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ASWAT NISSA

ou La voix des femmes

Un acrostiche écrit par Aurélie Derigaud-Choquette

Appelée à défendre la cause des femmes et des populations marginalisées en Tunisie, Aswat Nissa mène son combat sur plusieurs fronts :
Soutenir et former les candidates aux élections, une mission!
Web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, radio, presse écrite: tous les moyens sont bons pour sensibiliser au manque de représentation des femmes en politique ou à la violence faite aux femmes.
Analyser et étudier les progrès accomplis pour l’intégration de l’approche genre dans les politiques publiques, quoi de mieux pour en relever les lacunes et appeler au changement?
Tunisiennes et tunisiens sur un pied d’égalité, un idéal atteignable!

 

Nourrie et éveillée à la cause féminine par mon implication au sein de cette équipe motivée,
Ici et maintenant, mes efforts contribuent au changement à l’échelle locale, malgré l’adversité.
S‘aventurer dans des régions jusqu’alors inconnues du droit pour moi, et explorer les dessous du travail d’une organisation militante de la société civile.
S‘affirmer, apprendre, échanger, débattre, éveiller ma curiosité…
Aswat Nissa, je vous remercie de tant m’apprendre!

 

 

An Arbitrary Border in the Middle of Akwesasne

By: Larissa Parker

Akwesasne is a Mohawk community, which borders two Canadian provinces and the United States. As someone put it on my first day, it is a community with its own legal system that has to co-exist with American federal law, Canadian federal law, New York State law, Ontario law and Quebec law; a jurisdictional puzzle!

The community has four main districts: Cornwall Island, St Regis, Snye, and the Southern district. The first three are territory on the Canadian side, while the last one represents territory on the US side. Looking at the map above, you’ll notice that to get to each district, you need to cross through the US. Wherever you live, chances are you need to cross the border to do your shopping, pick up your kids, go to work, ect.

The official border crossing is on Cornwall Island. Although the island is entirely on the Canadian side, it sits strangely in between the Canadian and US border terminals. This crossing causes all community members a lot of hardship. You would think that they have processes in place to accommodate Mohawk individuals who are forced to cross it everyday, but this is not the case. On the contrary, there are rules in place that force community members to report to the border when they leave the different jurisdictions. Anyone coming from the US side, needing to go to Cornwall Island (which is only 5-10 km away) must drive up to Cornwall Island through the US Border, continue driving past their destination, report to the Canadian border, and then return. This is approximately a 30-minute detour. And if anyone does not do this, their car is seized and they are slapped with a hefty fine ($1000 for the first offence, $2000 for the second, ect). This is possible because of the cameras that have been set up to register license plates and the time that they cross; if you do not report within 10 minutes or so, border officials are alerted by the system and told to seize your vehicle.

The absurdity of this process is impossible not to notice when you work here. The Akwesasne Court, for example, is located on Cornwall Island, yet the Justice Department (where I work) is in St Regis. If I need to go to the Court, I must drive past it, report to the border and then come back (in addition to crossing the border daily on my way to and from work). Many people in my office make at least one trip to the Island every day, meaning they spend a lot of their time simply reporting to the border, going through customs, just to turn around. Not to mention if you live there, you also have to report every time you come home.

For me, it is difficult to fathom why either government thought it was appropriate to place a border in the middle of this community. There are two theories in my office: 1- it was an attempt to assimilate Akwesasne (which failed); or 2- it is a punitive response to the fact they did not assimilate.

One of my tasks this summer is to go through hundreds and hundreds of files of border misconduct and unreasonable car seizures, which are part of a class action suit that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne filed against the border in 2015. Although I cannot write more on this work (as much of it is confidential), I want to stress how saddening it is to read about so many incidents of misconduct and abuse of power and how little sympathy either government or their border agents have for community residents.

Source: https://www.akwesasnetv.com/?tag=akwesasne-border-crossing

Funny enough, I have my own border troubles. I am driving a California plated car (long story!) and if you didn’t know, driving a US-plated car as a Canadian citizen in Canada is illegal unless you import it. Within three days of starting my internship, I was charged almost 1000 dollars in taxes, detained, and lectured to by several CBSA officers about my mistake. The American border has also flagged me as suspicious; I have been stuck for way too long trying to explain my internship, where I’m from, why I have this car, and must report to them every time I leave the US (which is every day at least once)! Nevertheless, the more I cross, the easier it gets, especially as people begin to recognize me.

Some of my colleagues think this is funny and joke that I am getting the “true” Akwesasne experience. But the reality is, I’m not. Despite my border issues, I am treated better than many Mohawk individuals. I know this because I have access to the files. Many Mohawk people are still arbitrarily searched, held, and verbally abused on a daily basis. Sometimes, border officials make rude remarks about their status cards and demand more documentation than is required under the law. In many cases, they are outrightly racist. They seem to have little regard for their time and sometimes, no respect for who they are. Although they use the border every day to travel within the borders of their territory, they are treated poorly on land that was stolen from them.

PS: Border struggles aside, here are some photos of how beautiful the community is!

Les droits humains au Pays des merveilles

Par Jennifer Lachance

Qu’est-ce que le Canada a le droit et l’obligation de faire lorsque l’un de ses ressortissants est emprisonné à l’étranger, ou pire, condamné à mort? Cette question m’a bien torturé lors de l’un de mes mandats de recherche chez ASFC. La réponse en trois mots? Pas grand chose. Et cette réponse m’a dévastée. Face à des situations aussi déplorables qu celle de Robert Schellenberg, ressortissant canadien condamné à mort, je n’ai pu me résoudre à accepter que le droit n’ait pas de réponse claire. Alors comment fait-on, lorsque notre idéal de droit humain ne trouve pas écho dans le droit international, où l’État règne en monstre imposant ses moindres caprices? 

On est terrifié. Clairement. Mais surtout, on se creuse les méninges afin de trouver un bout d’espoir sur lequel s’accrocher. Parce qu’on ne peut pas accepter le statu quo (qui le voudrait?). Parce qu’on sait qu’il y a ne serait-ce qu’une infime possibilité que cet idéal soit atteint si on a assez d’imagination pour marquer les esprits des prochains juges à qui seront présentées des violations de droits humains. Alors on ne baisse pas les bras. Je crois que c’est parfois cela, travailler en droits humains. C’est un combat de tous les jours qui est loin d’être facile. Mais lorsque ça fonctionne, ô combien est-ce satisfaisant. Et si une bataille ne définit pas le reste de la guerre, chaque mot, chaque recherche, chaque action devient les armes de demain. 

Chez Avocats sans Frontière, ce combat se mène sur plusieurs fronts, partout dans le monde en même temps. Ainsi, alors qu’on reste dans la beauté inouïe de la ville de Québec, on en vient à travailler sur des dossiers de groupes armés non étatiques en Colombie, sur la situation des droits humains en Afrique, et on se voit parfois même donner l’opportunité d’influencer le futur de l’organisation en participant à la rédaction de propositions de projets ailleurs dans le monde. On en vient à rencontrer les gens formidables qui ont porté ces projets à terme sur le terrain en partageant un thé autour d’une table avec des Maliens, en recevant une présentation d’Haïtiennes venues partager toute l’expérience qu’elles ont acquise auprès de la société civile avec ASFC, en écoutant des histoires cocasses avec des coopérants venus des quatre coins de la planète finir leur stage à Québec. Bref, on en vient à partager de nous, de notre culture, mais également à voyager à travers chacune de ces inoubliables rencontres qui forment les fondations de chacune de nos batailles en droits humains. 

Un magnifique coucher de soleil dans la ville

Adventures in Kenya – But First, The World Justice Forum

By Julia Green

Before leaving for Kenya, I had a Skype call with Jenna, an intern from U of T who I would be spending the summer with, as well as Fiona Sampson, the CEO of the equality effect (e²). While Fiona talked with great enthusiasm about the amazing work e² does fighting for justice for survivors of sexual violence, she emphasized that internships with her organization tend to be a little unpredictable. Her repeated advice was for us to be ready to “expect the unexpected.” Little did we know that the “unexpected” would begin before we even touched down on Kenyan soil.

When we accepted the internship, Jenna and I had been told we would be spending the summer on a rural compound that houses survivors of sexual violence near a place called Meru in central Kenya. Two days before we were meant to fly from Toronto to Nairobi however, we received an email from Fiona asking us if we would be open to starting our internship in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, instead. Fiona explained that one of e²’s partners there called the International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya (ICRHK) was very keen to host us for some of the summer. After a quick Google search of the ICRHK I decided I was game, and Jenna and I emailed Fiona telling her we were down to switch things up. When we boarded the plane together in Toronto, the last message we had received from Fiona was her telling us that she would be in touch ASAP to confirm if Mombasa was a go.

Fresh off the plane and into the World Justice Forum! I learned from this experience that a lawyer should always have a change of professional-looking clothes, a bit of makeup, and something other than running shoes in her carry-on (none of which I had in my carry-on this time, sadly).

Our flight to Nairobi included a fourteen-hour layover in Amsterdam, which we thought would be nice since neither of us had ever been there before. Given the time difference we knew we would be exhausted when we arrived in the Netherlands, so we had planned a fairly low-key itinerary. However, when we connected to the Wifi at the Amsterdam airport we had yet another email from Fiona with even more “unexpected.” She told us she was still waiting to confirm about Mombasa, but had another question: would we be interested in going to the Hague to attend the World Justice Forum on behalf of e² during our layover? It turned out that on that particular day there was a conference going on at the World Forum (right across from the International Criminal Court) for people working in international human rights law. The e² staff who was supposed to be there for the last day of the conference wasn’t able to make it, so Fiona was wondering if we would be willing to step in for her. Despite the fact that we looked and felt the way one does after an overnight international flight, Jenna and I decided we were both interested. Within an hour of touchdown in Amsterdam, we were in a taxi on our way to the Hague for the conference’s 8 am start.

We arrived at the World Forum, haggard and exhausted, but the excitement about where we were soon took over. We spent the afternoon mingling with incredible human rights professionals from around the world, attending workshops on different access to justice initiatives, and listening to speeches from inspiring people who were doing all kinds of interesting work for vulnerable people. When Fiona asked us to attend she had mentioned that e² had been nominated for one of five $10,000 awards that would be handed out that day. According to her, the chances of e² actually winning were very slim, so she assured us th

at we needn’t worry too much about having to go accept an award.

Given that by the time the award was being announced Jenna and I had both been awake for over 24 hours and gone even longer without a shower, we were grateful to think that we could just sit back and enjoy the final part of the conference before we headed back to the airport. However, just as we were settling into our seats and cracking jokes about how funny it would be if we had to go up on stage and accept an award in our current post-flight state, they announced the first winner: the equality effect!

We laughed our way all the way up to the stage, unable to believe the absurdity of it all. There we were, in front of a room full of hundreds of well-dressed human rights lawyers and other professionals, wearing running shoes, athletic wear, glasses, and completely sleep-deprived. Things got even better when they asked one of us to give a speech and Jenna jumped on the mic to read the dialogue Fiona had sent us “just in case” we won but couldn’t get the email to open on her phone. She wound up free-styling, but whatever she said came out perfect. The room went wild with applause as we stepped off to the side to be photographed holding our huge framed award.

Because of how little sleep I had gotten for the entire duration of this ordeal, it still feels hard to believe it even happened. Luckily, the World Justice Forum had plenty of professional photographers on deck to get our classy airplane looks from every possible angle. It’s not exactly h

The professional photographer got a great shot of my plane outfit, featuring running shoes and yoga capris.

ow I imagined my first time accepting an award for international human rights work would be, but I quite honestly can’t think of a better story. At some point in all the madness we received an email from Fiona confirming that Mombasa was a go. As we boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Kenya, we both couldn’t help repeating that the summer really did seem to be shaping up to unexpected after all – in the best way possible.

“Why human rights law?”

By: Samantha Backman

“Why human rights law?” This question was posed to me by one of my supervisors in the early days of my internship at the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL). In the last several weeks, as I have immersed myself in the field of disability rights at BCNL, I have found myself pondering this question time and time again. I believe that it is a critical question for anyone working in the area of human rights law to reflect upon. Pausing to ask ourselves why we are doing something can undoubtedly make us more purposeful and focused in our efforts and help us connect with the broader significance of our work.

I was drawn to the International Human Rights Internship Program because I am a bit of an idealist. I am optimistic about the law’s potential to be harnessed to achieve social justice. Human rights law greatly appealed to me, as it seemed to be rooted in a pursuit for freedom, equality, and human dignity. The notion of striving to uphold such lofty ideals was extremely inspiring to me.

Over the past few weeks, however, I have learned that human rights law is about more than a quest for abstract principles. As I have been discussing with my mentors at BCNL, it is also about people.

At BCNL, I have been tasked with writing a report on recent legislative reforms that countries have undertaken in light of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls upon states to recognize the legal capacity of people with disabilities on an equal basis with others. Article 12 asks states to put into place supported decision-making mechanisms whereby persons with disabilities are authorised to make their own decisions with help from trusted individuals.

As I have been researching worldwide legislative reforms in the area of disability law, I have been struck by the role that civil society organizations have played in the painstaking process to enact change. Around the world, civil society organizations have given talks, organized pilot projects, led marches, lobbied governments, drafted legislation, and initiated strategic litigation to secure the full enjoyment of rights for persons with disabilities. These are fundamentally grassroots, bottom-up efforts. This is the work of parents of persons with disabilities who have been disheartened by their children’s disempowerment at the hands of society and the legal system, and who have come together and formed alliances. This is about lawyers who have advocated in the courts for people who have been stripped of their civil rights through placement under restrictive guardianship regimes. This is about civil society activists who have designed supported decision-making pilot projects so that persons with disabilities can gain control over their own life decisions. At its core, all of these endeavours are galvanized by the experiences of individual people. All of this energy is marshalled so that individual human beings can feel respected and have agency over their own lives.

My work in a civil society environment has shown me that the law has a human face. Human rights law is not simply about singing treaties and enshrining rights on paper. It is about advocacy. It is about ensuring the implementation of these rights on the ground. It is about holding governments to account. In these matters, civil society plays a critical role.

As I conduct my research in the context of my internship, I am amazed by the fact that in many countries, the work of disability rights activists has spanned many years. Civil society actors have persisted tirelessly with their efforts, even in the face of indifference or resistance from their governments. There is an astonishing will to continue to advocate for progress. It could very well be argued that these activists are pushing for freedom, equality, and human dignity. But they are critically focused on advocating for the people, for those individuals whose stories have moved and inspired them. Perhaps it is this personal connection that makes their fight for human rights so enduring. Extrapolating from this, if we aim to see human rights law on a “human scale,” perhaps this can help to remind us why this field is so worthwhile.

Photo credit: BCNL. BCNL helped to organize the Manifestation of Friendship, which took place in Sofia during Ability Day on May 18th, 2018. This was part of a national campaign for collecting signatures in support of a draft law in Bulgaria that would abolish guardianship and introduce supported decision-making (The National Citizen Initiative 7000).

NGO House: The BCNL headquarters is home to NGO House, an innovative co-working space for members of the local NGO community.

The Palace of Justice in Sofia

The bustling Vitosha Boulevard at the heart of the city centre

A tram in Sofia

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

Dans les ruelles de la médina

Par Aurélie Derigaud-Choquette

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

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

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

Chez Aswat Nissa…

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

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

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

Distorsion entre loi et réalité…

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

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

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

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

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

Derek PaceBy Derek Pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colorado legislature

 

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

 

The Denver skyline, seen from the South Platte River

 

The Denver City Council building

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

By Adelise Lalande

Food stalls in the Russian Market.

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

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

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

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

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

Driving past a construction site in Sihanoukville. 

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

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

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

Visiting rural Kampot.

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

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

Aerial shot of the Russian Market.

 

A French-owned pepper plantation in Kampot.

 

Early mornings at the LICADHO office.

 

Weekend trip to Koh Rong Samloem island.

 

Trudeau’s Formal Apology and Exoneration of Chief Poundmaker

By Sophie Kassel

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

 

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

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

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

On Tangible Consequences

Riley Klassen-Molyneaux

June 17, 2019

 

The Meeting

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Reminiscences

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Lessons Learned

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I want my work to matter.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Looking to the Future

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Knowledge is Power

 

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

 

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

 

Just maybe.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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