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Strawberries, Nature, Culture, and Community

By Allen Brett Campeau

I spent most of my Akwesasne internship in Kana:takon in Akwesasne Mohawk territory, but I also had the opportunity to participate in several excursions, both on and off reserve. Two of the most enriching for me were my trips to Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC), a correctional and remand facility in Ottawa, and the Thompson Island Youth Cultural Camp (Tsikionhet Onkwawen:na tanon Tsiniionkwariho:ten), which was held on reserve in the St. Lawrence River. I met with Indigenous inmates at OCDC and Indigenous youth at the Cultural Camp.

At both OCDC and the Cultural Camp, we were joined by Mohawk elders and knowledge-keepers, who shared their knowledge of Mohawk culture and the Mohawk creation story. These teachings emphasized respect for the natural world and humanity’s connection with the land and non-human beings. I was particularly intrigued by the important role of traditional food in medicine and ceremony. Food was prominent in the teachings of the elders and knowledge-keepers at both the OCDC and Thompson Island events. Although the audiences were different, the key message was largely the same: “Whatever life’s hardships, the natural world—Mother Earth—will sustain us.”

At the Cultural Camp

I visited OCDC on June 21st for an Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration. Over the course of the day, we met with close to fifty Indigenous inmates—in groups of ten—in the OCDC prison yard, where we shared traditional foods, danced traditional dances, and listened to Mohawk teachings. Many of the inmates had gone months without seeing grass, I learned; they were immensely grateful for the chance to sit outdoors on this sunny day, with grass beneath their feet. Many inmates took off their shoes to make the most of their brief time in the yard. After less than an hour, they would be ushered back indoors. Our moments together were quite short, but they still felt significant. The inmates were all very kind and happy to meet with us.

After listening to the knowledge-keepers and dancing a few dances, we sat around a fire for a traditional meal: corn soup, frybread, and strawberries. I helped to prepare the food the night before, so the opportunity to share it with the inmates, and to learn about its significance from the knowledge-keepers, was very rewarding. The heart-shaped strawberry is symbolic of life and heath. It is recognized as a leader of the medicine plants because of its early ripening in the new year. It was also, I learned, one of two plants (along with tobacco) to have descended to Turtle Island with Skywoman in the Mohawk creation story. It is a food of incredible cultural significance, but likely one that few OCDC inmates had enjoyed since their incarceration. However, as one elder pointed out, strawberry plants could be found growing in the prison yard.

Around the fire

In the relatively lush surroundings of Thompson Island, strawberries and other traditional food and medicine plants were abundant. The rich natural setting made the perfect backdrop for the mid-August Cultural Camp. I acted as a chaperone for some of the twenty-odd Mohawk teenagers that came to learn about their culture, practice traditional skills, and enjoy the outdoors. We swam, canoed, played lacrosse, and ate good food. After burning off some energy, we would also sit and listen to traditional Mohawk teachings, including an hours-long telling of the Mohawk creation story. Here too, like at OCDC, we learned about the central importance of love and respect for Creation.

Many of the young people came to the Cultural Camp because they wanted to be there, but presumably some came at the insistence of their parents or loved ones—“it will be good for you”. It was, after all, an opportunity to learn more about Mohawk language, traditions, and stories. For a young Indigenous person—indeed, any person—knowledge about and pride in your culture and identity is crucial to living a good life. It keeps you grounded in and connected to your community. In Indigenous worldviews, this connection to community easily extends to the natural world. It is maintained through time in nature and participation in traditional practices, including those surrounding traditional foods.

In my last evening at the Cultural Camp, we sat around a fire and danced many of the same dances that we tried at OCDC. It was easy to see parallels between the experiences: we were all connecting or reconnecting to nature and culture, and in so doing, nurturing a part of ourselves that is often underdeveloped in modern urban or reserve life. For the OCDC inmates, the sense of estrangement from nature, culture, and community was likely more acute, but it is something that many of us struggle with, even in ideal circumstances. We can all benefit from time immersed in nature and culture, learning from our elders and peers, whether at camp for a week or just an hour with good food in the sun.

Responses to Brett and Sara

Brett Campeau:

Your post about Akewesasne and the environment at the Canada-US border raised questions for me. I can think of many ways in which the imposition of the international and provincial borders that divide Akewesasne would cause problems for the people that live in this territory. For one, the act of crossing the border can be time-consuming and is highly guarded by the state. Individuals with criminal records maybe denied permission to cross the border and this may affect many Akewesasne residents given the over representations of indigenous people in the criminal justice system. I am also curious about whether duties are imposed on those crossing the border within Akwesasne territory with goods bought cross-border. I know your post is about the environment but I’m wondering whether you have come across these issues during your internship and whether you have crossed the border within Akwesasne and if you notice any differences between crossing there and at other border crossings.

I would also be very interested to know more about the Akwesasne court. In what ways do the procedures differ from Canadian courts? Are proceedings conducted in an indigenous language? It would be great if you have a chance to observe in the Akwesasne court so that you can share with us a sense of Akewesasne legal proceedings.

Sara Gold:

I appreciated that your post identifies some of the issues with access to justice in the international law setting. Usually when we speak of access to justice we think of local concerns, like self represented parties in family law courts. Your descriptions of how Gladys Justina Escobar Candiotti was treated by state lawyers was very illustrative of the problem of the legal profession’s monopoly on legal proceedings. One way that Escobar Candiotti could have been better prepared is if she would have had her own lawyer. However, as a witness she would not be entitled to a free lawyer nor, from what you described in your post, would she be able to afford one.

One of the observations I have made (in my master’s thesis) is that rather than look at the cost of legal services, the Canadian legal profession has focused on legal aid and self help strategies as a solution to the problem of access to justice. While legal aid is certainly helpful, one must qualify by showing significant need. But, as we know, there is a large gap between those who qualify and those who can afford a lawyer. Plus, in the case you describe with Escobar Candiotti, she would not qualify because she was a witness, not a party, and because she was testifying in an international forum. The self-help strategies, like legal information hotlines or simplified court forms, are also inadequate. Lawyers have created a legal system that presumes lawyers rather than laypeople are the primary participants. To then provide people with more information and expect them to participate equally is quite disingenuous. If lawyers make it too easy for parties to act alone then what would be the point of hiring a lawyer. It is in lawyers’ self-interest to maintain the complexity of legal proceedings and their monopoly. Just as you described in your post, legal jargon and the technicalities of legal procedure are tools to preserve this monopoly.

Responses to Renaude and Rose

Renaude Morin:

I was struck by the connection between story telling and justice in your post. It reminded me of one of my previous comments about the victims of the Huronia Regional Centre who wanted to tell their stories at trial. Their lawyers considered it a victory to reach a settlement with the Ontario government and pay each victim instead of giving them their day in court. Because of the harm to their dignity from the abuse in the government-run institution the victims saw the chance to tell their stories in open court as a way to heal and reclaim their agency. The nature of class action lawsuits privileges getting a huge settlement (which is how lawyers get paid) over going to trial and allowing victims to testify about their experiences.

Your post also made me think about another area of law in Canada that fails to let victims tell their stories publicly. Most of the time when an individual makes a complaint to their provincial human rights commission the matter is settled by mediation. There is no public record of the dispute and a condition of settlement may be a non-disclosure agreement. I know of an individual with a disability who made a human rights complaint when she was unable to vote in an election at her local polling place because it was inaccessible. In the end the barriers were removed but she was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. For such a basic right – the right to vote – it astounds me that the settlement with the government should be private. One of the basic principles of our legal system is that it be public. In fact litigants must apply for a sealing order to avoid their court case being in the public record. Yet we have created a procedure for human rights complaints that is completely hidden from the public. We do not know, for example, how many disabled people are being disenfranchised, nor can we use these cases as precedent. These stories of discrimination remain untold.

 

Rose Adams:

I was excited to read in your post about the program for new indigenous law students that is taking place at the U of S this summer. While increasing education for judges and lawyers about Gladue sentencing is important, I am convinced that increasing the number of judges and lawyer who are indigenous is necessary. Law schools across Canada are making more efforts than before to ensure that their student populations reflect the actual Canadian population. My own experience with disability has really heightened my awareness about how difficult it is to fully understand the discrimination that others experience when you have immense privilege. Before my car accident I was aware of my privilege but it was not until I became a wheelchair user and began to experience the city of Montreal as a person with a disability that I fully understood privilege. As we (hopefully) move towards including indigenous legal perspectives and remedies in the Canadian legal system we absolutely must do so under the leadership of those who have embodied experience with what it means to be indigenous.

“Let your smile change the world”

By Alicia Blimkie

This might sound a bit strange, but I never thought about the Philippines as a “developing country” until I found out that I would be spending the summer in Manila. Growing up in Vancouver and attending Catholic school all my life, I was surrounded with friends and acquaintances who were Filipino. Because it was a place I heard about often, it didn’t seem foreign to me in the way that other developing countries did as I was growing up. I didn’t think about the Philippines as a nation of malnourished children living in shacks, like the one-sided images of Africa that my young brain saw on TV, but as the place where many of my friends were from. When I heard where I would be spending the summer I didn’t give much thought to any culture shock that I would experience until I arrived and the sun, humidity, traffic and bugs welcomed me to the old “Pearl of the Orient”.

A courtyard in the Commission on Human Rights

As part of its obligations under the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines must submit a state report. The national Commission on Human Rights is in the process of compiling information for an alternative report. In partnership with the Ateneo Human Rights Centre (AHRC) and UNICEF, the Commission held regional inquiries throughout the country to gather input on the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) from children themselves. I was able to attend the session in the National Capital Region (NCR), which focused on three topics: the children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs – sorry, lots of acronyms), children with HIV/AIDS, and discrimination against children born to unwedded parents.

In Canada, we think about OFWs in the context of temporary workers who come into the country. As immigration advocates, we focus on their conditions of employment, access to legal remedies, and potential for permanent residence. These are all important, but we tend not to see temporary migrant workers from the opposite perspective, that of the children across the ocean who lose a mother or a father for years on end. At the NCR inquiry, the children spoke of the pain of not having a parental figure to share their life with. Some are abused by the caregivers they are left with in the Philippines. Those who travel with their parents may not be able to access social services, including education, in their destination country. This discussion reminded me of a recently published article in the Globe and Mail.[1] The article spoke of the difficulties of Filipino children who are able to migrate to Canada only years after their parents arrive. It speaks of how gaps in the Canadian immigration system have caused some of the painful separation that I witnessed the children speak of here in Manila. In some ways, Canada and the Philippines are linked by movement of labourers, who should be seen as mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers, rather than just a boost to the economy.

2000 year-old Ifugao rice terraces in Northern Luzon

The second theme discussed was HIV/AIDS. It was shocking for me to discover that the Philippines has the fastest growing rate of HIV infections in Asia. Most of these new infections occur in youth, most of whom are men. A large problem is unwillingness to talk about the issue. It is seen as taboo, linked with sex and drugs. To me, this issue really highlighted the invisible nature of many human rights concerns. Other human rights abuses plaguing the country, such as extrajudicial killings or labour rights, are much more visible and publicized. The danger of taboo subjects that live inside a person is that a child’s life may be irrevocably changed because their parent or teacher was too embarrassed to speak to them about HIV and AIDS.

The final issue was that of children born out of wedlock. For children in this situation, the Family Code declares them “illegitimate”, and they have different rights than “legitimate” children. Many of these children face discrimination socially, as well as legally, despite the fact that a 2016 survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority found that nearly half of all births that year occurred out of wedlock.[2]  One activity at the NCR inquiry involved the children preparing skits. One group acted out a child being mocked at school because she had a different surname than her sister, which one child later revealed was based on personal experience.

Tricycles: a common means of transportation

After zooming in on these issues, it’s useful to take a step back and realize that the NCR inquiry also highlighted something that the Philippines is doing well. Article 12 of the CRC states that children should be able to express their views freely on matters that affect them and should be provided with opportunities to be heard. The Committee on the Rights of the Child praised the Philippines in its 2009 report for its efforts on child participation. The AHRC is committed to fulfilling this Article of the CRC through many of its other initiatives, as well.

Sunset over Makati

While I knew that I would learn about human rights concerns while I was in Manila, I didn’t really anticipate the number of times when I would encounter something that the Philippines was doing better than Canada. Does Canada ask its children – those in poverty or in indigenous communities – whether their rights are being fulfilled? This brings me back to my conceptual difficulty in placing the Philippines in the same box as all other developing countries. Not that it is better or worse than other “third world” nations, but each of these countries is drastically different. I think one thing I have learned here is that development is not a straight line. This is one of those things that’s obvious when you say it, but is very different to actually experience. While the Philippines’ efforts in child participation, achievements in gender equality, and its regionally lauded refugee system place it ahead of many countries, its record is worse on other human rights issues. As much as we need to concentrate on problem areas to develop strategies to fix them, there are also times when we need to take note of human rights successes, or risk getting bogged down in failures. As one child at the NCR inquiry quoted: “Don’t let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world”.

 

[1]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-for-this-generation-of-filipino-canadians-broken-policies-have-left-a/

[2]https://psa.gov.ph/content/births-philippines-2016

Responses to Elisabeth and Eleanor

Eleanor Dennis:

The experience you are getting with a relatively new Constitution in Namibia sounds very rewarding. It does make me think about the age of our own Constitution in Canada and that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is actually not that old – it went into force in 1982, which is only 8 years older than the Namibian Constitution. Of course there is the important difference that the section of the Namibian Constitution that is equivalent to the Canadian Charter is only one part and the rest covers a multitude of other areas that delineate the workings of government post-independence from colonial powers. I was curious about the wording of the “Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms” section of the Namibian Constitution in comparison to our Charter so I took a look. There are several key additions – such as the sections explicitly banning the death penalty, torture and slavery. It was also of particular interest to me that the prohibited grounds of discrimination do not include disability. I know that in Canada the disability community fought hard to include disability as a prohibited ground of discrimination and surely Namibia looked to other constitutions as example when drafting its own. Further, as you mentioned in your post, the Namibian courts have looked to Canada’s jurisprudence on constitutional interpretation and have adopted the Oakes test. I wonder if during your research you have come across cases where Namibian courts have read in analogous grounds of discrimination and whether disability is one of those grounds.

Elisabeth Beauchamp:

I really appreciate your discussion on disability and institutionalization in Serbia. In Canada we still are coming to terms with these issues. For example, the Huronia Regional Centre in Ontario, which housed people labelled with intellectual disabilities, only closed in 2009. Recently the individuals that lived there received a class action settlement from the Ontario government. However several of the plaintiffs were dissatisfied with the class action settlement because their lawyers failed to explain that money, rather than a public trial, is the goal of the class action process.

I think your point about the difference between an institution and a group home is profound. Having lived in an institution myself for 8 months (a spinal cord injury community rehab) I had a small taste of the neglect that can take place in an institutional setting. A group home, in my opinion, is vastly superior. It may take time for a culture shift so that people labelled with intellectual disabilities stay with their families (which is still relatively recent in Canada). So I think it is entirely inappropriate to use the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to criticize the use of group homes. I also found the other criticism you identified very interesting. On one hand, the organization you work for (rightly) opposes institutionalizations but, on the other hand, criticizes overinvolved parents. In my view you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good and I really sympathize with your suggestion that the Convention can be used in an unhelpful way to criticize any attempt to reform.

Responses to Nicole and Catherine

Nicole Maylor:

Like in my previous post about the work of the Stable Seas project I am very interested in the use of the word “terrorism” in the context of maritime violence/crime. One thing that stands out to me, especially when you use the example of Nelson Mandela, is the racial/racist dimension of using the terrorist label. Other than that the proceeds of these crimes may go to “terrorist organizations” the activities of pirates sound more like organized crime. What is the line between organized crime and terrorism? Is it the case that we in the West are very quick to label someone a terrorist when they are Muslim and when the victims are white Westerners?

Catherine Labasi-Sammartino:

I was struck by the following statement in your post: “the use of the law as not only a tool to solve a single fact pattern but as a tool with the potential to create population shifts and improve health conditions on a national scale”. As I have explained, I am critical of international human rights law and the way you described the use of law is one of the reasons why. I am wary of the imposition of legal rules universally – exactly because it does not take into account the specifics of the cultural/social/political/economic context. For example, it is inappropriate to hold countries with vastly different levels of wealth to the same standards of health. This is something I confront in the area of disability rights because of how expensive it is to provide the medical interventions or social supports for people with disabilities to live independently and with dignity. Further, accessibility in the built environment is hard enough for a wealthy country like Canada. It would be nearly impossible to hold every country to the same standard.

Your post also made me think about the way in which international human rights standards/norms are unidirectional. Many of the aspects of the “right to health” are predicated on a country’s level of wealth. Yet I can think of aspects of Western practices that would be unacceptable to other countries. For example, we in the West have medicalized and segregated old age. We place our family members in long term care facilities because we do not value care work that is done within the family, so for many it would be financially catastrophic for an otherwise employable adult to stay home to care for an elderly (or disabled) family member. Further, we pretend that we will be young and able-bodied forever so when we learn of abuse or neglect in nursing homes (like in Quebec where seniors are only given one shower a week) we fail to allocate more money to improve living conditions. Perhaps those involved in international human rights law ought to include the values and practices from outside the West. Like, for example, allowing seniors to age in place with the assistant of family members or other forms of home care.

Responses to Maia and Francesca

Maia Stevenson:

Maia, your work at the CCLA in the burgeoning area of cyber-crime and gender is fascinating.
I was reminded of an article I read in The New Yorker a couple years ago (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/05/the-attorney-fighting-revenge-porn) about this new practice area. I would be interested to know about the positions that the CCLA is taking in the area of revenge porn since, as The New Yorker describes, the ACLU has actually opposed American laws meant to combat revenge porn on the basis of being “overbroad” and infringing the First Amendment. I am also curious about the international aspects of this area of law. For example, what remedies are available when the individual posting the revenge porn is not in Canada. Is there a cause of action against ISPs or the website that hosts the images?

Francesca Nardi:

I really enjoyed your post about the cultural differences between Canada and Argentina when it comes to the pace of life and valuing time spent on areas of life beyond work. Because you are also doing work on disability your post reminded me of “crip time”. Crip time is a concept from critical disability and queer studies. It refers to the way time and life cycles are different in the lives of people with disabilities because it is impossible or unhealthy to keep up with the pace of the able-bodied. This adjustment to crip time has been difficult for me since a car accident a couple years ago paralyzed me and required me to adjust to a slower lifestyle in which I am dependent on the schedules of others to get help with basic tasks or to get around the city.

Since you are working on public transportation and disability in Argentina I wonder if you have reflected on the inaccessibility of Montreal’s public transportation system. As a wheelchair user, I cannot use the Montreal metro since only a few stations have elevators and I cannot use buses reliably because even when a bus has a ramp it is rare that it works or the bus driver won’t put the ramp out in the snow because it is against STM policy to risk the ramp getting stuck. So people with disabilities are relegated to the Transport Adapté system, which requires bookings 24 hours in advance and often requires users to wait an hour or more for their ride.

When it comes to other aspects of the built environment, Montreal is the most inaccessible city in North America. Not only am I, as a wheelchair user, excluded from most restaurants and stores but I am excluded from places like the Mile End Mission/Legal Clinic (which finally got a temporary ramp this past month after I urged them to stop excluding wheelchair users).

As you might imagine I could go on and on about this issue. The final thought I will leave you with is the role of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I have deep skepticism about its importance since the United States has not ratified the CRPD and yet it is the most physically accessible country and its federal legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is looked to as the gold standard. In fact, the ADA predates the CRPD by 16 years and in Canada the provinces have used it as a template for laws like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Responses to Léa and Alix

Hi all,

Unfortunately WordPress won’t let allow me to post comments individually to each of your blog posts. If anyone has any suggestions  on how to fix this issue I would be very grateful. I’ll go ahead and post my responses as blog posts, maybe doing 2 or 3 responses at a time starting with the ones below.

 

Léa Carresse (Stable Seas Project):

The important difference that you identified between the concept of terrorism in the West and the piracy that is the subject of your research at the OEF is that piracy is financially motivated rather than exclusively based on religious extremism (or radical left wing ideology like in your example from Germany). Those involved in piracy are not sacrificing their lives or murdering civilians for a greater cause. Rather, pirates are involved in a criminal business enterprise. The issues of recruitment to piracy and the way that it financially supports groups like ISIS do highlight its similarities to or connections with our traditional understanding of terrorism.

The connections between piracy and terrorist groups complicate maritime governance. International assistance in policing the seas is not sufficient to counterbalance the recruitment efforts that take place online. Further, international law can go only so far since it must first be incorporated into national law to be enforceable and the decisions of international courts also depend on nation states to implement them. I wonder if your research on the Stable Seas Project has given you any insight on the relative effectiveness of international law versus supporting an individual nation (like Somalia) to improve its own capacity to police its waters.

 

Alix Genier (Aswat Nissa):

First, I apologize for replying in English rather than French – my written French is terrible!

Your post about immersing yourself in an entirely new culture made me think back to a course I took on international human rights law during my JD at the University of Toronto. The course was “Can There Be Universal Human Rights?” and it was taught by a brilliant professor Jennifer Nedelsky. We took the course with two other law schools outside of North America and we would use blog posts (similar to the one we are using now) to have discussions with each other. The course challenged some of the assumptions I had about the inherent “goodness” of human rights. Further, I developed a more nuanced understanding of the way some institutions that form part of the international order, like the WTO or the World Bank, work to undermine international human rights by perpetuating poverty (see “Recognized and Violated by International Law: The Human Rights of the Global Poor” by Thomas Pogge).

I’m looking forward to hearing more from you about your work with Aswat Nissa. My understanding is that it is a women’s rights organization. I thought you might be interested in one of the articles we read in Nedelsky’s course, “Arrogant Perception, World Travelling and Multicultural Feminism: The Case of Female Genital Surgeries” by Isabelle R. Gunning (1991 (23) Columbia Human Rights Law Review 189). Gunning does an excellent job of trying to work through the interaction between (Western) law and cultural practices.

 

 

Hi 2018 interns!

My name is Stephanie Chipeur and I am one of the doctoral students at McGill’s Faculty of Law. As Professor Ramanujam explained in her email to you all, I will be responding to your blog posts this summer.

My doctoral project is about disability and the regulation of the built environment in Canada, focusing mostly on Montreal. My work is critical of the procedural aspects of human rights law in Canada and our failure to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I propose that people with disabilities ought to engage with construction codes and municipal bylaws to improve access to the built environment. Waiting to challenge inaccessibility after the fact and on a case-by-case basis is simply too burdensome and ineffective.

I’m looking forward to learning from all of you this summer through your blog posts. Even though I am critical of international human rights law in my work, I hope that we can have a productive discussion about its advantages and disadvantages.

Best,

Stephanie

The Right to Health in Uganda

I have been in Uganda for a little over a month now and have already learned so much, both from my work as an intern at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and from my daily life in Uganda. I have visited Ugandan courts, taken countless boda rides and visited the source of the Nile. My first challenges were mostly activities that usually seemed simple to me, such as getting to work. My colleague’s kindness and patience in showing me the way around allowed me to feel much more comfortable in Kampala and to focus on my work as a legal intern.

CEHURD was created to advance the right to health for vulnerable populations such as people living with HIV/AIDS, women, and children. It is divided in three complementary programs (1) the Research, Documentation and Advocacy (2) Community Empowerment and (3) Strategic Litigation. As a second year law student, I was assigned to the Strategic Litigation program. Their objective is to provide legal support to persons whose rights have been infringed upon in Uganda and to litigate issues with the potential to redress systematic problems in the country’s health system. I have supported their work by drafting legal opinions on incoming cases and federal bills, completing research papers, and putting together grant proposals. This experience has allowed me to witness the use of the law as not only a tool to solve a single fact pattern but as a tool with the potential to create population shifts and improve health conditions on a national scale.

Most of the cases move for the implementation of the right to health. However, the Constitution of Uganda lacks an express provision on the right to health, which makes the conceptualization of each case particularly demanding. The right is implied from other constitutional clauses, the national objectives and the directive principles of state policy, each with health-related facets such as the right to life, human dignity and women’s rights. Furthermore, the implicit nature of the right to health in Uganda makes it so that its realization largely depends on political goodwill, judicial interpretation and the treatment of the other rights from which it derives. This particular situation highlights the importance of advocacy and community engagement in the respect of human rights and the delivery of safe and acceptable health services. As much as one may put together a case supported by persuasive evidence demonstrating a human rights violation in the delivery or lack of health services, the societal attitudes towards specific issues and vulnerable populations are often the last and most difficult barriers to overcome in obtaining justice. For example, CEHURD & Kabale Benon v Attorney General is a recent case that demonstrates the prevailing stigma surrounding claims made by individuals who have suffered from periods of mental distress. In addition to silencing the plaintiff based on his identity as an individual with a mental health disorder, the court also disturbingly put all medical decisions above the scrutiny of the law. This message discourages Ugandans from taking initiatives towards ensuring the respect of their rights and towards keeping the government accountable in its actions. CEHURD has recently filed an appeal for this case.

Overall, I am very motivated by CEHURD’s work as they put forward that the right to health extends itself to the causal determinants of health such as adequate sanitation facilities, health infrastructure, trained workers and essential drugs. I hope to contribute to my team’s work as much as I can in the following weeks and am excited to learn more about the right to health in Uganda.

Catherine Labasi-Sammartino

CEHURD’s office in Nakwero, Kampala

View from the National Mosque

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