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Legal information and human rights

2015 Vallery Bayly

By Vallery Bayly

Accessing legal information is critical to enforcing rights. This is as true in Canada as it is everywhere else in the world. People need to know what their rights are before they can even think about trying to enforce them. Human rights defenders, and particularly lawyers, also need to be able to access legal information in order to protect and enforce human rights.


Over the past twelve weeks of my internship with Avocats sans frontières Canada, I’ve worked on a few projects related to the legal framework (the justice system and domestic laws) of other countries, particularly Mali. Often during my internship I have found myself frustrated with the lack of availability of basic legal information. For a Canadian law student, the idea of not being able to access legal information online is unthinkable. But when I look for information about Malian law, it can be difficult – often impossible – to find even basic legal texts. Even when information is available online, it’s often out of date or incomplete.

In Canada, it’s fairly easy for lawyers, law students, human rights defenders, and citizens to access vital legal information. The Supreme Court puts all of its jurisprudence online, and laws are accessible through federal, provincial, and municipal government websites. There’s also CanLII, which offers free access to cases and legislation.

There is nothing like CanLII in Mali. A very small number of cases are available online. A few of the most important laws – like the Civil Code and the Penal Code – are available, though generally finding them requires some digging. However, some of my research ended when I was unable to find any relevant legal information online. If this is frustrating for me, sitting in an office in Quebec, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the people who really need this information. And this isn’t only the case in Mali – in many places, legal information is difficult or impossible to find online.


It goes without saying that it is not enough that legal information simply be available. While lawyers can make use of cases and laws in their original form, they must also be available in a form that is accessible and comprehensible to the people who need the information most. Literacy rates can affect the accessibility of legal information. Language barriers can also exist. For example, almost 50% of the population of Mali speaks Bambara as their first language, and there are a variety of other languages spoken. The official language – the language of the legal system – is French. These factors can make even the legal information that is available inaccessible to the majority of the population.

This is why many projects aimed at reinforcing human rights and increasing access to justice focus on providing legal information in an accessible format – although access to justice is a multi-faceted problem. Even if information is available, making use of the information can be difficult if courts are difficult or expensive to access.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, and many of them exist in Canada as well, albeit to a lesser extent. But what I’ve learned over the course of my internship is that we’re incredibly lucky to have free, easy access to so much legal information.

Human Rights Education: Teaching Right from Wrong

2015 Cichalewska VictoriaBy Victoria Cichalewska

In my last blog post, I made the observation that one of the reasons Human Rights Education (HRE) is important is because laws are not enough to ensure that rights are protected. Mentalities need to change first before laws can be properly enforced. Another reason why HRE is important was highlighted during the International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) at Equitas. HRE instructs people on what their rights are and thus helps them distinguish right from wrong.

During the IHRTP, participants were asked to watch a documentary entitled “A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahE0tJbvl78) which explores the positive outcomes of Human Rights Training in India, Turkey and Australia. In the documentary, Navi Pillay, the previous United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, states that the “full realization of Human Rights requires all human beings of being aware of their and other people’s rights and the means to protect their human rights, which is the task of human rights educators.” For example, in the documentary, one girl from India explained the gender discrimination present in her community and then said that HRE helped her understand that being a girl is not the problem. Rather, her human rights have been denied, and the problem is societal. She realized that the way her family and community was treating her was wrong. Such realizations allow individuals to feel more empowered and inspire them to work towards social change. This is something I heard a lot from participants at the IHRTP. Many have also gone through the same journey that led them to understand that their identity did not justify the abuse they suffered.

But who gets to decide where the problem lies, what is right from wrong and ultimately which rights should be protected? How can we convince people of what behaviour is wrong, and what needs to change? This was a huge topic of discussion at the IHRTP.

In fact, this year was the first one in which the thematic session on LGBTQI rights was mandatory for all participants, contrary to other sessions, like the one on freedom of religion, which was optional. This caused a lot of controversy among the participants. Although many of them, especially the LGBTQI activists, were very happy about the mandatory session, other human rights activists were not. Some did not understand why the LGBTQI session is mandatory. Some claimed that LGBTQI rights are NOT rights, and others compared it to bestiality. I was shocked at how many human rights educators and activists from around the world were against LGBTQI rights and did not believe in defending the rights of this minority group.

This controversy surrounding the mandatory LGBTQI session was amplified during the presentation on “Universality and Cultural Relativism” led by Yousry Moustafa. Many participants expressed their ongoing concern that the idea of Human Rights as universal is just another form of western imperialism. However, Moustafa explained that the rejection of the idea of Human Rights as universal and the promotion of cultural relativism usually comes up in discussions on minority and sexual and reproductive rights, including LGBTQI rights. States will rarely turn to cultural relativism when discussing civil and political rights, for example.

So how can we promote the rights of minority groups that are often controversial for many, and resist cultural relativism, without it being another form of western imperialism? How can we convince people of what is right from wrong? The facilitators of the groups (the people that would lead and facilitate the classroom discussions) would often discuss the strategies they would use when talking about LGBTQI rights. The approach that would most often come up is reminding participants that the LGBTQI community, like all other minorities, are human beings and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But is that enough?

On Finding Family

2015 De Santi JessicaBy Jessica De Santi

On my second weekend in Kolkata, I went to a street dance battle.

A few parts of the above sentence require some explanation.

First: as a member of Montreal’s street dance community (though with much less involvement than I would like, such is the life of a student) and a lifelong dancer, I was not looking forward to a summer without dance. So, a few months before leaving for Kolkata, I asked my mentor whether he knew of any lockers in India, especially in Kolkata. He was able to connect me to a couple in Mumbai, who then connected me to some lockers in Kolkata. As it happened, on my second Sunday in Kolkata, there was both a locking class and a battle, so I took the opportunity and went to both.

Locking class with Locking Kira

Locking class with Locking Kira; Author’s photo

Second: dance battles are arguably an integral part of street dance culture, and hip-hop culture more generally. To oversimplify almost unforgivably, hip-hop culture finds its roots in Black and Latin communities, particularly the Bronx, in the United States in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. While most people nowadays associate hip-hop with rapping (or MCing), there are three other main elements of the culture: graffiti, DJing, and breaking (sometimes known to outsiders as breakdancing). The dance battle comes out of this culture, and provides a space for direct competition between dancers to determine their “ranking” in the community. Nowadays many other street dance styles, such as house, locking, popping, and waacking, also incorporate the dance battle into their respective traditions/styles.

The battle I went to was called Cypherology, a name which itself evokes other aspects of the culture: the cypher, a coming-together of dancers who take turns dancing and exchanging at the centre of a circle; and the suffix “-ology,” literally “study of,” a recurring theme for street dancers: our commitment to studying our style, that we are students of the dance and of the culture and that we should always seek to learn and expand our knowledge.

The organisers of the event were apparently told ahead of time that I, an out-of-towner, would be dropping in to see the battle and to say I was welcomed with open arms would be an understatement. I was given the opportunity to share a bit of my dancing with the other dancers, including a spur-of-the-moment locking showcase battle against 3D_Lock, a Kolkata locker, which is one of my favourite exchanges I have ever had with another dancer. He was one of the dancers I had been connected to through the Mumbai dancers, and had convinced me to come to the battle. Dancing the same dance with someone who learned it on the other side of the world to me represents one of the best aspects of street dance: its ability to bring people together to share in something we love, no matter our background or our training, or even where we are from. Street dance truly does create a global community, and for the first time I truly understood what that meant and felt like.

Building families across oceans: 3D_Lock and Jess. Photo courtesy of 3D_Lock

Building families across oceans: 3D_Lock and Jess. Photo courtesy of 3D_Lock

What was even more inspiring for me was watching the battles.

Montreal has an impressively strong street dance community – the city has earned the nickname Funktreal – and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to enter into the community by learning from some of the best dancers in Canada, and arguably in the world. The scene in Kolkata, being younger in both age of the scene and age of the dancers, is still building that same base. Despite the age and experience difference, the vibe at Cypherology was incredible. It was humbling and inspiring to see so many young dancers demonstrate so much passion and energy for their dance. Being in a room full of dancers, dancing, and great music, for the first time in the two weeks I had been in Kolkata, I felt at home.

In the culture, we often talk about the importance of values such as peace, love, unity, and having fun (see supra, but also here for a live representation). At Cypherology, on the dance floor and in conversation with other dancers, I saw, felt, and breathed those ideas, for which I am truly grateful.

Third: the street dance battle was in Kolkata, a city separated from the country where hip-hop was born by several thousand kilometers of ocean, politics, and culture. Despite the massive separation, an underground culture originating in oppressed communities in the United States has not only made it to India, but it has flourished. Thanks to globalisation and the proliferation of internet availability, dances that were once localised to particular cities in North America have reached decades into the future and across continents. As this global community continues to grow and to connect, the other scenes out there are going to need to watch out. Kolkata’s holding it down, and they’re coming for you.

Re-Conceptualizing the “Enemy”

2015 Blashko Michael By Michael Blashko

In my time here at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, I feel as though I have learned a lot. I have learned not only from reading articles by academics, reports from various organizations, and legislation from the federal, provincial and international levels, but also more generally by getting some experience working in this field. I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with the people involved in the activities of this organization and members of others, to attend events and conferences to hear about a broad range of subjects, and to research and write about Aboriginal history and rights. It has been quite the experience and it is hard to understand how it will already soon be coming to an end.

Although we are still waiting for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision to come down on Canada’s inequitable and discriminatory funding of First Nations child welfare services (and hope is quickly fading that this will happen while I am here), last month we did have one decision come down from the Tribunal. Dr. Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the Caring Society, who filed the original complaint with the Human Right Commission, amended it in December of 2009 to include allegations of retaliation by the federal government against for having filed that initial complaint. The CHRT found that the Government of Canada (the special assistant to the Honourable Chuck Strahl, former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, then known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) had in fact retaliated against her for filing the complaint. They awarded $20,000 under two separate heads of damages, including what are essentially punitive damages because they found their actions to be of a willful and reckless nature. Dr. Blackstock intends to donate the financial award to children’s charities.

Of course I was not working at the Caring Society while any part of the case before the Tribunal was ongoing. What I can say is that it has been extremely interesting to have come in and read documents such as this decision and to also hear some thoughts and reactions to the tactics and approach of the government, through their representatives from the Attorney General’s office. All of it has made me reflect not only on what it is that we are fighting for in this organization, but also who and what we are fighting against.

Perhaps it was always a little naïve, but throughout the majority of my life I can generally say that I have trusted that the government genuinely had everyone’s best interests in mind as it went about the business of governing this country. In fact, over the last couple of years I have strongly considered exploring potential opportunities to eventually work for the government as I venture in search of a career post-law school. I can’t say I have that same level of interest now. This experience has granted a new perspective and while I acknowledge that it has been limited and brief, I like to think that this new view is informed by more than a simple “us vs them” or some kind of perceived “right vs wrong” mentality that seems as though it could be so easy to slip into in this field. I remain convinced that the government remains likely the biggest potential source of social change. It just seems to me, from this experience, as though the justice department may not be the best breeding ground for that kind of thing.

Once the retaliation decision came down, the government then had 30 days in which to file an appeal. Largely, the assumption was that they would indeed appeal it. Not only that, but it was also a popular prediction that they would wait until the last possible moment in the 30 day time limit to file, in order to delay the process as much as possible. I found that this kind of cynicism towards their tactics speaks volumes in relation to the legal process involved in fighting to enforce people’s human rights here in Canada. It is particularly jarring when contrasted against what is generally a very positive and hopeful work environment. I have seen this kind of cynicism towards the government’s approach (particularly of late) to protecting and ensuring the enjoyment of all civil and human rights extend to some of the events I have attended this summer as well.

This type of approach also seems evident in the legal strategy employed in their submissions to the Tribunal. Having read the AG’s factum containing their closing arguments, I found them rather uninspiring. There was very little engagement with the actual issues of the case, instead the focus was largely on using legal technicalities to undermine the complaint and simply have it dismissed. Threshold arguments, statutory interpretation and evidentiary burdens took centre stage. Perhaps it really was all they could do, after all how do you begin to justify what the government is doing (or rather, failing to do) for First Nations children on reserve? Not to mention how making those arguments would look. The lack of such arguments almost seems like a tacit acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the claims being made against them.

I recognize that the lawyers who work for the AG likely have very little say in the process, although an area of interest for me would be to learn more about the relationship between the government and their legal team, to see how seriously their legal advice is taken or how much policy drives their strategy. I’ve heard the argument that those who work for the government can justify their roles in advocating against these kinds of cases by seeing themselves essentially as the crucible through which arguments for substantial change must pass to gain their legitimacy. I can see the truth in that perspective, but in this case there has been no actual arguing of its merits, only attempts to ensure that this complaint would never have the opportunity to prove the legitimacy of its claims. I have difficulty understanding how playing a role in doing essentially everything possible to delay and deny the rights of children, how to seemingly be so clearly in jeopardy of being on the wrong side of history (as our country has been all too often on Aboriginal issues), can be justified. It is also important to note that it can be argued that the government is simply exercising its legal rights, just as we all have the right to do. However, somehow this argument rings hollow to me in cases such as these.

As it turned out, surprisingly enough, the government did not appeal the retaliation decision. I found this surprising not only because it seems to run counter to their normal tactics, but because in my opinion there may have actually been a potential argument to be made in regards to the damages that were awarded, specifically in relation to the punitive damages.

So to conclude this lengthy post, perhaps referring to the government as the “enemy” is a bit hyperbolic, but it is clear that their approach is meant to frustrate, and it appears to be working. I feel as though to say that I find these tactics frustrating after only being here for three months would be borderline insulting to those who have been working on these kinds of cases for years. It would also likely be of greater insult to those who are actually having their rights denied, or their enjoyment of them delayed, often with dire consequences. As of now, I can only describe my feelings as those of disappointment in the approach that my government is taking on these issues. Instead of accepting their responsibility, they are paying millions of dollars of tax payer money to fight these cases, figures which I am sure are being inflated by the delay tactics being employed. Last year, AANDC spent almost $60 million more on legal fees than they did only 6 years prior, which if this trend continues, will likely ensure plenty of frustration and disappointment to come.

Retaliation decision:


Article on Government spending on legal fees by department:


Government summary of AANDC legal fees:


Closing arguments of the AG in child welfare CHRT case:


Humera writing from Human Rights Watch

2015 Jabir Humera By Humera Jabir

I am almost two months into my internship at Human Rights Watch and am entering the last third. I have grown very comfortable here and met such interesting colleagues. My fellow interns are fascinating individuals with a great deal of experience to share and learn from. I have enjoyed meeting many of the associates and researchers in my own department as well as in others, particularly those who work on the ground collecting information, as it offsets and adds perspective to the work I do sitting at my desk all day.

In the last two months I have worked on some fairly large research projects to do with civil-criminal law, recent cases before the ICC, and the chemical weapons convention. The work has been challenging and stimulating overall and I enjoy the diversity as I get to do both legal research and a bit of media work as well. I have also been able to learn by attending events. A few weeks ago, I went to see the ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Bensouda, brief the United Nations on the situation in Sudan. I really enjoy going to the United Nations. Despite the diplomatic speech and wrangling, attending meetings of the ICC working group in NYC has been inspiring even in light of the cynicism so many rightfully feel. What has been most intriguing to see is how many less recognized states work to ensure the continued work of the ICC and compliance with its orders against impunity.

The work we are doing here at HRW can sometimes feel abstract. I had the chance to attend a commemoration event for victims of the genocide in Bosnia and that really did bring home for me what the fight against impunity means to victims of mass crimes. Sitting in NYC so far from the victims HRW seeks to help, it can be easy to lose sight of what international justice means to those who have suffered.

Finally, I will say that being in NYC has been a true privilege. I have been learning every day that I walk through these streets and strike up conversations with people from every country and walk of life. HRW facilitated my attendance of arraignment court so I’ve had a chance to learn more about “local justice” and criminal law in the city. I have attended a multitude of talks and events on black history, feminism, social movements from around the world, art and poetry, and the list goes on and on …. Most important to me in the last month has been finding a vibrant and youthful Muslim community with whom I shared Ramadan. Life has been full and I am trying to make the most of each day while also not letting the countdown to the end of my time here stress me out!

Wishing you all safety and happiness on your own adventures.


Travailler de concert

Par Michel Bélanger-Roy

Liste de choses que je ne m’attendais pas à faire lors d’un stage en droits humains au Cameroun :

#1 – Organiser un concert

Oh, je vois que vous froncez déjà les sourcils. Pas de problème, je prends les questions.

@FanDuCameroun : Mais Michel, pourquoi un concert? Je croyais que tu travaillais avec une organisation pour les droits des femmes.



–       Bonne question, @FanDuCameroun. Mon organisation participe à une campagne mondiale intitulée Action/2015. Dans le but d’attirer l’attention sur une importante conférence de l’ONU, différents événements étaient organisés partout à travers le monde le 11 juillet dernier. L’idée était d’exposer le soutien populaire à un meilleur financement pour le développement international. Un concert avec des artistes « engagés » était une façon pour nous de rejoindre un large public de façon agréable tout en faisant passer notre message. En effet, il y avait aussi une portion du concert dédiée à discuter avec le public de thèmes chers à Women for a Change, comme la santé sexuelle et reproductive des femmes.

@PetitMalin : Le titre du billet est un jeu de mots?

–       Oui, @PetitMalin. Mes excuses.

@jaimelamusique : Comment on fait pour organiser un concert quand on est dans un nouveau pays et que notre organisation n’a jamais tenu un tel événement?

–       Tu vois juste @jaimelamusique : c’est un défi! Il faut trouver des artistes, des musiciens, une salle de spectacle, de l’équipement de scène, un technicien de son, des bénévoles. Et en quelques semaines seulement. On trouve peu d’information sur internet, alors on utilise le bon vieux « bouche à oreille ». On dit à tous ceux qu’on connaît qu’on veut faire un concert, puis par contacts interposés on fait beaucoup de rencontres jusqu’à trouver les bons partenaires.

@SRHR237 : Et pour la promotion?

–       Même chose! On a été très actifs sur les médias sociaux, mais on est aussi allé rencontrer les gens directement : sur le campus universitaire et même à la messe du dimanche!

@Africaincoquin : Épatant! Et vous aviez de bons artistes?

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent "We Must Survive"

Dr Sley et Mr Leo interprètent “We Must Survive”

–       Oui, excellents! Tiens, @Africaincoquin, écoutes par toi-même leurs vidéoclips:

Dr Sley & The Green Soljas

Mr Leo

Ils sont bien connus dans la région pour leurs chansons qui dénoncent la guerre ou la corruption. C’était donc des choix naturels pour nous. Ils ont même écrit une chanson thème spécialement pour l’événement! Ça s’appelle « We Must Survive ».
(AJOUT : Cliquez sur le lien pour voir un extrait filmé lors du spectacle)

@Junglegirl8 : La soirée a été un succès?

–       Tout à fait! @Junglegirl8, tu peux imaginer qu’avec de tels artistes,  la salle s’est vite réchauffée et le public a beaucoup apprécié. La portion « séminaire » a provoqué de fructueux échanges sur le développement du Cameroun. Je crois que mon organisation a pu rejoindre un nouveau public et passer son message. Et on a terminé la soirée en dansant sur scène avec les musiciens!

@Fascinee : Fascinant! Et quelle a été la clef de ce succès, selon toi?

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

Musiciens, bénévoles et organisateurs réunis sur scène

–       Le travail d’équipe! Même si Women For A Change n’avait jamais organisé de concert, mes collègues se sont lancées dans l’aventure et ont fait un travail formidable. Les artistes, les musiciens et l’animateur ont été d’une grande générosité. De nombreux partenaires nous ont aidé à faire la promotion du spectacle. Les déléguées régionales du ministère de la promotion de la femme et de la culture ont assisté et soutenu l’événement. Nous avions une superbe équipe de jeunes bénévoles, les « Iam15 ambassadors » et le public a participé activement au succès de la soirée.

@PetitMalin : Bon, au moins ton jeu de mots avait un véritable double sens alors.

–       Ce n’est pas une question @PetitMalin. Mais merci pour le commentaire. Je travaille fort sur mes jeux de mots, ça fait chaud au cœur.

C’est ce qui clôt la période de questions. Merci et à bientôt!

Measuring Peace: Highlights from the Global Peace Index Launch

2015 McLean LauraBy Laura MacLean

This summer, the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF) and the Institute for Economics and Peace co-hosted a very exciting event in Denver: The Ninth Annual Global Peace Index Launch. Academics, activists, politicians, business leaders and religious leaders were invited to a discussion at the Boettcher Mansion to explore recent trends in militarization, safety and security, and ongoing conflict. Specifically, the panelists were tasked with answering some very tough questions: Is the world becoming more peaceful? What are the main factors that build peace? How can we prevent violence?

The questions were asked in the context of the new findings in the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 162 states according to their level of peacefulness using 23 indicators.[1] This year Iceland was ranked as the most peaceful country, while Syria was ranked the least peaceful. Canada placed 7th, while the United States placed 94th.
2015 Global Peace Index

                                                                                               Map from the 2015 GPI.

The GPI’s definition of peace is quite broad: peace is not the opposite of war, but the absence of violence and fear of violence. This “Negative Peace” is measured by examining on-going domestic and internal conflict, societal safety and security and militarization. Additionally, this year the GPI has introduced a new element of analysis: “Positive Peace”. Aubrey Fox, the Executive Director of the Institute for Economics and Peace, explains that Positive Peace is measured by examining “…the attitudes, institutions and structures [characteristic] of more peaceful nations”.[2] Some of the factors of Positive Peace are a well-functioning government, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others and equitable distribution of resources, to name a few. In other words, the GPI is no longer simply looking at what causes war and violence but what causes peace and stability.

The GPI includes a report about the trends and conclusions that can be drawn from the ranking. The bad news is that according to the GPI, over the past 8 years the world has become slightly less peaceful. Notably, terrorism has increased “and shows no sign of abating”.[3] Over the past 8 years deaths caused by terrorism have more than doubled. Also, an estimated 50 million people are refugees or internally displaced, which is “the highest number since the end of the Second World War”.[4] The GPI calculated that the Global Economic Impact of violence is US$14.3 trillion, which is equivalent to 13.4% of the World GDP.

As for the good news, expanding the dataset and looking at a longer period of time, the panelists at the GPI launch feel that the world is still on average more peaceful, notwithstanding the increase of violence in recent years. Notably, interstate conflicts are consistently decreasing and homicides have gone down in developed countries. Andrew Mack, Director of the Human Security Report, told the conference that there has been a decline in low-level conflicts, which he pointed out, means there will be fewer high-intensity conflicts down the road.[5] Mack is cautiously optimistic for peace trends in the future.

Looking at the good and the bad, looking at the short-term and long-term trends highlights the bottom line: the world has peace inequality. The decrease the GPI finds in peace over the last 8 years is not evenly spread: 86 countries deteriorated, while 76 improved. Countries with low level of peace are more volatile, whereas countries with level levels of peace are more likely to remain peaceful. Europe has reached record levels of peace, while the Middle East and North Africa has “…experienced more upheaval and uncertainty than any other region.”[6] Even sources of instability that are universal do not effect countries evenly. For instance, although, terrorism has been increasing in recent years, 82% of terrorism deaths have occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.

2015 Global Peace Index Launch

                                                                                               Photo by Michael Stadulis.

How can we transform peace inequality to peace equality? According to Fox, the answer lies with the factors of positive peace:

…I think for the global community it’s about finding ways to invest in these underlying factors. The three domains that we find the most important are sound business environment, good governance and low levels of corruption. […N]one of those are easy [to achieve] but unlocking those is really the key. [7]


[1] “Global Peace Index Report 2015”. Institute for Economics and Peace. June 2015. [GPI]

[2] Fox, Aubrey. Interviewed by Lindsay Heger, One Earth Future Foundation. June 22nd, 2015.

[3] Supra note 1 at 45.

[4] Supra note 1 at 51.

[5] Mack, Andy. “The Ninth Annual Global Peace Index Release.” Boettcher Mansion, Denver, USA. June 23rd, 2015. Panel discussion.

[6] Supra note 1 at 57.

[7] Supra note 2.

Pirates and fraternities, Colorado and the high seas

2015 Venney MarilynBy Marilyn Venney

Telling people that I’m spending the summer in Boulder, Colorado while interning at an organization that works to combat piracy usually elicits some surprise. I’ve become used to questions like “Oh, you mean online piracy?” or “…in Colorado?”. And it has been strange in some ways. Boulder is absolutely beautiful, and has a reputation for being a city full of outdoorsy, active hippies. It’s also a place where college students drive shiny new Range Rovers and spend their summers playing beer pong on the lawns of their frats. It’s a place where it took me three weeks to find a store that sold cucumbers for less than 4 dollars apiece. Where, as of the 2011 census, 88 percent of the population were white and only 0.9 percent were black or African American. This is the backdrop for my evenings and weekends here.

My weekdays, on the other hand, are spent in an office full of people who are very passionate about and committed to various development issues. One Earth Future operates with the ultimate mission of preventing armed conflict and promoting peace through better, more effective government. Of the number of different projects within OEF, this summer I’m working with Oceans Beyond Piracy. Despite my background being in international development, before this summer my familiarity with piracy issues was basic at best. That changed quickly though, as I was thrown into the frenzy leading up to the release of OBP’s annual report assessing the economic and human costs of piracy. Everyone in the office was coming in early and leaving late, doing everything they could to make sure the messages were clear and the numbers were adding up. They have good reason to be so diligent: OBP is only a few years old, but in that short time it has become a respected authority on piracy issues. Its State of Piracy reports gather a great deal of attention each year and have solidified the role of OBP as a crucial actor in the maritime community’s efforts to combat piracy.

I work in the West Africa section of OBP, which means that I spend a lot of time sifting through legislation from West African countries, translating them, and pulling out provisions that are relevant to our work. The nature of piracy in West Africa is fundamentally different from that off the coast of Somalia, and therefore requires different solutions. Ships travelling off the coast of Somalia are usually only passing through, and have little reason to stop in Somali ports. As they never enter Somalia’s territorial waters, they are never subject to Somali law. Ships travelling off the coast of West and Central Africa, on the other hand, make frequent stops in ports and must regularly enter territorial waters. As a result, the responses to piracy that have been so effective in Somalia — the use of armed guards has been a key deterrent to pirate activity off the Horn of Africa — are unworkable in West Africa where ships cannot legally bring teams of armed security guards into a state’s territorial waters. Similarly, the prosecution of Somali pirates was delegated to other states in the region, since, as a failed state, Somalia had little capacity or desire to prosecute. West African countries, however, have a more important role in arresting and prosecuting pirates. The problem is that, as far as OBP can tell, there have been no prosecution of pirates in West Africa.

These challenges are the bases for the two projects that I’ve been working on lately. First, I’ve been helping to locate and analyze any legislation relating to a state’s ability to prosecute pirates, either for the crime of piracy or for some other crime, like armed robbery, assault or murder. Second, I’ve been researching private security legislation as part of an effort to help shipping companies and private security companies understand what the actual policies of each West African state are with regard to whether ships can use armed guards.

So that’s how I spend my weekdays: immersed in the legislation of West African countries and discussing the enormous impacts of piracy on seafarers in West Africa. And then I go home, where I spend my evenings and weekends in beautiful Boulder, hiking, camping, and watching a real-life frat movie unfold across the street from my house. It’s weird.

Akwesasne: A Border Community

2015 Gilmer Anna By Anna Gilmer

I wake up, get ready for work, and am on my way to Akwesasne, a large Indigenous community straddling the borders between Ontario, Quebec, and New York. I have been working for the past two months at their Justice Department. I drive towards the Seaway International Bridge in Cornwall, Ontario. The toll bridge, located within Canada, is operated by the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, and separates the Akweasne District of Kawehnoke (Cornwall Island) from Cornwall. While Akwesasne community members are not required to pay the toll, it has had an economic impact, since Canadian businesses are less likely to do business in the community when they have to pay to get across. Some restaurants will deliver to the tollbooth rather than driving onto the island.

I cross the bridge and drive across Cornwall Island, the most westerly part of Akwesasne. I pass signs telling me I’m on Indian land, and others calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. I drive past an old Canadian Border Services point, moved in 2009 and currently being demolished. I quickly arrive at the next bridge, which brings me to the American border.

Map of Akwesasne, from www.akwesasne.ca/maps  Yellow: Kawehnoke (Cornwall Island), Ontario Green: Kanatakon (St. Regis Villange), Quebec Bright pink: TsiSnaihne (Snye), Quebec Light pink: generally uninhabited islands  Orange: St. Regis Mohawk Reservation (governed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council) Red Star: Canadian Border Services Agency Yellow Star: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Map of Akwesasne, from www.akwesasne.ca/maps
Yellow: Kawehnoke (Cornwall Island), Ontario
Green: Kanatakon (St. Regis Villange), Quebec
Bright pink: TsiSnaihne (Snye), Quebec
Light pink: generally uninhabited islands
Orange: St. Regis Mohawk Reservation (governed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council)

While I live and work in Canada, the unique geography of Akwesasne requires that I cross into the United States and drive back over the international border within the Mohawk Territory to get from Cornwall, Ontario to Kanatakon (St. Regis Village), Quebec. The location of the border has had a deep-seated impact on the community. It affects everything from service delivery, to policing, to politics and government. At the very basic level, it means that there are two separate Indigenous governments operating on the Mohawk territory: the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, which governs the Districts within Canada’s borders, and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, which governs the territory within the United States. Many community members have identification from both countries and live and work in different parts of the territory.

I pull up to the American border. It’s not busy and takes only a few minutes to get through. I continue on my drive and pass a Tribal Police car. Policing in and around the territory is demonstrative of the complex jurisdictional issues. The Tribal Police operate on the American reservation while the Akwesasne Mohawk Police operate on the Canadian reserve. They cooperate with a number of police forces, including the two border agencies, the Cornwall Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP, and the New York State Police, to name only a few. At a conference, the Chief of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police told a story about a murder that happened in a house that sits on the border. In order to decide whether they or the Tribal Police would have jurisdiction, they had to see where in the house the body was found, and even considered whether that was actually where the crime had taken place, or whether the body had fallen or been moved onto that side of the border.

I continue on my drive and turn north again towards the district of Kanatakon. The speed limit changes from 35mph to 40km/h, offering the only sign that I have crossed the Canadian border. Kanatakon is a beautiful point reaching out into the St. Lawrence. At lunch, I eat outside and enjoy the view.

View from the point

View from the point

Benches near the Recreation Centre at Kanatakon

Benches near the Recreation Centre at Kanatakon

After an interesting day at work, I drive home. This direction is more cumbersome than the way into work. “Technically” (to quote a U.S. Border Patrol Agent) I have to park and check in at the American Border since I crossed into the US at an unmanned point when I left Kanatakon. After driving across the American bridge, I pass the abandoned CBSA checkpoint, which is currently being demolished. My coworkers have explained to me that in 2009, Canada wanted to arm their border agents, and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne opposed having armed agents on their territory. After protests, the CBSA (with their newly armed agents) moved over to Cornwall. From what I have heard, Council’s actions have been met with mixed reactions in the community, largely because of the inconvenience suffered by members as a result. They still have to go through customs when driving onto Cornwall Island, but now the process is longer since they have to drive across the Canadian bridge to do so. They also have to pass through Canadian Border Services when driving from Cornwall Island to Cornwall. Hundreds of community members have had their cars impounded for stopping on the Island without going through customs. From my personal point of view, it seems like an overly burdensome requirement to place on community members driving from one part of the territory to another, especially when other unique Canadian border crossings have experimented with other solutions (see, for example, this story about a community in BC).

The old border crossing on Cornwall Island. The building in this picture has now been demolished, but they moved the purple sign and have kept in visible throughout the demolition.

The old border crossing on Cornwall Island. The building in this picture has now been demolished, but they moved the purple sign and have kept in visible throughout the demolition.

Akwesasne is a complicated place. As an Indigenous community in Canada, they are working towards self-determination and moving past some of the ongoing harms of colonialism. As a border community, they face many unique challenges and jurisdictional issues. And like any other community, they are made up of many different people with their own views and goals. Almost two months into my internship, I am still learning new things about how the community works. There are many hardworking people at the Justice department and elsewhere who are coming up with creative solutions to their challenges, and it’s exciting to see such a dynamic community in action.

Resisting the Civil Society Kill Switch

2015 Noga BrodieBy Brodie Noga

The past month has been a blur of activity and emotion as LICADHO has, alongside numerous others, led a campaign against an NGO and Association law that, if enacted, will effectively give the government a kill-switch for critical civil society. The Law on Associations and NGOs, or more commonly, LANGO, requires mandatory registration of all NGOs and any group of citizens who “work together for a common purpose” and gives the Minister of Interior the power to ban any group that threatens the peace, security, traditions or “good culture” of Cambodia. In a country where vague laws are the basis for arresting and jailing activists, there is no doubt that LANGO will be a powerful tool to silence dissenting voices.

Protestors holding anti-LANGO signs are stand on a blockade across from police.

LANGO protestors blocked by police from marching to the National Assembly. Photo: LICADHO

While human rights NGOs like LICADHO certainly have much to fear from the enactment of such a law, it is community and grassroots activists that have the most to fear. In the past years an influx of foreign investment has caused the value of urban and rural land to skyrocket, prompting numerous corrupt land-dealings that force poor communities from their homes. Many of those evicted communities have organized prominent campaigns against the government, bringing, from its perspective, unwanted attention to their plight. In the past the government has not hesitated to use police and private security guards to brutalize protestors or abuse the judicial system to imprison them. Now, with senior politicians spouting conspiratorial theories that the CIA and MI6 are funding such subversive groups, LANGO will make all such community movements de jure criminal organizations.

The campaign against LANGO has been a process of organized chaos, made all the more difficult by the fact that a draft of the law was only obtained via a government leak a month ago. However the Say No campaign has also been inspiring, with youth creating songs and music videos denouncing the law, organizations releasing thousands of balloons across the city, and groups coming together to protest despite government warnings not do so. And as a result of tireless efforts of numerous campaigners the chorus of critical voices has steadily increased, both domestically and abroad. Yet despite the resistance, the law passed through the National Assembly on Monday with the opposition party boycotting the vote. Now all the law needs is approval by the government controlled senate and signature by the king.

And so it is easy to be disheartened. The future of not only LICADHO, but Cambodia as a whole has become immensely uncertain, particularly as government plans to pass other repressive laws, leaving little room for hope – other than in the knowledge that there are many across Cambodia willing to continue speak out (though it is the risks of doing so that continue to worry me). It has left me with many questions to consider; questions about the failure of development organizations to speak out on behalf of Cambodia, of the reticence of foreign governments to get involved, of what it means to express solidarity where the risks are disproportionately felt by your local allies. But for now I am too tired to answer them and can only hope that the next weeks bring a welcomed change of course.

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