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Tensions between the inherent right to self governance and laws around jurisdiction

By: Larissa Parker

In July, the Minister of Justice, David Lametti, came to visit Akwesasne. He met with the Chiefs of the community and the Justice Department to learn about the most important issues facing the community.

Minister Lametti, Grand Chief, and 2 other Chiefs in Akwesasne

Self-governance quickly became an important topic. Although the community has its own government, Justice Department, and Court, they are constantly confronted with jurisdiction issues. In particular, the Akwesasne Mohawk Court is currently limited to enforcing the 32 community-developed civil laws, but has no authority regarding laws that are provincial or federal in nature. For example, anything pertaining to criminal law must be dealt with in a federal court. Similarly, most family law issues, pertaining to matrimonial property or custody-related disputes are provincial, and thus, must be taken up in a provincial court in Ontario or Quebec.

According to a Chief in the community, Connie Lazore, this is highly problematic. Restrictions around jurisdiction interfere not only with the ability to govern themselves, but also counteract the inherent right they have to govern themselves, as per section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Chief stated, “we should be allowed to govern our people the way we want to, not the way the provinces want us to”. Instead, she argued, “We fail our own people when we can’t serve them in our core”.

She offered an example to solidify her point. If there is a victim of domestic violence living on the Quebec side of the community, wanting to receive a protection order, they cannot go to Akwesasne court; instead, they must drive 4 hours there-and-back to Valleyfield (which is the nearest Quebec court). Next, because of the nature of the order, it tends to require an endorsement from a doctor. Since there is no hospital in Akwesasne, the nearest doctor is across the border in Cornwall, which adds another hour round trip.

On top of jurisdictional issues, the federal government does not offer Indigenous communities any money to run their justice system, despite offering funds to all provincial systems. This renders self-governance difficult to implement on a large scale. Although Indigenous people have an “inherent right” to follow their own laws, they do not receive any assistance (financial or political) to do so.

Minister Lametti listened closely, which everyone appreciated; however, there was an unspoken sense that of all promises from the Canadian government that have been made before – hardly any have been upheld. This was deeply saddening; broken promises clearly had lasting effects on hope in the room. This left few people optimistic that increased jurisdiction would be granted to their court.

Incredibly though, even with little support, Akwesasne’s justice system has managed to thrive over the years. They have over 30 community laws, which are developed, amended, and enforced by their small (but mighty!) team.

For example, there are only two compliance officers and one conservation officer, who enforce community laws on the reserve. Although financial support is welcome to be able to increase the team’s size, it is amazing how much work those three do in the community every day to monitor and enforce the bylaws. I got the chance to join them on a boat outing while they were checking fishing licenses, and it was really nice to get a sense of what that side of the Department’s work was like.

Of course, inside the office was just as special (and where I spent most of my time). Some of the most driven and inspiring people I have ever met work in that office. They are passionate about their people and their community’s sovereignty; and although they face challenges like those listed above, it felt like nothing could stop them from asserting their right to it. Joyce King, Kyrie Ransom, Bonnie King, and Iris LaFrance are all strong women, who I interacted with every day, who inspired me, and helped me learn and grow as a person.

We must question the colonial roots that are still prevalent in the Canadian legal system today. Although Indigenous people have the inherent right to self-governance according to our Constitution, our institutions and legal system continue to impede the proper fulfillment of this right. If we are truly committed to a “nation-to-nation” relationship with Indigenous people, it is imperative we offer them the legal, financial, and political room to overcome jurisdictional challenges and properly manage their own justice systems.


Also, here are some lovely photos from my last day 🙂


Disability, Assistive Animals and the Law

By Brittni Tee

In July, I participated in public symposium hosted by the Yukon Human Rights Commission relating to disability, assistive animals and the law. The event provided a forum for participants to learn the basics of human rights law relating to this topic, and to partake in a facilitated discussion about how to improve inclusion for people using assistive animals in the Yukon.  Participants included assistive animal users, as well as various stakeholders representing business, government and transit in Whitehorse.

The Commission handles a high-volume of disability-related work, so prior to attending the conference I had already spent a significant amount of time learning about different elements of disability law. After a working for a number of weeks, I was beginning to feel as though I had a decent understanding of the leading cases and important “tests” that had been laid out by the courts relating to discrimination on the basis of disability. Yet, despite my academic understanding of the law in this area, hearing people speak about their own experiences with discrimination really brought these issues into focus in a different way.  As someone who has always been passionate about inclusive policy-making, the experience inspired me to think more critically about the existing laws on this topic and to consider the practical and legal aspects of improving accessibility across Canada.

Canoeing the Yukon River

Most people have some degree of familiarity with guide dogs, which have been specifically trained to assist blind and visually impaired persons navigate obstacles. However, there are actually a wide variety of tasks performed by service animals which may be less familiar to the public. Individuals with epilepsy may use a service animal to pre-emptively warn them about an oncoming seizure, or to respond in the event that a seizure occurs. Animals can be trained to calm children with autism in high anxiety situations, or to respond to nightmares and flashbacks experienced by people with PTSD.  Some service animals can even be trained to smell when a diabetic person’s blood sugar is too low, prompting their owners to take insulin. In addition to the wide variety of tasks performed by service animals, “emotional support animals” have also been increasing in prevalence.  Unlike service animals, these animals are generally not trained to complete specific assistive tasks, but rather provide comfort and support to people with disabilities.

Prior to working at the Commission, I had assumed that there was a clear legal regime governing the certification and regulation of assistive animals. Consequently, I was rather surprised to learn that there is actually no unified legal definition of a “service animal” in Canada. Instead, there are a variety of different provincial and federal regulatory regimes which address this topic in a rather patchwork fashion.  In the Yukon specifically, there is currently no legislation which explicitly regulates the certification or use of assistive animals. Unsurprisingly, the lack of clarity surrounding these issues has been a source of confusion and frustration for many people.

Under provincial human rights legislation across Canada, it is prohibited to discriminate on the basis of disability in employment, housing or the provision of services to the public. In order to prevent or reduce such discrimination, employers, landlords and service providers have a “duty to accommodate” any special needs arising from a disability (or from any other characteristics protected under human rights legislation). The duty to accommodate is not absolute, but rather extends to the point where additional accommodation would cause “undue hardship”.  Jurisprudence has held that while “undue hardship” should be interpreted to include more than mere inconvenience, it is permissible to consider issues such as cost, health and safety requirements, and employee morale.

In the context of disability, this generally means that employers, landlords and service providers are obliged to accommodate the use of assistive animals on their premise, unless they can prove that doing so would cause them undue hardship. Nonetheless, many people remain unsure about the extent of their obligations relating to assistive animals under provincial human rights legislation, particularly in situations where different regulations may appear to contradict each other. For example, in many jurisdictions, businesses which prepare food are not permitted to allow animals on the premise for health and safety reasons. Yet, under provincial human rights legislation, people with disabilities cannot be turned away from a business for using an assistive animal.  Since human rights legislation generally supersedes other legislation, conflicting regulations should normally give way to the duty to accommodate. Nonetheless, it is perhaps unsurprising that confusion on this topic seems to persist, particularly for small business owners who don’t necessarily have access to sophisticated legal resources.

Unfortunately, these difficulties have been compounded by the perception of an increase in “fake” assistive animals. Since service animal vests and fraudulent “certifications” are readily available online, it is relatively simple to give the appearance of legitimacy to any animal. Given the lack of regulation on this topic, this practice has been able to continue with relatively few repercussions. Sadly, the proliferation of fake service animals has serious negative consequences for persons who genuinely require the use of such animals to assist with their disability. Since fraudulent assistive animals are usually not properly trained, they often exhibit behavioural issues which can cause real problems for businesses and other service providers. This has led to an increase in scrutiny (and sometimes hostility) for those using assistive animals for legitimate purposes.

One potential solution to this problem is to require the certification and identification of all service animals. This approach is currently in use in British Columbia and Albert, but the rollout of these regulations has been met with mixed reviews. Many advocates have noted that certification actually has the potential to create roadblocks for people who depend on the use of service animals. Since there are already incredibly long wait-lists to receive an animal from recognized training organizations, the certification process could further restrict and delay the ability to access an assistive animal. This would have the undesirable effect of decreasing the autonomy of disabled people to choose and self-train the best animal for their needs.

Hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park

At the symposium hosted by the Commission, one of the speakers presented the story of his experience trying to find a guide dog in the Yukon to assist him with his visual impairment. At the time, there were no guide dog trainers available in the Yukon, and the waitlists to receive a dog from out of province were incredibly high. Faced with these options, the speaker decided to train his own service dog, using resources that he had found at the library. This approach was highly successful and allowed the speaker to bypass the prohibitive costs and wait times normally required to access a guide dog. After listening to this story, it became clear to me that excessively regulating this area without first improving access to properly trained animals has the potential to cause more harm than good.

Attending this conference has certainly given me a new appreciation for the numerous ways in which assistive animals often change the lives of the people they have been trained to help. Unfortunately, it was clear from listening to the various presenters that long wait lists, high costs, unclear regulations and a lack of public understanding continue to pose significant barriers to people attempting to gain access to the valuable services provided by assistive animals. In order to make meaningful accessibility a reality, we need to come up with better solutions to these problems to ensure that people with disabilities have the resources they need to fully participate in our society with dignity and autonomy.

What We Take for Granted…

By Leila Alfaro

The beautiful Andes, somewhere south of Mendoza

July 22nd, 2019

This is my last week in Mar del Plata. The last month has been tough for my family and me, as we have struggled with maintaining our Argentinian routine, so different from our regular one, and have been feeling homesick, missing our family and friends. I am very excited to head back home, but I am also very thankful for my time here, for the encounters I have had, the things I have learned, the places I have visited and the memories I have made. As the weeks progressed, I often had to fight the disconcerting thought that my presence here would ultimately prove to be useless and that in the end, I would realize just how little I had accomplished this summer.  I partly blame this on the slow pace of life here but these fears, certainly, were also anchored on the notion of just how complex issues pertaining to disability rights are, and that there is no single way of tackling them without eventually uncovering further underlying issues of a more complex nature. Exploring the field of disability rights, namely in a country with a fragile economy, proved to be beyond frustrating at times. A cloud of helplessness and desolation was hanging constantly over my head, as I had to come to terms with the extent to which ableism is embedded in the structures of society and just how limited the impact of rights and laws on paper can be, when there is simply so much that has to change in order to guarantee a dignified life for members of such marginalized group.

While I had no experience whatsoever in the field, especially in the Argentinian context, I found myself learning so much, so quickly. By learning from the situation in this foreign country, I inevitably felt the urge to find out more about the reality back in Canada. One of the most interesting moments in the context of the workshops with people with disabilities was when I was able to present a brief overview of how Canada approaches voting rights for people with disabilities. By communicating the reality of my country, I was able to share interesting links, like how the issue of an aging population has an incidence on the existing efforts of accommodation.

Curiously, when I elaborated on how there is still much to accomplish in Canada as well, I was met with what felt like skepticism. Argentinians certainly hold Canada in high regard, since they see our institutions as well-funded, efficient and “serious”. The irony is not lost in me, that as much as they admire said efficiency, they do not seem interested in a more rapidly-paced lifestyle. Indeed, such tradeoffs are inevitable, and we are not always in a position to be adequately critical of them given our own biases and perspectives which are ultimately limited by our personal realities.

Being abroad, I have mostly been able to reflect on the things I take for granted (like the people who are part of my daily life, the comfort of my home or some of my favourite foods!), but I have also learned about what people here take for granted. As I have become interested in the topic of voting rights for people with disabilities, I have begun working on a research project of my own. As I debated on which topic to present to the Centre for approval, I ultimately felt the strong urge to address the mandatory aspect of Argentinian suffrage. I found it fascinating how the people with whom I interacted could be so comfortable communicating their own frustrations regarding their system yet seemed very willing to justify it when I would question factors such as mandatory voting. I was surprised to find that virtually no literature exists on the subject in relation to disability (I was told there had been some kind of project done in another university that tackled this issue, but I have yet to learn more about it). I quickly became under the impression that, while Argentinians do recognize the particularity of their voting system in this regard (mandatory voting), they are quite satisfied with it. When it comes to discussing and promoting the ability to vote, basically no attention was brought to how the principle of mandatory voting might also impact persons with disabilities. This notion exemplifies the degree of ableism in society in terms of what the State expects from its citizens, seemingly ignoring the existing gap between those who have impairments and those who do not have any.

While I was pleased to hear that my research project relied on a novel outlook of the situation, I expect to gain more insight on the underlying ambiguities of mandatory voting, especially given the historical context of the Argentinian political scene. In elaborating on this topic, I hope to encourage other researchers and clinical workers to become more sensible to how the obstacles people with disabilities face are linked to more complex structural factors of society that we tend to take for granted.

My going-away dinner with members of the Extension Group on Voting Rights for PWD, comprised of graduate students and faculty from multiple fields


The last workshop in which I participated, especially tailored for people with visual impairments

Robes and Backpacks: When an International Human Rights Tribunal Goes in the Field

Kelly O’ConnorBy Kelly O’Connor

My internship took an unexpected turn when, halfway through the summer, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) announced that its next session of hearings, from August 26th to September 6th, would not take place in San José as planned. Instead, they would be a “special session” or “extraordinary session” in Barranquilla and Bogotá, Colombia.

Day 1 of the IACtHR’s Special Session in Barranquilla, Colombia

Interns are allowed to attend the extraordinary sessions of the Court, they often don’t because they must undertake all the travel planning and expenses themselves. Coincidentally, I had happened to book a holiday to Colombia to visit family after my internship before the extraordinary session in Colombia was even announced. The dates coincided perfectly, so I decided to take advantage of the chance to see what happens when an international human rights tribunal goes in the field.

The Court holds hearings four times per year on-site in San José (called “ordinary sessions”) but since 2005 it sometimes adds sessions on-location in countries that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights (these are called “extraordinary” or “special” sessions). You can see the list of past sessions here. Unusually, there weren’t any ordinary sessions scheduled during my internship at the Court. This was why I made the effort to go to Colombia: I wanted to see the Court in action!


The Role of the IACtHR in Guaranteeing Human Rights in the Hemisphere

Colombia’s President, Iván Duque, makes a speech at the inauguration of the Special Session.

The hearings in Barranquilla were open to the public and held in a university, the Universidad del Norte. The first day, August 26th, consisted of the inauguration ceremony for the special session and a one-day seminar on the role of the Court in guaranteeing human rights in this hemisphere. When I arrived, I noticed that security was tight. There were a lot of police officers and each guest had to present identification. When I got into the auditorium where the sessions would be held, I was very impressed: the room was huge! There must have been 1000 seats and they were all full. I soon found out the reason for the extra-tight security as well. Colombian president Iván Duque had made the trip to Barranquilla to deliver a speech and open the session. Before President Duque, Adolfo Meisel, the Rector of the Universidad del Norte and Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor, the President (Chief Justice) of the Court gave their remarks.

I was really inspired by Justice Ferrer’s remarks, in which he named what he sees as today’s most significant challenges to human rights:

  1. Persistent poverty, especially considering that Latin America is the most unequal region of the world;
  2. Discrimination and violence against women, as well as the exclusion of women from decision-making;
  3. Migration crises (specifically in Venezuela and Central America), where we face a crisis of migration as well as solidarity;
  4. Climate change and its specific impact on the most vulnerable populations;
  5. Organized crime and violence which are an increasingly large threat to the region; and
  6. Authoritarianism, and discourse that aims to restrict rights and freedoms, recognizing that democracy requires a diverse range of views, but cannot exist when certain groups are labelled enemies of the state or when we allow hate speech.

Justice Ferrer also explained the purpose of the Court’s special sessions, of which 30 have taken place in 19 different countries. Colombia is the country who has hosted the largest number of special sessions: 5 in total (two in Bogotá, one in Medellín, one in Cartagena, and now in Barranquilla and Bogotá again). He said the special sessions are important because it facilitates the work of the Court, both by bringing the system closer to the victims of human rights violations (such as when the court holds hearings to monitor a state’s compliance with its previous decisions), but also brings people closer to the system, facilitating a useful dialogue between the Court, governments, and civil society.

Here you can see the size of the audience at the Court’s inauguration.

In the first panel discussion, a reflection on 40 years of interpretation and application of the American Convention on Human Rights by the Court, Professor Mariela Morales from the Max Planck Institute gave a very interesting overview of the history of the Court and its unique contributions to the development of international human rights law. She mentioned that the Court is unique because it is a “Corte de toga y mochila” (a Court with robes and backpacks), as it travels to member states to hold hearings, echoing the comments of Justice Ferrer. She explained how the Court was born from the aftermath of the wave of military dictatorships in Latin America around the 1970s and 1980s, and how due to this history, one of its first contributions to international human rights law was developing a legal framework on how states must respond to forced disappearances.

Indeed, I noticed a strong thread of public legal education throughout the sessions. A printed program on each seat in the auditorium included the “ABC’s of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights”, a short guide to the structure and purpose of the Court. The whole first day was geared towards people who maybe didn’t have a 100% familiarity with the system, complete with explanations of the purpose and history of the Inter-American Human Rights System. You can see video recordings of all the seminars and public hearings here. As the sessions took place on a university campus, I noticed groups of students wandering in and out of the auditorium to listen to the seminars and hearings between their classes.

Justice Odio Benito speaking about the 25th anniversary of the Belem do Pará Convention.

My favourite panel was reflecting on 25 years since the ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (also known as the Belem do Pará Convention). It was moderated by Justice Elizabeth Odio Benito, the only woman judge currently sitting on the IACtHR. Justice Odio’s opening remarks touched on how much progress has been made in terms of women’s rights in the past 25 years, but also that we have a long way to go.

The first speaker was Julissa Mantilla, a commissioner-elect of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). She spoke about the need to develop a further framework to look at the presence and impact of sexual violence specifically as a part of forced disappearance and in truth commissions. She raised 5 important points when it comes to women’s rights in the Americas: 1) we must always use a differentiated analysis consider the specific impact on women in human rights issues; 2) it is important to note the impacts of intergenerational trauma; 3) violence against women is seriously under-reported; 4) the IACHR now has more women than men serving as commissioners, but we still need to make progress in the representation of women as decision-makers; 5) femicide (intentional murder of women) is still a huge problem in society, and in order to tackle it we need to remember that it is not a women’s issue, but rather a human rights issue that is a problem for everyone.

I was also really interested in the talk by María Paulina Riveros Dueñas, who was until recently the Deputy Attorney General of Colombia. She talked about how gender issues were incorporated into the negotiations of Colombia’s historic peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which ended more than 50 years of war in the country (the peace agreement has hit a big bump in the road this week, after Ms. Riveros’s talk). Ms. Riveros that the peace agreement was revolutionary for the way it gave women’s groups and victims’ representatives a seat at the table. She pointed out three significant developments related to gender that came out of the agreement: 1) it underlined the importance of helping victims heal and move beyond the state of being a victim in transitions from war to peace; 2) the Truth Commission created by the agreement has a specific working group charged with completing a gender-differentiated analysis of the conflict; and 3) the agreement created a gender research group as part of Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which is a special tribunal created to implement transitional justice in Colombia.


Azul Rojas Marín vs. Perú

I sat with the Court’s Registrar (Secretario), Pablo Saavedra, and my supervisor to assist with the hearing of Rojas Marín vs. Perú.

On August 27th I had the chance to help out with the morning and afternoon hearings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Case Azul Rojas Marín vs. Perú. I was a little more involved in helping out with this particular case as my supervising lawyer was the Court’s point-person on this file. The case is about violence motivated by discrimination against a member of the LGBT community, and also questions how we define torture in international law. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) considered that Peru had violated its obligation to protect victims of sexual violence, with the aggravating factor of prejudice against members of the LGBT community.

I had learned a lot about the Court and how it functions over the course of my internship, but it was definitely a different experience to see a hearing in person. One thing that really stood out to me was how the Court hearings involve three parties: the State, the victims and their legal representatives, and the Inter-American Commission. It makes a big difference to be in a courtroom with three parties instead of just two, as I am used to seeing in Canada.

If you’re familiar with the procedure of the IACtHR, you know that victims cannot present complaints directly to the Court. Rather, they must first approach the Commission. The Commission will make a determination of whether the State was in violation of its regional obligations and make recommendations. Then, if necessary, it will refer the matter to the Court for a binding ruling.

As such, in hearings of the Court, the Commission is the first of the parties to speak, presenting a summary of the case. Then the victims’ representatives and the State make their oral arguments. Finally, all three parties have the chance to make final statements and respond to the arguments of the other parties. The judges have a chance to ask questions to the lawyers after each party’s allotted time. I didn’t observe judges interrupting lawyers with questions as often happens in Canadian courts: rather, they hold their questions until the end.


A successful innovation

The Special Session was highly publicized on social media, with this logo.

In 2009, Pablo Saavedra, the Court’s registrar, and Gabriela Pacheco, a former lawyer for the Court, wrote that Special Sessions “have been the most innovative and successful initiatives created by the Court” (my translation). The primary benefit they site of these sessions is that they facilitate the work of the Court. On the one hand, they permit the Court to hold more hearings per year and process more cases. On the other hand, they permit the Court to interact with internal state organs of the countries concerned, which fits with the Court’s belief that respect for human rights is primarily an obligation internal to States. Finally, they are accompanies by training and education in human rights for state agents and civil society, as I experienced in Barranquilla, which empower individuals to use the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Overall, I count myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to travel to Colombia to observe what happens when an international human rights tribunal packs up its robes and heads into the field. Having seen the Court in action, I am convinced that its special sessions are an important part of its work, as they bring the Court closer to the communities it serves and give the legal community and the general public the opportunity to learn about the Inter-American Human Rights System. Because of the Special Sessions, it is truly a corte de ciudadanas y ciudadanos (a court of the people).

Living my best student life while grabbing lunch on campus at the Universidad del Norte, where the Special Session took place.

Le pouvoir de l’humilité

Par Lauriane Palardy-Desrosiers

Il m’aura pris beaucoup plus de temps que prévu pour partager avec vous le dernier épisode de mon stage chez Equitas. Peut-être parce que les semaines qui ont suivi mon billet précédent ont été d’une intensité remarquable. Ou peut-être simplement parce que je ne trouvais pas les mots pour transmettre ce que j’ai vécu.

L’expérience PIFDH[1] est indescriptible. C’est une expérience qui fait grandir et qui bouleverse. Elle bouleverse en nous confrontant aux réalités insoutenables vécus par des humain-e-s du monde entier, mais surtout en nous rappelant notre responsabilité vis-à-vis du reste de l’humanité. Sont bouleversantes les rencontres faites au PIFDH tout comme le sont les histoires qui y sont racontées. Ce sont ces histoires et ces rencontres, ajoutées aux nombreuses (més)aventures, aux imprévus et aux obstacles, qui font tant grandir sur les plans intellectuel et humain.

Sur le plan intellectuel, le PIFDH m’a permis de consolider ma maîtrise du droit international des droits humains, de réfléchir collectivement aux principes et valeurs qui le sous-tendent, de questionner le bien-fondé et les limites des institutions de défense des droits humains en place et de perfectionner les arts de la répartie, du plaidoyer et de la traduction instantanée. J’ai également acquis des capacités plus techniques en apprenant à utiliser SharePoint et Salesforce pour travailler en équipe, SurveyMonkey pour conduire des évaluations et Moodle pour créer des communautés en ligne comme celle d’Equitas.

Sur le plan humain, le PIFDH est un mine d’or. Ce programme d’Equitas est une source inestimable d’apprentissages sur soi et sur la condition humaine. On en ressort habilité-e à résoudre des problèmes, à faire face à des situations délicates, à communiquer, à coopérer, à être patient-e, à lâcher prise quand il le faut, à être à l’écoute de notre communauté, et, plus que tout, à militer pour la justice sociale internationale à travers l’éducation. Cette immersion dans la culture des droits humains donne du pouvoir, le pouvoir de connaître plusieurs outils facilitant le changement social. L’un des outils les plus puissants mis de l’avant implicitement tout au long du PIFDH est l’humilité.

L’humilité est une vertu rare en Occident. L’humilité est « connaissance ou reconnaissance de ce qu’on n’est pas. […] L’humilité est vertu lucide […] de l’homme qui sait n’être pas Dieu. […] Être humble, c’est aimer la vérité plus que soi. » [2] Pour Kant, l’humilité est « la conscience et le sentiment de son peu de valeur morale en comparaison avec la loi. » [3]  Paradoxalement, l’humilité, on ne nous l’apprend pas à l’école de droit. Au contraire, on nous y enseigne à se démarquer, à se mettre de l’avant et à vouloir sortir du peloton. À l’image de la société productiviste dans laquelle elle s’inscrit, la formation en droit met de l’avant l’excellence, l’efficacité et le dépassement de soi. Certain-e-s y sont même poussé-e-s à dépasser leur limite au détriment de leur santé mentale et, conséquemment, au détriment du bien-être de leur communauté. Or, au PIFDH, on apprend ensemble à admettre nos difficultés, à demander de l’aide, à travailler en équipe et à rire de nous-même. On apprend le pouvoir de l’humilité.

Le pouvoir de l’humilité réside dans sa capacité à faire ressortir le meilleur de chacun-e en nous permettant de collaborer et de s’émerveiller devant les forces de nos pairs.

Le pouvoir de l’humilité réside dans sa capacité à faire passer notre conscience sociale avant notre rayonnement professionnel.

Le pouvoir de l’humilité réside dans sa capacité à faire en sorte que nos actions soient guidées par nos idéaux plutôt que par notre égo.

Le pouvoir de l’humilité est ressorti très clairement de notre rencontre avec Michelle Bachelet, Haute-Commissaire des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme. Elle a expliqué avec humour comment vieillir lui permettait de rajeunir. « Plus je vieillis, plus je rajeunis », a-t-elle lancé. « La jeunesse, c’est le contraire de l’indifférence. Plus je vieillis, plus je m’émerveille et plus je m’indigne, donc plus je rajeunis ! », a-t-elle précisé. Mettant de l’avant son humanité et son émotivité, Michelle Bachelet est un exemple de femme de pouvoir à l’humilité hors du commun.

En ce début d’année scolaire, j’ai une poussée de gratitude à l’égard de ceux et celles qui m’ont permis de vivre le PIFDH. Ce programme est une expérience transformatrice. La richesse et la diversité des participant-e-s qui le constituent font du PIFDH une occasion unique au monde d’échanger des expériences personnelles et politiques, de construire une culture des droits humains puissante et de trouver des solutions aux injustices sociales. Si j’avais à recommencer, je dirais oui les yeux fermés!

[1] Programme international de formation aux droits humains

[2] André Comte-Sponville, Petit traité des grandes vertus, Seuil, 2001, p 211-212.

[3] Doctrine de la vertu, deuxième section, par 11.

La communauté du PIFDH 2019!

L’équipe des stagiaires du PIFDH 2019.

La solidarité féminine prise sur le vif! En compagnie de Boitumelo Tumi, participante de l’Afrique du Sud.

Un autre merveilleux exemple d’humilité: les Mémés déchaînées & les Ragging Grannies. Ces groupes de femmes âgées militent en faveur de la justice sociale et de la conscience écologique par la chanson et l’humour.

High up in the Empire State Building

By Jessica Michelin

One of the first images that comes to mind when I think about New York City is the Empire State Building. This 102-story skyscraper towers above the city surrounding it and attracts an estimated four million visitors annually. This summer, I wasn’t one of those tourists though. I was a local, commuting for twelve weeks to my office in this iconic landmark. It doesn’t get much more stereotypical New York than that, right?

Views from one of the conference rooms at the office.

Despite the size differences between New York City and Montreal (New York has a population of roughly 8.3 million to Montreal’s 3.5 million), moving to New York from Montreal was not such a big change for me. I went from one North American metropolis to a different North American metropolis. While other human rights interns were navigating new cities with different languages and cultures, I navigated my way through tourists trying to find the entrance to the rooftop observatory. Trust me when I say that it was still a challenge, but I know that overall I spent the summer in a much more familiar environment than most of my fellow interns. Reading the blog posts of my peers, I could not help but wonder if I had been given the easy route this summer. Was I actually pushing myself outside my comfort zone?

I also could not help but wonder if I was missing something by spending my days sitting at a desk, far away from the countries and problems that I worked on. Especially as an intern, I was often assigned a project that was only a small piece of the puzzle. Couple that with the fact that many assignments involved more technical legal questions, and it could be difficult to make the projects that I was working on feel connected to real situations. Was I sitting in an ivory tower, conveniently disguised as the second-tallest building in New York City?

Watch out for King Kong! We had some fun at the interactive display on our way to the observatory.

I don’t think these questions are exclusive to human rights work. I have heard the same questions from my classmates while we’ve sat at a table in the library, studying cases that feel far removed from people whose problems they address. As a law student, it is easy to think that when we get to the ‘real world’, things will be hands-on all the time. I think the reality is that no matter the job, some time is going to be spent sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen or researching a case. In those situations, it becomes important to find ways to connect with stories behind the problem. In my case, reading transcripts of interviews taken on the ground helped connect me to the situations I was working on. When I listened to a talk given by a judge from a country I was researching, the challenges I had been writing about no longer felt theoretical. Sitting across the room was a person directly dealing with those challenges every day.

Reflecting on our time at HRW at the 86th floor observatory of the Empire State Building.

So, did I spend my summer in a professional ivory tower? In some ways yes, but in other ways, no. I know that after my work this summer, I developed attachments to countries on different continents, countries that I knew very little about before starting at Human Rights Watch, and that I may never have the chance to visit in person. I gained a better understanding of the challenges different countries face in achieving justice, and the challenges people face every day to live their lives in peace and security. I learned about the role of politics in international law, which make things move so slowly one day, and then so quickly the next. I do not doubt the value of being on the ground in the thick of things, but there is still plenty of room for growth even when staying a bit closer to home. After all, I learned all this sitting at a desk in the Empire State Building.

On being an “international” intern in my home country:

While the majority of the other interns in McGill’s international human rights internship program this year spent their summers in different countries, I completed my internship in the faraway land of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had never actually been to eastern Canada, but, unsurprisingly, the totality of my culture shock consisted of having to adapt to drivers who actually paid attention to and respected pedestrians (in sharp contrast to the attitudes of Montreal drivers).

Prior to starting at the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), I hadn’t considered what it would mean to complete an “international” placement in my own home country. While many of the other interns were immersed directly in the country that their organization primary worked in, I spent my twelve weeks sampling the laws and policies of countries from various regions of the world, without setting foot in any of them. Of course, this did not make my placement (or the placements of other students who were also placed within Canada) any less “international.” Organizations can be “international” for the purposes of this type of experience, in multiple ways – by virtue of their location, or by virtue of the scope of their work (although, of course, these categories are far from discrete). But, as I learned, analyzing legal frameworks from afar is a unique endeavour – one that comes with distinct challenges.

I spent most of my time at CLD creating country-specific legal mapping documents, which laid out the legislative frameworks surrounding various rights in those countries and highlighted potential areas of concern. These documents were meant to be primarily focused on the laws and official policies themselves, not the practices on the ground. However, as I discussed in my previous blog, separating these two from each other was nearly impossible in many cases – it would be disingenuous to commend a country’s law on an issue if the law is never abided by in practice. Because of this, it was necessary in all cases to seek out at least basic information about how the relevant laws were applied. This is where the challenges of being across the world from many of the applicable countries arose.

In order to obtain information about practices on the ground, I scoured news websites and reports from other human rights organizations, and the legal officer at CLD spoke with members of partner organizations located in the relevant countries. This allowed us to identify issues that were not readily apparent in the laws themselves and provided, in many cases, a much more complete depiction of the legal environment. However, we were still limited by the realities of our distance.

With respect to news and secondary sources, an obvious, but problematic inverse relationship hindered my search – the more that freedom of speech is restricted in a country, the less secondary information is available about this restriction. In addition, information about certain smaller countries was nearly impossible to find. This was the case, for example, with the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Information on the reality of civic space in the Congo is drowned out in search engines by information about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Even after wading through these results, very little information appeared. Unsurprisingly, this was also the case for Niger – results were by-and-large related instead to Nigeria. Of course, the comparative size of different countries was not the only cause of this difficulty. In many cases, the availability (or lack thereof) of information was clearly tied to political realities – countries that receive more foreign aid also tend to be the focus of more research and monitoring.

While direct communication with individuals located in the applicable countries mitigated these challenges in many ways, distance still created obstacles to obtaining accurate information. When the person on the other line seemed closed off, it was hard to determine why. Was it an issue with the fluidity of the translator? Was the technology just lagging? Was it just a matter of the individual’s personality? Or was it due to self-censorship resulting from a combination of the threat of surveillance and harsh content-related speech laws?

Of course, labelling these contextual factors as “challenges” to international work seems flippant in some ways. Being physically distant from the countries I researched and wrote about meant that I did not have to worry that my work would put my safety at risk – a reality for human rights workers in many of the countries I looked at. As my coworkers were also all located in Halifax (except during their many international trips), it also meant that I wasn’t at risk of jeopardizing their safety. While my work was exclusively used on an internal basis, I would not realistically have had this bubble of protection if I was located in one of many other places, where government surveillance of digital communications is a reality and human rights defenders are often targeted.

In this way, my placement at CLD showed me what it means to work for an internationally-oriented organization; it highlighted to me both the privilege and the limitations inherent in this type of work. This will be something I consider in future employment in order to properly situate the role that I (along with my organization) am meant to play. I will ask myself, what privilege do I have by virtue of my position (both spatially and functionally)? What limits does this position place on my ability to obtain complete information? What does this mean for my work?

Human Rights Advocacy: More than Just Words and the Importance of Inclusion

By Kathleen Barera

My colleagues teaching me how to make the delicious infamous mango float dessert

During my internship, especially throughout the second half, I was exposed to a diversity of human rights advocacy work. I participated in Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC)’s two-day certificate course on “Children’s Rights in Action: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning About Children’s Rights in the Philippines”, attended the Child Rights Network advocacy planning workshop on online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines, prepared interview questions for and conducted interviews with government-appointed representatives on children’s rights to ASEAN mechanisms and representatives from children’s rights NGOs, and visited the Manila City Jail.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

Ateneo Human Rights Center’s certificate course on “Children’s Rights in Action: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning About Children’s Rights in the Philippines”

As a university-based human rights organization, human rights education is a vital aspect of AHRC’s advocacy work. The aim of the certificate course on children’s rights is not only to inspire collaboration among civil society and the government and private sectors to act in the interest of children’s rights, but also to ensure children are included as active participants in issues directly affecting them. There were a range of speakers, including from UNICEF and Save the Children, as well as a child- and youth-led panel on children’s participation, “nothing about us without us”, from ChildTALK and ChildTAP participants whom were child rights advocates as children. The former is an AHRC program in which children teach and learn with other children about their rights and children’s participation, and the latter is one in which children teach adults on the same. After all, children cannot be voiceless and excluded in the battle for their own rights. They are agents of their own lives and this has to be recognized to enact any meaningful change. The importance of empathy, thoughtfulness, change, creativity, child-friendly language, and learning by doing when including children as participants were some of the highlights from their inspiring panel.

Advocacy, it’s More Than Just Lip Service

Child Rights Network advocacy planning workshop on online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines

Advocacy planning is another aspect of AHRC’s human rights advocacy work that I had the opportunity to experience firsthand. At the Child Rights Network advocacy planning workshop on online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines, one of their three priority advocacy areas on children’s rights in the Philippines, I was surrounded by representatives from prominent children’s rights NGOs, including UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, Child Fund, and more. As stated in the workshop’s introductory remarks, advocacy extends beyond mere lip service; it is about real action in practice. Witnessing various human rights advocates in one room disseminating their organizations’ key findings on studies undertaken on the online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines, and putting their minds together and gathering all their efforts to come up with a unified advocacy plan was inspiring. It really proved the initial statement that advocacy is more than just talking the talk, but that it’s about walking the walk. To be a human rights advocate means to take action to deliver on words spoken, or else, what’s the point?

Research Project Phase 2: Interview-Time

Preparing for a WhatsApp interview

At Save the Children Philippines office for interview with Chief Executive Officer and former Philippines ACWC representative on children

As part of the second phase of my research project on common children’s rights issues across the ASEAN, I directly interacted and engaged with government and civil society actors. I prepared interview questions for the respective representatives on children’s rights to the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and civil society organization representatives with expertise on children’s rights in ASEAN. The information gaps were the basis for the formulation of questions and in deciding whom to interview. This is a very important aspect of the project, without which the project would not be complete. While I wasn’t able to interview everyone that I had in mind as a result of scheduling issues and time constraints, I interviewed the ACWC representatives on children from three ASEAN member-states, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and from two civil society organizations, namely Save the Children Philippines and the ASEAN Foundation. These were conducted either in person, via WhatsApp video calls, or through email exchange.

Myself along with my two supervising lawyers and the executive director after my presentation on my research paper and findings (“Setting the Agenda: Defining Children’s Rights Issues in ASEAN”)

Manila City Jail Visit

In front of Manila City Jail

I was invited by the AHRC to join the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation, an NGO dedicated to protect persons deprived of liberty, especially the most vulnerable groups, in their Manila City Jail visit. Even though the jail has in place many programs to help persons deprived of liberty, the conditions were shocking. For instance, the kitchen was not only unhygienic, but there were two prisoners preparing rice for the 5000 other prisoners, and they do so three times a day. Moreover, prisoners survive on 70 pesos per day for three meals (less than 2$CAD). Most obviously, congestion issues (4 prisoners occupying the space for 1), especially resulting from the war on drugs, as most prisoners (73%) are imprisoned for drug-related offences, is especially problematic. In fact, drug offenders are more prone to congestion since the way the jail is classified is that drug offenders, whom make up the majority of prisoners, are assigned to the South side of the prison, whereas non-drug offenders are assigned to the North side. While the prisoners can admittedly roam free during the day, the question is, how do they sleep at night?

My lovely colleagues threw me a despedida/farewell consisting of lots of pizza followed by cake!

As my internship came to its end, I felt unprepared and sad to leave. I had become accustomed to the charms of Manila life, and equally became very attached to my work, the AHRC, and all my colleagues. Now, it’s already been over a week since my arrival back to Montreal, and I can only look back with much gratitude at how much I was able to learn and experience.

With some of my colleagues on my last day in the office

Wood and Glass

By Bianca Braganza


Wide eyed, eager eyed
Notes jotted; stomach knotted
I gaze in awe
At the Prime Minister.

Visceral, majestic, larger than life
A palace of wood and glass.
Creatures crafted carved carefully,
A home for the
Parents of Namibia.

Across the table, specs and curls
Carefully weighing
Definitions and revisions,
It becomes heated as the
And Present
Merge and suddenly-
“I am uncomfortable to be having internal policy discussions in front of the intern”.

My heart stops and I feel
The weight of my presence
“I’m sorry my sister, it’s confidential. You will have to excuse us” the Prime Minister says to me.



I am still lost in the wood carvings that embrace the walls of parliament when a familiar face appears where I am seated. I first saw him past the glass encased doors, in the boardroom as we played musical chairs, rummaged through papers, and anxiously awaited the arrival of the Prime Minister. I remember thinking his eyes were kind.

“My sister! Why are you out here by yourself?” I’ve been warmly addressed countless times by this name of affection here in Namibia. As an only child, my heart fills and bursts upon hearing it.

“Ah, it’s a confidential part of the meeting so I had to step out, but I am happy to be here still!”. As if to say I’m immensely grateful and not complaining.

He looks at me curiously and smiles. He seems content to stay awhile, and I don’t mind the company. I am lost in my thoughts, processing the moments that just passed, running over each detail so it imprints in my mind forever.

“You are a lawyer too, ne?”

“Oh no, no just a student… I do study law though”

“Law ne, wow. So, you are coming from where then?” he asks. I have gotten this question often here, and I’ve come to re-arrange the order in which I respond, following quizzical looks and follow up questions (you are Canadian, yet brown skinned… or, you are Indian yet why do you sound American?). I have even been told that I look Namibian to many. This whimsical curiosity of my ethnicity has also been a process of self-affirmation within me; the history of my ancestors and the ancestors of this country are deeply enmeshed. Much of the continent is populated with Indian diaspora, originally coming as colonial slaves and workers. The lineage exploration has also unearthed a deep curiosity within me about who I am, where I come from, and what it means to be a part of ‘a people’.

“I am Indian. But from Canada. I am interning for the Chairperson but just for the summer”.

He smiles victoriously. “I knew you were Indian! I saw your face and thought as much. And I can tell by your hair! You know, our women, they like your hair, do all sorts of things, because our hair you see, it is so short. But Indian hair… yes.” He pauses for a moment, but adds shortly after:

“Ah but- we are all the same. Made in God’s image.” He motions to his wrist:

“you cut here, you know, we all bleed the same blood”.

I smile. I know this is the beginning of a special conversation.

“What is your name? My name is Bianca.” I extend my hand a bit mechanically but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Jacob*. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Bianca, I won’t forget your face”. He extends the same hand he cut a moment ago, to shake mine.

“So why Canada? And where is it, is it far like Europe?”

I use my hands to juxtapose us and our infamous neighbor, the United States to show him somewhere in the world where it is.

“It is very far, and very cold. And I don’t know why, Jacob… My parents chose to immigrate. They wanted to seek a better life, better education than back home. So I have spent my life in Canada”.

“Will you go back?”

“I hope to”, I say almost without thinking. Which, I do. But I am unsure of how he meant. To live or to visit? I have felt more of a sense of belonging here than there, and quite frankly I will always remain a visitor in India, never quite transgressing the hybrid Indian and yet ‘Western’ Self I have come to embody.

“Yes I know this. Even our people here are moving, from here to there. There’s too much violence, and conflict in the world. So people must leave and move elsewhere, it’s sad ne”.

I think fondly of my parents, moving across the globe without the slightest idea of the world that awaited them.

“It was hard for my parents… I don’t think they anticipated that Canada would be such a different culture- such a different world entirely- than the one they came from”. I think to my teenage years, the constant clash of cultures at home, and my frustration at having to reconcile two worlds without giving much thought to the way in which my parents were struggling to do the very same.

Jacob nods slowly, as if he understands without me having to explain. I then realize I had said this aloud as opposed to in my head.

In many ways, Namibia reminds me of home, the values, morals, small things like greetings and terms of respect, the centrality of food and hosting others, the ways in which Elders and parents are revered in society. I had prepared myself to keep my Western ideologies in check, to realize and mute my North American hegemonies as I engaged and contributed both professionally, and personally. I thought this would isolate me, make me feel apart from Namibians and this weight of the Western world would bar me from really connecting with others. Instead, much to my surprise, I have felt an overwhelming sense of warmth, community, and comfort here. Much of me wonders to what extent I can attribute this to the identities I hold, of being this hybrid of both East and Western worlds. What I had resented growing up, was suddenly becoming the way in which I connected to those who have been weaving into my life this summer.

 “Do you think I could go see the mural inside?”

When I had initially excused myself from the meeting, I wandered before I was quite quickly observed from afar. I decided it was better to sit quietly in one place than make my presence more pronounced.

“Oh inside there? Of course yes, come come”. Jacob leads me past mirrored halls and marbled walls, past wooden creatures carefully carved and through glass doors.

It is almost more stunning the second time seeing now. There are colors are flowing, flooding, moving from scene to scene depicting the complex history of the country; from colonizers, boats arriving, diamonds surrendered, hangings- so many scenes of hangings, beheaded bodies, a large pit filled with brown bodies- horrid and solemn. Jacob draws attention to this frame, explaining, colonizers, then Apartheid, brutal murder, massacre.

Then the people were mobilizing, fighting, the blue and white crest appears in many stills, the founding father and past presidents of the country. Pleading, preparing, presenting to the UN. Without asking, Jacob comes to my side, and patiently explains each frame.

“This was brutality. This was inhuman”

He shows the faces with scars, the people struggling for liberation. Scenes in the wild, in the desert I had just visited a few weeks ago. From German colonels to South African soldiers. More pleas to the UN and foreign countries- Cuba, Angola- coming to support, to help, an ongoing quest for liberation. Male politicians gathered, strategizing. Women mobilizing women. More death in the streets as children play, innocent to the turmoil the country faced. Fire and smoke in the compounds. Camouflaged men hiding, seeking, killing. The waters and the animals native to the land- Springbox, Oryx and Kudu run across the mural, as the sands of the desert blends into the Earth that is soaked in the blood of its people.

“They knew” Jacob says, “they knew our land and our seas were rich. So they came, and they took, they took. You see the white man. He makes the Black man fetch him diamonds from the ocean. The Black man does not know what it is worth. But see, he his smiling because he found the diamond and can give to the white man”. I nod solemnly. Grateful that Jacob is sharing these moments with me, but also the heaviness in my heart of him explaining the brutal history of his people.

“Should we walk to the other side?” he says.

We weave around the golden staircase, around the chandelier where small glass petals absorb and reflect colorful, painful histories.

This mural is more solemn, less vibrant colors than the previous. All is set to a background of Earth colored browns and beiges. Depicted are massive boats with crosses, parked on the coast. A white man stands holding a bible and speaks down to a group of Black Namibians, dressed in traditional clothes, sitting listening carefully on the ground. Close by, another white man holds a telescope, as a Black man runs excitedly towards him holding a beaming rock. I walk a bit more. The chapel which is currently steps away from our office is depicted, as a long line of Germans parade down, dressed in carnival wear. The Wind blows streaks of blue, green, white, gray. She watches the scenes, helpless from above.

“This is Swakop?” I point, recognizing Walvis Bay where the coast meets the sand dunes and you have to blink a few times before realizing- this is real. I remember our guide telling us about the complicated history of this powerful port, where Namibia struggled to reclaim it after Independence from South Africa.

“Yes” Jacob smiles proudly “You recognize? You’ve been?”

“I have, our friend lives there. It’s beautiful there by the coast. Peaceful…”

I stand there for a while, trying to understand and imprint on my mind what I see.

I motion to leave, and soon we are back to where I first found myself. We look outside onto the city, through finely meshed windows. Each time suited officials walk by, he introduces me warmly as his friend, who also happens to be the Intern from Canada.

“Does your tribe have customs too?”

I’m a bit thrown off, but in the most heart warmed way once again. “What do you mean?” I ask bashfully-

“you know, your tribe, your family” he says, “do you have customs, like what you can and can’t do?”

“Oh.. Yes, yes of course. There are many rules, and things women should do, and should not. I grew up Catholic, so yes, there were many rules there” I say a bit sarcastically.

“You know I once met a man who was Indian. But he was so dark, he was Black. I thought he was from Central Africa! You know- DRC or something. But he was Indian!”

“Yes we have all shades and colors there…” I say. I think to the violence, discrimination and self-hatred that occur in the country based on the darkness of one’s skin color, and the way in which fairness is revered.

“Ah but, we are all children playing with the color of our skin.”

It takes me a moment to return to him, but his words resound and resonate… this idea of children, curiosity, and how we grow somehow to understand the complexity and nuances of race. He again motions with his hands: “and what is fair, really? But you know” he adds “here, we say Black for everyone who isn’t white. Brown, Colored, Black- it is all Black here”. I remember reading this when looking up South African history, and how “Black” in economic empowerment legislation was legally defined as encompassing Indians. To hear him say this though takes me by surprise.

“Right…” I veer off to say “it’s interesting because I’ve come to notice Indian and Namibian culture is very similar”.

“Really?” He asks excitedly.

“Completely- the spirit of sharing everything, community, warm interactions, respect, greetings, the way we treat our Elders. It has been… incredible. After all, we are all brothers and sisters”

“Yes, yes this I know”.

We stand in silence for a while, as we watch over the city. Exclusively green license plates come in and out of the gates.

The chief legislator comes out to offer me Rooibos tea in white chinaware. I thank her for thinking of me, and I realize I don’t know how much time has passed. I have just been enraptured listening to Jacob.

“Can I give you some” I realize it’s a bit silly to offer tea like this from one cup, I did so without thinking but I suppose wanting somehow to remove any artificial societal barriers.

“No my sister, thank you. One day you never know, you will return and we will share a plate”

“Yes we must- kapana!”

“Oh you know what this is? You have been”

The smoke and smells of the fresh meat market fills my memory.

“Yes couple of times now. I have to go back soon. We don’t have this in Canada you know?”


“No! Not fresh meat like this. It is filled with chemicals and hormones back home. It is not the same.”

“Ah yes, and they put the animals in metal cages and feed them through the bars. There is so much cancer. I heard, I heard. And you cannot eat the bones”

“So much cancer and disease yes… and no, definitely should not eat the bones”

“Even the water here, it goes from the toilet and you recycle the same water to drink, it is no good”

I want to add that South Africa imports much in the country, but I hold my tongue as I rather listen to Jacob than the sound of my voice regurgitating information. But he’s looking off into the distance, so for some reason I mumble to myself:

“It’s all for the money-”

“Yes… all for the money” he echoes.


The German church bells ring, bringing my attention back to here and now.


“Bianca.” He says slowly, as if to remember better. “I cannot forget. One day we will meet again, I have a feeling. You never know the future, my sister”.

I smile, sadly almost, at the uncertainty of the future, and the warmth of the friend I just made, not knowing where his path will take him.


“Bianca. I will not forget you.

I hope and pray that you will be well far, far that side.

One day you’ll come back, you never know”.



*While I have his consent for the sharing of this piece, I have used a pseudonym for my friend.


Where the sand dunes meet the ocean, Walvis Bay

Taken at the Independence Museum of Namibia

With the Honorable Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila

You can see the Office of the Prime Minister (second to right) and Parliament to the left.

Following this afternoon, I reflected a lot on the power of storytelling and personal narratives. I had the privilege of writing a piece on Post Colonial India, Namibia and Gender Based Violence, for “The Namibian” newspaper, which reflects on how the personal is political.


Appreciate a Culture through its Food

Par Felix-Antoine Pelletier

Après 4 mois passé au Maroc, je me permets d’affirmer que le couscous marocain est très représentatif de la culture marocaine.

Chez une collègue avec sa famille pendant le Eid, à Chefchaouen, au Maroc

Le couscous marocain est l’un des principaux mets culturels du Maroc. Selon la coutume, le couscous se mange le vendredi. Chaque semaine, la mère (ou la tante ou la grand-mère ou la femme de ménage) du foyer commence à préparer le couscous qui sera dégusté le soir. On peut en sentir l’odeur à la fenêtre de chaque foyer.

Chez une collègue avec sa famille pendant le Eid, à Chefchaouen, au Maroc

Le couscous se déguste collectivement. Il est préparé dans un grand bol – souvent en argile – qu’on place au centre de la table. Puis, tout le monde ensemble s’y met, soit avec ses mains ou avec une cuillère. Il n’y a pas vraiment de manières, on en échappe à gauche et à droite, il y a des morceaux de couscous sur la table, on se lèche parfois les doigts, nos mains se salissent. On mange ensemble et il n’y a pas de barrières. Il n’y a pas de manie. Rien n’est sophistiqué. C’est la simplicité. On savoure ensemble. Ce qu’on est heureux.

Au CNDH, alors que je coupe la première part de mon gâteau d’anniversaire

C’est représentatif de la culture marocaine dans le sens où profiter de la vie et de ses bontés est très propre à la culture marocaine. Également, les gens arrêtent complètement tout ce qu’ils font pour profiter de la nourriture. Le vendredi, les marocains reviennent à la maison parce qu’ils savent ce qui les attend sur la table. Ils valorisent véritablement la nourriture. C’est sacré.

Au CNDH pendant un évènement accueillant des représentants de diverses organisations africaines

Toutes les personnes à table mangent dans le même plat. Il y a donc d’importants « social skills » à s’assurer de maîtriser. Par exemple, il faut manger le couscous qui est devant soi. Il ne faut pas piger dans le couscous qui est de l’autre côté de l’assiette, c’est-à-dire devant une autre personne, c’est-à-dire la « partie » (conceptuellement) de quelqu’un d’autre. Ce serait un irritant et un comportement antisocial. Des frontières invisibles divisent et séparent les parts de chacun. Par ailleurs, il faut laisser des morceaux de viande à tout le monde. En somme, il faut « acknowledge » la présence des autres. Manger du couscous en groupe est un exercice qui requiert (et qui développe) plusieurs « social skills » hyper utiles en société.

À la maison, en train de partager un repas avec mes colocs, à Rabat, au Maroc

Les Marocains sont d’ailleurs très « forts » socialement pour lire et analyser les gens, comprendre s’ils sont à l’aise, s’ils sont confortables, s’ils sont honnêtes, etc.

C’est un grand plat. Ce n’est pas « chacun son petit plat » à l’occidental individualiste. Non ! C’est le partage, le collectif, la fraternité, la communauté. C’est le Maroc.

Chez un ami qui nous a accueillis pendant le ftour (moment de briser le jeûne), durant la période du ramadan

Je me rappelle d’une fois, au Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme (CNDH) du Maroc (où j’effectuais mon stage), quand l’un des membres de mon Département avait apporté un grand bol de couscous pour qu’on mange tous ensemble sur l’heure du midi. À la table, il y avait mes collègues, mes mentors et le Directeur de mon département. Le CNDH est habituellement relativement très hiérarchique. Il faut s’adresser à ses supérieurs d’une certaine manière – et c’est très correct ainsi.

Chez un ami qui nous a accueillis pendant le ftour (moment de briser le jeûne), durant la période du ramadan

En revanche, devant le grand bol, c’est comme si toutes ces barrières intangibles étaient tombées. La hiérarchie a disparu. C’est comme si chaque personne à la table s’était dénudée de son statut social, de son titre, de ses tracas et de ses obligations. Nous étions devenus que des êtres humains, des frères et des sœurs, revenus à la base et à l’essentiel. C’était la représentation de la simplicité. Pas de manies, rien de sophistiqué. Je mangeais avec mes mains à côté de mes supérieurs et nous avions des discussions très simples. On a laissé de côté le boulot et les responsabilités.

En compagnie de mes collègues du CNDH (Khalid, Fatima Zahra, Ghizlane et moi)

On savoure ensemble et on complimente le plat qui a pris du temps à être préparé. Le monde et le temps s’arrêtent. Il n’y a plus de barèmes, plus de normes, plus de travail, plus de hiérarchie. Il n’y a plus de grosses personnalités. On mange chacun dans le même plat, avec nos mains. On revient à la base, à la simplicité et à qui on est. On découvre ainsi les gens autrement, sous une autre facette de leur personnalité. On enlève les masques et les cravates. On se rend vulnérables, dans un certain sens, devant la beauté du plat, car on se dénude de toutes obligations de « bien paraître » ou d’aborder le plat avec des « manières ». Chaque personne revient à la base. C’est rafraîchissant.

Merci beaucoup de m’avoir lu. Bien à vous. Félix-Antoine Pelletier

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