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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 initiative 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

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,
Indecisions,
It becomes heated as the
Past
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.

(…)

Jacob

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?”

“Ne?”

“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

Zoning and Human Rights in Toronto

By Reeve Kako

2017 City of Toronto map demarcating licensed Body Rub Parlours in Green, Holistic Centres allegedly offering offering erotic massage in purple, and Holistic Centres not offering erotic massage in blue.

While it is often the goal of human rights advocates to focus on high-level policy reform on a national or provincial scale, the discrimination that human rights advocacy attempts to combat often finds itself manifested in often less visible small scale and local decision-making. This reality was brought to my attention when my internship at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network brought me to Toronto City Hall in preparation for a submission regarding the city’s review of its bylaws for its licensing of Body Rub Parlours and Holistic Centres.

Quickly immersing myself in the issue, I came to learn that the city’s licensing of erotic massage proves to be a complex and dysfunctional regime that is the result of a stalemate between efforts to provide a regulatory scheme for the erotic massage industry and those who do not want sex work permitted in the city. As it stands, the city allows the operation of 25 licensed Body Rub Parlours, who are all sanctioned to provide erotic massage to customers. However, there are also approximately 200 additional establishments allegedly offering unsanctioned erotic massage who operate under the different business license as Holistic Centres.

The 25 Body Rub Parlours are required to abide by strict regulations, including limited opening hours, mandatory medical exams of employees, and extremely restrictive zoning regulations. In comparison, the Holistic Centres, which are not sanctioned to be offering erotic massage but are often doing so anyhow, are permitted to operate under much laxer regulations that are similar to any other commercial business.

For my part in my organization’s advocacy efforts, I was tasked with researching the disparate impact that the zoning regulations have had on the licensed Body Rub Parlours. The zoning restrictions on the 25 Body Rub Parlours only permits their operation in Employment Industrial Zones, as well as mandates that they also must be several hundred metres away from schools, residential lots, places of worship, and other adult entertainment establishments. These restrictions prove to be the most extreme zoning restrictions of any zoning requirement found in the city’s bylaws and effectively zone the sanctioned Body Rub Parlours into unlit, underpopulated, and ultimately unsafe areas of the city.

It was hard to see the logic for such strict zoning restrictions on the sanctioned Body Rub Parlours when erotic massage is happening throughout the city in the hundreds of Holistic Centres offering unsanctioned erotic massage. This demonstrated to me that the city crafted the zoning regulations with a moral objective as opposed to one based in best practice. While the operation of Holistic Centres offering erotic massage in virtually all commercial zoning demonstrates that allowing erotic massage throughout the city does not pose a significant nuisance, the city chose to place extreme restrictions on the licensed Body Rub Parlours out a morally based desire to not directly sanction such activity. My research indeed confirmed this, after an Access to Information Request from the city provided records that confirmed a lack of significant nuisance reported against Body Rub Parlours that would justify the restrictive zoning that they currently face. To provide some perspective, the only other lot type whose zoning restrictions compare to that of Body Rub Parlours is a Propane Storage, Holding, and Transfer facility.

These findings proved frustrating to me, demonstrating the city’s failure to accept best practice and evidence in favour of morally based narratives that demonize sex work and sex workers. Providing sex workers the ability to work in safe and well-lit neighbourhoods was forgotten in favour of often nebulous and unjustified concerns that having these establishments in neighbourhoods would contribute to some kind of moral decay.

Ultimately, my submission indeed highlighted these concerns and will be reviewed before year’s end when the city will decide on how proceed with bylaw reform efforts. It is my hope that the city the will be persuaded by best practice and evidence as opposed to moral imperatives surrounding sex work that often prove arbitrary. Coming to understand the extreme hurdles that employees at Body Rub Parlours must endure in order to stay employed demonstrated to me the insidious impact that local decision-making can have upon vulnerable communities. In applying this to human rights advocacy as a general practice, it is essential that human rights advocacy follow-through on national policy objectives by not stopping short of ensuring that an individual’s rights are protected at the often-overlooked local level.

A bantaba in three tempo

By Linda Muhugusa

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

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

 

 – MAY –

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– JUNE –

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

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

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

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

 

– JULY –

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

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

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

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

My last quick snapshot of the bantaba

Voir du Québec la situation des droits humains dans le monde

Par Jennifer Lachance

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

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

Situation des femmes

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

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

Situation des enfants

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

Éducation :

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

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

Mariages précoces :

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

Enfants soldats :

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

Discrimination envers les Autochtones :

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

Réponses du système judiciaire à ces violations :

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

 

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

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

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

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

[6]Ibid.

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

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

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

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

[11]Ibid.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid.

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

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid.

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

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

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

[20]Ibid.

[21]Ibid.

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

Black Economic Empowerment

By Bianca Braganza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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