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The Privilege of “Uncomplicated” Culture Shock

By Kirstie Russell

In preparation for international internships like this one, students are often warned about a phenomenon known as “culture shock.” According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, culture shock is defined as “a feeling of confusion felt by someone visiting a country or place that they do not know.”(1)  Interns are told, or we read, that upon arrival in a new place, especially somewhere as far away as “Africa” that we will be exposed to new sights, new smells, new social cues and new foods that will likely cause us to miss or even mourn home – what the literature on culture shock calls our “abandoned culture” (2).  I won’t lie, I did feel a certain element of shock upon arriving in Uganda. The most intense period probably lasted about two or three weeks, but to be honest, the lingering discomforts and confusion remained until my last days in the country.

For me, the shock of being in a new place did not present itself in the “typical” ways, or at least not in the ways that I was expecting. What I mean by that is that it was not the food or the lack of sidewalks or the religious prayers before each work meeting that were the most difficult aspects for me to adjust to. Yes, I faced challenges with some foods, especially as a vegetarian, and yes, I certainly found it claustrophobic not being able to walk around my neighbourhood alone (particularly at night). For me, the biggest challenge I felt in terms of “culture shock” was my inability to even remotely understand the lived experiences of the many people I met, and most especially the people with whom I worked – both clients and colleagues.

The Gender and Sexuality program at Refugee Law Project (RLP) assists refugees who have experienced sexual violence and sexual torture and helps connect them to medical and other support services. As an intern, I interviewed clients about their history and what in particular was bringing them in that day. The stories I heard are, I would imagine, for most people born and raised in Canada probably unimaginable. It was utterly disturbing to hear about what instability, war and conflict allows human beings to do to one another. What was equally disturbing, however, was the lack of awareness about some of what is currently going on in areas of conflict – for example, the perpetration of sexual violence and sexual torture against men,  a current focus of RLP’s. During these sessions, I could nod my head and listen actively to the best of my ability, but I knew that at the end of the day, there was nothing I could personally do to help the client’s situation. I couldn’t heal their wounds, give them money for their children’s school fees, or as some people requested, bring them to Canada for a better life. I could only take down notes and hopefully give them a referral to a doctor, but even that depended on what funding was available and whether it applied to that individual and their particular circumstances. At the end of the day, I would pack up my Macbook Air, fill up my S’well water bottle, pull out my cellphone and call an Uber to my secure compound after stopping by the grocery store, all the while knowing that the client I saw that day was starving themselves to save up enough money to send their child to private school so that they can get a decent education (several people have told me that in Uganda, if you send your child to public school, the children are so unsupervised that most come back unable to read and write and many girls in particular end up ditching school entirely in order to make money engaging in prostitution) . This, for me, was the most intense form of shock or confusion I experienced in Uganda. I felt shocked and confused by the deck of cards I have been dealt compared to others; shocked and confused by my privilege and all that my peers and I consider “basic needs;” shocked and confused by the things I have taken for granted. I don’t think there’s much that can prepare you for those complicated feelings of horror, shame, guilt and sadness. I was nothing short of smacked in the face by the fact that my quality of life is so much better than someone else’s for no reason at all, except that I were born in a different place – a place free of conflict and instability – under entirely different circumstances. When that reality is staring you in the face, it really is nothing less than shocking and, for better or for worse, it is the type of shock that doesn’t really go away.

However, as I write this blog post, I can’t help but feel guilty (or at least some complex version of guilt) for spending 1000 words talking about my experiences with “culture shock” during my McGill University human rights internship in Uganda. After working at RLP with individuals who have been forced to flee their home for unimaginable reasons, I realize that the idea of feeling culture shocked is a privilege in and of itself. Indeed, most of the individuals I have been working with at RLP have experienced such horrific things that they do not have the time or the wherewithal to feel culture shocked, despite the fact that they are in a new country, generally living in slums with people they have never met, often separated from family and friends for an indefinite amount of time. This is in contrast to me, a law student who is in Uganda by choice for a limited amount of time, fully aware that I will be returning to my peaceful and stable home where I will be greeted by my family. Unlike me, the migrants I have met at RLP do not have time to feel culture shocked. No; they are far too busy focusing on how to seek treatment for their wounds from torture, how to pay for their children’s school fees and in some cases, how to locate family members, even children, from whom they have been separated for many months, if not years. My “culture shock,” which the literature aptly calls uncomplicated culture shock is, I have come to realize, one of the most significant forms of privilege I have encountered during my time in Uganda (3).

A busy city market in downtown Kampala on a Sunday.


The “taxi” park in downtown Kampala. In Uganda, a “taxi” refers to a matatu, which is one of the main forms of public transport in Uganda. They only cost about a dollar, but do not have reliable schedules so you must be patient because the taxi will not leave until it is full.


The view from the office I shared with my manager at RLP. I was lucky to work next to the English For Adults Center at RLP, where RLP staff would teach new refugees English, Uganda’s official language, so that they would be able to integrate more easily into Ugandan society. I heard from many refugees that this program was absolutely vital to their quality of life in Uganda because knowing the language made it so much easier to get a job and to interact with administrative bodies like UNHCR.


(1) The Cambridge English Dictionary, “Culture Shock”, accessed on August 29, 2019 from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/culture-shock

(2) Garza-Guerrero AC, Culture shock: Its mourning and the vicissitudes of identity, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1974 Apr;22 (2):408-29.

(3) According to A. Cesar Garza-Guerrero, “uncomplicated culture shock” is “culture shock resulting from a more or less voluntary decision by a newcomer to leave [their] country for diverse reasons…[T]his is in contradiction to ‘complicated culture shock’ – that is one in which the newcomer left his country for the very reason that his ‘average acceptable environment’ was no longer that ‘average’ for their particular ego identity. One example of ‘complicated culture shock’ would be that suffered by refugees from sociopolitical upheaval in the abandoned culture.” [pg. 417]


A bantaba in three tempo

By Linda Muhugusa

As the number of days I had left in the Gambia rapidly started to dwindle and had now entered the single digits, I found myself reflecting more and more about my stay and the work I had accomplished over these past few months.

One of the highlights of my stay is undoubtedly the 11 AM break at the bantaba (traditional Gambian gazebo), located in the tropical garden behind our office. This little structure, which harbours a large wooden table and a few chairs, is definitely a source of many found memories for me.


 – MAY –

In May, the bantaba was my quiet place. When I arrived in Banjul, I was immediately transposed into the hectic sounds of traffic. The first few days, I was on high alert as I was learning how to navigate the way of life here: figuring out how to cross the street without getting run over by an inattentive cab driver, avoiding getting scammed by merchants offering me high prices, learning the fastest routes around the city to avoid the hefty 5PM traffic…

I was also constantly finding myself in conversations with friendly strangers as I walked back to work, amongst the constant honks of refurbished old Mercedes, the noise of motorcycle engines and the various sounds of the many farms animals walking in the streets (donkey, cows, chicken, goats… you name it!).

– My neighbor’s sheep (which I first thought was a goat), who often sat down right in front of my front door. I suspect she did this specifically to upset me since she could sense I did not like her.

The month of May also brought along with it perfect weather. Banjul did not get a single day of rain, and every morning, I woke up to clear skies. The air was warm but still welcoming, something that was soon going to be replaced by heat and humidity.

The bantaba was then the perfect place for me to relax and escape the noise of the city. There, I found  peace and quiet. As the month of May coincided with the month of Ramadan, many of my colleagues were fasting and few of them were present during the break. I was often eating by myself, listening to music while gazing at the various reptiles and insects that hid a few feet apart from me in the garden.

On many afternoons, I found myself drawn to bring my laptop outside and to continue working on assignments over there. My boss could see how much I loved this bantaba, and used to say, jokingly, that I should simply move my entire office there.


– JUNE –

June felt like home. I now had an established group of friends in The Gambia. I felt like I really knew my neigborhood, and I felt confident going anywhere by myself around the city. It was the time of solo escapades to neighbouring areas during the weekends and meetings with friends for coffee and small talk on weeknights.

During that time, I also got the opportunity to get to know my colleagues a bit more. As the end of a month of fasting came to an end for many, our dining table under the little bantaba suddenly felt full during this mid-day break. This time off work was the perfect opportunity to have fruitful discussions with colleagues, all while sipping on sweet coffee or tea and indulging in the various delicious meals prepared by Fatou, the beloved office cook.

We talked about everything from recent cases that the IHRDA had taken on, to African politics, passing by the hurdles of writing the bar in Nigeria and The Gambia. Undoubtedly however, the most heated topic of discussion concerned football, and previsions on which team would beat who in the African cup.

The 11AM break at the Bantaba, behind the office of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa


– JULY –

July soon felt like the beginning of the end. Every few days or so, I had to say goodbye to a colleague who was leaving on vacation or on a work trip, and who wouldn’t be back at the office until after I had left. I had to say goodbye to a few friends. I also had to finalize work projects that I had spent weeks working on, all while trying to cross off my bucket list everything I had been wanting to visit in The Gambia.

During my last week, I sat down with my supervising legal officer to discuss how I had found my internship. I couldn’t help but smile. I still cannot fully grasp how transformative this experience has been. I learned and developed an array of legal skills, as the inter-African nature of my internship enabled me to work on challenging cases in many countries, and to perform legal research in different languages and for various jurisdictions. It is now clearer to me as ever that working in an international environment is something that I deeply value.

At that point, nostalgia started creeping in. Coincidentally, my colleagues and I were also often made to have our 11AM break inside the office, as rain, mosquitos, construction and humidity kept us away from the bantaba. It was as if nature itself was trying to keep me away from this comforting place…

But on July 26th, the skies were as clear as they had been in the month of May. We gathered around the bantaba’s table to celebrate my last day of work. That afternoon, right before I left the office for good, I stepped back outside in the office’s garden. I took a quick snapshot of our Bantaba, as if to say goodbye.

My last quick snapshot of the bantaba

A Summer of Luck

By Curtis Mesher

While it has been difficult for me to sit down and write out blog posts during this summer, this should not be taken as a lack of experiences to be shared, in fact it is the opposite. This summer has been transformative, both professionally and personally.

The difficulty in writing blog posts over summer came primarily from the overwhelming amount of experiences worthy of their own entries (coupled with a lack of wifi and computer access throughout the summer!). Part of the difficulty is properly presenting my experiences, as much of what I ended up writing was more akin to journaling or poetry writing, than anything professional or in-depth and explanatory.

I experienced so much in such a short period of time that I did not know where to begin. I learned a lot about the field of criminal law, I learned a lot about Nunavut, and I learned a lot about my own family. I saw the famous print studios of Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung, places I had long wished to visit as an amateur artist.

Throughout the summer, I have been grateful of this experience. Everything I have seen has inspired me in various ways. I made many new friends, and deepened my own family connections. It was a summer of change and understanding. I began my summer anxious about what the experience would entail, and I quickly felt at home here in Nunavut.

While I arrived knowing few people, awestruck by my new surroundings (and getting chastised by airport workers for stopping to look around on the tarmac!), I left awestruck by how familiar everything felt (with some of the same airport workers, now my close friends, yelling out goodbyes on the tarmac!). Over the summer I volunteered at Parks Day, Nunavut Day (the territory’s 20th anniversary!), and the Iqaluit Food Centre, and I got to meet what feels like everyone in town.

I got to spend time living with family I had not seen in years, and left after deepening connections with them, as well as forging new bonds with their young children. I got to make friends of my coworkers, and found out that some of them at Maliganik (as well as court house interpreters!) are my relatives as well.

Pleasant personal experiences like these are often what people find in the north, where you never know what to expect. I did not expect to feel so connected to people, or to the land around us. While it is difficult to leave Nunavut and Maliganik, I am lucky to have spent time here.

I am lucky to have seen the energy of Iqaluit and its people, and a summer of siku (sea ice).

I am lucky to have experienced the cozy hospitality of Apex and its residents.

I am lucky to have seen the beauty of Kinngait and the beautiful work of their world-renowned artists.

I am lucky to have shared fresh country food such as raw beluga and caribou brains with wonderful people.

I am lucky to have seen the majestic mountains of Pangirtung.

I am lucky to have seen the arrival of northern lights as the north transitions from summer, after a summer of daylight during the night.

I will miss Nunavut and all I have met during my time here. I am glad to have spent time in Nunavut this summer. I got to see what it takes to work in smaller communities, I got to experience the collegiality of law in the north, and I got to imagine what my future work in law will be, as I attempt to work in criminal defence in Nunavik. While I had always pictured myself working in Northern Quebec, I now easily see myself returning to work in Nunavut in the near future.


A Summer of Change

By Curtis Mesher

As my flight to Iqaluit took off at the start of summer, change was on my mind. I tried to picture what my summer would be like, as I had never been to Nunavut before.  I wondered what my summer would be like at Maliganik Tukisiniarvik, (Nunavut Legal Aid), and what living in Iqaluit would be like. Summer began like every summer had since I began studying law: returning to Kuujjuaq to see my family.

While in Kuujjuaq I decided to go to the court house as it looked to be in session (Kuujjuaq, like nearly all of Inuit Nunagat, has an itinerant court system and court is only held during certain weeks). My visit to the court began like every one of my visits to the Kuujjuaq courts: with the white staff assuming I was there for my own matter as an accused. I approached the right worker and used all the right legal terms when asking to see the docket. Despite this display of understanding, I was assumed to be charged with my own criminal offences. Even if it was court within Inuit Nunagat, I had approached non-Inuit in their world, the world of (Euro-Canadian) law. And in their world, Inuit can only ever attend court when forced to attend for a matter we are personally implicated in.

This wasn’t the first time I was assumed to be an accused in Kuujjuaq’s courthouse. The change this time around was that it was stated plainly and out loud whereas in the past it was implied through the scornful eyes of the white sheriffs who watched me closely, like how one would be on-guard in the presence of a wild animal. This experience set the stage for an interesting summer working in law, and it underscored being the first Inuk student sent North from McGill to Nunavut Legal Aid for this placement.

From Nunavik to Nunavut

Part of the summer of change was flying north from Kuujjuaq, rather than returning south to Montreal, or flying out to one of the other communities in Nunavik. Flying north across the bay to Iqaluit was a wonderful change as the ice had just broken up for the summer, making the ocean more icey-white than deep blue. Kuujjuaq has the largest and most modern airport in Nunavik, but it could not prepare me for the recently-built airport of Iqaluit, where massive murals of acclaimed Inuit artists such as Kenojuak adorned the entirety of walls.

I had never seen such a massive display of Inuit culture in one place before, and this truly demonstrated how Iqaluit is the capital of Inuit Nunagat in Canada. I drove through Iqaluit, marveling at the difference of the landscape compared to Kuujjuaq. All around me were rolling hills, even across the water all I could see were hills. The size of Iqaluit stunned me, despite coming from the largest town of Northern Quebec.

This summer I lived in Apex, a community where in the recent past only Inuit lived when Americans and other white people were the only people allowed to live in Frobisher Bay(now Iqaluit). Apex alone reminded me of entire communities I had seen in Nunavik. Once I had dropped my suitcase off in Apex, I returned to town, where my 1st stop was the court house.

In court, predominantly Inuit sheriffs staffed the doors, and their first thoughts were not to treat me like a criminal. This was a drastic change from all of my experiences of court in Nunavik, and it comforted me to receive this sort of reception. The courthouse itself also set me at ease: instead of the standard (and rather drab) layout of Kuujjuaq’s tiny basement courthouse, all courtrooms in Iqaluit featured architectural elements taken from traditional Inuit items such as iglus and qamutiit. There were Inuit clerks with traditional face tattoos, Inuit interpreters, and even Inuit counted among the justices of the peace and members of the prosecution.

This truly was a change from my experiences of Nunavik.

I quickly acclimated to this new locale, just as I quickly acclimated to my coworkers at Maliganik. It was such a drastic change to see how the office functioned in comparison to Legal Aid Quebec’s branches in Kuujjuaq: the staff was larger, and many Inuit were integral to the function of the office.

Within a short time, I felt at home. It felt great to be living and working up north (even when woken up early by noisy ravens and the bright light outdoors during ‘nighttime’!), and to be respected for my contributions over the summer. I was given important tasks and even spoke in court several times for matters such as contested bail hearings and modifying bail conditions on consent with the Crown.

It was fulfilling to begin gathering experience of what it is like to work up north, as I hope to eventually practice in Nunavik one day. I learned how to help Inuit clients navigate the criminal justice system, as many people have English as a second language.

From the Capital to the Circuit

Beyond these localized experiences, it was truly rewarding to be valued by the staff at Maliganik, as the lawyers were welcoming and open to furthering my knowledge of criminal law. This rewarding and welcoming behavior was exemplified by their willingness to send me on circuit to the community of Pangirtung, where I was integral to the work of the lawyers on circuit. I met with clients and prepared material essential to their files. While I did not get to speak on circuit (because of typical circuit court delays, which meant court was in session from 9:30 am until 9:00 pm!), what I prepared was presented verbatim by the lawyers, and it was pleasure to contribute to our clients’ cases in meaningful ways.

This experience on circuit was yet another change from my experience in Iqaluit: the glamourous courthouse was replaced by the community centre recreation room, my modern office at Maliganik was replaced by the community centre boiler room, where I had jammed in folding chairs amongst their old boxes to take their information and discuss their files. This change taught me invaluable experiences on how to manage criminal files in circumstances unlike the typical setting for professions such as law down south. The resourcefulness required while on circuit will surely guide my future studies in law, and I am grateful to have experienced it.

Furthermore, I am grateful to have seen the beauty that is the land around Pangirtung. Where I once marveled at the hills of Iqaluit in comparison to Kuujjuaq, I am now truly awestruck by the mountains of Pangnirtung. Between the massive mountains, a deep fjord snakes its way past the bay, through the sheer cliff faces and beyond into Auyuittuq National Park. Landing in Pangirtung was magical, and the entire time I was there I was amazed by the land. The first day of the circuit, I had arrived promptly at 9 am, only to find out the first day of circuit starts at 11 am. While normally I would be upset to miss a few more hours of sleep (and a bigger breakfast, of course!), I was lucky enough to see two bowhead whales swim from the bay and up the fjord. There were many whales in the area during the course of the circuit (mostly bowhead and narwhals pushed into the area by the presence of killer whales), and while those were the only I got to see with my own eyes, the excitement of the town was palpable.

I returned from Pangnirtung to find that landing in Iqaluit was now a familiar and comfortable experience, rather than a new and exciting one like it was at the start of the summer.

La Loi sur la laïcité de l’État – un préjudice hypothétique?

Par Caroline Rouleau

Le travail de l’ACLC, qui consiste à protéger nos libertés civiles, aboutit forcément devant les tribunaux. J’ai accès, cet été, à l’arrière scène du litige. Révision de factums, communication avec les avocates plaidantes, gestion des relations médiatiques, le litige est une pratique stimulante au rythme parfois effréné. Généralement comme intervenante et parfois comme partie demanderesse, l’ACLC tâche de saisir chaque opportunité pour faire valoir nos libertés fondamentales, notre droit à l’égalité et à la privée, encastrés dans la Chartre des droits et libertés. Les litiges entrepris cet été soulèvent des enjeux de taille. C’est notablement le cas de la demande de suspension de l’application de la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État.

L’ACLC, le Conseil National des Musulmans Canadiens (CNMC) et Ichrak Nourel Hak, une étudiante universitaire en enseignement du français, contestent la constitutionalité de la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État. Adoptée le 16 juin dernier, elle interdit le port de signes religieux dans plusieurs postes de la fonction publique, dont les procureurs, les membres de la police, les gardes de prison et les enseignants du système scolaire public. Elle oblige également les membres du personnel d’un organisme, tel que les députés à l’Assemblée nationale, à exercer leurs fonctions à visage découvert. Contrairement aux précédentes itérations de ce type de projet de loi, la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État stipule qu’elle s’appliquera nonobstant certaines dispositions de la Charte; ses rédacteurs la font donc déroger, sciemment, aux protections qu’elle offre, notamment la liberté de religion, la liberté de conscience et le droit à l’égalité. Ces clauses dérogatoires ne suspendent toutefois que quelques articles de la Charte; le reste du texte constitutionnel n’est pas écarté. Ainsi, les arguments avancés par les avocates de l’ACLC et du CNMC sont tous fondés sur la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867.

Les litiges constitutionnels n’ayant rien d’expéditif, cette contestation durera des années. D’ici à ce qu’une décision soit rendue, des personnes portant un signe religieux se verront nier d’importantes opportunités de travail au sein de la fonction publique.

Ainsi, la journée du 9 juillet était un moment charnière pour l’ACLC, mais surtout pour les individus appartenant à certaines minorités religieuses au Québec. La Cour Supérieure du Québec entendait la demande de suspension de l’application de la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État. Avec quelques efforts sur le plan logistique, nous sommes quelques-unes à s’être retrouvées à Montréal pour être témoin de cette étape cruciale. La salle était pleine à craquer; elle contenait visiblement des personnes pour qui la loi n’a rien d’hypothétique, contrairement aux prétentions du juge qui a rejeté la demande.

Dans sa décision, le juge adopte une interprétation fort restrictive de ce qu’est un « préjudice irréparable ». Selon lui, l’application de la loi ne cause pas de préjudice à la requérante, Mme Hak, puisque celle-ci n’a pas encore obtenu son diplôme en enseignement et n’est pas encore en mesure de postuler au sein d’un institut d’enseignement du secteur public. La loi ne crée pas, non plus, de préjudice irréparable en rendant impossible tout avancement professionnel pour l’une des déposantes, une enseignante portant le hijab. Ces conclusions reposent entre autres sur le fait que le préjudice allégué, une atteinte à la liberté de religion, est un droit auquel l’Assemblée nationale a explicitement choisit de déroger. Or, la question est nouvelle : le recours aux clauses dérogatoires écarte-t-il la possibilité d’invoquer ces droits à un stade préliminaire, soit une demande d’injonction interlocutoire? Nulle autorité ne soutient l’affirmative. C’est la question dont sera saisie la Cour d’appel du Québec sous peu.

Les lourds impacts de la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État sont à la fois symboliques et pratiques. L’emploi revêt, dans notre société, une dimension identitaire si importante que de nier de telles opportunités d’emploi est de nier la réalisation des individus, d’en faire des citoyen.es de seconde classe. Si cette loi est motivée par un élan féministe, c’est lui qui devrait la freiner. Avant toute chose, l’emploi constitue la base de l’indépendance financière des femmes qu’on se doit de protéger jalousement.

Content writing for the Maritime Security Index and research on the maritime activities of terrorist organizations

By Derek Pace

With less than one week left in Colorado, I’m still astounded at how much I’ve learned in just a few (very short) months. The bittersweet goodbyes have started, and with each passing day, I’m realizing that my time here is all too limited. Here’s a recap of the projects in which I’ve dabbled at work since my last post.

After transitioning away from the research and data collection phase of the Maritime Security Index, my time at work has been consumed almost entirely by writing. If you know me personally, you know that that’s the exact opposite of a problem in my eyes. I love to write; I could do it all day and have even thought of doing it professionally. At One Earth Future, I’ve been writing various forms of content for the Maritime Security Index, including country reports and issue briefs. The former takes the form of a two-page report that contains, among other things, two mini-reports on a country’s place within the international maritime sector. One mini-report focuses on something that the country is doing well, or perhaps on a certain maritime advantage that the country has due to its resources or coastal tourism industry. The other is more constructive and centers on a challenge that the country is currently facing or a way in which the country could improve.

These mini-reports, which we call a “solution” and a “challenge” respectively, can come from any of OEF’s nine maritime security issue areas: Piracy & Armed Robbery, Coastal Tourism, Coastal Welfare, Illicit Trades, Maritime Mixed Migration, Blue Economy, Fisheries, Maritime Enforcement Capacity, and International Cooperation. Each of these issue areas impacts a country’s maritime security situation in numerous ways. Some of the impacts are discrete, but usually, they are connected very clearly to other issues. For example, a country that has a strong fishing industry and healthy fish stocks in its waters will likely have a relatively high level of coastal welfare. When fishers can catch plenty of fish, feed their families, and receive artisanal fishing protections from the government, economic insecurity on the coast is reduced. Here’s another example: countries that have a low level of maritime enforcement capacity, meaning a small, weak navy that cannot adequately perform the full range of naval functions, is at a higher risk of piracy in its waters. All of the issues are connected, and I enjoy seeing how they fit together to form a broader picture.

I’ve also written geographic introductions for many countries. These are simply short, 100-120-word blurbs about the location of a country, its borders, and its coastline. The country introductions will be placed at the beginning of the “solution” and “challenge” reports to provide background information for reference.

Finally, I have written several region summaries–reports on the Maritime Security Index data findings for a specific issue area–for the Middle East-North Africa region. The region summaries have given me a prime opportunity to delve back into a region that I’ve found fascinating for years and that I explored in my undergraduate career in both Religious Studies and Arabic classes. I looked through this year’s data for the forthcoming Maritime Security Index for the Middle East and North Africa and described, broadly, what each issue area looks like in that region. I wrote one region summary for each of the nine issue areas with the exception of Piracy & Armed Robbery, since piracy is one of the specialties of Stable Seas (my division at OEF) and our team boasts multiple piracy experts.

During my last two weeks of work, I’ve been doing research for an extensive report on terrorist organizations and the various ways in which they and their peer organizations use the maritime sector in pursuit of their goals. Such use of the maritime sector can include anything from smuggling illicit drugs by sea to running sex trafficking rings in ports to bribing port inspectors to keep quiet about illegal shipments of drugs, arms, gems, and even wildlife.

I’m incredibly proud of the work that I have done at OEF. My talent and efforts have been recognized and celebrated here, and I can clearly see the value of the work that I am doing, which, I’ve come to realize in recent years, is essential to my happiness in the workplace. I don’t want to do something for no reason; I have to be certain that my work will contribute to a broader mission in some tangible way. I’ve had that certainty all summer at OEF. Recently, our division leader sent our team a first draft of one of the two-page country reports, complete with text boxes and graphs. I was, quite simply, overwhelmed when I saw the text that I had written right there on the page. It was then that I realized that when OEF publishes the Maritime Security Index this fall, my writing will be published along with it, and will subsequently be read by government officials both in the US and abroad, as well as by other maritime security stakeholders, such as conflict studies organizations, nonprofits, and academics. What I’ve been able to do here is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and while I genuinely do not want to leave Colorado, I will leave with the certainty that I have contributed substantially to numerous exciting projects this summer and discovered a new interest that I may never have discovered otherwise.

Voir du Québec la situation des droits humains dans le monde

Par Jennifer Lachance

Durant mon stage chez ASFC, j’ai entre autres pu étudier la situation des droits humains dans trois pays d’Afrique, notamment en ce qui concerne la République centrafricaine (RCA). Étant donné que les résultats de cette recherche sont ceux qui m’ont le plus bouleversé, j’ai pensé que je pourrais partager certaines de ces trouvailles dans le texte qui suivra. Il convient toutefois de noter que les résultats présentés sont le fruit d’une recherche préliminaire, et que ces faits mériteraient d’être corroborés par une visite sur le terrain.

Durant cette recherche, j’ai constaté que, en RCA, trois groupes de personnes sont particulièrement affectés par les violations de droits humains : les femmes, les enfants et les autochtones.

Situation des femmes

Les femmes ont particulièrement été touchées par le conflit armé en RCA, notamment en raison du fait que presque tous les groupes armés ayant participé au conflit entre 2003 et 2015 ont commis des violences sexuelles et basées sur le genre[1]. Des viols collectifs ont fréquemment été commis, de même que les viols commis en public et/ou sous les yeux des membres de la famille de la femme en question[2]. La plupart du temps, les groupes armés ciblaient des personnes appartenant au même groupe social, ethnique ou religieux que le groupe armé ennemi[3].

En dehors du conflit, la situation des femmes est également difficile. La violence domestique envers les femmes est commune[4], les lois protégeant les femmes contre le viol ne sont pas appliquées de manière efficace par le gouvernement[5]et les mutilations génitales féminines sont fréquentes (près de 25% des filles et femmes en RCA en ont subi)[6].  Les femmes sont également à risque d’être accusées de sorcellerie[7], dont la peine peut aller d’une amende salée à la prison à vie avec travaux forcés s’ils ont « causé » la mort[8].

Situation des enfants

Au niveau de la situation des enfants, les violations de leurs droits ont lieu à 3 niveaux, d’abord en ce qui concerne leur éducation, ensuite en ce qui concerne les mariages précoces et finalement en ce qui concerne leur utilisation comme enfants soldats.

Éducation :

En ce qui concerne l’éducation, même si l’école est obligatoire jusqu’à 15 ans, il y a un haut taux d’analphabétisme, notamment chez les filles, les personnes vivant en région rurale et les populations autochtones[9]. Cette situation est notamment due au fait que certains groupes armés utilisent les écoles à des fins militaires[10]. Rien qu’en 2017, 12 à 22 % des écoles étaient fermées à cause que des groupes armés occupaient l’espace, ce qui a empêché 10 000 enfants d’aller à l’école pendant une année entière[11].

Une autre raison qui explique ce haut taux d’analphabétisme se trouve dans les obstacles liés à l’exigence d’enregistrer les enfants à la naissance[12]. Sans enregistrement, les enfants ne peuvent pas fréquenter un établissement scolaire[13]. Or, beaucoup de familles ne sont pas conscientes des implications du non-enregistrement des enfants[14].

Mariages précoces :

En RCA, 68 % des filles sont mariées avant l’âge de 18 ans, alors que 29 % sont mariées avant l’âge de 15 ans[15]. Selon l’UNICEF, cela représente le 2eplus haut taux de mariage infantile au monde[16]. Ces pratiques sont devenues d’autant plus communes dans le cadre du conflit armé, étant donné que les familles perçoivent souvent le mariage comme une manière de protéger leurs filles de la violence sexuelle en temps d’insécurité[17].

Enfants soldats :

Depuis 2012, plus de 14 000 enfants ont été recrutés par des groupes armés non étatiques[18].

Discrimination envers les Autochtones :

Certaines communautés autochtones comme les Baka, qui représentent 1 à 2 % de la population,subissent beaucoup de discrimination[19].Cette discrimination s’opère au niveau du peu d’influence qu’ils ont pour prendre des décisions qui affectent leurs terres, leur culture, leurs traditions et l’exploitation des ressources naturelles[20].Leurs emplois sont souvent précaires et sous-payés; il leur est difficile d’obtenir des documents d’identité ou d’avoir accès aux services de santé ; et ils sont parfois réduits à l’esclavage par d’autres groupes ethniques locaux[21].

Réponses du système judiciaire à ces violations :

Malgré ce sombre portrait de la situation des droits humains en RCA, l’accès au système judiciaire en réponse à de telles violations est très limité[22].


[1]MINUSCA, République centrafricaine : Mapping des violations des droits de l’homme 2003 – 2015(mai 2017), en ligne : <https://www.ohchr.org/FR/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CARProjetMapping2003-2015.aspx>, à la p 17.



[4]US Department of State, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Central African Republic (13 mars 2019), en ligne (pdf): <https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/>, à la p 18.

[5]Freedom in the World 2019, Central African Republic, en ligne : <https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/central-african-republic>, à la p 18.


[7]Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination à l’égard des femmes, Observations finales sur le rapport unique de la République centrafricaine valant rapport initial et deuxième à cinquième rapports périodiques(24 juillet 2014), en ligne : ONU <https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/CAF/CO/1-5&Lang=Fr>, au para 25.

[8]MINUSCA, République centrafricaine : Mapping des violations des droits de l’homme 2003 – 2015 (mai 2017), en ligne : <https://www.ohchr.org/FR/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CARProjetMapping2003-2015.aspx>, à la p 238.

[9]Comité des droits économiques, sociaux et culturels, Observations finales concernant le rapport initial de la République centrafricaine (4 mai 2018), en ligne : <https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E/C.12/CAF/CO/1&Lang=Fr>, au para 39.

[10]US Department of State, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Central African Republic (13 mars 2019), en ligne (pdf): <https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/>, à la p 19.




[14]Comité des droits de l’enfant, Observations finales concernant le deuxième rapport périodique de la République centrafricaine(8 mars 2017), en ligne : <https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/CAF/CO/1-5&Lang=Fr>, au para 32 d.



[17]US Department of State, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Central African Republic (13 mars 2019), en ligne (pdf): <https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/>, aux pp 19-20. Voir aussi Girls Not Brides, Central African Republic, en ligne : <https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/central-african-republic/>.

[18]Child Soldier International, Des milliers de vies à réparer : Les défis de la démobilisation et réintégration des enfants associés aux groupes armés en République centrafricaine(mai 2016), en ligne (pdf) : <https://www.child-soldiers.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=f61aefa1-5257-41b8-9f47-876533b40d63>.

[19]US Department of State, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices : Central African Republic (13 mars 2019), en ligne (pdf) : <https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/>, à la p 22.



[22]US Department of State, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Central African Republic (13 mars 2019), en ligne (pdf): <https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/>, à la p 9.

Black Economic Empowerment

By Bianca Braganza

Forging a future for Namibia, where ownership reflects the demographic of the country.

Like many days, I am the last to find out not only what I am to do for the day, but more pressingly, where I am to do it. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job- the excitement and unpredictability each day will bring.

We had barely arrived at the Commission’s office, when we received frantic calls that I was to go immediately to the State House, to accompany the Chairperson and the lawyers working on the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF). Scattered, I grabbed all the files I could, put on my nice spare shoes I keep at the office and ran out. As we raced through congested streets, I ran over the key points, strengths and weaknesses of the national economic strategy that I had amassed during my research and writing thus far.

Yet I couldn’t help but draw a blank when the massive golden gates of the President’s headquarters opened… the beauty and magnificence of the expansive white building, the golden Oryx, bright green foliage and marble encasing the main State House itself was simply breath taking.

But back to business (literally). I have spent much of my internship researching and writing reports and strategic plans on the core theoretical structure and implementation of financial instruments, for the equitable economic framework in Namibia. This required conducting cross-jurisdictional analyses predominantly with South Africa, but also with Malaysian and Canadian economic strategies that sought to incorporate and address racial disparities in accessibility and ownership within domestic markets.

The principle at the core of Namibia’s NEEEF policy is black economic empowerment. Inspiration was drawn from the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which is a form of affirmative action crafted by the South African government, to address and change the economic landscape of racial inequalities of Apartheid, and increase economic participation of Black people in the South African economy. Interestingly, “black” as legally defined by the South African legislation encompasses African, Coloured, and Indian persons who are citizens of the country. Turning to the Namibian context, the purpose of legislation, reports and strategies based on NEEEF is to forge a future for Namibia where ownership reflects the demographic of the country. Much of this includes learning from the South African implementation of BEE and why the country struggled in practice to achieve the outcome of racial economic transformation that they originally had envisioned.

Namibia is only 29 years old, gaining independence from South Africa in 1990. The constitution of Namibia was created not by an act of Parliament, but rather as a negotiated settlement- a peace treaty, essentially- to secure independence. In effect, it solidified the ways in which the country’s economic landscape would be shaped and the way it would remain present day. Importantly, property as it was during Apartheid remained unaltered. Furthermore, constitutional provisions (for example, property under Article 16(1)) were created during this peace negotiation that protected property owners as they stood under Apartheid.

“Writing the Constitution” – Picture taken during my visit to the Independence Museum of Namibia.

If you grocery shop, or buy commodities, you will see that the previously disadvantaged majority (hereafter PDM; as defined under NEEEF means “victims of Apartheid policies”) occupies the lower level positions: sales representatives, cleaners, and public facing staff. However, ownership and controllership of those very firms, the upper management levels, are mostly held by the previously advantaged minority (PAM) Namibian population. In Namibia, there are a few owners of larger enterprises that own a monopoly on the major chains in Namibia- Pick and Pay (groceries), Pupkewitz (cars) and Shoprite (merchandise) for example.

The main challenge now remains, 29 years after independence, how do we shift the economic landscape to be more reflective of the actual demographic composition of the people of Namibia? Perhaps more importantly, how do we have more PDMs owning and controlling the economy and do so legally, in accordance with the constitution as it currently stands, unamended since Independence.

The basis upon which NEEEF operates is within government procurement. Corporations that do business with the government that meet certain compliance standards and statistical thresholds within employment and ownership of previously disadvantaged majority persons, are favoured. There are five pillars under which enterprises will be evaluated for procurement with government: Ownership, Management Control and Employment Equity, Human Resources and Skills Development, Entrepreneurship Development and Community Investment. A scoring system is enacted whereby, for example under the Ownership Pillar, “a business will score a minimum of 10 points if it is 25% owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians. For every additional 7.5% owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians, a business will score 1 additional point up to a maximum of 100% giving a total of 20 points“. Long term, the goal is for PDMs to not only own shares in companies, but to own enterprises themselves.

Much of a Nation’s independence is not simply political, but economic emancipation from external international access and controllership of the economy. In the Namibian context, if you drink water, eat chocolate or even moisturize with lotion, turn the product and you will invariably see “Product of South Africa”.  Despite Apartheid being over, South Africa dominates the Namibian economy through the reliance on their exports for goods in the country. In light of this, NEEEF also holds the potential to reduce import reliance and create a foundation for domestically producing commodities here in Namibia, and even long term to create an export economy for the country.

The NEEEF is a revolutionary attempt to achieve economic prosperity for the country by economically empowering and providing tools and financial instruments to those persons that were socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged as a result of Apartheid. It provides the basis for a new vision of the country, based on social economic transformation to enhance equity, accessibility and ownership of the previously disadvantaged majority population.

After a most exciting day discussing economic empowerment in the country.

Day 2 of economic empowerment strategizing, back at the LRDC Office.

A Prison in the Middle of Nowhere

By Katrina Bland

“You have to wear a long skirt, for the security of the inmates.”

The day before our visit to Muinaina Prison, I was told that a woman is not allowed to enter a prison in Uganda if she is not wearing a skirt. What else did I know about prisons in Uganda? Almost nothing.

I had spent the last couple days reading a report from a partner organization, Interaid, about refugee clients in Luzira Prison in Kampala that they wanted Refugee Law Project to take on. The report described each prisoner’s country of origin, their charges, sentence, and their requests. While many requested help with their appeals, a prison transfer, or to contact their families, every single one requested the basic necessities of cooking oil and rain boots. I had also heard people say that conditions in prison in Uganda are awful, and likely responsible for the country’s low recidivism rate of 30%—the lowest in Africa. In the car during the three-hour drive to Muinaina from Kampala, I went over these clues in my mind. First, I had to wear a skirt. Second, the inmates want cooking oil and rain boots. Third, the conditions are so bad no one wants to go back.

With these clues, I unsophisticatedly adapted an image of North American prisons in my mind. Muinaina would be, I thought, the same, but the incarcerated persons might do their own cooking and the courtyard would be mud instead of cement. I wrote off the third clue because it’s difficult to imagine any prison anywhere where the conditions would be such that people would leave wanting to return.

For most of the drive from Kampala, we had no idea where Muinaina Prison was. We stopped for directions three times, and each time we were simply told to keep driving. The tarmac road turned to dirt, but the same open hills of green tea plants and matoke rolled by. Suddenly, or so it seemed to me, my colleagues breathed sighs of relief and announced our arrival. What gave them that idea? As I looked around, I saw nothing that indicated a prison. There was no massive parking lot or ten-metre high wall, no buildings made of flat grey cement with barred windows. Then I spotted a man in a bright yellow uniform with a herd of cows. Then another man in a bright orange uniform carrying a bundle of firewood. And a group of ten men in yellow carrying sacks of maize. A group in mixed yellow and orange tilling a field. They were prisoners, but there were no guards to be seen.

As we got closer what I thought was just another collection of houses surrounding a school turned out to be the prison staff quarters around the inmates’ wards. We went in, gave the name of the client we were there to see and were shown to a wooden bench looking into a courtyard through a gate. Nearby, three or four guards stood talking. They were the first security personnel I had seen in Uganda without guns. There was no privacy, but we were not searched or asked any questions. A guard simply called to an inmate near the gate to tell our client that he had visitors. I realized that it is not surprising Muinaina does not have the fluorescent lit visiting room that I had pictured during the journey there. The prison is so remote; it is difficult to imagine visitors are more than a rare occurrence.

When our client appeared dressed in yellow, he sat on an identical wooden bench on the other side of the gate bars and described his case. Yellow is the colour for incarcerated persons on remand, while orange is the colour for those who have been convicted—at least most of the time. These days, prisons often run out of yellow uniforms due to the huge number of persons incarcerated waiting trial. They make up more than 50% of Uganda’s prison population and many are relegated to the orange of convicted persons.

Much like the lack of information about the whereabouts of Muinaina Prison, RLP had been referred our client’s case without any details. This is not uncommon. RLP has eleven offices across Uganda serving thousands of clients who often do not have permanent phone numbers, residences, or in some cases, even birthdates. RLP staff at other offices refer the vague details of a potential client and my supervisor, Jesse, sets out into the field and hopes for the best.

Our client told us he had been incarcerated for over three months. Originally, he was told he would be brought to court for a bail hearing on June 11th, but the day of, the guards told him he wasn’t going. He hadn’t heard anything since. No one was surprised by this story. The prison is so remote that there is no internet or cell service there. Communication to and from the prison is difficult and expensive. Just as family members of incarcerated persons do not know where they are or how they are, the incarcerated persons themselves are usually not informed of the status of their file or when they will get to appear in court. There is no broad promise of legal aid in Uganda, and without an advocate on the other side any information is difficult to come by.

Court room at the Law Development Centre in downtown Kampala

As my colleagues interview our client, in a mixture of Congolese Swahili and Luganda, I watch as the courtyard comes to life. Inside, there only appears to be one guard, distinguishable among the sea of orange and yellow by his beige uniform. The incarcerated persons sat in three neat groups, two of yellow and one of orange. Surrounding each group were three or four other individuals in yellow or orange, each carrying a long skinny stick. While the single prison guard appeared to chat amicably with them, they seemed to be the ones in charge.

The colour doesn’t seem to matter, however, in Uganda’s overpopulated prison system. Uganda has 249 prisons, with a maximum carrying capacity of 16 612 individuals. The most recent statistics say that the total population of these prisons is 48 422, exceeding their maximum capacity by over 30 000 people. Individuals on remand are not separated from those convicted and those convicted of the most serious offences are not treated any differently than the rest. Muinaina is only one prison among these 249, but as the inmates get up and move around it is not difficult to see how overcrowded the facilities are and how impossible it would be to separate offenders by their crime or sentence.

Without any signal or instruction, some men begin sorting through maize, separating kernels and putting them through a grinder to create maize flour. Others begin cooking in a corner. Some men work at a makeshift carpentry station under the branches of a young tree. One man in yellow discusses something with the guard and then uses a saw to cut a long branch off of another small tree. This man then appears to be able to wield the same authority as the other men in orange and yellow overseeing the activities in the courtyard. No one objects. The sticks do not appear to be threatening at all. Granted I cannot hear or understand anything that is being said, they seem almost like a wooden pointer in a classroom, used to indicate or just to hold, imparting a sense of confidence and status to the bearer.

Along the edges of the courtyard are two long single-story buildings with many doors. While the centre of the courtyard is bustling with activity, men on the edges sit on the doorsteps or lean against the walls of these buildings. They look like they are waiting for something and have been waiting so long they have run out of things to talk about. Many watch us intently from afar as we interact with our client. Soon, without warning, the men return to their original three groups of yellow and orange sitting on the ground. After a short while, they get up and work or wait again. And then return to their groups. And repeat.

The Ugandan Prison Service (UPS) promotes farm prisons like Muinaina as self-sufficient entities that teach inmates agricultural skills they can use when they are released. It is one of many rehabilitation programs that has been promoted by the UPS since the Prisons Act was passed in 2006. In a way, what I saw presented a much more believable version of rehabilitation than what I know of prisons at home. There was no trace of the North American version of incarceration where individuals are surrounded by cement above and below as well as on all sides or where a fight between inmates or bad behaviour is punished with solitary confinement. Instead, Muinaina seemed to function like a small village, replicating life outside the prison quite well. At the same time, the shortage of resources is evident. Indeed, it is probably the shortage of resources that makes this style of prison both possible and necessary.

The government does not have the funds to provide food, so the inmates must grow and cook their own. Other shortages, like space, medical services, and clean water reported in Ugandan prisons, however, are less possible for prisons to remedy on their own. Even worse, there are reports of torture and ill-treatment, especially among individuals incarcerated on remand as guards are charged with securing confessions to push cases forward. The difference between forced labour as punishment and agriculture as a rehabilitative program may be impossible to observe in such a short visit. For individuals waiting for a trial date that may never come in Uganda’s backlogged and bureaucratic judicial system, all of these conditions—no matter how rehabilitative—violate their fundamental rights.

The entrance of Muinaina Farm Prison

It is colder at Muinaina than in Kampala, cold enough to remind me of a late September evening at home, and the sky is dark with coming rain. When it rains, it will get colder and the ground will turn to clay. The ten men carrying sacks of maize return from the fields. The guards unlock the three padlocks keeping the prison gate closed, and the men run in, deposit their maize in a pile and run out again. They repeat this three times in the period we are there. Some of these men have uniforms including pants or a sweater, while others wear only shorts and a t-shirt. Many of these men are barefoot, while others are wearing the much coveted rain boots.

As we drove away, I asked Jesse why no one seems worried about the men escaping. They seem free to graze cattle as far from the prison as they wish or to disappear into tall fields of maize unsupervised. Jesse asked me in return, where would they go? My response of ‘anywhere’ only made him laugh. Their yellow or orange uniforms make them visible from so far away, they would need to run naked. Moreover, many of them are safer here than at home as traditional justice in their villages sometimes means wrongdoers must be killed for the sake of peace. Besides, he said, the guards know the prisoners aren’t stupid. They could be out of here any day, so why would they run?

Adam, our translator and driver for the day

Jesse, a lawyer with Refugee Law Project and my supervisor

Mombasa: Sun, Sea, and a Study of Sexual Violence

By Julia Green

After our whirlwind day in the Hague, Jenna and I were able to spend a night with Jenna’s relatives in Nairobi before our flight to Mombasa the next day. The side of Nairobi I saw during my first day and a half in Kenya seemed comparable to many other large cities I’ve visited. I saw tall buildings, nice restaurants, large shopping malls and people milling about in stylish clothes as they went about their days. Since we arrived during Kenyan wintertime, even the weather, which was about 15 to 20 degrees, was not the scorching heat I imagined. Everyone we interacted with was completely punctual, defying the expectation of “African time” I had been warned would be the norm. Given that the two other times I have lived abroad it was in countries where very few people spoke English, I think I was even thrown off by the fact that I could communicate perfectly with everyone I met. As I boarded the flight to Mombasa after our short stay in Nairobi, I found myself wondering if I would actually experience the culture shock I expected during my first time in Africa.

A typical Mombasa sight.

From the moment we arrived in Mombasa, however, it was clear that Kenya’s second largest city has a completely different vibe than the capital. We spent our first weekend there using the daylight hours to take in the sights: shanties and open-air markets, groups of men running with heavy rickshaws of fruit, packs of skinny cows holding up traffic, and of course, the beautiful blue water of the Indian Ocean.

The roads, most of which were unpaved and quite bumpy, seemed to be governed by an unspoken code of chaos that allowed cars, tuk-tuks, and “boda-boda” motorbikes to smoothly manoeuvre around each other with only the occasional honk despite the absence of traffic lights. Members of the nomadic Maasai tribe, adorned with handmade jewelry and wearing their brightly-coloured shukas(a toga-like linen garment), walked amongst the crowds of people in Western clothing with their wooden staffs in hand.

The Indian Ocean.

In Mombasa, income disparity between the different classes was also more apparent. As we sat in traffic (and boy, does Mombasa have traffic) many forlorn-looking street children came to the window of our car begging for money. Minutes later, before we could even process the poverty, we would drive past a luxury resort glamorous and excessive enough to be considered fit for the wealthy Kenyans and foreign tourists that frequented it. The city was extremely humid, reaching temperatures of 30 degrees during the day and only dropping to about 27 or 28 at night. According to locals, the heat was part of the reason why everyone was consistently late for every engagement – in Mombasa, we definitely experienced the more relaxed attitude towards punctuality we had been told about. Despite any inconveniences caused by the chaos, the heat, or the poverty though, everyone we met seemed to be relaxed and happy. On Sunday we could hear the peaceful calls to prayer from several nearby mosques competing with the loud, joyful songs that floated out of the churches.

Mombasa has both a strong Muslim and Christian community.

On our first day at the International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya (ICRH-K) we met with the organization’s acting director as well as the team’s in-house lawyer who we would work closely with during our time there. The four of us discussed mine and Jenna’s educational and professional backgrounds, as well as what we were hoping to get out of the internship. By the end of the meeting we had come up with a rather ambitious project: we were going to look at all the cases of gender-based violence reported to the local hospital’s Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre (GBVRC) from the past six years and find out how many of them wound up getting legal justice in the courts. For all of the cases that didn’t result in a conviction, we planned to get to the bottom of why they had fallen through the cracks.

Jenna and I with our coworkers at the GBVRC.

In retrospect, I don’t think that any of us sitting in that meeting room on our first day realized just how much work would be required to bring this project to fruition. When we got to the hospital, we discovered that there was no centralized, digitized database for all of the patient files. Instead, all the patient records were kept in a locked storage room in binders that appeared to have no rhyme or reason when it came to their order on the shelves. Despite how confusing the filing system seemed to us, the nurse and paralegal from the GCVRC somehow knew exactly where every file was and were always able to help us find what we needed in a matter of minutes. Slowly but surely, we worked our way through the hundreds of handwritten files and entered information we deemed to be relevant into a carefully crafted Excel sheet.

It took us just over a month to go through the nearly 4,000 cases that had been reported to the hospital between 2013 and 2018, but our work didn’t stop there. After we had collected the data from the GBVRC we started visiting all of the local police stations, where we asked if we could go through their sexual offence files to see how the cases had been handled. Because of the reputation of the equality effect, the Canadian non-profit our placement was organized through, the police response to us was for the most part agreeable. There were a few administrative hurdles we had to get past in order to get what we needed at some stations, but by the end of July we managed to work through almost all of the sexual offence files that the eight Mombasa police stations could produce for us.

While we carried out the data collection, we also conducted interviews with relevant parties including police officers, counsellors, health professionals and even a local magistrate (judge), all who work closely with

Jenna and I, aka the dream team, hard at work going through police files.

survivors of sexual violence. Jenna is an Excel whiz who used her skills to crunch the numbers from our data sets, and I put my journalism degree to work as I transcribed the interviews and carefully documented any observations we made as we visited the police stations. All of this information came together to give us a clear picture of challenges in the justice system for cases of sexual violence. The quantitative and qualitative research we conducted allowed us to see clearly where improvement was needed to increase convictions, and also gave us some ideas for initiatives that could help to deter perpetrators from committing sexual violence in the first place. The end result was a comprehensive draft of a report almost 50 pages long that we were able to send to the ICRH-K to help guide their future work with survivors of gender-based violence. Before we left Mombasa, we had the opportunity to present our findings at a journal club, a monthly event where researchers from local universities and non-profits come together to share what they have been working on. In many ways, it felt like we had completed an entire thesis project in just two short months.

When I look back at our time in Mombasa, I still find it incredible to believe how much we accomplished in so little time. Because I had worked in non-profit before and know how common it is for interns to be forgotten or underused, I had fairly low expectations for the work I would do over the summer. Happily, my expectations for my time in Kenya were once again defied. I can already see all the ways that my time with the ICRH-K Kenya will make me a better student, a better researcher, and down the line, a better lawyer. Most importantly though, I know that the lessons I learned in Mombasa have helped me to better understand the many human rights challenges that persist around the world. I came away with an understanding of gender inequality, poverty, and corruption that I simply could not have gotten in a classroom or from a book. Throughout the summer I found myself constantly thinking about how grateful I was to have such an incredible opportunity through my studies at McGill.

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