The World is Dying, Long Live the World!

By Mohammed OdusanyaMohammed Odusanya

In the midst of a global pandemic, one in which suffering – especially for those who are poor and/or live in the global south –  has been needlessly prolonged by the greed of a capitalist class and Western governments unwilling to cede their interests in profit and domination, I have been doing the work of writing letters, drafting dossiers, compiling sources and drawing attention to human rights abuses occurring around the world.

Sculpture at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Site of the 1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67). Image taken by author.

At the beginning of my internship, I was worried I would be consumed by pessimism. How else would I process the epidemiological (amongst other things) disaster of COVID 19 and the ongoing violence of human rights violations?

To my surprise, this has not been the case. Part of it, I suspect, is due to the optimism of my colleagues at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Their dedication to the causes they champion made it difficult to not be a little bit hopeful, in spite of, well, everything.

I also think that I am more overwhelmed by the feeling that the world is ending. I don’t say this as hyperbole. Our pre-COVID world, for better or worse, is firmly in the past, and it is clear what will emerge after will be significantly different. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed the unsustainability of our current economic system and modes of governance, it has also shown its resilience. More than anything profit has dictated who survives this pandemic, and it is only those who survive who will be able to shape our world.

This summer was, according to the Canadian government, supposed to be the beginning of a return to normal. There were even hopes that my internship would occur in person. Yet, as the summer dragged on and I struggled to find appointments for my immediate family and me on overtaxed booking systems in two provinces, while also worrying for my extended family in Nigeria who had virtually zero access to any COVID-19 vaccine, I concluded that universalist principles of the Human had reached their end. Previous modes of dehumanization (war, genocide) have become so ubiquitous that (Western) governments feel no need to provide justification as to why a majority of the world’s peoples remain unvaccinated for no other reason than profit.

Rather than attempt to reconcile the widespread dehumanization of the world’s poor with the work I was doing, this summer has lead me to consider what it means to move beyond a framework of the human? If the idea of shared humanity (a notion that has always been violently contested) cannot prompt those in power to save lives then perhaps it is time to abandon it altogether.

Zooming, Tweeting, and Slacking for Change: Human Rights Work during a Global Pandemic

Mohammed OdusanyaBy Mohammed Odusanya

At this point in the pandemic, it might feel obvious to state that the past year has changed everything. My first foray into the legal profession has taken place mainly via Zoom and Google Docs. A reality I could have never imagined a year-and-a-half ago.

On one hand, I mourn the irreplaceable experience of working alongside, and learning from, my colleagues in person. And yet, I have found that working remotely has also given me novel opportunities to approach the work I am tasked with in a more creative fashion.

For instance, one of my first tasks at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) was to develop a dossier on an individual whom the RWCHR might represent in the future. As I attempted to find credible sources pertaining to this individual, an (unrelated) twitter notification flashed across my phone screen.

I had a sudden realization: why not search his name on Twitter? It worked. I was able to get on the ground reporting from citizen journalists, and better gauge how the human rights issue that the individual was facing and was being perceived by citizens in that country. Furthermore, using social media allowed me to see which local NGOs – most of whom did not have large digital footprints elsewhere – were raising awareness on the issue. In sum, Twitter allowed me to find sources beyond traditional Western newspapers and human rights organizations.

Of course, this is not to say that the pandemic is the reason I was able to conduct research on Twitter. Rather, I believe that the RWCHR’s approach, one which has fully embraced digital collaboration, made me more willing to consider using non-traditional research channels in my own work. In turn, I learned a valuable lesson, sooner than I might have otherwise: the fight for human rights occurs everywhere, both in offline and online spaces.

As my work with RWCHR continues, I hope to continue to learn how to aid the fight for justice IRL or via Slack, Google Docs, email, Zoom and all the other unique modes of communication that life in the pandemic has brought to us.

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