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The Deception of Comfort

By Adriana Cefis

* This post mentions sexual harassment

I feel the need to start this post off by saying that the negative experiences detailed below are in no way representative of my time in Sri Lanka thus far. In fact, I often forget they happened. This is partially because so much is constantly happening here. Yes, the pace of life is much slower than at home, but at the same time so much is new to me – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the culture, the responsibility – it all feels very happening. At times, overwhelming.

At work, I research the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This project has involved a significant amount of field work on my part. Among other things, I have discovered that I enjoy talking to people much more than I do sitting behind a desk from 9-5, reading other people’s research. The personal connection is what has made the work interesting for me. It has also instilled in me a heavy sense of duty: to write something compelling and nuanced that grasps at the complexity of the issues people from a variety of communities have shared while also speaking to larger structural problems. But I’ll leave that for a different blog post.

I’ve also had a fair number of personal distractions. On weekends, my friends and I travel, and let me tell you, other memories were quickly washed away and replaced by the time I was ejected from an inflatable boat and thrown over a few rapids whilst white water rafting. We accepted the recommendation for what the contact of a new-friend advertised as a “beginner’s” rafting adventure without much thought; the spontaneity of the decision seemed fitting in a country where plans are fluid. I’ve since been told that this activity is dangerous, especially in off-season when the water is wild from the excess rain. Luckily, we’re all fine. We are outsiders, but we’ve become comfortable outsiders, at times trusting our surroundings to a fault.

Spontaneous decision to go rafting – before picture (when we were still smiling)

I could share a number of positive experiences I’ve had and ways in which I’ve made little changes to my life, not because I’ve felt particularly pressed to do so but because I am comfortable.

This comfort was not present when I first arrived, but grew steadily over time. It took me three days to learn how to cross busy intersections – “you just have to start walking” – eventually I lifted my hands up like Moses parting the Red Sea and prayed for the best.  I also used to refuse to take tuk tuks alone after dark, opting for uber instead (until my friends pointed out that you can be locked into an uber). These precautionary measures marked the beginning of my stay, but they aren’t what I would tell you about now. Now I would tell you about how I’ve cut my nails short and learned to eat with my hands, and how much I look forward drinking fresh and frothy fruit juices in the peak heat of the afternoon. I would describe how happy I was to discover that the pineapple here is sweet and doesn’t cause my tongue to tingle uncomfortably. I would talk about how easy it is to make friends, especially with Colombo’s large network of short-term interns. I would rave about how helpful and kind the locals have been (provided they’re not driving, at which point road-rage takes on a whole new meaning). In fact, when I got water-poisoning on a weekend away in Kandy, the hostel owner offered to drive me to the doctor’s office and find me a ride back to Colombo (approximately 120km away).

All of these experiences contributed to my comfort, and feeling secure, I eventually let my guard down. This process happened so steadily I don’t think I was consciously aware of it. But at times, that comfort has betrayed me. On one occasion, my friends and I were bargaining with a tuk tuk driver. When he refused to lower his price, we moved to the next tuk, and its driver agreed to charge the amount we wanted. Before we knew it, several angry men including the previous tuk driver surrounded us, and one of them slapped our driver. My first instinct was to raise my voice and protest, luckily a good friend had the common sense to point out that we were about to be trapped in the tuk tuk and should leave before matters escalated.

On another occasion, I took the train alone between Kandy and Colombo, leaving my friends behind because I had water poisoning. I rationalized the decision to make the journey by myself because it was the middle of the day and I was sitting in the “pregnant mothers” section. To my credit, all my research pointed to these choices as safe decisions for solo female travellers: travel during the day, trains are fine, sit in the family section. But that didn’t stop the man who sat next to me from stroking my upper thigh and touching himself. If you’re wondering what happened, I promptly stood up and screamed at him until he left. My larger point here is that up until that moment, my biggest preoccupation was trying not to vomit on the train. When the man sat a little too close to me, I blamed my North American standards on personal space. After all, the train ride over was so packed people were practically falling out of the doors – western rules on capacity definitely don’t apply here. When the strange behavior persisted, I told myself I was being paranoid. I refused to trust my own instincts.

unclear whether being pregnant makes you a mother or whether the sign required one to be pregnant and have a born child to qualify, but that’s beside the point

While I consider my comfort here in Sri Lanka to be a beautiful testimony to my relationship with this place, the truth is that it has nearly gotten me into a trouble a few times. As exhausting as it may be, I do feel that an extra sense of self-guardedness is required here. This might seem evident; to the Adriana from 2 months ago it certainly would have been. To this I have two responses: firstly, things are different when you’ve spent time in a place, made friends, and learned to walk long distances on sidewalk-less streets without getting hit by a tuk tuk or accidentally stepping on exposed wiring. The once unfamiliar place I mostly knew for its 26-year civil war, the 2004 Tsunami, and reports of harassment from fellow female travellers became associated with happy, personal experiences, and these experiences made a difference. In my comfort, I thought I had earned some sort inside knowledge on how to avoid these situations. Secondly, I find this need to constantly be aware of one’s surroundings suffocating and burdensome. Sometimes so much so that I unconsciously abandon it.

Living in Sri Lanka is not easy. I don’t think I can afford the luxury of mindlessly doing things here without somehow compromising my safety. However, I also feel it’s fair to say that if you do stay on your guard you will have some beautiful, unparalleled experiences.

Elephant crossing in Udawalawe National Park

Sitting at the World’s End in Horton Plains

Delawalla Beach

Responses to Maia and Francesca

Maia Stevenson:

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

Francesca Nardi:

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

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

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

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

Namibian Law: in Progress and in Flux

By: Eleanor Dennis

Living in a country whose independence dates to the decade you were born in can be a reminder of both how quickly development can happen and how long institutionalized ways of thinking can take to change. Namibia’s democracy is still relatively young, having passed through several distinct stages of English, German and South African rule before becoming the Republic of Namibia in 1990. Now an independent republic, Namibia is in the process of reforming many of their laws enacted during apartheid and determining exactly what Namibian constitutionalism will look like well into the twenty-first century.

Day to day life in Windhoek is fast-paced, cosmopolitan and hectic. The downtown core is often jam-packed with taxis and private vehicles moving people to and from work inside the city centre and to some of the towns outside. There are huge avenues with six car laneways and street names like Independence Avenue and Sam Nujoma Drive which serve as almost frequent reminders of the hard-fought liberation struggle that is never far from people’s minds.

Work at the LRDC

Members of the Hoachannas Traditional Leadership with representatives from the Ministry of Justice

My work at the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) is another reminder of how young Namibia’s constitutionalism really is. The Commission came into operation in 1992 and its core mandate is to examine all branches of Namibia’s laws and make recommendations for their review, reform and development. A typical work day involves the review of bills that are making their way through the Commission before being discussed at the Cabinet Committee on Legislation (CCL) and being passed on to the Attorney General, the National Assembly and eventually the National Council.

As an intern, I also work side by side with the Chairperson of the LRDC Ms. Yvonne Dausab and often accompany her to community meetings, town halls and workshops. What this meant for me was diving head-first into Namibia’s constitutionalism and getting a rare opportunity to see a law come to life almost from start to finish. What I’ve begun to develop in my six weeks in Namibia is a bigger picture of how a country’s laws shape both its present and its future—and some of the barriers that legislation can encounter in effectuating real change on the ground.

Town hall meeting in Hoachannas with the Minister of Justice

Racial Hate Speech in Namibia

Namibian society has come a long way from its racially-charged past. Every Namibian now enjoys the equal protection of his or her constitutional rights regardless of age, sex, colour, race, tribe, disability or any other of the enumerated grounds for discrimination under Article 10 of the Constitution. On the other hand, Namibia is at a crossroads with regards to one of its fundamental post-independence values—protection against racist hate speech.

Many violations of human dignity during apartheid in Namibia have been removed through legislation and policy, however there has still not been a total break with the racialized social order. This is evidenced by the inconsistent distribution of land and resources in Namibia and also in the social sphere where racial and tribal tensions continue to result in unequal treatment of individuals.

Racialized structures and racial language have survived apartheid in spite of a modern, liberal Constitution and a profound will to break with the past. Use of words making racial distinctions between people are still strongly embedded within people’s minds and discrimination continues to occur across both racial and tribal lines. Stereotypes based on tribe are particularly harmful, and continue to impact on an individual’s access to employment, land, shelter and equal treatment.

Freedom of Expression and Anti-Hate Speech Legislation

Other countries which have similar racial histories have enacted very strict legislation to protect individuals from racial hate speech in order to address past injustices and initiate a strong break from the past. These protections must be balanced with an individual’s right to express themselves, and countries like South Africa have restricted this balance to make the perpetuation of hate speech a serious crime where prosecutions have led to jail time. [1]

Namibia has followed suit and in 1991 enacted the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act [2] to protect the gains of the long struggle against colonization, racism, apartheid and the right to non-discrimination. Few cases have been brought before the High Court, however, and as of 2018 there have been no successful prosecutions made under this Act.

One of the landmark cases that led to a 1998 amendment of the Act is the 1996 Smith v State and Others case [3] where an advertisement in a Windhoek newspaper congratulating a famous Nazi on his birthday was challenged under Section 11 prohibiting racist speech. The constitutionality of Section 11 was challenged for derogating from the protection of freedom of expression set out in Art. 21(1) and (2) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Namibia used the Oakes test and while the advertisement failed on every requirement, the Court deemed that the infringement did not justify restrictions on freedom of speech under the Act because the groups of persons concerned (Jewish people) had “never featured or suffered in the pre-independence era in Namibia”. The Act’s objective was deemed to be the prevention of apartheid-type racism and while the advertisement was harmful to Jewish people, it did not espouse apartheid values and therefore the Act could not justify infringing upon the advertiser’s freedom of speech in that situation.

Former Dean of the University of Namibia Faculty of Law Nico Horn criticizes the Smith case precedent, [4]  arguing that the Act should not only offer protection to previously disadvantaged groups in a country where racism has many forms and minority groups continue to face discrimination today. Horn argues that a broad interpretation of the term “racial” group in the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act is needed to cross the bridge from a racist to a non-racist society and the Smith case failed to further this. Alternatively, the former Ombudsman Clement Daniels argued [5] that laws that prohibit racism are not enough to curtail racist expression. Laws that promote national unity and anti-racism promotion campaigns are equally needed in order to change one of the roots of the problem—people’s mindsets.

Moving Forward with the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act

The fact that only few cases have ever come to Court under the Act has led many to question its effectiveness. There are a myriad of reasons for this, ranging from victims having inadequate information concerning their legal rights, lacking the resources to enter into the complex judicial process, and fearing social censure if they come forward.

An article that Ms Dausab and I published in The Namibian on hate speech legislation

This puts Namibia in a particularly important position when it comes to determine which direction the country will take on freedom of expression and what hate speech regulation will look like. Legislation exists protecting individuals from discrimination and racist hate speech, however as long as the Act remains unarticulated by the Courts confusion will remain in terms of what legal protections exist to combat racism in a judicial context in an independent Namibia.

Moving Forward at the LRDC

Like Namibia’s constitutional law maturing case by case and bill by bill, I’m learning to take my experience here at the LRDC step by step. Namibia’s past and present is more complex and nuanced than I can manage and at times I fear I am only scratching the surface of the real-life issues a country must grapple with in the first decades after its independence. Like Namibia, I too am developing an understanding that takes two steps forward before falling one giant step back when faced with issues like racism that legislation has not be effective at combatting.

The perspective the LRDC is restricted to is a legal one, but that perspective need not be the only one. Namibian law is a work in progress and so is building a constitutional democracy. That much, at least, I understand. 😉


[1]   https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43567468

[2]  http://www.lac.org.na/laws/annoSTAT/Racial%20Discrimination%20Prohibition%20Act%2026%20of%201991.pdf

[3] https://namiblii.org/na/judgment/high-court/96/16

[4] http://www.kas.de/upload/auslandshomepages/namibia/Namibia_Law_Journal/09-1/horn1.pdf

[5] https://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?page=archive-read&id=147374







Par Guillaume Lebrun-Petel

Je suis arrivé chez Tata en fin d’après-midi quand, après avoir cogné à la porte, j’entendis déjà l’exclamation et le rire caractéristique de mes hôtes dont j’allais pouvoir témoigner à mes proches lors de mon retour au pays. Elle a fait construire sa maison en bordure de la plage, si proche que les petites marches menant à l’avant-cour, brossées par le remous constant du vent et du sable, ne sont plus qu’une petite butte sans forme à enjamber. Tata serait à l’extérieur de la ville pour mes premières semaines à Dakar, mais elle m’avait dit que je ne me sentirais pas oublié dans sa grande résidence de bord de mer : on allait s’occuper de moi.

Ainsi, c’est Maryam, après avoir ouvert la porte, qui m’invita à entrer. Déjà jeune mère de deux enfants, elle m’indiquait dans son français gêné qu’elle serait ma maman pour mon séjour. Dans les minutes qui ont suivi mon arrivée, j’ai rapidement compris que le français, bien qu’il soit la langue de l’administration, du travail, et surtout de l’éducation au Sénégal, restait largement étranger à Maryam, une bonne, qui n’a jamais été scolarisée. Car, dans ce pays, si le français est la langue qui s’enseigne, ce sont les langues locales – comme le wolof et le diola – qui se parlent à la maison. Si on a la chance de maîtriser le français, c’est qu’on fait partie des heureux qui, contrairement au Sénégalais moyen, passent plus de 2,8 ans sur les bancs d’école. Dans les semaines qui suivirent, Maryam, entre autres, me nourrit, m’aida à m’orienter dans la ville et s’assura que je prenne mon antipaludéen à heure régulière. Son attention et le plaisir apparent qu’elle avait à me partager sa culture – égal à celui qui m’habitait à l’écouter – me firent rapidement oublier que nous ne possédions, ni elle ni moi, les mots nécessaires pour soutenir notre conversation.

À peine quelques semaines plus tôt, pendant l’année scolaire, j’avais eu la confirmation que mon stage d’été en droit de la personne allait bien avoir lieu. Contacter mon superviseur à la RADDHO a été une tâche longue et difficile, mais j’étais satisfait de savoir que mes efforts avaient porté fruit. J’étais donc assuré de passer mon été en Afrique, où mon projet de recherche porterait sur le travail des enfants à Dakar. Tout comme les difficultés à communiquer avec Maryam m’ont pris de court, mon stage me réservait lui aussi son lot d’imprévus.

La RADDHO œuvre depuis plusieurs années au Sénégal et est l’une des organisations de défense des droits de la personne les plus reconnues en Afrique de l’Ouest. Sa réputation lui vient entre autres de ses partenariats avec des organisations non gouvernementales d’envergure comme Amnistie internationale ou Equitas. C’est d’ailleurs en collaboration avec l’organisation américaine End Slavery Now que la RADDHO pilote le projet sur lequel je devais travailler.

Le travail des enfants a une forme singulière à Dakar, proprement parce qu’il est visible de tous, et ce, sur l’ensemble du territoire de la capitale. Ceux qu’on appelle les Talibés, de jeunes garçons envoyés à Dakar par leur famille pour étudier dans des écoles coraniques, se retrouvent trop souvent à mendier dans les rues au profit de larges réseaux d’exploitation. Pas un jour ne passe depuis mon arrivée au Sénégal sans que des groupes d’enfants – et dans certains cas des bambins – ne me sollicitent à la sortie d’une boutique ou sur les trottoirs d’un grand boulevard.

Ces scènes sont d’autant plus malheureuses que mon expérience de stage me permettait difficilement de voir en quoi le travail en droit de la personne avait la moindre incidence sur celles-ci : à la RADDHO, entre les conférences de presse et les campagnes de sensibilisation, les tâches sont rares et les journées se déroulent doucement. Sous toute réserve, j’ai aussi cru comprendre que la RADDHO agit comme partenaire avec End Slavery Now sans toutefois piloter le projet, de sorte que ma besogne de stagiaire s’étendait à bien peu. Les quatre semaines du ramadan, la Coupe du monde de football – un événement d’ampleur considérable pour la population –, et la saison des pluies qui s’amorce ont par ailleurs eu tôt fait de ralentir le rythme du travail au pays. Pourtant, c’est cette dissemblance entre l’immensité de la tâche à accomplir et l’absence de direction pourvue à mon stage qui m’ont poussé à réfléchir et à mettre de l’avant mon propre projet de recherche.

Je suis venu au Sénégal parce que je m’intéresse aux questions de capital humain ; à l’autonomie et au bien-être que les gens peuvent acquérir par l’éducation et par le travail. Bien que des enjeux de ce type restent d’actualité au Canada, les projets de développement de l’État sénégalais, couplés aux grandes tendances forgeant l’avenir du travail comme la migration, la financiarisation, l’automatisation du travail, ou encore la hausse flambante de la démographie africaine, font du Sénégal un pays de choix pour s’intéresser aux questions de capital humain.

Deux Talibés mendiant dans une station-service à quelques pas de mon lieu de travail

Les Talibés illustrent bien cette conjoncture, car ils sont à la fois une manifestation et une cause des problèmes de développement du pays. Parce qu’il est incapable d’offrir un service efficace de protection de la jeunesse – et plus largement un système scolaire – l’État ne peut assurer le bien-être des enfants et leur insertion dans la société civile à plus long terme. Ainsi, les chances que ces enfants puissent plus tard entrer sur le marché du travail et à leur tour contribuer au développement du Sénégal et de ses forces vives sont minces.

Pendant plusieurs semaines, j’ai épluché la littérature sur le sujet pour tenter d’en apprendre davantage sur la situation du Sénégal : le plan de réforme économique Sénégal-Émergent mis en place par le gouvernement, les rapports d’examens multidimensionnels du Sénégal publiés par l’OCDE, les programmes et projets de l’OIT… une source folle d’informations qui m’a confirmé que la situation des Talibés est loin d’être la seule à illustrer l’ampleur des problèmes de capital humain. Je me rapporte ici aux premiers paragraphes de ce texte et à Maryam.

Un samedi après-midi, je surpris Maryam en train de refaire la lessive que j’avais terminée dans la matinée. Dans mon cas, le stage en droit de la personne ne se limite donc pas qu’aux réflexions théoriques sur l’état du pays, il y a aussi le seau d’eau tiède que j’utilise comme douche le matin, ou encore les bacs de plastique dans lesquels je lave habituellement mes vêtements durant la fin de semaine. Je compris que je ne les avais pas suffisamment rincés de leur savon, et elle refusait, dorénavant, à ce que je m’occupe de ma lessive. Maryam commence habituellement ses samedis vers 6 heures. Elle prépare mon petit-déjeuner avant de partir au marché pour ensuite rentrer nettoyer la maison, l’avant-cour et la cour arrière. L’après-midi, elle s’occupe de la cuisine et des membres de la famille élargie de Tata qui fuient la chaleur suffocante de Dakar pour se rafraichir au bord de la mer.  Elle semblait à présent résolue à ajouter ma lessive à son horaire chargé du samedi. Entre nous, je m’arrange maintenant pour faire ma lessive le lundi matin en cachette, pendant que Maryam se permet de dormir quelques heures de plus.

Le Plan Sénégal-Émergent du Président Macky Sall est loin de faire l’unanimité au sein de la population sénégalaise. D’ailleurs, les graffitis dénonçant la nouvelle politique économique sont omniprésents à Dakar

S’il ne m’avait pas sauté aux yeux pendant les premières semaines de mon séjour chez Tata, j’appris que le travail domestique était au Sénégal un enjeu de droits de la personne d’envergure nationale. Le faible niveau d’éducation, la migration rapide des populations rurales vers les zones urbaines, ainsi que l’arrivée grandissante des femmes des classes moyennes et aisées sur le marché du travail accentuent l’offre et la demande de ces services dans un cadre faiblement et difficilement réglementé.

C’est grâce à Maryam que j’ai choisi d’axer mes recherches de stage sur les conditions de travail des travailleurs domestiques. Son labeur sans relâche ne m’apparaît plus que comme étant une simple marque de courtoisie ou une démonstration – quoique bien réelle – de l’hospitalité sénégalaise. Il s’agit plutôt de la manifestation d’une forme de travail précaire qui, confinée au cœur de la vie privée des ménages, reste invisible et dérobé à tout encadrement législatif.

On m’avait prévenu avant mon départ qu’on ne refait pas le monde en 12 semaines. C’est juste. En revanche, les six 6 premières semaines de mon stage ont suffi pour m’introduire à un monde d’apprentissages. C’est avec enthousiasme que j’aborde les six restantes.

Learning About Kenyan Challenges, Beauty, and the Very Relative Concept of Time

By Yulia Yugay

At the Maasai market in Nairobi

“Karibu Kenya!”, says our smiling taxi driver, as he welcomes Nicole, my co-intern from University of Toronto, and myself. We spend the night in the hot (for us, Canadians, who just got out of 6 long months of winter, but definitely not so hot for the locals) and humid Nairobi. The next morning, our driver Charles, who is an hour and forty minutes late (our first encounter with the notion of “African time”), picks us up, and drives us to Meru. On our way, we get a brief insight into Kenyan history, politics, economy and climate. We discover that we arrived right in time for the avocado season and learn about the infamous Kenyan nyama choma (roasted meat) for the first time. Within 5 hours, we drive past countless hills, maize fields, and banana trees. We cross through very dry and then rainy regions, follow along the Tana river (that, as I tell my mom to reassure her, did not flood the Meru region) and, of course, catch a glimpse of Mount Kenya.

Ripples International as an organization

As an intern at the equality effect, a Canadian NGO fighting for the rights of women and girls in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, I have an opportunity to spend my summer working with one of its international partners in Meru, Kenya called Ripples International. The latter works with children through a number of platforms that include a primary school, a medical centre, an access to justice program, the New Start baby rescue centre and Tumaini rescue shelter that most of my work revolves around. 

Tumaini stands for “hope” in Swahili, which perfectly reflects what this shelter is to Kenyan children. Girls and boys aged between 3 and 18 who were and/or are at high risk of being victims of defilement (child rape), child labour, early marriage, and FGM are rescued and sheltered there. Most of the girls at the shelter were victims of defilement; many of them are (very) young mothers, who stay there with their babies. Spending time with these children is my favourite part of the internship so far. During every visit, I am amazed by their good heartedness, love for learning, sincerity, and joie de vivre. On the other hand, every time I discover their individual files that explain why these innocent children are rescued in the first place, my heart breaks anew.

On one of the visits to introduce the idea of Justice Clubs to primary schools

Court watch, police monitoring, home visits

In addition to sheltering and counselling, Ripples International takes on the monitoring of the girls’ treatment by the police and of their court cases. An important part of my work consists of preparing for, attending and accompanying girls to their court hearings. Moreover, we contact and visit police stations and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to follow up on cases, when things slow down and fall through the cracks.

Unfortunately, simply getting a defilement case to proceed in court is a challenge on its own. Firstly, the incident(s) has to be reported to the police, where it is recorded in the Occurrence Book and a P3 form (medical examination report) that has to be completed both by a police officer and a doctor/medical specialist is issued. The police has to take the witness statement of the victim, visit the crime scene (which is almost never the case due to either reluctance or logistical issues/inaccessibility of the place), collect evidence and/or admit the evidence provided by the victim, interview and take the statements of other witnesses, where applicable, and finally take the required steps to arrest the suspect and lay charges. This process is not extremely time consuming and complicated but each of the multiple steps is an opportunity for the police to ask for bribes and frustrate the victim’s access to justice.

Saturday morning with the girls at Tumaini Centre

Our internship takes place five years after the ground-breaking 160 Girls decision that previous interns had described at length had been rendered. In short, Ripples International, together with the 11 petitioners, won the constitutional challenge, as a result of which the High Court of Kenya found that police treatment of victims of defilement violated their constitutionally protected rights and “created a climate of impunity for defilement as perpetrators were let free”. Thus, the National Police Service was ordered in May 2013 to conduct “prompt, effective, proper and professional investigations”. Five years down the road, although significant improvements can be seen, the work that Ripples International and the equality effect do on police monitoring is far from being completed.

Secondly, even if the victim is past the first hurdle and the case does proceed in court, they face issues ranging from delays to absconded perpetrators and even corrupt magistrates. Because Ripples International admits girls from all over the country, I had the opportunity to attend several defilement cases before different regional courts. In my six first weeks in Kenya, about half of the hearings I attended were pushed to a further date because “the court is out on official duty”, the testifying Investigating Officer is caught in preparations for a national holiday, or the accused’s lawyer isn’t ready to proceed, to name a few. Even if witnesses fail to appear in court for no good reason, the most severe consequence they face is a 500 shilling fine (roughly equivalent to $5 USD).  Furthermore, in a significant number of cases, the matter is either withdrawn or abandoned because the perpetrator escaped and cannot be found (or the police are not looking for him).

At the launch of the Day of the African Child celebrations in Isiolo

Home visits are another insightful part of my internship; they are both eye opening and humbling. Being welcomed into homes of ordinary people, have them open up and tell us about one of the most desolating events in their family history makes riding 3 matatus (community cars) with at least 7 other people in it and a boda boda (motorbike) each way worthwhile.

All in all, while writing this blog post I’ve come to the conclusion that with all its issues and challenges on both individual and institutional levels, Ripples International offers a strong shoulder and great support to loving children and their families while they undergo the roughest and most challenging times. This support is particularly important in a system where things being done the way they should be is a tremendous achievement, and where the government and its organizations do not make access to justice for victims of defilement easy.

Responses to Léa and Alix

Hi all,

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


Léa Carresse (Stable Seas Project):

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

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


Alix Genier (Aswat Nissa):

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

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

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



Hi 2018 interns!

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

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

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



Settling in on the Smiling Coast of Africa

No matter how you many countries you visit or live in, moving to The Gambia is a whole different experience. Nothing quite prepares you for the change, the weather, the people, the men, the poverty and the adjustments you have to make. The friendliness on the “Smiling Coast of Africa” definitely helped but I still found it difficult to adjust in my first few weeks.

Things don’t work when you want them to, the power goes off when you really don’t want it to, goats scream in the middle of the night and it’s terrifying, sidewalks are a luxury, it takes 4 hours to get something done when all you need is 30 minutes, you sweat in places you didn’t know existed, seeing cows walking by your side as you try to tan on the beach is normal, you fear the bathroom, you accept you will never be as well dressed as West African women, you’re convinced the mosquito in your bedroom is going to give you malaria, you feel a special bond with your electric fan at work, you try to learn to appreciate instant coffee (I haven’t), and you actually begin to answer when people call you toubab on the street (the Wolof word for white).

If you do not learn to be flexible and to take things with a grain of salt, you won’t like it at all.

Some of the more frustrating aspects of day to day life grow on you with time. I came to enjoy the freezing cold wakeup call of my morning bucket shower making it oh so clear that it was time for work.  I found my evening feet rinse quite therapeutic even if it was because the lack of sidewalks and the abundance of dirt roads make your feet turn a whole new colour. Sometimes the fridge would stop working, meaning it was a reason to go out and eat Gambian cuisine, which is actually fantastic, unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case you’d die just by stepping out of the airport of the country where peanuts are the ONLY export.

One ritual I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy is to walk down to the local market after work to pick up my vegetables and mangoes (a food group in itself in The Gambia when they’re in season). There, I get to chat with Ara, a lovely Gambian woman, always beautifully dressed (I could stare at these outfits forever) who runs the fruit and vegetable stand with her brother. I was drawn to her stand on my first day after work and have been going since. A few days in, she asked if I liked parsley and gave me some for free. I was so touched by her gesture; that’s what Gambians are like. They’re happy, they’re generous yet they have so little. It’s incredibly humbling and we can all learn from their wonderful nature.

Some of it doesn’t grow on you and makes you so frustrated you could just scream into a pillow for hours on end. I’m a very independent person, I do things on my own and I’m used to going where I want to solo. As a white woman, even though the country is very safe, I can’t do whatever I want without being disturbed. Going to the gym or for a run? Men will try to run next to you. Go for a leisurely stroll? Have lunch in a restaurant? Go to the beach? Get a taxi? Walk around local markets? Someone is going to introduce themselves to you and propose to you. If you find a Black man to join you, you’re fine. But that still means I have to spend time with someone if I want to venture out anywhere. We all have days where we don’t want to interact with humanity, where we just want to be lost in our thoughts, read, write, drink coffee, listen to music and just be on our own. When I feel that way, I find myself forced to stay home because there is literally no way I can find that peace if I leave my compound.

Some of it doesn’t grow on you but you learn to tolerate it. Cat calling isn’t fun, but some men are more imaginative than others at complementing women. One said I was as pretty as A flower in A garden (no one told him beauty lies in precision), a nice change from the whistles or the ones screaming from the other side of the street, BOSS LADY HI YOU LOOKING GOOD TODAY, I was offered romantic rides on donkey carriages, was proposed to by taxi drivers and was expected to give out my phone number in the same way you throw fish to a hungry crocodile; freely and with no restraint. Many men confessed their love to me, a nice ego boost from my love life back in Montreal. Of course I rarely answered but often took mental notes of what was being said and write it down for entertainment. If you can’t laugh about it, you’ll cry of frustration because it happens so often. Every man wants to shake your hand. WHAT IS WITH THAT? I don’t know you and quite frankly have no desire to know you, so please, save the hand shaking and just wave hello.

It’s not always fun and I often times find myself thinking “I’m The Gambia, what the actual fudge” (censored for academic integrity) and then I remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime experience, that most people never leave their comfort zone and that I am growing so much from my time in The Gambia.

That being said, I’m only human so if I’m having a rough day, that’s ok too. It’ll pass.


The Right to Health in Uganda

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

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

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

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

Catherine Labasi-Sammartino

CEHURD’s office in Nakwero, Kampala

View from the National Mosque

A la découverte de la MACCIH

Par Camille Lustière

Rendue à la moitié de mon séjour déjà, le temps est venu de faire un bilan sur ce que j’ai appris jusque-là. En plus de la découverte d’une association en plein boom et de son équipe dynamique, j’ai eu la chance de pouvoir me pencher sur des sujets poussés sur l’Amérique latine, notamment en termes de lutte contre l’impunité et la corruption.

Avant d’arriver à Avocats sans frontières Canada (ASFC), j’avais bien évidemment déjà des notions sur le sujet, mais de longues heures de recherches m’ont fait découvrir un aspect fascinant de la justice internationale. En lien avec la future mission au Honduras d’ASFC, j’ai notamment travaillé sur la MACCIH, Mision de apoyo contra la corrupción y la impunidad en Honduras, la mission de l’Organisation des Etats Américains (OEA) au Honduras, signé en janvier 2016 pour répondre aux graves dysfonctionnements liés à la corruption endémique dans le pays.

Si l’on m’avait dit que je passerais des heures à étudier les tenants, les aboutissants, les échecs et les espoirs d’une institution hondurienne dont quasiment personne au Canada (en dehors des intéressés) n’a entendu parlé et surtout, que je me sentirais tellement investie dans le sujet ! J’y ai découvert à quel point la lutte contre l’impunité est un balancier constant entre le poids de l’opinion publique nationale et internationale contre celui des corrompus et leurs protecteurs, qui résistent de toutes les manières possibles aux changements qui les menacent.

Cette mission a une histoire contrastée : elle naquit du grand mouvement d’opposition populaire Indignados, qui enflamma le pays après que ne soit révélé en 2015 un vaste réseau de fraude à l’assurance sociale au bénéfice notamment des fonds de campagne du parti du président, Juan Orlando Hernandez. Qu’elle existe est déjà une avancée, mais malheureusement le gouvernement hondurien a bien tiré des leçons de l’expérience réussie du Guatemala voisin en matière de lutte contre la corruption. La Comisión contre la Impunidad y la Corrupción en Guatemala, la CICIG, sous l’égide de l’ONU,  a enregistré ces dernières années des succès fantastiques, surtout depuis l’avènement du troisième commissionaire, Iván Velázquez “le Terrible”. Après 11 ans de service en effet, la CICIG,  a mis en examen 4 des 5 derniers présidents guatémaltèques, mis au jour de vastes réseaux de corruption, notamment au sein des douanes et des prisons, et résolu la rocambolesque affaire Rosenberg, où un avocat avait commandité son propre assassinat dans le but d’incriminer le président en exercice à l’époque, Alvaro Colom.

De tels succès expliquent que les Indignados aient réclamé une CICIH du même calibre pour leur pays, mais aussi que le président ait tout fait pour que la MACCIH ne soit pas dotée des mêmes capacités menaçantes que sa grande sœur guatémaltèque. Effectivement, le contraste est clair en termes de capacités d’action : là où la CICIG peut choisir ses dossiers et les mener à bien en tant que procureur complémentaire, la MACCIH quant à elle, si elle choisit aussi ses dossiers, ne donne qu’un appui technique au Ministère public, à travers notamment son organe spécialisé, l’UFECIC (Unidad Fiscal Especial contra la Impunidad de la Corrupción), qui retient seul la capacité juridique de poursuivre. Cette technicalité n’est pas sans conséquence, puisqu’elle rend la MACCIH très dépendante de sa contrepartie ministérielle.

Malgré ces difficultés, la MACCIH a mis au jour quelques affaires sous le leadership actif de son premier porte-parole, Juan Jiménez Mayor, mais la découverte d’une affaire en particulier a peut-être signé son arrêt de mort. En décembre 2017, la MACCIH annonce avoir découvert un vaste réseau de détournement de fonds destinés à des programmes sociaux au sein même du Congrès, dominé par le parti du président, le Parti national. Elle entreprend donc de poursuivre cinq députés et s’arme de patience alors que la juge en charge tarde à délivrer des mandats d’arrêt.

La réaction du Congrès, elle, ne se fait pas attendre : un amendement est ajouté à la Loi sur le Budget pour donner toute juridiction sur les affaires de malversations de fonds sociaux à un tribunal administratif, contrôlé de près par le Parti national, le temps que ce dernier fasse un audit dans un délai de 3 ans, 3 ans pendant lesquels aucune poursuite d’aucun type ne peut être engagée envers les personnes soupçonnées de ces délits. Découragé par ces barrières institutionnelles, le manque de soutien affiché du Secrétaire général de l’OEA achève de convaincre Jiménez qu’il doit démissionner, ce qu’il fait avec fracas en février 2018. A sa suite, plusieurs autres quittent la mission, dénonçant des dysfonctionnements internes liés à une collusion de l’OEA avec le gouvernement Hernandez.

Mais l’entreprise de déconstruction du Congrès ne s’arrête pas avec la démission de Jiménez : les députés poursuivis ont fait appel à la Cour suprême du pays en arguant que la mission porte atteinte à la souveraineté. Coup de théâtre le 30 mai : alors que les rumeurs au sein même de la magistrature soutenaient le contraire, la Cour suprême déclare la MACCIH constitutionnelle, mais semble contester en revanche celle de son bras armé, l’UFECIC. Un jugement décousu, incohérent et largement dénoncé par ses opposants comme une véritable mascarade juridique, destinée à calmer l’opinion, notamment américaine, au vu du soutien affiché de la chargée d’affaire Heide Fulton à la MACCIH, et à attaquer du même coup ses capacités d’action. Dans un pays miné par la corruption, c’est ironiquement sur des notions de souveraineté, d’indépendance judiciaire et de respect de la séparation des pouvoirs que la Cour suprême et le Congrès honduriens appuient leurs efforts de sape de la MACCIH tout en proclamant haut et fort leur attachement au processus de lutte contre l’impunité.

Mais alors que l’on annonçait déjà ses funérailles, la MACCIH informe qu’elle ouvre le dossier Pandora, une vaste affaire de détournement de fonds destinés au ministère de l’Agriculture et l’Elevage (282 millions de Lempica) dans laquelle seraient impliqués 38 personnes, dont de nombreux députés des trois partis politiques principaux. Ironiquement, sont également impliqués quelques députés du Parti libéral, parti farouchement pro-MACCIH, dont le président, Luis Zelaya, avait été jusqu’à Washington pour dénoncer la lenteur du processus de nomination du nouveau porte-parole. Le gouvernement avait en effet laissé jusque très récemment lettre morte la nomination de Luis Antonio Guimarães, ancien procureur brésilien, proposée par l’OEA. Il aura suffi d’un voyage du président Hernandez à Washington auprès du gouvernement américain, qui lui aurait souligné le besoin de résoudre ce problème, pour que soit annoncé en quelques heures, après des mois d’attente, l’accession de Guimarães à la tête de la MACCIH.

Le feuilleton de la MACCIH ne finit pas de surprendre. Tantôt annoncée comme morte, tantôt triomphante, elle a montré une capacité à résister à laquelle l’on ne s’attendait pas. Jusqu’à quel point pourra-t-elle tenir toutefois, rien n’est moins sûr. Sa résilience fait face à la détermination de personnages corrompus qui ne souhaitent rien tant que sa mise à mort silencieuse. Quel destin pour la MACCIH ainsi affaiblie, sur le point d’être privée de son partenaire institutionnel et dont le sort semble être lié au bon vouloir du prochain Procureur général, qui sera certainement choisi davantage en fonction de sa docilité que de son indépendance vis-à-vis du pouvoir en place ? Va-t-elle réussir son pari ou au contraire vouloir se retirer d’une situation désavantageuse où elle se retrouve le seul paravent de pureté d’un gouvernement corrompu jusqu’à l’os ? Il est sûr que d’ici la fin de mon stage, quelques réponses seront apportées et bien d’autres questions posées, mais je continuerai à suivre la lutte hondurienne contre la corruption de près au jour le jour!

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