Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Patterns in violence against women and girls

It would be nearly impossible to be reading Canadian news over the past few days and not run across two high-profile cases of violence involving women or girls. The most recent, the much watched Shafia trial over the murder of Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia and their stepmother Rona Amir Mohammed has generated heated condemnation for the three family members convicted of killing these women and girls (the youngest of the murdered was only 13). Some additionally point out the fact that at least twice some of the children sought help from authorities before they were murdered, but nothing came of the girls' attempts. Now, we could get into the debate over whether it is better to call these deaths "honor killings" or "murder" or "domestic violence" or even "femicide" but one thing that I think is worth examining is how frequently the family's national origin and religion are mentioned in reports of the crime--so much so that the Afghanistan Embassy issued a public statement condemning the murders and noting that neither Afghan legal standards nor Islam would condone such actions.

Perhaps it is natural that in the shock of being faced with this violence, many writers want to distance Canada and Canadian society from being somehow involved. It is a bulwark of Canadian culture that women and girls are as equally human and have equal rights as men and boys, so violence that is gender-based against females should not happen here. But while reading all these statements and reports, I could not help noticing one of the other threads of headline news: the Pickton Inquiry, which is currently examining how it was that it took the RCMP and other police agencies so long to stop Robert Pickton from murdering so many women, year after year.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Meeting and Trust

Today is a gathering of First Nations leaders to discuss present problems and future possibilities, particularly with regard to the relationship of First Nations with the Canadian government. Prime Minister Steven Harper is attending along with Governor General David Johnston.

Moving forward in a way that respects the rights, traditions and needs of First Nations people is necessary for addressing issues such as education, poverty and housing that face many living on as well as off reserves. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo spoke about this need for moving forward while respecting the needs and rights of First Nations people, but he also spoke first about the need to "repair trust" before (or perhaps as) real progress is made. In his words, "To rebuild the partnership, we must rebuild the trust on which it must be based."

Monday, January 16, 2012

On habits and environmental justice

I recently read an article that discussed the reaction of certain types of fish to higher levels of carbon dioxide in their water. It seems these fish react to significantly higher levels of carbon dioxide in a similar way to how humans react to alcohol. They exhibited disorientation, lack of coordination, even disastrously bad choices like swimming toward predators instead of away from them. The article points out too that humans are currently effecting this kind of change on the oceans, adding carbon dioxide to the waters, though current levels have not yet reached the levels the scientists conducting this particular study were testing at.

Reading this got me thinking about the intersection of questions of environmental justice and human habits.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Behind the Rhetoric of Human Rights


Guest Post by Kathy Vandergrift, Chair, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children:

In one week Canada’s political leaders celebrated Vaclav Havel as a champion of human rights and denounced Kim Jung-il for violating human rights. At the same time Canada’s Justice Minister dismissed as irrelevant human rights concerns about Bill C-10 and the Minister of Immigration dared anyone to raise a Charter challenge to arbitrary changes he announced for citizenship requirements. Bill C-10 violates obligations Canada has under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the most widely endorsed human rights treaties that protect persons with the least political power in any country. And one might expect our government to check if proposed laws comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms before adopting them rather than challenging citizens to bring a lawsuit – especially after the government cut any funding for expensive Charter challenges.

At a deeper level, rights language in political rhetoric reveals widely different understandings of what human rights are and why they are important. Some assume international norms apply for dictators in undeveloped countries, but not in Canada.Others use the term to mean civil rights, but dismiss any suggestion that economic and social rights are equally important if we are going to build a rights-respecting culture.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Human rights, human wrongs

As the first post of the new year, and in honor of our upcoming conference on which the blog will be thematically focused over the next few months, I wanted to raise the issue of the relationship of concepts of human rights to concepts of injustice.

I raise this question for discussion because I have noticed that talk of "human rights" most often rises in response to human wrongs--to perceived injustices. I put the emphasis on human wrongs here, because when natural disasters with heavy human (and environmental) tolls occur, the typical response centers on alleviating human (and environmental) suffering without much talk of human rights. A terrible earthquake can have the same effect as a war in denying the necessities of life to those in the area: clean water, food, shelter, etc. But when a lack of food or resources is caused by war or some other human-made disaster, the response of sending aid often is paired with rights-language. The human rights of people in the area have been violated by having those, or other, necessities denied them as a consequence of human action or inaction.