les conversations de corridors et entre les éclats de rire que le sentiment de satisfaction le plus profond émerge. En tous cas, pour moi.

Marthe Wandou, coordinatrice générale d’Action Locale pour un Développement Participatif et Autogéré (ALDEPA) au Cameroun

Déjà, j’ai eu des échanges qui ont remis en question certains de mes aprioris. Déjà, j’ai pris part à des moments magiques pendant lesquels la communication a transcendé la langue. Déjà, j’ai versé des larmes en catimini pendant que Marthe Wandou, une animatrice camerounaise, me parlait de son travail. L’an dernier, elle a été sacrée l’une des 100 femmes africaines contribuant à la paix dans le monde par l’Union Africaine. Avec plus de 75 employé-e-s, elle lutte pour l’autonomisation des femmes en permettant, entre autres, aux femmes victimes de violences sexuelles d’avoir des soins et à celles n’ayant pas eu accès à l’éducation d’avoir une deuxième chance. Que dire de plus ! Frissons garantis !

 

J’aurais beaucoup de choses à raconter, mais le devoir m’appelle ! Demain, la centaine de participant-e-s venu-e-s des quatre coins du monde, de l’Arménie aux Îles Fiji en passant par Haïti, l’Argentine et le Sénégal, s’inscriront officiellement pour commencer leur parcours au PIFDH. Un sentiment d’excitation se mêle à une forme de trac vis-à-vis cette expérience imprévisible qui sera certainement pleine de rebondissements ! J’ai bien hâte de vous faire part des réflexions qui accompagneront la fin du PIFDH. À bientôt !

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