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.

Learning about International Law – Home edition

Andrea SalgueroBy Andrea Salguero

The old adage “life is what happens to you when you are making other plans” was never so true than in March 2020. At that time, despite worrying signs that the effects of the global pandemic were only increasing in gravity around the world, I still planned to spend my summer interning at the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Within a couple short weeks, however, the impossibility of international travel became evident—McGill University cancelled all international internships and the Inter-American Court suspended its work for the safety of its staff. In the midst of so much uncertainty, I was relieved to be closer to family and a familiar environment during the crisis, despite the realization that I might have to forgo any sort of internship this summer.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, I was delighted to learn that an opportunity to intern remotely in the field of human rights was still possible. Even more surprisingly, the remote internship would still be connected to human rights issues in South America. For these reasons and more I am so pleased to be interning at the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) is “a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs and students united in the pursuit of justice […]”.[1]  The centre’s work is inspired by the heroic humanitarian acts of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who, at the height of Nazi totalitarianism, used his position to save over 100,000 Jews in Budapest, Hungary from the horrors of concentration camps over the course of six months. The Centre’s work is organized around five pillars of pursuing justice which encompass: commemorative and educative initiatives around the importance of human rights and the prevention of mass atrocities; promoting accountability for violators of human rights; defending the rights of political prisoners; and the advancement of women’s rights, as a multi-faceted approach to combatting global injustices.

My work this summer largely consists of legal research and falls under the RWCHR’s broad initiative to pursue justice through combatting the resurgence of global authoritarianism, and through securing justice for victims while seeking greater accountability for human rights violators. More specifically, my research is focused on the developing human rights crisis in Venezuela. In recent years, evidence of increasing brutality, alleged crimes against humanity and other human rights violations carried out by the Maduro government against civilian populations has been of growing concern to human rights advocates around the world.[2]

Through the leadership of RWCHR founder and Chair Prof. Irwin Cotler —who was among the first to investigate the Venezuelan situation as part of an independent panel of experts designated by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS)— the Centre remains committed to promoting accountability for these crimes. My research task supports this aim by exploring aspects of international law that may inform advocacy strategies for the RWCHR or other organizations within its network.

While challenging, this work has been rewarding when thinking of the overall impact against a culture of impunity that may be achieved through the cumulative effort of many human rights advocates working for the cause of justice around the world. This work has also helped me recognize that one does not need to be physically abroad to meaningfully contribute to international issues. At this midway point in my human rights internship, I look forward to seeing what the rest of the summer will bring!

Photo of Raoul Wallenberg

[1] “The Centre” (last modified 2018), online: Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights <https://www.raoulwallenbergcentre.org/the-centre-en>

[2] “Panel of Independent International Experts Finds “Reasonable Grounds” for Crimes against Humanity Committed in Venezuela” (29 May 2018), online: The Organization of American States (OAS) <https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-031/18>

 

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