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Pour conclure…

Par Guillaume Lebrun Petel

J’aimerais conclure ma contribution au McGill International Human Rights Internship Blog par une courte réflexion sur ma première expérience de travail en droit et sur ma vie en Afrique. Je souhaite ainsi informer et, peut-être, inspirer les étudiants qui souhaitent se lancer dans l’aventure des stages internationaux.

Ce n’est un secret pour personne que les études à la Faculté sont principalement axées sur la maîtrise des concepts théoriques du droit. Sans chercher à critiquer cette orientation pédagogique, mon expérience m’amène à soutenir qu’un étudiant a fort à gagner en confrontant cesdits concepts aux réalités de la pratique en droit. Ainsi, le savoir qui naît de la rencontre entre la théorie et le réel peut avoir un impact considérable sur la façon dont nous approchons les problèmes juridiques.

Dans mon premier billet, j’ai décidé de vous parler de Maryam, de son travail et, plus largement, de l’impact que celui-ci avait sur mon quotidien durant mes trois mois au Sénégal. Au cours de mes dernières semaines à la RADDHO, je me souviens avoir lu un texte de la professeure Adelle Blackett où celle-ci mentionnait que le travail domestique – celui effectué par ceux qu’on appelait au Sénégal les « employés de maison » – avait une market-enabling function dans nos sociétés.

Si cette caractéristique m’avait paru audacieusement énoncée et intéressante en théorie, ce n’est qu’aujourd’hui de retour au confort de la bibliothèque Nahum Gelber que la formule me semble prendre tout son sens. En y réfléchissant bien, les tâches ménagères entreprises par Maryam rendaient possible l’envoi d’un foyer entier sur le marché du travail, de sorte que dans mon cas, elles me permettaient de me consacrer entièrement à mon stage et aux intérêts nouveaux qui en émergeaient.

Bien sûr, je comprenais pendant mon séjour que son travail facilitait le quotidien de ma famille d’accueil, mais c’est l’importance économique de son rôle qui, toutefois, me demeurait invisible. Malgré la proximité avec laquelle je bénéficiais de l’aide de Maryam, je ne perçois qu’à présent le grand décalage qui existait entre ma compréhension des concepts théoriques du travail domestique et le véritable impact que celui-ci a eu sur la qualité des apprentissages retirés et des expériences que j’ai vécues pendant mon stage.

Mes trois mois à Dakar m’ont enseigné l’immense savoir qu’il y a à gagner quand la théorie se fond au réel : les problèmes de droits de la personne s’en trouvent plus vrais, plus précis, plus complexes, et habitent plus rapidement l’esprit qui sait que leurs solutions n’attendent qu’à être traduites de concept au concret. Pour ma part, il me semble que c’est à ce niveau que réside toute la force du programme de International Human Rights Internship de McGill, et il s’agit du principal enseignement que je retire de mon été 2018.

Making a Case for Privacy as a Human Right

Maia Stevenson

Being a law student interested in privacy rights, I frequently hear the following two comments, respectively:

Only people who have something to hide are worried about privacy”,

 and

Privacy is a concern for the privileged”.

I disagree with both comments.

Before I interned with the Privacy, Technology, and Surveillance Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association this summer, and before I began law school, I had a fairly robust sense of why I disagreed with the comment that privacy is only a concern for those who are breaking the law.

I disagree because of an appreciation for the value of political dissent and because of an unwillingness to fully welcome any government, including a modern, liberal, democratic one, into one’s home, personal relationships, and inner intellectual life. While as Canadians, we may not feel like we live in a police or surveillance state, one where activists, political dissidents, and other citizens are spied upon and persecuted, such realities are close enough at hand[1] to warrant appropriate safeguards for Canadians’ privacy.

It is not only drug traffickers and child pornographers who value a right to privacy: other political, religious, moral, artistic, and personal opinions and expression, especially those that deviate from a norm, are stifled or self-censored when citizens do not believe that they have a space in which to exist, develop, and share, shielded from the eye of the state, the public, or their peers.[2] Even if you don’t believe that you will never be in need of this sphere of privacy, the fact remains that our political and legal systems are built upon principles of freedom; they are strengthened when citizens have the theoretical capability of experimenting with opinions and ideas, without fear of serious repercussion. Privacy law protects the mind of the citizen as the most fundamental realm of individual privacy; it is not a crime to think about breaking the law, for example.

As for the comment that privacy is a concern only of the privileged…

Perhaps I hear this comment made in part because nowadays the phrase “privacy rights” calls to mind a locked iPhone containing encrypted communications, an embarrassing Internet browsing history, and online banking passwords. Not exactly the stuff of “human rights”.

Or maybe we find it hard to place value on something we regularly and freely relinquish to corporations in the name of convenience, efficiency, and connectivity.

Whatever the reasons, I agree that if we’re abstractly ranking Charter rights Maslow’s hierarchy style, then privacy rights seem to intuitively come second to other human rights; I think, the idea goes, that it is only after one has secured more basic human rights that the value of a private life starts to take form.

However, it is misleading to think of human rights in distinct silos. Issues of equality, race, and class overlap frequently with issues of privacy. Invasions of privacy by the state as they occur on the ground in Canada disproportionately affect the members of poor, racialized communities. The degree of privacy one enjoys is correlated to their wealth and historic interaction with the state: how advanced is your technology, how long is your driveway, how high is your fence, are you a guest, tenant or property owner, how good is your lawyer, how assertive of your rights is it safe for you to be in front of an armed policeman?

The CCLA is intervening in a case at the Supreme Court of Canada this autumn in which the police, without reason or warrant, walked into the backyard of a young black man, and after an exchange, arrested his friend/guest.[3] This occurred in a social housing complex in the neighborhood I lived in this summer in Toronto. To the CCLA and others, this case raises important issues at the intersection of privacy, race, and class:

In Canadian law, the Edwards test is used to determine whether or not someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (REP) in a space. According to this test, the type of property and the control and ownership of that property (or lack thereof), factor greatly in the determination of the REP. The result is that the privacy of those who can prove a certain type of residency (exclusive occupation of a space, ownership) is more readily recognized than the privacy of those in other types of residency (non-exclusive occupation, non-ownership). Someone who lives in a social housing complex or an apartment building, someone who is temporarily living rent free at a friend’s or partner’s residence, or someone who doesn’t have a place to live at all, likely has less of a right to privacy than someone with a fence, a long driveway, and space reserved exclusively for themselves. Logically, this answer to the question of “what was your reasonable expectation of privacy?” makes sense: I live in the country, my driveway is a kilometer, I have clearly demarcated property lines; suffice to say I would be very shocked to encounter anyone but my family in my backyard. But are logical answers enough of a reason to continue using a question that yields discriminatory results, in an area as important as the state’s interaction with citizens?

This is but one example of how “privacy rights” are not free-floating, second-order human rights. To say that privacy is a concern of the privileged is to assume that we all experience “rights and freedoms” in the same way. The privacy that a citizen is afforded is closely related to the respect her state has for her, her human dignity, and her freedom, all of which are subject to differential treatment.

 

 

[1] Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, for example.

[2] For scholarly work on the importance of privacy, see: James Rachels, “Why is Privacy Important?” (1975) 4 Philosophy & Public Affairs; Jean Cohen, Regulating Intimacy: A New Legal Paradigm (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Julie Inness, Privacy, Intimacy, and Isolation (New York: Oxford University, 1996); Stanley Benn, A Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Robert Gerstein, “Intimacy and Privacy” (1978) 89 Ethics.

[3] You can read R v Le, 2018 ONCA 56 here: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2018/2018onca56/2018onca56.pdf

A Genocide Forgotten, No More

By: Eleanor Dennis

Walking around downtown Windhoek, it is common to see streets named after German philosophers or musicians and finishing with “Strasse” rather than street. In the popular vacation town of Swakopmund, German-language bookshops outnumber English or Afrikaans shops, the architecture could be mistaken for buildings in Bavaria and it is even common to walk several blocks before hearing any language other than German spoken. Indeed, for a country twenty-eight years free from South Africa and over one hundred years free from German control, so many German colonial markers still exist in Namibia that on the surface it may seem like the wounds inflicted upon the Namibian psyche from German colonization have been healed– they have not.

Lüderitz is the site of one of the five former Namibian concentration camps.

The first colonial claim on Namibian lands came in 1797 when Britain occupied Walvis Bay, and for the next two hundred years Namibian territory remained under the control of different colonial powers. In 1883, German trader Adolf Lüderitz bought the coastal area that now bears his name, and from that moment on German troops were deployed and gained control of Namibia, then known as German South West Africa. While some of these details are known and spoken about in public discourse, many of the atrocities that occurred at the German’s hands in Namibia were left largely unaddressed and unknown by the international community. Thanks to a very important court case that is currently being litigated in New York, this has begun to change.

Genocide and the Reparations Debate

From 1904 to 1908, Germany committed genocide against the Nama and Herero people of Namibia in what the UN Whitaker report [1] has now acknowledged as one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century alongside the Ottoman massacre of the Armenians, the Khmer Rouge and the Holocaust. The Herero people had commenced a rebellion against the German soldiers and settlers at the time and the German military ordered the extermination of their people as a result. Thousands of both Herero and Nama people were killed or driven out into the desert to die, and those who survived were interned in concentration camps around the country and systematically starved and worked to death. The result was the annihilation of 80% of the Herero people and 50% of the Nama people in an extermination so massive the ramifications are still felt in these communities to this day, although no reparations have been paid to date.

The affected communities of this genocide have been seeking reparations for these atrocities for many years, but their efforts have been fruitless. In 2001 the Herero people filed a $4 bn lawsuit against the German government and two German firms, however their claims was dismissed on the grounds that international protection of civilians did not exist at the time of the conflict [2]. It was only in 2004 that the German government formally recognized the colonial-era genocide and issued an apology [3] however they maintained that there would be no compensation for the affected communities. In 2015, the German government officially recognized the atrocities constituted genocide, but ruled out reparations again to the more than 100,000 victims [4]

Members of the Nama Traditional Authority in Hoachanas, Namibia

This begs the question of whether Germany now recognizes the genocide as a crime under international law. While German politicians have acknowledged the genocide in a series of public statements in recent years, the state continues to submit legal documentation to the court that denies that the event constitutes genocide.

Current Case

This brings us to today, when Herero and Nama chiefs have yet again brought a class action lawsuit [5] against Germany accusing the state of genocide, theft, and expropriation of property when Namibia was under German colonial rule. Their demand is simple: reckoning with colonial-era atrocities and reparations akin to what was paid to Holocaust survivors. What is interesting in this case is that it is being pled in New York in U.S federal court under the Alien Tort Statute established under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. This tort has been interpreted to allow foreign citizens to seek remedies in U.S courts for human-rights violations for conduct committed outside the United States in order to give a global remedy for breaches of international law (see Sosa v Alvarez-Machain case for more info).

The problem that their cause has encountered is one of jurisdiction, because the Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum precedent set in 2013 establishes that the Alien Tort Statute should not apply to crimes that do not touch and concern the U.S. In order for there to be a firm basis for jurisdiction in the US under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Herero and Nama need to demonstrate that wealth derived from the property taken during the German colonial period has a direct link to commercial property in the US.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs Ken McCallion has put forth the central argument that the Kiobel case leaves the door open for U.S courts to gain extraterritorial jurisdiction over cases of genocide. He maintains that a number of German properties in New York were purchased as a direct result of the wealth accrued from slave labour and expropriation of property during the genocide. Furthermore, he has argued that the sale of genocide victims’ human remains to the American Museum of Natural History demonstrates a valid commercial link between the genocide and American Commercial interests. Germany’s lawyer has countered that the presence of skulls at the museum was the result of a private donation from a German anthropologist and not a commercial exchange and argues as a result that the U.S does not have jurisdiction over the case.

As of August 1st, 2018 the case has been adjourned by Justice Swain who will deliver a decision in the coming weeks. As more information becomes available, I will update this post with the results of the case.

Acknowledgement and Awareness

Members of the LRDC fight for constitutional justice for all Namibians

From the current court case to my experience during my 3.5 months in Namibia, an important theme arises for me as both an intern at the LRDC and a law student in Canada that may tie this blog post together. Living in Windhoek as an outsider who had the immense privilege of working in Namibia and meeting and forming bonds with the people there, the question of how useful acknowledgement really is came up for me time and time again.

In Namibia there are many young German expats living and completing internships and the reality of the extreme social and economic inequality is that German Namibians continue to hold a large percentage of the land and wealth in the country. The German government has acknowledged the genocide and provides generous economic aid for Namibia (which currently amounts to $14m per year [6]however for Nama or Herero individuals who have been set back by the killings of their ancestors 100 years ago, these acknowledgements may fall on deaf ears. What does it mean to really acknowledge past wrongs? If victims demand reparations and are denied, does this deflate the acknowledgement?

There are many cases of reparations being won, and examples varying from the U.S paying reparations for Japanese-American internees to Canada agreeing to pay compensation to the residential schools victims [7] show that possible, though imperfect solutions do exist to begin to address past injustices. On the other hand, many reparations cases leave victims without any relief at all and reparations fall far from the only solution required to support victims and their communities.

Thus, more uniform and universal approaches are needed to address this issue and reduce the struggles experienced by the survivors and the families of victims in accessing reparations for mass atrocities. For the moment this will not help the Nama-Herero cause. What may truly help more than acknowledgement, however, is awareness.

Germany’s genocide in Namibia was forgotten for many decades by the international community, however this is beginning to change. In 2011 a popular book was published that has increased international awareness of the Namibian genocide called The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism. In addition, the current case as well as Germany’s acknowledgements post-2000 have helped to increase international awareness of this issue and there is real hope that Nama and Herero families will receive compensation. The more this issue becomes discussed in the international community the more pressure will increase upon the German government to not treat Namibian victims differently than victims of the Holocaust and receive the compensation that they deserve. A genocide and victims forgotten, no more.

[1] http://www.preventgenocide.org/prevent/UNdocs/whitaker/ 

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/aug/16/germany.andrewmeldrum

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3565938.stm 

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2018/05/24/the-herero-nama-genocide-the-story-of-a-recognized-crime-apologies-issued-and-silence-ever-since/#768bd62a6d8c 

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2018/05/24/the-herero-nama-genocide-the-story-of-a-recognized-crime-apologies-issued-and-silence-ever-since/#768bd62a6d8c 

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3565938.stm

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/06/decades-after-government-seizure-of-children-indigenous-canadians-will-receive-compensation

 

La Saskatchewan, un mois plus tard

Par Rose Adams

J’ai rédigé mon dernier billet de l’appartement que je louais à Saskatoon. Ça me fait drôle, maintenant, de retour à Montréal, d’écrire à propos de mon expérience en Saskatchewan. Ayant retrouvé depuis un mois mes habitudes, ma routine, mes amis et la langue de Molière, j’ai l’impression que c’était dans une autre vie. Cependant, bien que les Prairies canadiennes me semblent bien loin déjà, les problématiques à la base de la sur-incarcération des populations autochtones sont malheureusement bien présentes ici aussi.

En effet, en accompagnant ma patronne et collègue Michelle Brass à deux séminaires du Gladue Awareness Project, dont j’ai parlé dans mon premier billet, j’ai eu l’occasion d’entendre la voix de nombreux participants au système de justice criminel sur la cause de ces chiffres aberrants, mentionnés précédemment. Les séminaires se veulent effectivement des outils pour, entres autres, initier une conversation entre ces différents participants sur les effets de l’application de Gladue et Ipeelee en Saskatchewan. Je m’explique.

Le premier séminaire auquel j’ai participé s’est déroulé à La Ronge, un village d’une population d’environ 2700 habitants, dans le nord de la Saskatchewan, à environ trois heures et demie de route de Saskatoon. Il est intéressant de noter que le village de La Ronge est également entrecoupé de terres appartenant au village nordique d’Air Ronge, ainsi qu’à deux réserves de la Première Nation de Lac La Ronge. Michelle et moi nous sommes donc dirigées vers le Lac La Ronge un matin cuisant de mi-juin, armées de nos statistiques et extraits de décisions, révisant notre présentation, pour l’instant très académique. (En chemin, Michelle m’a fait remarquer que nous arrivions au Nord puisque la prairie cédait la place à la forêt : en Saskatchewan, le Nord commence où les arbres commencent à pousser. Cela m’a paru absurde, parce que d’où je viens, Kuujjuaq, le Nord commence où les arbres s’arrêtent : c’est la toundra.)

Lac La Ronge

Notre très petite audience était néanmoins moins formelle que ce à quoi je m’attendais – j’ai pu observer une avocate de la défense blaguer avec un ancien procureur de la Couronne dès les premières minutes. En discutant avec les participants, nous nous sommes vites aperçues que tous, bien que jouant des rôles très différents dans le système de justice, étaient du même avis : la sur-incarcération des populations autochtones découlait de l’absence de services et de problématiques sociales plutôt que de l’application de Gladue et Ipeelee.

Tous s’accordaient pour dire que les juges comprenaient les réalités autochtones des communautés nordiques et les prenaient en compte. Le problème se situerait, selon les participants, plutôt dans le traumatisme vécu suite aux écoles résidentielles, causant les nombreuses dysfonctions dans les communautés.

Ces dysfonctions se perpétueraient en l’absence de services sociaux, menant à l’abus d’alcool, qui sert alors de déclencheur à la criminalité. De plus, les effets de cette absence de services sociaux se feraient sentir également sentir en prison provinciale, où certains détenus disent préférer aller en prison fédérale pour accéder à des services. Ce serait aussi le cas à la sortie de prison, où d’anciens contrevenants peuvent être tentés par l’abus de substances après avoir été sobres en prison : n’ayant pas accès à des services pour continuer leur traitement, retourner dans un milieu où l’alcool est omniprésent les plongeraient à nouveau vers le crime.

Selon un intervenant dans notre présentation, les contrevenants autochtones dans le Nord de la Saskatchewan, grandissant dans une culture « jailhouse » en l’absence de la leur, perdue suite au colonialisme, vivent dans un milieu où la prison et l’abus d’alcool sont normalisés, contribuant à augmenter constamment les taux d’incarcération des populations autochtones.

Notre deuxième présentation, qui s’est déroulée à Prince Albert, une ville d’environ 35 000 habitants, à une heure et demie de route au Nord de Saskatoon, a révélé des commentaires similaires. Tous pointaient l’absence de services du doigt comme cause de la sur-incarcération des populations autochtones.

J’ai trouvé intéressant de pouvoir discuter avec tous ces participants au système de justice. Alors que je ne remets pas en question leurs expertises respectives, et que j’admets qu’il est trop simple de considérer que le manque d’application de Gladue par les juges en Saskatchewan comme l’unique cause de ces problèmes, je crois que l’absence de services ne l’est pas non plus. Si c’était entièrement le cas, pourquoi les chiffres seraient ils considérablement plus hauts en Saskatchewan que dans les autres provinces? Il est effectivement possible d’argumenter que ces mêmes problèmes sociaux et cette absence de services se retrouvent également dans de nombreuses communautés autochtones au Québec, en Ontario et en Colombie-Britannique. Les chiffres y sont néanmoins plus bas, ce qui coïncide avec une plus grande application de Gladue et une plus grande standardisation du processus. Cependant, je crois que je n’ai ni l’espace, ni le temps pour trouver ici la réponse.

J’aimerais toutefois terminer mon billet sur une note plus positive. Comme expliqué dans mon premier billet, j’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer des gens extraordinaires lors de mon stage, que je n’aurais probablement jamais rencontrés si je n’avais pas passé mon été au Native Law Centre. Je suis infiniment reconnaissante de cette opportunité d’avoir fait leur connaissance et d’en avoir tant appris en un court été. Ce que j’ai exploré cet été ne tient toutefois pas qu’entre quatre murs. J’ai effectivement pu voir des paysages extraordinaires, et voir un peu plus de notre beau pays. J’ai eu la chance de me rendre aux Rocheuses, en Alberta et un peu en Colombie-Britannique. Il est difficile d’exprimer avec des mots le sentiment que j’ai eu en les apercevant. C’est pourquoi je termine ce blog avec quelques photos.

Moi-même, parmi les montagnes de Banff

 

La vue du haut du Lac Agnès

Keeping Warm During the “Cold” Rainy Season

By Yulia Yugay

Contrary to popular belief, I did not roast under the Kenyan sun for three months. In fact, we caught the second half of the rainy season and stayed in Kenya during the coldest months of the year. In July, the temperature can go as low as 15 degrees; it is at this time that people take their warm leather or down jackets out, wear long thick scarves and hats. In other words, when Nicole and I went outside wearing a blazer or a light sweater, Kenyans thought we were the most warm-blooded people that have lived on this earth. Unsurprisingly, when they found out about average winter temperatures in Canada, they could not believe their ears.

In Meru Law courts with a public prosecutor and Nicole

These differences in perspectives were obviously not limited to climatic issues, which is why my experience in Kenya makes up a full spectrum of emotions. One of the most shocking, yet unsurprising, things we’ve witnessed is the treatment we received, as wazungu (white people) during official events, from government officials and people on the streets. When visiting police stations while trying to find out the status of a case, going to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to follow up on the progress of an appeal, or when asking for help from court staff, we were offered a seat in the waiting room, directed to the right person or given an answer. While this sounds totally ordinary, our Kenyan colleague said that he felt like he was in a different country. Later we were told that this was due to the fact that everyone thought we were “important” people who are coming to check on their work.

Another instance where we got preferential treatment because, once again, people thought we were “important” was at the celebration of the Day of the African Child. We were officially greeted, given water bottles, and seated right next to a highly ranked government official whose arrival (30 minutes late) required the interruption of the entire parade. This time, we received special treatment because it was very likely that we were some of the donors who sponsored the event. While this treatment can be understood, it also showcases a frustrating reality: an experienced university graduate working in a Kenyan NGO with issues as important as defilement cannot always do their work as efficiently or to the same extent as two foreign students who do not even speak decent Swahili.

Justice Clubs launch event at Ncuui Primary School

With that said, there was an overwhelming amount of wonderful people, customs and precious moments that kept us warm in fifteen degree weather and in spite of the different surprises on the way.

One of the highlights of my internship were the school visits we paid within the framework of the Justice Clubs initiative. The objective of the Justice Clubs is to educate a group of primary school students about human and children’s rights, the 160 Girls decision, and the issue of defilement more broadly. Selected students learn the curriculum through specifically designed workshops and activities and then pass the message on to the rest of the school and members of community during launch events and closing community shows. Having visited and selected the schools and trained the teachers (Justice Club patrons), it was extremely comforting to see the effort, dedication and enthusiasm that both the school administration and students had invested into organizing, preparing for and performing at the launch events. The level of student engagement and parent participation instills hope that the Justice Clubs initiative contributes to women’s and girls’ empowerment and brings us one step closer to the longterm, systemic change.

At the tea plantation with a group of strong and beautiful women

However, every moment spent with the girls at the Tumaini shelter was, without a doubt, the most memorable and heartwarming. Working with their individual cases, knowing their stories made my work very emotionally challenging. Nevertheless, all the time spent cooking, playing, reading, colouring books, and painting nails with the kids added the invaluable human component to the human rights work I did all summer. I cannot stress enough how loving, sincere and generous are these souls who, thankfully, haven’t forgotten how and what it means to be children

To conclude, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude for all the people I met over the course of my three months in Kenya who made up for the many cold and rainy days. I am grateful for the people who introduced me to and taught me to cook some of the best Kenyan dishes. I am grateful for the famous Kenyan tea with milk and sugar, religiously served every morning and afternoon, that I shared with my colleagues (this definitely helped me cope with the unbearably slow wifi or the lack thereof). I am grateful for the lady at the market who always greeted me with a warm smile and threw a couple more sweet potatoes or bananas in my bag. I am grateful for the women working at the tea plantation who welcomed me into their group and showed me how to pluck some of the best tea in Kenya. I am grateful for the friendships created not only with the people in the office, but also with their families. And finally, I am grateful for having been able to experience the sense of community that is so deeply rooted in Kenyan people.

Sunrise at the Maasai Mara National Reserve

Asante sana, my dear Kenya, and until next time.

Finding Familiarity in a Foreign Place

By Adriana Cefis

The first time I experienced home abroad was while eating McDonald’s soft serve at Colombo’s Racecourse as little kids played soccer in front of me. The experience brought back foundational childhood memories of summer: house league soccer followed by Wild Willy’s ice cream. If you’re from Montreal’s West Island you know exactly what I’m talking about. I was taken aback by the strong feeling of comfort: how weird it is to experience home a million miles away as a foreigner in a place you’ve never been before, a misplaced sense of déja vu.


On my first day, my supervisor at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Colombo assigned me the task of writing a report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). He explained that States party to the Convention must submit an initial report within two years of ratification. Sri Lanka ratified the Convention in February of 2016 but as of yet, no initial report has been submitted.

I was originally asked to research and write a shadow report. To give you an idea of the work involved in such a project, Canada’s initial report was drafted in consultation with  over 700 civil society organisations. In addition to the time constraint imposed by my three-month placement, the subject of disability rights is under-researched in Sri Lanka (or “poverty stricken” as one activist I spoke with put it), and the available data is paltry and outdated. The potentiality of producing a rich and nuanced report in just three months seemed implausible. My first challenge at ICES was therefore to narrow the scope of my project and devise a new proposal for my supervisor.

ICES HQ

Having already completed a great deal of desk-based research, I arranged to meet and informally speak with a number of disability rights “veterans.” I ended up writing a report on barriers to both formal and informal mechanisms to the implementation of the CRPD. To do so, I conducted interviews with umbrella disability rights organisations that represent the country’s main geographic areas, individual Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), International Non-Governmental Organisations, disability rights activists, and the the country’s Human Rights Commission’s sub-committee on disability.

I used Alexander Betts and Phil Orchard’s institutionalisation-implementation gap to organise the information gathered from these interviews in my paper. This theory provides a frameworks for why norms institutionalised at the international level (for example, through the ratification of conventions) are implemented differently domestically by categorising implementation gaps into ideational, material, and institutional barriers.

At times, this project was a source of personal conflict for me: I wanted to be a responsible researcher. I devised ethics forms and had them approved by my supervisor, I tried my best to acknowledge the limitations of this three-month research project and underscore that this was not a scientific study, but a report designed to offer a comprehensive foundation for further research and activism, and I spoke to my supervisor about sharing the information contained therein widely among the network of organisations I spoke with.

I also grappled with the inability to include all of my findings in the report. The conversations I had yielded some viewpoints that would make for interesting studies in their own right as well as some side-points that could not be included in my project. For example, some of the people I spoke with asserted that disability can be a a model for reconciliation among different groups of people, specifically emphasising how parents associations provide an arena where people from different ethnicities, religions, and paths of life rally together. Others suggested that ex-combatants make for better activists because they know how to mobilise effectively.

One of the comments that came up and struck closest to home was the idea that there’s a hierarchy among disability rights when it comes to research, advocacy, and representation among disability rights organisations (primarily with visual impairment being very well represented and intellectual disability the most underrepresented).

This point was especially relevant in the Sri Lankan context where formal mechanisms of implementation often treat “disability” as a homogenous group and are not especially conducive to the implementation of disability rights, meaning that service provision often falls to the informal sector. The strength of the “rights movement” in a “niche” area of disability rights is therefore related to how well that “niche” area is represented and serviced.

I have a family member with an intellectual disability and my family has always been involved in organisations that provide services for this group of people in Montreal. Speaking to parents of children with disabilities in Sri Lanka and hearing their frustration at the lack of services and stigma experienced by their children accordingly struck close to home, as did listening to stories of families that went door to door to raise awareness and funds for service provision. There it was again, that familiarity, that sense of déja vu.

Volunteers for the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped over 50 years ago – my grandmother is in the middle at the back

Overall, I’m grateful for this amazing opportunity which allowed me to experience the challenges and beauty of field-work, including but not limited to addressing conflicting viewpoints, identifying and acknowledging internal biases, dealing with a variety of forms of transportation, the occasional battle with Sri Lankan fauna and flora, intriguing conversation, and the space and time to reflect on all of the above.

Public transit snack

Sri Lankan cooking class

Meeting Tep Vanny

By Emilie Duchesne

One of my most interesting assignments was to research Tep Vanny, Cambodia’s most famous land activist. Just a few days ago, she was finally released from prison after two years. As part of the push to get her out, LICADHO was planning to create a website celebrating her activism. Along with another intern (who luckily knew more than I do about website design, which is nothing), I got to visit CC2 women’s prison to interview Tep Vanny for our research.

While we were waiting for her, I listened and took notes while the prison team interviewed two prisoners who broke my heart. The first was a 16-year-old mother who had given birth after being incarcerated for selling drugs. Another of my projects was a legal analysis of the criminal provisions in Cambodia’s law, and so I knew she had likely been sentenced to a disproportionately long prison term for next to nothing. The prison team made sure that her baby was healthy and arranged to provide supplies for her, since they are not provided in prison. She seemed to be doing a remarkably good job with her baby despite the situation.

After speaking with her, the team asked a guard about a tip they had received that a ten-year-old boy was being illegally held in the prison. There is a law on juvenile delinquency in Cambodia which sets the minimum age for detention at 14 and also commits Cambodia to various international standards on the treatment of children in detention. When he came out, I saw how little he was and knew there was no way he had been mistaken for a fourteen-year-old.

I later did research on the juvenile delinquency act and learned that there are no enforcement provisions, and that there is also no independent monitoring. The judges who are charged with monitoring are the same people who put Tep Vanny and other activists in prison whenever instructed by the government to do so. LICADHO was only able to learn about the incarcerated boy because another prisoner had tipped them off during an interview. He was not being kept separately from adult prisoners, and his parents had not been contacted. Thankfully, the women prisoners had been taking care of him, comforting him, and giving him extra food, and the prison team was able to advocate to get him released and back to his family.

When Tep Vanny came out, all the nerves I had been feeling on the way to the prison were instantly alleviated. She is a hero here in Cambodia, and her activism has been centrally featured in at least two documentaries that I know of. Despite this, she is completely warm and unpretentious; she laughed with us, put us at ease, and thanked us for taking the time to talk to her, saying she rarely gets opportunities to speak about her activism with other prisoners.

It all started in 2010, when Vanny’s home and those of her neighbours were razed to make way for a Cambodian People’s Party senator and his powerful Chinese backers to build a commercial development.[1] There was no consultation process; the community learned about the development when the company showed up and began destroying homes and filling the lake with sand. Vanny’s mother had been evicted in a different land grab, and so she had already seen first-hand that the government does not normally pay fair compensation to evicted people. Her activism began with going door-to-door in her community telling people about their rights and urging them to stand together. She spent the next ten years organizing, protesting, and petitioning alongside her all-women activist group, the Boeung Kak 13, until almost all the families in her community had negotiated title agreements with the government.

At this point she extended the fight to other people disenfranchised by economic land concessions and to activists who have been wrongfully jailed by the Cambodian government.[2] She even picked up English, which she had been too poor to learn in school, so she could raise awareness internationally. Now her English is excellent, and she has spoken in front of the UN on behalf of Cambodian land grabbing victims. Her activism has been hugely successful in raising awareness about land grabbing, but at great personal cost: she has been threatened, beaten, and arrested on many occasions. On August 15th, 2016, she was arrested alone for the first time. The government had always previously arrested her alongside other activists from her community, and so many people believe she was arrested alone this time in an attempt to break her spirit.

On the night of her arrest, Tep Vanny was leading the Boeung Kak lake community in a cursing ceremony to protest the arbitrary detention of five NGO officers and an election official. It was a terrifying time for human rights defenders: following a close and highly contested election in 2013 marred by allegations of fraud, the government’s uneasy truce with civil society had collapsed into a violet crackdown with various legislative restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, consistent state violence against protesters and strikers, and the forced closure of major independent newspapers and radio stations.

In response to this crackdown, Tep and other activists launched the Black Monday campaign of May 2016, in which various groups protested peacefully while wearing the color black as a sign of united resistance. Prime Minister Hun Sen immediately responded with a ban on “any protests in which participants are dressed in the same colour”. Hun Sen frequently alleges that foreign governments are conspiring to incite a Cambodian uprising– a “colour revolution” based on the revolutions in Yugoslavia and Serbia- when justifying violations of political rights.[3] In the weeks that followed the ban, authorities enforced it by violently dispersing protests, threatening protesters, and banning people from posting their views online without government permission. Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson described the situation as “a witch-hunt against any NGO or activist who ever demanded the government respect human rights, called out corrupt officials, or organized joint actions”.[4]

Despite the ban, Tep’s group continued protesting and even expanded their campaign in July to demand an independent investigation after a popular political analyst was murdered. Kem Ley was shot in a gas station days after publicly commenting on a Global Witness report titled “Hostile Takeover: The Corporate Empire of Cambodia’s Ruling Family”. Kem Ley’s death must have been a reminder to Tep Vanny of the risk she was running as the face of land activism in her community. According to Global Witness, at least thirteen environmental and land activists were killed in Cambodia between 2002 and 2014.[5] But, if she felt afraid, it was still not enough to convince her to stop. Only three fabricated charges and a politically motivated arrest could finally put an end to her work.

When I met Vanny, I was struck by her kindness and intelligence. Compared to pictures I had seen she looked pale and tired, but when she spoke about her activism I recognized the Vanny I had seen in documentaries, passionately leading protests and confronting government officials. She lit up when talking about her children, who are both top of their classes in school. She told funny anecdotes of when she first started approaching members of her community about activism and was met with skepticism because she was relatively new in the community and not well-known. We asked her about fear, and she said: “we all have fear in the body, but we continue anyway.” She told us that when she is released, she will continue her activism by providing newer activists with guidance. She believes solidarity is the key: “the government wants to silence us one-by-one. But we are bigger than the government together. We have to use our power.” When we asked if there were any parts of the interview that she would like for us to omit, she smiled wryly and said: “Write what you want. I’ve said too many things already.”

 

[1] https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-post-depth-politics/boeung-kak-disastrous-decade

[2] https://www.amnesty.org.uk/tep-vanny-jailed-defending-her-home

[3] https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/prime-minister-bans-color-coordinated-demonstrations-112434/

[4] https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/government-ups-plot-accusations-new-video-linking-cnrp-and-us-groups-colour-revolutions

[5] https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/land-activists-%E2%80%98under-threat%E2%80%99

Terrorism, Election Violence, and Transitional Justice

By Nicole Maylor

From exploring different research streams in the organization to watching world cup matches over lunch, the last 6 weeks of my internship were very eventful. Here are updates for my continued research on the Abu Sayyaf Group, a new project on election violence, and writing a piece on transitional justice:

Update on Abu Sayyaf Group

My policy paper on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) took a swift turn shortly after uploading my first internship blog post. After meeting with my boss, we decided that it would be in the best interest of my work to write a Stable Seas blog post on the ASG instead. The ASG blog post focuses on the Abu Sayyaf Group’s activities around the Sulu Sea to demonstrate the need for the Stable Seas project expansion in South East Asia.

In response to Stephanie Chipeur’s comment on my first blog post, through further research, I conclude that there is a link between maritime terrorism and organized crime. I had a good conversation with a co-worker who researches organized crime and he said that terrorist groups share similar tactics and activities with groups labeled as being involved in organized crime, thus a distinction between the two is hard to make. Additionally, I think that we in the West have been fed the trope of who a terrorist is, which links to gender, race and religion making distinctions between groups even more difficult. I have also learnt that terrorism efforts look different in different parts of the world. For example, Philippines is a coastal nation, and historically, terrorist groups in the area have been able to retreat to the isles in the Sulu Sea without persecution. This leads me to believe that a large part of the ASG terrorism efforts owe their success to the geography of the region.

To counter maritime terrorism efforts, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia signed an international agreement to patrol their shared waters in an effort to eliminate terrorist groups from retreating to the ocean after committing crimes. While this is a positive development in the region, I question how useful this effort will be if these patrol teams are not able to monitor every nook and cranny of every island? In my opinion, government forces must also explore technology such as drones that operate aerially to locate and monitor terrorist activity as well. Luckily, I will be able to get first-hand knowledge on this topic as a co-worker is heading to a conference in Manila at the end of August and will give me feedback to direct my piece. Overall, this has been a very interesting topic to learn about, and I look forward to getting my co-worker’s feedback in order to publish my Stable Seas blog post before the summer is over.

Election Violence, can we forecast the future?

I’ve also been tasked with researching election violence statistics for a data collection model with the goal of forecasting the future of election violence around the world. For this project, election violence is defined as any case where the government engaged in election-specific violence against civilians or harassed opposition. This has been an interesting experience in understanding how governments, in general, enforce their power. I researched 336 election results over a 20-year span and determined that despite a nation’s geography, development or political history, few are completely immune from election violence. For me, this spoke to a greater question on the relationship between the rule of law and the state. Should laws be enforceable just because they come from the state, even when they are corrupt? Is a true democracy one that centers the voices of the people? If so, how loud do their voices have to be? How do these ideas interplay with rights and freedoms against state produced violence?

These are all important questions that are examined by both the layperson and academic around the world. The answers are not simple, and I do not have any set conclusions on this topic. Overall, I have realized that governance, which is at the core of One Earth Future’s mandate, is tricky. That said, it can be achieved in many ways, including: free and fair election processes, contemplating different histories, and should have the ultimate goal of peace and co-operation for all.

Bringing in the Canadian Context

Lastly, I was offered an opportunity to co-author a piece on transitional justice. During a conversation in the work kitchen, a co-worker told me that she was writing a post for a series on African security to promote the book titled: African Actors in International Security: Shaping Contemporary Norms. She was writing about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Report as a standard for seeking justice in post-conflict states and I immediately thought of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She offered me the opportunity to work on the article together. I was very grateful for this offer, not only to bring the Canadian context of reconciliation with indigenous communities into my summer work, but also because I previously worked in Cape Town for an NGO focused on gender-based violence and South Africa holds a special place in my heart. Being able to co-author this piece allowed me to bring these two experiences together and I gladly welcomed it.

While writing, I listened to the Nelson Mandela Centennial Lecture  given by Barack Obama. The lecture centered working across ideological lines and resisting oppression and inequality. Obama, along with South African dignitaries, spoke to the need for a unifying symbol to rally around in uneasy political times. This was influential on my writing as I reflected on the idea of true reconciliation, and what that means today.

I also tried to incorporate my own experiences into the piece. I have conflicting thoughts on the topic of reconciliation because as much as I think truth and reconciliation commissions are necessary in post-conflict states, reconciliation must also be an ongoing process. The wants and needs of the oppressed mustn’t only be listened to and acted on during a reporting period but must continue to incorporate modern-day realities. This idea is especially interesting to think about in the South African context as the government is currently looking into land expropriation from majority white farmers which can be perceived as either retributive or restorative justice.

To compare, in the Canadian context, indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are currently protesting the outcome of various criminal cases where white men have been acquitted for murdering indigenous youth which speaks to the struggle between indigenous communities, the Canadian government and the ongoing pursuit of justice. Both cases speak to the modern-day reality of historically oppressed groups. Both cases come after state-led reconciliation efforts and reports. Overall, this piece has piqued my interest in transitional justice in post-conflict states, and I hope to learn and write more about this topic in the coming year.

Here is a link to the post: http://oefresearch.org/think-peace/truth-and-reconciliation-south-african-model

Lessons Learned

Overall, I am grateful to have worked on a variety of interesting projects at One Earth Future. Every day I was able to have stimulating conversations with co-workers and I am so happy that my fellow team members were also avid soccer fans! Looking back, I am proud of my efforts, and I will use the knowledge I have gained this summer to impact the world around me in a better, more peaceful way.

P.S. I haven’t reflected much on my life outside of the office. Here is the story of my weekend life in Colorado through pictures!

An Institutional Infection

By Alicia Blimkie

It’s easy to love the Philippines. The country is a place of contrasts, with a mere handful of blocks separating towering glass skyscrapers from shacks with tin roofs that could fall over with a single gust of wind (and the country gets a lot of typhoons, so fall over they do). But one thing that stays constant is the people. Their friendliness crosses class divides and endures hardships. No matter where I walk, I’m always greeted with a smile and “Morning, po!” This spark in people’s eyes is even more spectacular when you realize the suffering that this country has experienced. Centuries of colonization (first under the Spanish, then the Americans), massive casualties during WWII, then a decade of dictatorship and martial law under the Marcos regime forced the country through seemingly endless suffering, in multiple forms. The true resilience of the Filipino people is demonstrated by the fact that all of this violence culminated in the peaceful EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, which ushered in a transition to democracy.

View from the Makati courthouse

But the freedom that was found after the transition is now under threat. I’ve heard people say that the atmosphere today feels like it did in the 1980s, when fundamental freedoms were stamped out. Many journalists and other political activists are afraid to speak out against the government. (If you think the fake news issue was bad during the 2016 U.S. election, you should look at the fake news in the Philippines). Political opposition leaders have been attacked, some having been thrown in jail for yet-unproven drug offenses.

But I’d like to write about one particular event. While my tired body was being carried through the air, across the Pacific to Manila, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines were busy voting out their Chief Justice. Imagine, for a moment, that the Supreme Court of Canada voted to oust Wagner or dear Bev McLachlin from the court. Yes, this is just as crazy and unfathomable as it sounds. And it was unthinkable for many of the Filipino lawyers I work with, as well.

To put the incident in context, the Philippines has a government and judiciary modeled after the American system, including built-in checks and balances on power. Filipino lawyers and law students look up to their Supreme Court as upholding independence and rule of law as much as we do. This was a shock. Filipino law students are taught that the only way to remove a Chief Justice from office is through impeachment – they would get the question wrong on their exam if they wrote otherwise. Instead, Chief Justice Sereno was removed via a process called quo warranto, which essentially declares that the appointment was never valid in the first place. The court was able to justify its use of quo warranto by interpreting a phrase in the Constitution which states that the Chief Justice may be removed by impeachment to mean that she could also be removed through other means. This diverged from how the provision had previously been interpreted, thus, as some argue, contravening stare decisis.

What are the consequences of this? Chief Justice Sereno had opposed the current government multiple times in her judgments. It was the Solicitor General – representing the government – that submitted the petition for quo warranto. The worry is that the highest court is being influenced by political pressure. In a country where officials are constantly accused of involvement with drug trafficking, and where alleged traffickers are often killed without due process, this is a serious issue. And if government officials can now use quo warranto proceedings to remove members of the judiciary who oppose them then they also have the chance to fill these positions with those who are loyal to the regime. So much for a strong, independent institution.

Volunteering with AHRC staff to paint a local elementary school

A loss of judicial independence is not just an academic or legal issue, it has serious human rights implications. One issue is due process. For those officials who can be removed via quo warranto, there is a prescription period of one year. In its reasoning, the Supreme Court stated that this deadline did not apply to the government. But if that is the case, with what other offenses can the government charge people, regardless of prescription? The court that was supposed to protect individual rights could potentially rule in line with its political inclinations now, more than with the law. Freedom of expression may also be negatively impacted. The removal of someone in a high-ranking position who stood up against the government contributes to an atmosphere of fear. If the Chief Justice can be removed by a President who doesn’t like her, what about people with lower profiles whose stories will not end up in the news?

A courtyard in Intramuros: the old part of Manila

Ultimately, this event made me reflect on the fact that the institutions to which we cling so tightly are largely abstract, and often ephemeral. Even if the buildings and the people working in them are physical, much of an institution’s effectiveness depends on the trust of the public and the willingness of employees to do their work in good faith. These structures are fragile, and what can reduce them to rubble is simply people changing their minds. The question of how to build institutions that will withstand the test of time is a difficult one, but it is highly important, particularly for societies with violent pasts that are rebuilding for a brighter present and future.

 

La Tunisie, le paradoxe.

Par Alix Genier

Après deux mois ici, je me suis habituée à beaucoup de choses.

L’odeur ambiante du jasmin. La conduite automobile. Les enfants qui vendent des mouchoirs et des machmoums dans la rue. Les chats partout. La nourriture épicée. Les horaires flexibles et les changements de plan. Les discussions sur le bus. Les rencontres fortuites. La lune magnifique. L’interdiction de vendre de l’alcool les vendredis. Les regards dans la rue. Les sorties jusqu’aux petites heures du matin même en semaine. Le sel de la mer. Les bouteilles de plastique partout. Et surtout, surtout, les femmes tunisiennes, leur beauté et leur force.

Faisant mon stage au sein d’une organisation travaillant pour les droits des femmes et l’implication des femmes dans les institutions politiques, je me suis imprégnée de l’essence des femmes dans ce pays. Les femmes tunisiennes sont époustouflantes et, force est d’admettre, qu’elles portent le pays sur leur dos. C’est probablement le cas de beaucoup de pays, mais je pense que ça m’a surprise énormément pour trois raisons principales.

J’avais beaucoup entendu parler de comment la Tunisie était différente, ouverte et progressive. Cela est probablement vraie si on la compare aux autres pays environnants. Les Tunisiens et Tunisiennes me rappelleraient gentiment que cela est vrai aussi par rapport à beaucoup de pays occidentaux! Avec son Code du statut personnel adopté en 1956, Bourguiba – le premier président de la Tunisie après le règne des Bey – avait propulsé la Tunisie en avant : abolition de la polygamie, égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, création de procédure judiciaire pour les demandes de divorce, autorisation de mariage avec le consentement mutuel seulement, et bien plus encore. Malheureusement, aujourd’hui, le chemin à parcourir pour les femmes reste encore grand, surtout en pratique alors que la femme tunisienne reste contrôlée et surveillée par sa famille, son entourage, son village, hommes et femmes confondus. (La campagne de sensibilisation lancée par une ancienne stagiaire de McGill avec Aswat Nissa dénonce d’ailleurs ce problème.)

Je dois admettre qu’il s’agissait de ma première fois dans un pays arabo-musulman/ dans un pays du nord du continent africain : je ne savais pas trop à quoi m’attendre pour être honnête. On entend tellement de choses sur les pays arabes dans nos médias – qui leur font trop souvent mauvaise presse – que je ne savais pas du tout ce qui m’attendrait lorsque je poserais les pieds en terre tunisienne.

J’ai été fascinée de constater, à vivre ici et à discuter avec les gens, que la majorité de la population est fière de sa religion et est en accord avec le fait que la Tunisie soit inscrite comme un État musulman dans sa toute récente Constitution (adoptée en 2014). Les Tunisiens et Tunisiennes ont (l’air d’avoir…?!) une relation particulièrement respectueuse avec la religion : autour d’une même table, au sein d’une même famille ou d’un même groupe d’amis, on retrouve des filles voilées et d’autres non. À la plage, bikini et burkini cohabitent paisiblement.

Je dois toutefois souligner que malgré cette apparence de tolérance, un grand poids pèse sur les épaules des filles tunisiennes qui doivent « être de bonnes jeunes filles, qui ne doivent ni fumer ni boire ». En d’autres mots, elles doivent être de jeunes filles aux bonnes mœurs (un terme qui, au Québec du moins, en ferait rougir plein d’un. Ou devrais-je dire : plus d’une!) Le plus choquant pour moi a été de découvrir qu’une importance IMMENSE est encore accordée à la virginité des filles.

J’ai eu la chance de discuter avec de jeunes femmes engagées en politique qui participaient au programme de l’Académie politique des femmes d’Aswat Nissa (l’un des programmes phare de l’organisation avec laquelle j’ai fait mon stage : le programme vise à offrir des formations aux jeunes femmes impliquées en politique dans le but de leur donner des outils pour qu’elles deviennent des agentes de changement, notamment pour la condition de la femme dans le pays, dans leur localité). Lors de la formation organisée sur le thème du genre, elles ont eu un grand débat sur cette question, je n’ai évidemment pas tout compris comme la discussion enflammée s’est déroulée en arabe (j’y travaille, je vous promets!), mais l’une d’elle est venue me voir pour me faire part de ce sur quoi elles avaient échangé. Un élément qui m’a énormément surprise est que dans certaines familles, la mère et la belle-mère de la jeune mariée attendent impatiemment le drap tâché au lendemain de la nuit de noce, un trésor qu’elles conserveront précieusement…

Les participantes de l’Académie politique des femmes d’aswan Nissa lors de la formation Genre et Égalité de genre.

Enfin, il s’agissait de ma première fois, avec des yeux aussi aiguisés, dans un pays où les rôles de l’homme et la femme sont aussi socialement définis. Disons simplement que j’étais très alerte aux différences et… aux injustices. Ce billet serait immensément long si je faisais la liste exhaustive de tous les exemples qui m’ont frappée.

Parlons simplement des célébrations de mariage où les hommes et les femmes ont des cérémonies de préparation différentes, des édifices à logement où seules les femmes ont le droit de vivre et d’entrer, des espaces dans les maisons qui sont réservés aux femmes, du rôle central (lire sacré) occupé par les mères et du devoir de protection de l’homme envers la femme.

Mais parlons aussi des cafés des hommes (où les femmes n’ont formellement pas le droit d’entrer), du fait que l’on retrouve dans les champs un ratio de trois, quatre ou cinq femmes qui travaillent pour un homme (lorsqu’il y a un homme…), du fait que ce sont les femmes qui doivent s’occuper de la maison et des enfants (et qu’on ne parle pas du fameux « double shift de travail »), du fait que les jeunes garçons sont tellement protégés et couvés par leur mère (au point de difficilement, à 25 ans, savoir se faire cuire des œufs ou faire seul leur sac pour le weekend), ou encore que certaines femmes doivent demander la permission à leur mari pour sortir (puisque la « place de la femme est à la maison »).

Pour moi qui a grandi dans une société plutôt égalitaire, au sein d’une famille où, malgré une répartition genrée des tâches domestiques, les hommes et les femmes jouissaient d’un statut égal et possédaient un pouvoir décisionnel, financier et social équivalent : ce fut un choc.

L’homme tunisien et la femme tunisienne ne sont, aujourd’hui encore, malheureusement pas des égaux. Ils sont différents, considérés différemment et traités différemment, pour le meilleur et pour le pire.

J’ai trouvé que la ligne était trop souvent fine entre la protection et le contrôle. J’ai trouvé qu’il était difficile de justifier que la fille devait être entourée et surveillée par son père et ses frères pour la protéger des autres prédateurs masculins.

La Tunisie est un paradoxe pour moi parce que les femmes sont autant vénérées que diminuées. Autant les femmes sont-elles présentées comme des personnes fragiles et vulnérables (ce que je peux comprendre parce qu’elles possèdent effectivement moins de moyens et sont socialement beaucoup plus limitées), autant il m’a semblé que cela était seulement de grandes excuses pour que les hommes se sentent forts entre eux. Réellement, aucune femme tunisienne n’accepte d’être vulnérable. Certaines sont soumises peut-être, d’autres résignées, d’autres encore jouent le jeu. Mais la cohésion impressionnante qui existe entre les femmes tunisiennes est fascinante. Elles partagent ce fardeau entre elles, ce qui rend les choses plus faciles, j’imagine. Elles se tiennent les coudes, rient et font de mini-révoltes contre les hommes. (J’ai aussi eu beaucoup de temps – et d’exemples ô combien intéressants! – pour cogiter sur les relations amoureuses entre les hommes et les femmes.)

Les femmes tunisiennes sont pleines d’idées, aiment leur pays, prennent soin de leurs enfants et espèrent un monde meilleur. Des jeunes élues municipales qui ont dû mener un véritable combat – au sein de leur famille tout comme au sein de leur communauté – pour parvenir à prendre cette place qui leur revient de droit, aux jeunes diplômées qui ont des projets plein la tête, en passant par les femmes des campagnes dont la subsistance dépend de trois-quatre poules et quelques arbres fruitiers, les femmes d’ici sont belles et fières. Elles ont un sourire, parfois édenté, radieux et un regard, parfois terne, intelligent. Les femmes tunisiennes savent, perçoivent et comprennent la vie. Et je plains les hommes de la Tunisie le jour où les femmes décideront qu’elles en ont assez. Façon de parler parce que, entre vous et moi, ils en seront en grande partie responsables…!

Les habitantes de cette maison nous ont offert une poignée de caroubes alors que mes amis et moi regardions leur arbre, intrigués.

Le 13 août est l’anniversaire du Code du Statut Personnel et le Jour de la Femme en Tunisie. Je souhaite dédier cet article à toutes ces femmes magnifiques que j’ai eu la chance et l’honneur de rencontrer lors de mon séjour ici.

À toutes ces femmes, je vous dis bravo et sincèrement merci. Vous me rendez fières d’être votre sœur.

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