Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Closing

The month is over, and I have been sitting staring at the computer, from my sister's apartment in Frankfurt, for over an hour. I know that this is going to be my last blog post for this blog. It's time for closure, on a lot of different levels.

(NOTE: I will be starting a separate blog, called 'The Law, Justice, and Peace Diary', please visit it and read along! lawjusticepeace.wordpress.com)

But how do you wrap up an adventure?

Perhaps in two ways - by reflecting on what happened, and by looking towards the future.

Looking to the future is the easiest - I will be heading to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do there, yet. But I do know that I am going to continue to work towards making the world a better place, slowly and steadily. And I do know that I'll be getting married. Those are both very positive things.

But there has been a lot of developments, experiences, and friendships over the past year in Kenya. It is clear that the benefits that I've gained from this opportunity far outweigh the contributions that I made to Human Rights in Kenya, or to the ICJ Kenya office. But I do hope I was able to leave some positive developments.

Kenya itself is a place I will not soon forget. Full of extraordinary contrasts and enigmatic personalities, there is a conflicting sense of great hope and opportunity, perhaps underscored by the fear of violence. Ranked 16th on the 'Failed States Index', there is something inherently false or blatantly ignorant about considering Kenya a poor, unstable, developing nation. The level of sophistication in Kenya is palpable. The level of political posturing immeasurably immense. And the discrepancy between rich and poor is strikingly obvious.

That is a long-winded way of saying that the situation in Kenya is complicated. There are people suffering, and there are people flourishing. I hope I gave a good picture of both those sides over the course of this blog.

ICJ Kenya, my employers, continue to be a leading civil society organization in the country and the region. Civil society plays a key role in monitoring and agitating for positive changes in Kenyan society, so it is concerning when news reports come out that try and 'rubbish' civil society through conspiracy theories. There is a lot of work left to do.

Personally, I leave with more knowledge and passion than when I arrived. I'm a committed Human Rights advocate, now. That much is certain.

Where that takes me, well, we'll have to wait and see.


A recap of the 3 most popular of my blog posts:

1. Lunch!!!

2. But for the Donkey...

3. I Grew up Herding Cattle...


As a tribute to my time in Kenya, my favorite Kenyan songs (enjoy!):

Camp Mulla - Fresh All Day

DNA - Maswali na Polisi

P-Unit ft. Sauti Sol - Gentleman

Ringtone ft. - Talanta

Just a Band - Huff & Puff

Muthoni the Drummer Queen - Mikono Kwenye Hewa


A brief Interlude from Istanbul (an archived message I left myself a while ago):

"It's warm here - 28 degrees or so. The airport is pristine, and teeming with people going, well, everywhere. This is a cultural melange, and none of the languages seem the same, yet they all sound similar. Everyone is tanned, except for the occasional person that is so shockingly pale that I wonder about their health. I think I'm a bit culture shocked. Everything also smells like perfume or cologne. It makes me a bit dizzy, although that could also be the aftereffects of a red eye flight.

I am in Istanbul, but I am far away."

Sunday, 7 October 2012

One Month

Well, as with all good things, there is usually some sort of expiration date. As of a week ago, I officially chatted with the folks at ICJ Kenya, and we agreed that this would be my last month of work. I'll be back home in Canada at the beginning of November. Just in time for winter.

The decision to leave was mine. I have a fiancée in Canada, and it would be incredibly difficult for her to get married by herself. Plus, she's now in medical school, and I may or may not have promised her a high-five and a high-end bottle of wine. That, and I'm incredibly excited to be with her and support her in all her med school, global health program, Chair of the Student Run Clinic adventures.

Of course, there are mixed feelings about leaving. Most of which will probably be more eloquently expressed when I'm back in Calgary, jobless, and severely crippled by reverse culture shock.

For now, I have managed to fill my agenda for the month with a nigh-impossible amount of winding-up activities. Two conferences (one on genocide prevention, the other on Journalism and the ICC in Kigali), two presentations at the University of Nairobi (on the role of CSOs and the ICC on Kenyan elections), a funding proposal, office templates and policy documents, and all the frantic picture-taking, socializing and to-doing I can possibly muster. I love this place, the people, and the work, so I feel obligated to cram as much 'experience' as I can into my cranium. I'll see if I can keep you up to date.


In other news, the biggest thing that I can possibly think of happening, happened. The three Kenyan victims of torture during the Mau Mau uprisings were given the right to take the UK government to trial. Morally, this decision is outstanding. The victims were unsurprisingly ecstatic. In Nairobi, and, I assume, other places in Kenya where ex-Mau Mau fighters reside, there was similar jubilation - they won against the Brits, in Britain! That's pretty huge.

Of course, being a lawyer, there's always a little bit of skepticism when a legal decision of this magnitude actually makes sense. Hopefully I'll get some time to read the decision myself. In the meantime, the UK will appeal (they kind of have to, otherwise the 'ex-colonies' will have a field day filling the UK Courts with decades-old cases of torture, abuse, pox-ridden blankets, etc). And the victims, (one of whom has already passed away due to old age), will continue to wait for their day in court.


The ICC cases in Kenya continue to be a frolicking joy ride, as per usual. Kenya's Attorney General, Githu Muigai (who, after being a champion of civil society, is now regarded as a colossal disappointment), in a speech in Nuremberg, Germany (probably the birthplace of international criminal law), waxed poetic on, well, everything, apparently. Read The Standard's recap here. Here are my favourite parts:

1. Telling the ICC to postpone the trial because of Kenya's elections in 2013. The Office of the Prosecutor has already publicly stated that the date for trial was set on the basis of timelines for preparing for trial, and that the ICC doesn't really care about how it fits into Kenyan politics. Using the best retort I've ever heard, the AG (I imagine him puffing up his cheeks for this one) stated,

"up to the last minute, the defence can seek a postponement for any reason, including ill-health or a million other reasons" [my emphasis added]

So, they may as well save everyone the trouble and just postpone the trials. I mean, they are just so inconvenient.

Not persuaded by the 'million-plus reasons' argument, a spokesperson from the OTP noted that the defence lawyers for the 4 accused Kenyans hadn't actually lodged any applications for postponement. Right. Because that's what the defence lawyer's JOB is. Not the AG, who, last I recall, represents the Government of Kenya, and, by proxy, the entire citizenry of Kenya. Not just the 4 suspects accused of Murder, Rape, Forced Evictions, etc. (i.e. Crimes Against Humanity). Ahem.

2. Calling out Luis Moreno-Ocampo as being patronising, discourteous, and disrespectful. I actually kind of agree with him on this - I think I'll even devote an entire blog post for Ocampo, and his legacy.

3. The sheer irony of countering Kenya's perceived 'non-cooperation' with the ICC by saying - 'we're cooperating!' That's a tough sell, since, for example, the President of Kenya, in his State of the Nation Speech, basically called for the cases to be brought back to Kenya. Then the Kenyan government lobbied for criminal jurisdiction for international crimes to be included at the East African Court of Justice (Kenya is the chair of the East African Community), and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. And members of the government have called for the ICC cases to be 'repatriated'.

In my humble opinion, 'cooperation' amounts to a little bit more than simply filing documents when the Court tells you to. There's the whole 'attempting to discredit the court' issue, which seems to be, at the very least, a little inconsiderate, don't you think?

4. "The ICC was not created to be a monopoly". I don't know if this was a direct quote, or a paraphrase by the Standard journalist. In any event, it's fantastic(al)! The phrase is in reference to the aforementioned attempt by the African Union to expand the jurisdiction of the African Court to include international crimes. It would serve the same function as the ICC, except it would be African. There are all sorts of issues with this statement - blahblah complementarity blah blah State Party blah blah how would it ever get funding blahblah - but the main issue is this: The ICC was created to be THE court of last resort for international crimes. Not just one of many courts of last resort, that anyone can pick and choose, depending on what continent they are on.

The whole idea was to monopolize the ICC as the place be for last resorts on international crimes, sindio*?

*The only translation I could find for this swahili phrase on the interweb was here.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Mostly Pointless Sidenote

I recognize that there are a lot of major issues going on around me right now (this, this, and this), but I feel like I've been slightly 'low-energy' over the past few days. Not that I haven't engaged with the issues - they've been a focal point of work, meetings, and discussions - I just haven't had the inspiration to write a particularly insightful or clever post about them.

Instead, I took to reading other blogs. On international justice. And then I read this one, and it made me self conscious about blogging. So, I've moderately changed the title of the blog (see if you notice). Hopefully it maintains some semblance of credibility.


In other news, I have noticed that Invisible Children continues to try and resurrect itself, through 'post-breakdown' interviews on Oprah (I had no idea she had a new show). I have also noticed their 'Defection Campaign' (see here and here), which is actually founded on good principles and is a great initiative, especially reaching out through radio media. It would just be nice if they recognized somewhere, anywhere, that the defection process has been severely hampered by the lapse of the Amnesty Law in Uganda back in May 2012. Or that there are ongoing challenges with resettling and reintegrating ex-combatants.

I blogged last month about attending a forum with victims in Gulu, which focused specifically on the Amnesty Law. Amnesty granted the ex-combatant immunity from prosecution, a small amount of money, some food, and some household and agricultural appliances. In fact, one of the documents that IC cites notes that the Amnesty Act is the "single most significant pull factor" (Page 8) for rebels to leave the bush (there have been around 26,000 amnesties granted). In the forum, one thing that was mentioned was that the rate at which rebels had left the bush, from when the Amnesty Law had been enacted (2000), had diminished over time. So it would seem logical that ending the granting of amnesty would certainly throw a major roadblock into any defection campaign. And I'll be repetitive and say that issues of resettlement (getting ex-rebels into homes) and reintegration (community acceptance of the ex-rebels) continue to be major challenges. And that is not even delving into the complicated matter of the actual victims of the conflict.

I would think that those issues would be fairly important to address or at least acknowledge, before engaging in mass littering in the forests of Uganda/DRC/CAR.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Sober Comment: Youth and Violence

I am greatly disturbed and distressed by the outpourings of violence following the release of the anti-Islam video 'Innocence of Muslims'. I'm not putting up a link to that movie, because I'm not going to advertise it freely. I'm sure it is easy enough to find.

Instead, I want to make a comment. While most reports, both in mainstream media and social media, tend to focus on issues like Freedom of Speech, about the Muslim World (#MuslimRage), and about US foreign policy, I want to pay attention to something slightly different: Youth Violence.

Over the past few years, there have been quite a number of instances of outbreaks of mass violence. Some for completely mundane reasons (the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot in Vancouver), some on the basis of one incident that mutated into something larger (the 2011 Tottenham Riots), and now the widespread rioting and embassy-burning violence associated with this video.

This isn't something new, either - the 2007-8 post-election violence in Kenya was largely carried out by groups of young men (See a research study done by the Mercy Corps). A famous part of the 1994 Rwandan genocide was the training and devastating use of the Interhamwe youth to carry out the massacre.

My more suspicious side always sees some sort of planning, some sort of manipulation behind the outpouring of violence. There is always a tendency to label rioting as 'senseless' violence, without particularly examining the spark that catalysed the whole thing - it may be about the movie, but it's not just about the movie.

What's going on? Because every time I see news articles about this I see these kids, mostly male, and all I think of is what it was like for me being a teenager. And all I see is the young person wearing a mask, turning to the camera after throwing a stone at the police and flashing the peace symbol. What's going on?

I feel like it really needs to be stated - there is nothing inherently violent about youth. I know that there is a tendency for people to look at teenagers and young adults and feel mildly threatened by them, by their energy, and yes, sometimes by their rage. But we were all youths once - I find it hard to remove myself from that thought. Especially when I think about all the factors, the privileges, I had going for me in my life. I was 17 once. I lived in a stable country, with stable, upper-middle class family, at a good school, with good friends. Was I just lucky?

I had my energy, my rage, too. I sacrificed my time and damaged my body playing soccer and basketball, and things like that. And I enjoyed the camaraderie, which made it all worth it. What if that energy was focused on fundamentalism? What if I was disenfranchised, poor, and living in conflict? What if I was denied opportunities simply because of my ethnicity? What if I was sitting around with nothing to do all day?

Sometimes, the problems feels like there is just fear everywhere. And that skews perceptions. What would happen if we gave youth more responsibilities, rather than less? I don't know. In the latest Canadian elections, the NDP party was more successful than they'd anticipated, and now there is an MP who was an undergraduate student, and one that was in Las Vegas when she won. In Uganda, a 19 year-old won a by-election to become an MP. The tendency is to always focus on their youth, and not their work. To excuse their 'youthful indiscretions' while at the same time limiting their capacity to take responsibility. Or, worse, to just outright dismiss them from our collective consciousness. What's going to happen to these three youth leaders in the next few years? I don't know, and I am fairly certain the popular media won't update us on their successes and failures.

At least from the perspective of Africa, there is a real focus on either (a) the starving child, (b) the political elite, or (c) the religious/ethnic/socioeconomic ideologies at play. These are important things. Nowadays, there is a push for aid, policy-making, and development to included women and girls, people living with disabilities, non-discrimination, and a host of other critical issues.

But the pictures right now are of 15-25 year old men/boys, with rocks. We've forgotten something.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Complexicated: Lessons from Gulu

From August 27-30, I was in Gulu, in Northern Uganda, attending a 'Consultative Forum on the Future of Amnesty in Uganda: Listening to Victims'. That's a mouthful, but hey, we're lawyers working at NGOs, and we like using tons of words to express ourselves. In this case, though, I think they managed to actually achieve the title of the event. It was an extremely informative event, and there was great discussion between members of the local government, religious and cultural leaders, CSOs, community members, and especially victims. The Army, Police, and Prison officials were present too, but they were noticeably silent.

The discussions and opinions from this diverse group radically shifted my perspective of the issues in Gulu. So much so, that I felt the urge to think up a new word. The title might sound a bit irreverent, or even a bit silly, but that's not my intention. It's the best I could do, using one word, in an attempt to describe what the situation is like in Northern Uganda. It's not trivial. It is confusing. It is multi-faceted.  It is deep-seated. It seems intractable. The lines between 'right' and 'wrong' are not very clear. Yes, it's complex. And yes, it is very, very complicated.

I had previously written about Invisible Children's KONY2012 movie, but interacting with the issues first-hand made my rebuttal of their work too simplistic. That movie, and the Stop Kony initiative, is so narrow and misses the major issue of the conflict in Northern Uganda. My question was "what happens after?"

But the real question is - "what now?" What now for the victims, the ex-combatants, the children, and the communities? What to do about the physical harm, the mental suffering, the stigmatization, and the deep distrust?

Certainly, Kony is a wanted criminal, responsible for human rights violations, atrocities and most likely international crimes. He is an evil, bad man. He needs to answer for his crimes surely. But there are other, more pressing stories that need to be addressed.

There are women, who were abducted and taken to the bush when they were young. They were used as sex slaves, or simply as cooks, cleaners, and childcare. Some were combatants, some never touched a weapon. But Ugandan law, and to an extent, community perspectives, view them as 'ex-rebel combatants', regardless of their role, when they leave the bush. If they aren't simply chased away from their own communities, they face stigmatization. If they manage to resettle, their 'bush babies' are shunned. And even if they reintegrate, they face crippling poverty. Stopping Kony doesn't address this.

There are stories of atrocities, human rights violations, and possible international crimes committed by the Ugandan government forces. This is not just against the rebels, but also the communities as well. To date, no investigations, either domestic or international, have looked into the conduct of the UPDF. Invisible Children says that despite this, they are still a 'necessary part' of stopping Kony. But, this leads to an interesting situation - northern Ugandan communities hate the rebels, yet they also deeply distrust the Ugandan government. They have been victimized by both sides. By proxy, they also distrust international interventions, especially those that work with the government. Not to mention that it is all too often the case that international actors come in to 'survey', research, or implement activities. Often these activities show no tangible or long-term benefits to the affected individuals or communities. There is a tangible sense of fatigue towards 'outside interventions'.

Instead, the communities and victims advocate for 'homegrown' solutions. But it's unclear what that means. It is equally unclear whether the Ugandan government or the international community will ever treat them with enough respect to let them come up with their own forms of reconciliation.

But these are all words, and they are all arranged in a way that seems to suggest that the situation can make sense. It takes on another flavour to hear these stories from a 19 year-old girl with mutilated hands and burns all over her arms from rebel torture, who recounts her torture with a straight face, but breaks down when she explains that she can't go to school.

Complexicated. But, with the level of discussions and passion I saw, still room for hope.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Week 4: IPSI Hague Symposium (Simulated Transition)

Week 4: the penultimate week of the Hague Symposium.

Not ones to let us languish in the wonderful weather, cafes, and ambience in the Netherlands, the IPSI staff had prepared a comprehensive 'Transition Simulation' for all the students to participate in. By comprehensive, I mean three days of immersive role-playing. It was live-action role playing at its finest. Unfortunately, it was based on reality - instead of dressing up as knights, wizards, or elves, we were Presidents, Rebel Leaders, Military Commanders, and NGOs. Before you start fantasizing about a group of characters dressed up like characters from Star Wars, the simulation, while fictional, was based on the situation in Afghanistan.

First, on Monday, we were given a nice lecture on Negotiation strategies, tactics, and theory by Dr. Perlot from the Clingendael Institute. Vastly overconfident, I found out that I have the 'People' negotiation style, which tends towards interpersonal relationships - I am the type that tries to be empathetic, and tries to put the needs of people first. Very sweet. How would that play out in the Transition Simulation?

Before discussing the simulation itself, let's set the stage. Kanrayistan (the fictional Afghanistan) had various domestic and international players in the field. For example, there was the USA, Coalition forces, India, Pakistan, Iran, Chinese business interests, and the UN as international players. More domestically, there was the President, Warlords, the Taliban, The National Army, Oxfam, Pakistani intelligence, the ICC, and Dutch and Australian commanders of the coalition forces. Each one of those positions had player roles, as well as a few other roles (the Media).

I got the role of US Ambassador.

I hope you can imagine the impact of getting that news - I'm a pacifist, anti-imperialist, and a 'people' person. I was now in charge of implementing the ideologies and policies of the most powerful nation on Earth. Ideologies and policies that I don't particularly agree with. That's putting it mildly, but 'hate' is only a word I'll use about things I understand better.

So, now, I'm in a position, with 60 friends, where everyone is now viewing me as a huge bully, as being slightly morally corrupt, and looking to get 'special deals', in order to further the transition of US troops out of the country. A very difficult position to be in, after 3 weeks of getting to know, respect, and become good friends with everyone.

So, now, we have 3 days (which represents about 18 months) to 'transition' Kanrayistan. Here's the recap:

Day 1: We are all friendly, and are working (somewhat slowly) towards trying to find some 'transitional solutions' for the US to pull out its troops while maintaining peace, security, and some form of democracy in the area. First major challenge - despite the fact that the US refuses to 'negotiate' with terrorists, the Taliban really deserve a place at the negotiation table. Putting them there leads to massive unrest, and many different people threaten to leave the negotiation table. When we finally get that sorted, we get a press release saying that the Dutch have left the country, effective immediately, after public pressure back home, and because of a recent suicide bomb attack. That pretty much scuttles all the plans that we had made up until that point.

All in the meantime, everyone is taking time to have side-meetings and caucuses - plotting and scheming - and me and my team are forced to mediate small disputes, while at the same time try and come up with broad strategies for peaceful transition. More soldiers die in suicide attacks.

We continue to work, after dinner. I'm given a note at 2 am about the non-cooperation of the Taliban. I'm also told to prepare for a press briefing, which occurs at 4am. I'm still wearing the same suit, and struggle through the press briefing. But it goes well. (I think?).

Day 2: After an hour of sleep, we move into the next day. Sleep-deprived and feeling overwhelmed, the day passes in a blur. More side-dealings, more major news releases that threaten to overturn everything. There is a decision to exclude the Pakistani secret services from the negotiation table. It passes - the characters playing the Pakistani ISI storm our strategy meeting, I get (softly) assaulted, and the pakistani ambassador leaves in tears. We're all functioning on empty tanks by this point. With an hour left in the day, I take stock of what we've accomplished. Virtually nothing - everything has been about fighting fires and dealing with controversy. The negotiation day ends, and one person, out of character, apologizes if she's been rude. Being the suave character I am, I jokingly say 'yes, you are SO rude'. Tears flow, and I learn a good life lesson - I'm not funny on 1 hour of sleep. At the end of the day, the 'warlords' come in, offer us some M&Ms, and just want to chat. The thought of chocolate made me feel sick, so I left...just as someone snapped a picture.

Final Day: The 'Simulation Control' team made sure to shut things down early, so I managed to get a full 8 hours of sleep. I feel more tired than ever, though. Especially when one of the first things I have to deal with is a 'newspaper article' entitled - "US Ambassador at secret Warlord party with narcotics". Tensions are high, cohesion within my team is crumbling, and my grip on reality is starting to crack a little bit. More 'reports' of people killed in suicide bombings. More communications about side-dealings and double-crossing that undermines everything that we're trying to accomplish. I'm unsure if people are acting in character, or if they are no longer my friends. I'm exhausted.

I give my final press briefing at 12:30. Everyone is there. I am to highlight the 'gains made' in the transitional process. I say a bunch of words, but feel like the whole thing was a total failure. The organizers say "and that brings the simulation to a close!" Everyone applauds. I am a bit in disbelief. After debriefing, the truth comes out - this simulation, this game, was never supposed to be successful. In fact, any time things progressed well, specific measures were taken by the organizers to undermine the progress. It's an interesting thing to think about - I conscientiously strived to create a stable peaceful society, in a mythical nation, in an illusory situation, that was never going to possibly work.

There is a deep, philosophical life lesson there. I'm not sure I've figured it out yet.

On a brighter note - we all hugged and made up afterwards. The next day, we graduated, and it sunk in that this was the ending part of the month-long training.

The IPSI group, freshly graduated
(Courtesy of Khaled)
It is incredible how in a four-week span, a group of 60 people can change from a group of utter strangers to very close friends. Over and above all the things I learned at the conference, it's always a great feeling to connect with a great group of individuals from all over the world.

Afterwards, I spent the weekend in Amsterdam with some of my old friends. They took me on a boat ride in the canal, a bike ride of the streets, visited relatives, we lounged in the sun at their garden cottage, and took their kids for a swim at the pool. After such an intense month, it was just the sort of pleasant, mundane, and utterly relaxing visit I need.

Emily and I met this Dutch couple 5 years ago, in a random island on a lake in Uganda. You meet some of the most wonderful people in the most random places. It's a good reminder that doing awesome things generally increases your chances of meeting awesome people.

A Pleasant bike ride through Amsterdam

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Week 3: IPSI Hague Symposium (Site seeing!)

IPSI classes in Action

Going into week 3, and thoroughly emotionally tested by some of the stories and accounts from the country case studies of the past week, we had the opportunity to visit several of the international justice 'mechanisms' in the Hague. As the IPSI president told us, they were all 'rolling out the red carpets' for us. The places we visited included:
  • The Special Court for Sierra Leone (the Charles Taylor portion was held in the Hague, the rest of the trials were conducted in Sierra Leone)
  • The Special Tribunal for Lebanon
  • The International Criminal Court

Some of IPSI's finest at the ICC
A Brazilian, a Lebanese-Australian, and a South African
(Photo Courtesy of Manelle Chawk)

These visits were in addition to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (which I mentioned here) and the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice and the International Court of Arbitration.

The Peace Palace in den Haag
Home of the International Court of Justice and
the International Court of Arbitration

Visiting the actual buildings, for me, created a tangible sense of 'justice in action'. Seeing all the technology, the formality, and the principles of law brought to life definitely stirs my legal nerdy soul. 

It's interesting to realize, however, that with each of the courts, there are serious challenges and criticisms. For example, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up internationally, through a UN security council resolution, without the express consent of the Lebanese government. It is also an incredibly narrow tribunal - focused on one instance: the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. It has not been able to arrest any of its suspects, and is proceeding with trial regardless - a trial in absentia. The prosecution's case is built entirely on circumstantial evidence. The political nature of the tribunal means that expectations are unreasonably high, there is already a lot of negative pressure, and it's unclear what impact the STL will have. The existence of the STL seems to raise more questions and concerns than it contributes to the pursuit of justice.

Yet, at the same time, the STL has already released a decision where it has come up with a tangible, precedent-setting definition of the International Crime of Terrorism. From a lawyer's perspective, that is quite a big deal. But from the general public's view, is that Justice? That is an open question, and not one I'm capable of answering, for now. 

I'll say this: the systems of Law and Justice that we seem to be setting up focus on principles (not policies) that 'we' (whoever that is) believe to be essential to a properly functioning society. This 'focus' has two aspects - defining what the principles are, and implementing those principles. That's it. The methods that we use to do this are as varied as the cultures on this planet. Is it the best way of doing things? I have no idea - principles rarely have any grounding in empirical fact. But I'm open to being wrong on that.

The western conception of Justice is a blind woman with a sword and balancing scales. It's interesting because, if you think about it, if she swings the sword, she could injure friends, foes, or no one at all; likewise, how would she ever know if the 'scales of justice' are actually balancing out? This is eerily accurate - for example, the Canadian Criminal Code is littered with crimes that apply to no one, mandatory sentences for certain crimes that hinder rehabilitation or that foster social inequalities, and lacks crimes for certain actions that are detrimental to society as a whole.

Shouldn't Justice be an Architect? Or maybe an Interior Designer? It's an idea worth exploring, since most of the 'Buildings of Justice' that we visited were, well, kind of ugly (with the exception of the Peace Palace). 

The whole IPSI Gang outside of the ICTY
(Photo Courtesy of Khaled)

In addition to the site visits, we also had some interesting in-class sessions as well. The first was on the role of memory in reconciliation. Outside of the issue of Justice, how do we actually help victims? How do we create an environment where it is possible to forgive and/or forget? Or just simply move forward? Often we talk about a lot of different things that come out of conflict, and resolving conflict often involves negotiations, compromise, and taking actions towards accountability, truth-seeking, and acknowledgement. But I wonder, how do you restore or repair human dignity?

This post was full of questions and queries. It highlights one thing - we live in a global world that is far from perfect. A world, however imperfect, that I happen to be a pretty big fan of. It's a world that needs a lot of work, and I'm willing and able to do my part. I just hope we make a bit more room for Justice to be aesthetically pleasing.


Interested in learning more about the IPSI Hague Symposium? Check it out here: http://ipsinstitute.org/. The recap of Week 4 is coming up. I guarantee it will involve a lot more colourful language.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Week 2: IPSI Hague Symposium

Leiden by Night
[Note: I'm now back in Nairobi trying to adjust to a more 'normal' routine. These next few posts are a week-by-week recap of the highlights of the Symposium. For other insight from some of the other participants, please check out the IPSI blog and look at the pictures taken by Keith Lane - the pictures prove that while most of the participants were quite good looking, I am not very photogenic.]

Week 2 of the Symposium focused on specific countries as case studies in Transitional Justice (or lack thereof) - Argentina, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Juan Mendez, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, gave his personal insights into the historical human rights issues that occurred in Argentina. He was involved as a lawyer who represented 'freedom fighters', and was himself imprisoned and tortured as a result of his work. The situation in Argentina is a real lesson in the struggles for democracy and responsible governance, as well as some of the evils that state officials can perpetuate for the sake of ideology. The history of the conflict in Argentina reads like a movie script, except that some of the violence and evil is unimaginable. A defining feature of this conflict was the use of forced disappearances, which not only included throwing people (alive) off of helicopters and into the sea, but also saw babies taken from their captive mothers to be raised by military families. But the conflict itself went much deeper than this, and after Mr. Mendez' presentation, I can understand why the slogan nunca mas exists. Argentina, now, has changed a lot, but this recent history should not be forgotten.

Charles Villa-Vicencio, who was the National Research Director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, gave some personal insights into the struggles, challenges, and successes of the transition out of Apartheid in South Africa. The South African conflict was steeped in racism at a level that shocked the consciousness of the entire world. But, it was also a peculiar and unique situation - rarely in global history have the world's nations agreed on such a large scale about the evil that was apartheid, and rarely has such a gifted leader - Nelson Mandela - managed to ascend to power and (a) retain his morality/ethics, and (b) retain his life. The transition (which is still ongoing) of South Africa out of the oppressive apartheid regime involved a collective effort of a huge number of people, many compromises, and a lot of work. Chief among this was the creation and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa. None of this came easily, and none of it without sacrifice. One of the main contentions about the South African TRC was its provision of Amnesty for perpetrators. This had two effects: it allowed for perpetrators to tell their side of the story, and allowed for a more full version of the truth. It also meant that they went unpunished. Despite the gains made through the national reconciliation measures, South Africa is now faced with similar racial segregation, this time through issues of poverty and social class, rather than an ideology of racism. That is an altogether different hurdle to get over. But Mr. Villa-Vicencio's presentation left us all feeling a lot of hope and connectedness (ubuntu) with the situation in South Africa.

Finally, we were addressed by two men with lengthy credentials: Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in both Bosnia and Herzegovnia and Liberia, as well as the Coordinator for UN operations in Liberia) and Bill Stuebner (Former Special Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Former Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy for Human Rights in the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina). They gave us some background information and insight into the peacekeeping missions during the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Yugoslavia, and Ambassador Klein also shared his experiences in Liberia. Both of these men, and the presentations they gave, were altogether different than the previous discussions on Argentina and South Africa. Their perspectives were as 'interventionists' - outsiders who entered into conflicted states, and attempted to end the conflict. Their stories were just as dark as some of the other stories, but their methods and insights were much more...militaristically practical. While the other two presenters discussed the societal impacts, the ideologies, and the long term impacts of transitions, these two gentlemen focused on something much more immediate - peace as the cessation of violence. Their jobs were simple - stop the fighting. And, to that effect, they were successful. However, the current picture of the Balkans is not good, and Mr. Stuebner describes the area as being on top of a 'sleeping dragon' that, when it wakes up, wants blood. He thinks that it is going to wake up soon.

As part of our experience learning about the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan conflict, we also paid a visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. We were introduced to the inner workings of the Tribunal, and discussed some of the different aspects of how it was set up, how it functions, and what it is doing now, as it winds up its mandate. It has prosecuted 161 indicted criminals who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. I suppose the major question is, then, if you've managed to prosecute 'those most responsible', and there is still a likelihood of more violence, what has actually been accomplished? The answer, I think, is first, accountability, and second, that Justice is necessary, but not sufficient, for peace. (Although, some people might even argue that it's not even necessary for peace).

Outside of the symposium, week 2 was full of bike rides, picnics, beaches, and general merrymaking. I also managed to sign up for creating a 'Transitional Framework' for IPSI posterity, but that will wait until week 4.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Week 1: IPSI Hague Symposium

Street Sculptures in Scheveningen

Greetings again from den Haag, in the Netherlands. I'm now a week into the IPSI Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice. I'm also a week into being in Europe, which has been pretty nice. Here are a few highlights:

On the grounds in front of Clingendael
1. Clingendael - The symposium is held at a beautiful old building, which houses the Netherlands Institution for International Relations.

The building itself has a curious history. I can't remember the full details behind it, but the building was taken over by Nazis during the second world war, and occupied by such notables as Heinrich Himmler. One of the 'dignitary's' wives (was it Himmler's?) was (a) dog-crazy, and (b) completely ignorant of what was happening at Clingendael at the time. She made individual gravestones for each individual dog that she had, and buried them under a beautiful tree in the grounds behind the building.

Blind, Deaf, Genius Togo (the dog) , buried behind Clingendael
It's actually fairly strange, perhaps ironic, that these gravestones exist, given that Clingendael, at that time, was basically a interrogation and torture site. It's on this foundation that the Clingendael institute exists, as a learning institution dedicated to peace. That's a nice change.

It is located on a beautiful parks, and there are cows, sheep, and donkeys grazing around the fields. Ducks and swans swim in the ponds, and there is a small cafe that sells fantastic apple pie. An ideal learning centre.

 2. The Hague - The Hague (den Haag in Dutch) is truly the city of international justice. It houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent International Court of Arbitration, the International Criminal Court, and the Special Tribunals for Sierra Leone, Lebanon, and Yugoslavia. For someone in my position, it's the centre of all things international justice. It's also a sleepy town, full of cute buildings, busy people riding bicycles all over the place, and a beautiful beach (in Scheveningen). I already know that I want to come back here.

3. The Conference - Of course, the reason I'm here is the conference, and it is not disappointing. I've had the pleasure of being lecture by academics, Lt. Generals at the UN, and, Special Representatives to the UN. Very high level discussions, and very insightful issues. This week was focused on the theoretical and conceptual backgrounds for transitioning states from conflict to peace and stability. In particular, we focused on Justice, Development, Security, and Governance issues - the four main pillars of a stable democracy.

Classes run from 8-5, monday to friday, with daily readings. If that is not full-on enough, I've volunteered to be part of a 'working group' on developing a 'Transitional Framework' - a blueprint for guiding states from conflict to peace and stability. A lofty goal - it's one thing that the organizers of the conference are very excited about, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

Otherwise, the group of participants have been wonderful. Coming from diverse backgrounds, it's created a very electric learning environment. I'm caught up in it, and the questions and discussions have been just as informative as the presentations themselves. I'm looking forward to how things are going to progress in the coming weeks!

In other news, I got an Op-Ed published in le Quotidien, a Senegalese newspaper! It was translated into French by an intern (Thanks Nastasia!), and is an update on the current situation on Kenya and the ICC. Check it out here.

That's all for now, check in next week!

The King and Queen of Scheveningen, slightly unimpressed 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Transitioning - Human Rights and Peacebuilding

This post is necessarily going to be 3 parts inspiration and 1 part ignorance, although that recipe is not scientific. Often, when I engage in the theory and concepts of the kinds of things I want to dedicate my life to, if often feels like I am 100% ignorant. That's not just a self-deprecating comment. I think it accurately reflects an important state of mind when engaging with ideas of conflict resolution, peace, security, justice, and development.

I'm currently in the first week of the Hague Symposium - a month-long training course offered by the International Peace and Security Institution on Post-conflict Transitions and International Justice. So far, we've had the pleasure of learning from ICC Prosecutor Bensouda, Professor Dov Jacobs, Lt. General Ton van Loon, and Jan Pronk, as well as various engaging discussions between the 60 participants, who come from 26 different countries. (if you want to read the IPSI blog on the symposium, check it out). The goal of the conference is to discuss, and hopefully create, workable solutions for ending conflict, establishing peace, and facilitating development. Lofty goals, but with a group of capable and motivated young intellectuals, it will be very interesting to see what turns out.

Approaching these kind of 'grand problems' does require a massive acknowledgement of my ignorance on large aspects of our global world. I hope this is a good place to start - many people that know much more than me, have worked hard at setting up the systems and dynamics that are currently in place in the world. And, to be frank, there are a lot more negative aspects to our current world order than positives. So perhaps a 'blank slate', or a beginners mind, are important aspects to tackling such a grand challenge. That's what I'm telling myself, at least.

Here are a few things that I've been thinking about, thanks to the lectures, as well as great discussions with peers:

  • Peace vs. Justice - there has been a lot of debate that in developing situations, especially where conflict is involved, pursuing peace is somehow incompatible with pursuing justice. I don't believe that this distinction works. Or, I believe that it only holds true if one considers the definition of 'peace' to be the cessation of hostilities, and the definition of 'justice' means prosecuting suspects in a court of law. Neither of those definitions hold true, and I am unaware of any particular situation in the world where the pursuit of justice has necessarily excluded the possibility of peace, and, vice versa, that the creation of peace between conflicting sides has stopped the process of justice. Definitely there have been situations where you can have one without the other, but that is not evidence that you cannot have one AND the other. That's just not true. But, I think that achieving a balance requires a radical redefinition of what 'peace' and 'justice' mean. A practical, realistic, and contextually driven definition.
  • Military Intervention - I've never really considered it before, but it really seems like any move towards building a peaceful society must involve the military. It almost seems paradoxical. As the Lt. Gen. mentioned in his talk - 'the military is trained in shooting people, and they're actually pretty good at it'. That seems to be a pretty weird foundation for peace. But failing to recognize the myriad possibilities and positive opportunities that military institutions can provide is short sighted. The military represents a physical manifestation of violence, but what else does it provide? More importantly, in any situation of conflict, some militarization will be present. So ignoring it is not an option.
  • Comprehensiveness - The idea that development requires a very broad range of services isn't very controversial. But, in reality, most development work is far from holistic. This is a grand challenge - how would we coordinate and cooperate (both at the domestic and international level) in a way that catalyses positive development - long term development, rather than short-term solutions that lead to further conflict and undesirable consequences. 
This is all pretty theoretical and conceptual. But, that is exactly the challenge, and that is exactly the most important thing, for me, that needs to happen. At the same time as I fill my brain with more concepts, more ideas, and more knowledge, I also need to preserve that 'mental blankness', so that I can have the creative space to turn the idea of peace into the reality of peace. The Dalai Lama's twitter feed just spouted this out: "Whatever you do, take a realistic approach and think of the long term interests of humanity". I wouldn't expect anything less than pure, timely wisdom from HHDL. It's a good aspiration, even if I'm not entirely sure what is 'realistic', nor what the long term interests of humanity might be. I'll do my best, and I hope you are too.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

OUT OF OFFICE: Autoresponse

Thanks for checking in. I'm currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Lubumbashi.
Lubumbashi, and its cobalt mine
I'll be back in Nairobi for about 10 hours, and will immediately be leaving for the Hague, in the Netherlands. I'll be attending this:  http://ipsinstitute.org/the-hague-2012/

I'll be updating my blog weekly, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Intermission: Sore Feet

Post Race, Post Massage, Pre Sore Feet

On June 30, I ran a half marathon. It was a work-related function (team building!), and it was at the Lewa wildlife conservancy. OK, 'ran' is a bit of a misnomer. By some miracle of miracles, I finished the race. Now, my feet are sore, and I feel somehow entitled to complain to everyone (including the entire internet) about that fact.

No, I won't share with you my time. I will share that all manner of men and women (old and young, fat and skinny, white and black, etc) passed me. A 50+ year old woman with two knee braces on limped slowly past me. It was a humbling experience.

The ICJ Kenya Tent City at the Lewa Marathon.

In other news, I'll be heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo next week. The DRC is a real hot spot right now (luckily not in the area that I'll be visiting), both because of the ongoing rebel activity, as well as the fact that Thomas Lubanga, the ICC's first convict, was just sentenced to 14 years imprisonment (minus the 6 he has already spent in ICC detention). I am trying to reconcile that sentence with 'normal' criminal law. It's interesting to compare the sentence someone would get in Canada for, say, manslaughter, with the sentence that Lubanga got for conscripting child soldiers. Some how it doesn't seem proportionate. But, it's a good lesson for the ICC prosecution team, though, whom the judges of the ICC took some time to heavily criticize.

Right after going to the DRC, I'll be heading to Leiden, in the Netherlands. I'm attending the Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice. It's a 4-week long course, and I'm super stoked about it.

It's been fairly amazing, all this travelling, but there's one downside. I only have 6 pages left in my passport. Guess I'll just have to put my feet up, soon.

Twiga, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Follow up: Cultural Sensitivity and fiddly bits.

Well, I had an interesting chat with some of my colleagues who took the time to read my blog. One person noted that it would be easy for a Kenyan, or probably any African, to find my comments on education insensitive or even offensive. On reading my post again, I can see why - saying that (a) there hasn't been significant institutions of higher learning in Africa until recently, and (b) that higher education is a mainstay for 'developed' countries is an indirect way of commenting on the 'primitiveness' of Africa. That is a very negative perception of African nations and African peoples. And it is not a perception I intend to feed into.

In fact, it is important to note that the idea of 'institutions of higher learning' are completely western conceptions as well - it takes certain subjects and professions as the 'yardstick' of societal progress. It does not, however, place any relevance or recognize the benefits of aspects of African culture that ARE well-developed and rich. And it does not recognize the kinds of institutions that are already present in the myriad cultures on this continent. It is the idea that, because a community/society does not have a 'courtroom', 'judges', or 'juries', that a legal system is not present. That would be historically false.

There has been positive developments on this issue. For example, the use of gacaca courts in Rwanda as a method of dealing with the huge number of cases surrounding the 1994 genocide was an example of using traditional dispute resolution mechanisms to obtain justice. But there will still be a disconnect, so long as people categorize institutions like gacaca courts as 'informal justice systems', which implies that they are on a lower tier of 'justice' that British or European systems. In Kenya, it is interesting to note that there are formal Khadi's Courts, which deal specifically with issues under Islamic Law (often to do with Marriage, Divorce, and succession issues). There is Constitutional recognition that Islamic Law is a separate legal system, and it makes room for that. This simultaneously creates an alternative legal stream for a class of people (muslims), as well as provides acknowledgement and recognition that Islamic Law is a 'legitimate' justice system.

I think that example applies to what I was saying about higher education in Africa - we can all agree that providing access to high quality education in Medicine, Engineering, and disciplines like that will benefit a society. What I didn't say, and should have said, is that we also need to recognize that providing higher education within a particular cultural framework is not only important, but necessary. There are no 'silver bullets' that will automatically fit for all African states. That's what I meant when I said that the 'solution' to the 'problem' of Africa will come from African people.

Give a woman a fish, and she'll eat for a day; teach her how to fish, and she'll eat for a lifetime; but if she goes ahead and builds a solar-powered organic free range chicken farm, don't force her to keep fishing.


In other news - the whole idea of 'primitiveness' had some interesting press in Kenya recently. Apparently, Korean Air created an advertisement for tourism in Kenya. They mentioned the safaris, the splendour, and they also said: "enjoy the...indigineous people full of primitive energy". Oops.

Well, Kenya has one of the fastest growing online cultures, and a favourite pastime of a lot of my friends and colleagues is using Twitter. #KenyansonTwitter, or #KOT is a highly active hashtag, full of banter, political discussions, and general Kenyan miscellanea.  Well, when they heard about this ad, they brought down the Big Stick of Twitter on Korean Air. If you search #primitiveenergy on Twitter, you will see thousands of comments and satires about this Korean Air gaffe. Some of them are hilarious. The avalanche of negative comments prompted Korean Air to pull the ad. In one day. Go Internet Solidarity!


Foreign Policy, in partnership with the Fund for Peace, have published the 2011 Failed States Index. I somewhat encourage you to check it out. But with a huge caveat - I think that it is absolute rubbish. Worse, it dramatizes some of the difficulties and crises around the world in an unforgivable way. See, for example, their 'Postcards from Hell' - yes, there are some areas of the world that are in dire straights, and yes, in some situations, people are enduring immense suffering. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but it is irresponsible and mentally incompetent to think that a picture represents an entire country and its population. I can think of a few 'postcards from hell' from Canada that would portray Canadian life a little differently.

Maybe I need to read more deeply into the methodology, the factors and the overall impact of the study. Maybe the title 'failed state index' is just a bit of journalistic melodrama. Maybe. But the fact that Kenya ranks 16th on the list of the 60 'most failed' states, above places like Ethiopia (which just passed a law giving people a maximum 15 year prison sentence for using Skype, and jailed a reporter under its new anti-terrorism law), North Korea, Syria, and Israel/West Bank, makes me very dubious about the 'objectiveness' of this report. Under some of the factors contributing to its ranking, Kenya received an 8.9/10 (the higher the worse) under the heading 'Delegitimization of the State'. This being a year after passing a new Constitution, ongoing institutional reforms, and peace and stability since the 2008 post-election violence. Very interesting.

A failed state is a massive catastrophe - Somalia, #1 on the list, definitely exhibits many of the warning signs: unsupported centralized government, poverty, violence, mass movement of refugees, human-made catastrophes (famine), instability, poor economic development and major dependence on external interventions. Suggesting that Kenya is approaching a failed state status is a mystery to me. Areas of Kenya suffer from poverty and food insecurity. There is unrest in the areas near the Somalia border. There is corruption at many levels. But Kenya is the ICT leader in the region. It has a huge tourism industry. The new Constitution has led to many positive political and social developments. There is a long way to go, but I have to wonder: how did they get it so wrong?

Update: check out http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/ - Apparently the 2012 Index is out. Kenya is still 16th, which means that it scored WORSE, since South Sudan is now on the scene...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Perspectives: Education and Soccer

I was able to take a little break and go visit my sister in Germany with my fiancée this past week. It was a great trip, full of soccer, wine, trains, rich food, chocolate, and Germans (culture shock!). The internet was 'high speed', for real. It was also sad - my fiancée is heading back to Canada to start medical school. Well, that part isn't sad, I am super excited for her and her new career. I'm just not looking forward to being without my #1 sidekick/partner/fan.

Taking a break from Nairobi was also a good opportunity to take stock of what's going on, from a slightly removed perspective, in International Human Rights. With the Kenyan media in full swing and reporting on scandals, political manoeuvring, and the shockingly poor performance of the Kenyan National Soccer team, I was definitely getting some tunnel vision and a bit discouraged (and maybe even a bit cynical). In every lead up to elections in Kenya's recent history, there are certain things that seem to repeat themselves - tribal-based political activity, major scandals, and non-stop media dramatization. Well, this time, politicians have engaged organizations like GEMA and KAMATUSA to start the tribal discourse, the major scandal this time around centred on the National Health Insurance Fund, and the embezzlement of millions of dollars.

Some things don't need much dressing up, as the death of the Minister of Security, George Saitoti, and his assistant and aides was a major occurence. Saitoti was a presidential aspirant and a major political player since the Moi era. He died in a helicopter crash, the details of which are currently being investigated. Three days of mourning were declared, and there were constant memorials and photodiaries of his life and times. All the major political players eulogized his good deeds. No one seemed to mention the fact that he was a central figure in one of the largest scandals of grand corruption in Kenyan history - the Goldenberg Scandal, which to this day is unresolved. He seemed to get more tributes and mentions than Wangari Maathai, who passed away early last year, and who I consider to be a real (nobel-prize winning) hero.

So, I have been a bit sensitive to some of the negative occurrences leading up to the elections in Kenya.

But, being in Germany, with the associated culture shock and ultra-efficient city transportation, I was struck by a few things:

1. The first German University was established in 1386 (the University of Heidelberg). That's over 600 years old. That's 6 centuries of access to higher education for (some) German people.

After doing some extensive background research (i.e. Wikipedia), I found that the oldest university on the African continent is in Tunisia - the University of El-Zitouna, established in 737 CE*. The university teaches exclusively (so Wikipedia says) in areas of Theology, Islamic civilization, and Islamic law. As far as I could see, the next earliest universities popped up around the mid to late 1800s, and were almost exclusively through the efforts of colonialists. Significant African attendance at these universities didn't seem to occur until the post-world war II era (I think that the University of Makarere in Uganda is an exception).

What that means is that there are only one or two generations of indigenous peoples in Africa that have had any meaningful access to higher learning and education.

This is interesting. The influence of the 'developed world' on African Nations has been massive, for better or (usually) worse. I think, increasingly, that if there is going to be a 'solution' to the 'problem' of Africa, it is going to come through the practical and intellectual work of African peoples. Generally, all types of intellectual progress (science, philosophy, law, medicine, engineering, some of the arts, business, etc.) have their genesis in institutions of higher learning. And if the continent has only had meaningful access to this higher education for around 60 years, then I think large doses of empathy and patience are required, rather than the pity and pretentiousness that western culture takes towards African development. Of course, the concept of Universities and higher education is also a legacy of colonialism, but I think it is one that can have a positive impact.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I think it's a fascinating situation. It makes you wonder - if Africans are given the luxury of access higher education for 600 years, what kinds of things will develop out of that? It should also be noted that the types of developments through higher learning are also context dependent. For example, the reason that Kenya is a leading country in Africa in terms of Information and Communication Technology, is because it is an ICT hub, thanks to a direct cable running from India that provides Internet coverage. The reason that African nations like Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa have such expertise in International Criminal Justice (even though it is often unrecognised by developed states), is simply because of the amount of International Criminal Justice work coming out of African nations.

Similarly, the human rights abuses coming out of Africa (and everywhere else in the world), are at least partly due to the fact that human rights are such a new concept. England, France, and the USA have some of the oldest precursors to Human Rights documents, but our modern conception of human rights arose in 1948. Canada enacted the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in 1982 (it's the same age as I am). Kenya promulgated its new Constitution (with a Bill of Rights included) in 2010. It takes time to build a culture of human rights. Give Kenya 10 years, 100 years, and see how things develop under this new dispensation. The USA has had 200 years, and it is still doing a pretty poor job of protecting human rights.

2. I love soccer. Watching Euro 2012 games has been fantastic, and especially watching Germany play while in Germany was a nice touch.

I think that my appreciation for the game has progressed beyond individual skill, fancy plays, and goals, though. These days, I tend to watch soccer games as a sort of psychological exercise. I notice the fact that Spain still exhibit confidence with their 'tiki-taka' style, but that the weight of expectations has drained their precision and directness - they collectively seem to be more concerned about not making mistakes than destroying their opponents. The Portuguese have changed dramatically over the course of the tournament, and their last game shows that they are finally comfortable playing with each other - Cristiano Ronaldo's impact is a direct result of the team cohesion. The Germans are so coached up and cohesive that they have attained an almost zen-like emotional detachment from their game - they don't get rattled, they make extraordinary plays seem 'normal', and when Mario Gomez scores, they take it as an inevitability, rather than a celebration. I have no comment on the Italians, since I haven't figured them out - some of the players honestly look like they'd rather be somewhere else.

By far my favourite moment of the tournament came during the Spain-Ireland game. Ireland was out-gunned, out-classed, and, ultimately, outscored. But, the Irish never gave up, and played their hearts out right until the final whistle - you could see in the post-match interviews that the Irish players were discouraged and disappointed, but you wouldn't have known that while the game was on. That's the way that the game is supposed to be played. That's why it seemed like there were 50,000 Irish fans in the stadium, as they sang non-stop for the last 15 minutes of the game, with their team down 4-0. That's a lesson in what it means to be a 'supporter'. I wish more professional sports were played with that kind of attitude and in that kind of atmosphere.

Somewhere down the line, I will work on how soccer relates to Human Rights, and how it can save the world.
* I also found out that 'CE' is the new politically correct way to referring to dates - it is the 'Common Era', formerly known as 'AD' - so as to not upset non-Christians who also want to meaningfully talk about the past. Guess I'm behind the times on that.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Why Human Rights? And Where? Part II

After Lagos, from May 21-25 I was in Kigali, Rwanda. We were hosting a civil society workshop on the International Criminal Court, as well as organizing a judicial colloquium for the East African Magistrates and Judges Association. Arriving in Kigali was a complete culture shock. From Lagos, population of nearly 20 million people (Wikipedia says that the population is just under 8 million, but that is from 2006, and Lagos is the seventh fastest growing city in the world), to Kigali, population of less than 1 million.

Kigali is a beautiful city, nestled amongst the hilly terrain of Rwanda (the land of a thousand hills). Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, at an acceptable speed, and even stop at traffic lights! That was pure bliss, after the chaos that is Lagos and Nairobi traffic. It's also an incredibly clean and well-kept city, with monthly 'clean up' days where people get together and clean up the entire city. Plus, plastic grocery bags are outlawed, which keeps a lot of litter to a minimum. I found it to be a pleasant and relaxing place.

In the background, though, one can understand why things are so orderly. There are armed guards and army officers every few hundred meters. We asked our cab driver to take 5 of us to our hotel, in his 4-seater car. He agreed, but was so nervous and anxious that he was literally praying the entire trip, in the hopes that the police or the army did not notice him breaking the law. There is a very real sense of militaristic order in Kigali, and while the Rwandan people that I met were all very soft-spoken and polite, there seemed to be an underlying sense of fear, as well.

This all makes sense in the context of Rwanda's history. You may have seen Hotel Rwanda, which was a good movie, but I had to opportunity to visit the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. In 100 days, from April-July 1994, nearly 1 million Rwandans were murdered. That was about 20% of the total population of Rwanda. There are better places to find out all of the facts of the Genocide (such as here), than my blog. The horrors of the genocide are still fresh, and although Rwanda has made significant strides in development since then, there is a real sense that making sure of 'never again' will take direct initiative by the government. Hence the presence of armed guards, and hence the presence of a very robust criminal law against genocide denial.

There are two things I wanted to mention about my experience at the memorial:

1. The scope and scale of the genocide is difficult to fathom. Killing that many people in that short a time frame is not easy to reconcile. I am a perennial optimist, and I believe the in kindness of strangers, but stories of neighbours, friends, and family turning against each other definitely shakes that belief. In fact, some of the stories, especially those of the murdered children, were saddening to some - one of the judges we went with was reduced to sobbing - but, for me, it was also infuriating. Dehumanizing someone to the point of murdering a defenceless child, let alone the rest of the men and women, is a psychological state that I cannot, on ANY level, understand. Thanks to the memorial, I now have a better understanding of what happened, and why certain events unfolded the way that they did, but I'm still left with the question: How could anyone do this?

2. The broader context of the genocide was a reminder about why I do the things I do. Colonial (Belgium especially) and Religious (Catholic) imperialism in Rwanda left an indelible mark on Rwandan society, culture and psychology. Then, after severely altering the make up of Rwandan society, they left the country to its own devices. After ethnic tensions started mounting, the United Nations started monitoring the situation. Then, when ethnic tension turned into ethnic cleansing, the United Nations pulled out its peacekeepers and the foreign (and local) dignitaries. The history of the Rwandan genocide, from an outsiders perspective, is a history of failure - a failure to understand a vibrant and rich culture, a failure to pay attention to conflict, a failure to effectively protect basic principles of human rights and democratic governance, a failure to mediate an ongoing dispute, and a failure to intervene in a massive scale violent crisis. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian Lieutenant-General in charge of the UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda estimated that a contingent of 5,000 UN troops could have controlled and stopped the violence. Instead, they used 5,000 troops to evacuate ex-pats, while the UN General Assembly issued a resolution 'strongly condemning' the violence in Rwanda.

Eventually, the RPF came, without major assistance from the international community, and ended the genocide and the civil war. And Paul Kagame remains in power to this day.

My recollection and understanding of the Rwandan genocide is limited. With ongoing trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, new facts and more detail have been shed on the situation. Even though there is much more to this story than I know, the history of the genocide is still incomplete. I am sure that there are more complexities and horrors that will come to light, and if I am being perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want to learn more about it. Kofi Annan said that the UN's failure with Rwanda leaves everyone with "a feeling of bitter regret". I would think that the feeling hits a little deeper than that.

However, I'm left with lingering thoughts from both the Kigali experience, and what happened in Lagos:

Human rights don't spur violence. Human rights don't promote ignorance, or hatred, or dogmatism. But what do human rights do? By all accounts, they've generally been concise lines of text on documents that haven't really been of much use in the world's history. But Human Rights, as we know them - as universal, morally correct, and profoundly beneficial - are young. The UN Declaration on Human Rights was conceived after the second world war, and is going on 64 years old. No major global ideology or system of belief has managed to capture the hearts and mind of a massive amount of the global community within the lifespan of one human being.

I believe in human rights. I believe in the principles they espouse. I believe that they apply everywhere, at all times, to all people. I believe that they will lead to a peaceful, healthy, vibrant human community on Earth. I also believe that human rights have no use if they are not promoted, protected, and accepted in the everyday psyche of individuals. That requires work - intellectual work, political advocacy, and on-the-ground everyday work. I believe I can do that work. I think I've started, and I'll keep it up, tomorrow, the next day, and we'll see how far that belief can go. So far, it's taken me to Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda. It's looking like it will also take me to Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And judging from the news, I'm wondering if it will take me back home to Canada, too.

For me, Human Rights are a journey.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Why Human Rights? And Where? Part I

I recently had some opportunities that made me feel proud of the work that I do. At the same time they highlighted how gargantuan the task of 'protecting human rights' truly is. Humility is a staple at every meal, these days.

From May 16-20, I was in Lagos, Nigeria, for the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers Annual Conference. The theme for their conference this year was 'Nurturing Judicial Independence and Accountability in Africa'. I was asked to present a paper that I had submitted. Briefly, the paper was on the recent decision by the High Court of Kenya to issue an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, should he enter Kenyan territory. If you'll recall, I blogged about it back in December, as the case was brought to court by ICJ Kenya. In particular, the paper I wrote focused on how the Bashir Decision was a good indication of the growing independence of the Kenyan Judiciary. It was a simple paper, and seemed well-received.

But this isn't a post for boasting. The conference was a forum for lawyers and legal academics to congregate from around the continent. There were lawyers from Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Brilliant minds from across Africa, all discussing major issues on the status of Judiciaries in Africa. The picture that was painted wasn't exactly glowing. Rampant corruption and underfunding of the judicial system in places like Nigeria have led to bizarre decisions where judges are acting as 'gatekeepers' for the political elite, sheltering them from responsibility and accountability. In Cameroon, the fact that judges have to 'answer' to the President is a serious violation of the independence of the Judiciary, and seems to have led to some serious miscarriages of justice. It highlighted some of the ongoing issues of corruption, impunity, and poor governance that continue to be a problem in Africa.

At the same time, it was a congregation of smart, passionate, and insightful individuals, who have dedicated their lives to bringing about a positive change. I once had the misfortune of hearing someone say that "the problem with Africa is Africans". I never really understood that sentiment - which Africans? All of the individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting have been hard-working, dedicated, and resourceful. Even those people living far below the poverty line have come up with innovative ways of making ends meet. Especially in the Human Rights field, many lawyers and activists toil tirelessly to fight against injustice and tyranny, putting their own lives at risk, for little or no material gain. So I wonder again - which Africans are causing the problems?

Lagos itself was quite an experience. The city is massive, with a population nearing 20 million people. I was staying on Victoria Island, which is apparently a more 'upper class' area. It was hard to tell one from the other, as Lagos is a crowded city - high rises next to low-income settlements, all cramped together as the city literally spills out into the sea. There is a shanty town built on stilts that is completely on the water. Despite the well-built roads, car transport is just as cramped - traffic is horrendous, dangerous, and loud. Nigerian people are just as loud and boisterous, but are incredibly friendly and jovial as well. It's obviously a vibrant country, despite the ongoing violence and tensions, and the people I met were fun-loving and really enjoyed watching me eat the local food. I was completely unprepared for Nigerian food, which was incredibly spicy, and rather exotic - including snails, among other things. Luckily, they also really like fried rice.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I grew up herding cattle, now I want to be an aeronautical engineer - Richard, 13

I'm feeling a bit inspired these days. This could from managing to finish a bunch of larger projects today; it could be because I was up until 4:00am finishing those projects. In any event, it has been an interesting and eventful month.

First, and probably most exciting, my parents came to visit me and my fiancée in April. I took some (much needed) leave days from work, and we went down to Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha is an interesting place. It is a small-ish city that has experienced somewhat of a boom in population and urban planning. This is for two reasons: (1) tourism - this makes the most sense, as Arusha is an ideal gateway to many fantastic safari opportunities (more on that later), and (2) because of the amount of human rights and international criminal justice initiatives that have centred there. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is located in Arusha, as is the African Court on Human and People's Rights. If I'm not mistaken, it's also the home of the East African Court of Justice. These institutions, especially the ICTR, has given Arusha a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour, mixed up nicely with a rural, traditional lifestyle.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere, since I'm distinctly pro-International Criminal Justice, and because of things like this:

And this:

I think we maximized the sight-seeing potentials in Northern Tanzania, visiting Tarangire Park, Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. I generally tend to shy away from things that I consider to be 'too touristy', but going on game drives in this region truly is amazing. I think I can safely check that off my list, at least for sometime. There is something rather satisfying about having the patience to wait for a leopard to descend from its tree (while most other people have driven by, taken a few snaps, and moved on), pose, and then absolutely disappear into the grass. For some reason, it made me want to get back into rock climbing.

Game drives aside, though, the human rights field has been considerably buzzing. First, Thomas Lubanga was convicted for war crimes, largely for conscripting child soldiers. That is a massive win for international criminal justice, despite what some people think. And it is definitely more relevant than the Kony 2012 video that caused such a stir. Not only that, but on April 26th, the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Charles Taylor of 11 charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and serious violations of international humanitarian law. This is the first time a Head of State has been held accountable for his actions. In both cases, we are awaiting the decisions on how the two men will be sentenced (supposedly the prosecutors are looking for an 80-year sentence for Taylor).

This has been a busy month for International Criminal Justice. The decisions serve a clear warning to the political elite around the world that they will be held accountable for their actions (directly or indirectly). There has been some criticism levelled on the International Criminal Justice mechanisms, especially with regards to the amount of time and money that has been spent, with so few results. But I feel that most of these criticisms do not reflect a clear understanding of International Criminal Justice - even in domestic courts, criminal trials can take years to be resolved. And domestic cases generally revolve around one victim, and one event, in which the accused is directly linked. International Crimes exist on an entirely different paradigm, and have entirely different issues and characteristics. It is about prosecuting those most responsible for large-scale violations of human rights. It requires careful investigation (there will be no DNA evidence, no 'gun with fingerprints on it'), careful deliberations, and intensive legal work.

I have no doubt that the two verdicts will be appealed by the accused. Both the accused and the lawyers have too much invested in this process to simply let it stand. More importantly, because this is new ground that is being broken, in both cases, there is a substantial amount of legal principles and concepts of International Criminal Justice that are not yet universally agreed upon. So that leaves a large chunk of lawyerly work left to do. But, even if they appeal, more legal consideration is only a positive thing. One of the most important aspects of trial procedure is that the decision serves as an historical reference point for International Criminal Justice, and one that will be used to guide further progress, both with its successes and failures.

I was also fortunate to attend a TED event in Nairobi. This event was called 'TEDsalon', and was part of a worldwide talent search that is being undertaken by the people at TED, in order to find young and brilliant talent.

I say fortunate because (a) there had been minimal advertising for the event, which was crazy, since it was free, and TED is rather a global phenomenon now, so we were lucky to find out about it, and (b) because it is now the rainy season here, traffic is generally crazy, and was worse today because of all the accidents. We squeezed into the doors, just as they were closing, and got our minds blown, along with the other 500 or so people packed into the small auditorium.

The topics ranged from wildlife conservation to alternative fuel sources to slam poetry to journalism, and everything in between. The format of TEDsalon was for each participant to inspire the crowd in 6 minutes. We were instructed to give standing ovations, or boo, as individuals, and try and be active participants in the process. The facilitators who had given us these instructions were not from around here, or at least were used to British crowds, because I don't think they were prepared for the Nairobi crowd. We were raucous, loud, and incredibly supportive - I feel like every speaker probably felt pretty good about themselves. Here are some of my favourite moments:

  • Richard, a 12 year old boy, invented a system, using a car battery, a signal switch from a motorbike, and LED lights, to scare off lions from the cattle that he was responsible for herding and protecting. Simultaneously, he protected his father's wealth, and contributed to lion conservation - lion populations have been rapidly declining as human settlements creep closer and closer to lion territory. Thanks to that invention, which is being implemented in many different communities, Richard has secured a full scholarship to the country's best high school. Now he wants to be an air plane engineer.
  • A man walks on the stage, wearing a ski mask, and a baseball hat with beads hanging down, so we can't see his eyes. He is an undercover journalist, who has dedicated himself to 'naming, shaming, and jailing' those people that take advantage of the vulnerable. He works with Al Jazeera, and uncovered some of the most disturbing evidence of the treatment of Albinos in Tanzania, and Psychiatric Patients in Ghana. In each case, he goes 'undercover', assuming an identity (such as a psychiatric patient), so that he can gain access to situations most journalists and prosecutors are unable to. He builds a story, builds evidence, and literally takes down the bad guys.
  • A 19 year old girl comes on stage, and delivers probably the best piece of poetry I've ever heard live. It's called 'Call me Africa'. It speaks of prejudice, independence, misconceptions and spirit. But the most engaging thing was the response from the crowd, who was seemingly living and breathing with the whole thing. Immersive, and a little spine-tingling.
  • There was a lot of talk about toilets. We tend to take our waste for granted. We flush it down the toilet. But in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum (and indeed, in all the informal settlements in Nairobi, which house 2/3rds of Nairobi's population), where does that waste go? Well, as a few people recognized, it doesn't go anywhere (because of a lack of sewage and piping), and worse, it goes to waste. Instead, some people have taken the notion that 'Human Investment' (or 'shit', as one of the presenters was quick to point out) is now being used in these areas as a viable source of fuel. There are now several 'bio-centres' in Kibera that, on one end, are public toilets, and on the other end, fuel gas stoves for kitchens and cafeterias. Although, as one presenter pointed out, more work has to be done to involve the individuals, especially when it comes to preserving human dignity. After all, 'who wants to cook in a toilet?'
The whole event was a bit awe-inspiring. It was a great reminder of resourcefulness of human nature, and a reminder that there is a very different story behind the 'malnourished, dangerous, crushed by poverty' Africa.

I'll end there, but expect more updates soon - I am going to Nigeria next week, to present a paper at the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers. It will be good, epic, or both.