On February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed by East Palestine, Ohio (Ebrahimji and Yan, 2023). 38 of its cargo-hauling cars jumped the rails, scattering its hazardous contents into the earth, air and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would respond within a day; the Ohio National Guard would mobilize a day after that. By February 8th, the initial evacuation order issued to East Palestine and the immediate area would be lifted (Ebrahimji and Yan, 2023). As of March 17th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine maintains that East Palestine is safe for inhabitation (Keller, 2023). Locals and EPA representatives disagree. Carcinogenic dioxides still permeate the earth by the initial spill sites at a density 100 times the legal limit (Perkins, 2023); 4.85 million gallons of toxic wastewater have been extracted from broader East Palestine in the month since the initial spill (Government of Ohio, 2023). Activists like Erin Brockovich, who previously uncovered a massive corporate coverup of water poisoning during her tenure as a paralegal at a law firm (Brokovich, 2023), warned that coverups and late-blooming dangers are likely to threaten the health of locals for years (Flesher, 2023).
Disasters like these are far from uncommon in the United States. The first seven weeks of 2023 saw 30 incidents reported by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. The EPA performs, on average, 235 individual emergency responses to chemical spills a year (Gillam, 2023). Averaged out, across the United States, a chemical spill occurs once every two days (Bennett, 2023). Every spill, regardless of size or chemical composition, is dangerous. Injury and illness resulting from exposure can incite chronic or acute consequences (Gillam, 2023). In East Palestine, residents were flooded with vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, isobutylene ethylene glycol and ethylhexyl acrylate (Chow and Abou-Sabe). Vinyl Chloride is a colourless, flammable, carcinogenic gas that causes a range of neurological symptoms in those exposed. Butyl acrylate is similarly irritating, and triggers rashes and respiratory complications. The effects of long-term exposure to any one of these chemicals is unknown, let alone multiple (Chow and Abou-Sade, 2023). The issues emerging from this chemical spill will be further compounded by the EPA’s recent performance decrease, triggered in large part by budget slashes (Beitsch and Frazin, 2023).
Amnesty International has held that humans have a right to a safe environment (Amnesty International 2022). While often couched in climate change rhetoric, it is equally applicable to toxic exposure. It is well established that racialized and impoverished communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards (Johnston and Cushing, 2020) akin to the East Palestine spill. In recent memory, the predominantly Black communities of Flint, Michigan (Almasy and Ly, 2017) and Hayneville, Alabama (Alcindor, 2022) were respectively victimized by gross state misconduct in the wake of environmental contamination. In both cases, the contamination was preventable. Flint’s water-pipes were a known lead hazard (Almasy and Ly, 2017); Hayneville’s sewage systems were improperly operated (Alcindor, 2022). The case of East Palestine may seem, on its face, equally tragic but comparatively less insidious. Train derailments are accidents, not state failures. East Palestine is predominately white and conservative. As the state’s failures to respond to the EasPalestine crisis mounted, Trump’s campaign utilized East Palestine’s demographics to accuse the present administration of “woke” virtue signalling (Pilkington, 2023).
In reality, Trump’s administration tabled policy exposing countless locales to industrial disaster, and all American citizens in marginalized social groups are resultantly at risk of similar disasters. The EPA’s 2020 budget reduction was executed by Trump; the already overwhelmed federal branch lost about half of its funding (Beitsch and Frazin, 2023). This drastic rollback on government funding to emergency response and toxic waste management research was further compounded by the former administration’s proverbial derailing of train safety regulations (Levin, 2023). The federal regulations expunged from practice included reducing braking system standards and safety audits of railroads (Levin, 2023). While preliminary reports suggest the East Palestine derailment was not a direct result of Trump’s regulation policy (Kessler, 2023), it is a warning as to what disasters may loom on the American horizon. In cases where the disaster releases toxic chemicals into the environment, as was the case in East Palestine, the legacy of Trump’s rollbacks may have catastrophic consequences. A grand total of 100 environmental rules were repealed, designed to protect American air, drinking water, wildlife and urban infrastructure (Popovich, Albeck-Ripka and Pierre-Louis, 2021). The EPA is subsequently facing stacking disasters with only a fraction of its resources.
Political science scholarship has long held that natural disasters are made by the state (O’Lear, 2022). Food shortages are exacerbated by global food systems into famines (International Rescue Committee, 2022); storms like Hurricane Katrina turn to deadly floods when institutions fail to maintain storm levees (Pruitt, 2020). Our human rights to life, security of person and adequate standard of living are increasingly consolidating with labour and environmental rights. When states fail to recognize the overlap between these spheres of human life, or otherwise ignore them for profit margins, disastrous consequences emerge. The circumstances surrounding East Palestine’s spill are a stark reminder that attaining any one of these rights is contingent upon pursuit of the others.
Alcindor, Y. (n.d.) In rural Alabama, raw sewage spurs investigation into racial inequality. NBC. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/rural-alabama-raw-sewage-spurs-investigation-racial-inequality-rcna25475
Almasy, S. and Ly, L. (2017, February 18) Flint water crisis: Report says ‘systemic racism’ played role. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/18/politics/flint-water-report-systemic-racism/index.html
Amnesty International (2022, July 27) Time to recognize that a safe environment is a human right. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/time-to-recognize-that-a-safe-environment-is-a-human-right/
Bennett, P. (2023, February 28) U.S. Averages One Chemical Accident Every Two Days, Analysis Finds. Eco Watch. https://www.ecowatch.com/chemical-accident-frequency-us.html
Brokovich, E. (2022) My Story. https://www.brockovich.com/my-story/
Ibrahimji, A. And Yan, H. (2023, March 10) It’s been more than a month since a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Ohio. Here’s what’s happened since. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/23/us/east-palestine-ohio-train-derailment-timeline/index.html
Flesher, J. (2023, March 11) ‘We don’t feel safe anymore.’ Trauma, health concerns remain after Ohio derailment. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/we-dont-feel-safe-anymore-trauma-health-concerns-remain-after-ohio-derailment
Governor of Ohio (2023, March 10) East Palestine Update – 3/10/23. https:// governor.ohio.gov/media/news-and-media/east-palestine-update-3-10-23-03102023#:~:text=Hazardous%20Waste%20Removal,of%20through%20deep%20well%20injection.
International Rescue Committee (2022, August 24) What is famine? How it’s caused and how to stop it. https://www.rescue.org/article/what-famine-how-its-caused-and-how-stop-it#:~:text=Famines%20are%20caused%20by%20multiple,of%20action%20to%20prevent%20it.
Johnston J, Cushing L. Chemical Exposures, Health, and Environmental Justice in Communities Living on the Fenceline of Industry. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2020 Mar;7(1):48-57. doi: 10.1007/s40572-020-00263-8. PMID: 31970715; PMCID: PMC7035204.
Keller, A. (2023, February 18) Gov. DeWine reiterates air and water are safe in East Palestine. Spectrum News.https://spectrumnews1.com/oh/columbus/news/2023/02/18/the-ohio-department-of-health-helps-east-palestine-move-forward-with-clinic
Kessler, G. (2023, February 27) So far, Trump’s rollback of regulations can’t be blamed for Ohio train wreck. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/02/27/so-far-trumps-rollback-regulations-cant-be-blamed-ohio-train-wreck/
Levin, B. (2023, February 22) TRUMP FORGETS TO MENTION THE TRAIN SAFETY REGULATIONS HE GUTTED DURING VISIT TO EAST PALESTINE, OHIO. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/02/donald-trump-east-palestine-ohio-train
O’Lear, S., Masse, F., Dickinson, H., & Duffy, R. (2022). Disaster making in the Capitalocene. Global Environmental Politics, 22(3), 2-11. https://muse-jhu- edu.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/article/861825
Perkins, T. (2023, March 17) Levels of carcinogenic chemical near Ohio derailment site far above safe limit. TheGuardian.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/17/norfolk-southern-derailment-east-palestine-ohio-carcinogenic-chemical-levels
Pruitt, S. (2020, August 27) How Levee Failures Made Hurricane Katrina a Bigger Disaster. History. https://www.history.com/news/hurricane-katrina-levee-failures
Black women are the least protected group, I would argue, in the world. They are expected to be strong caretakers, and many view them through a lens of strength and survival through hardship. The latter, however positive, is more regressive than progressive, since it creates an idea that Black women should be viewed as a one-dimensional monolith.
Black women have been discriminated against for centuries, not only by the misogynistic and racist outsiders within society, but in their own community, suffering at the hands of Black men and those that have more privileges than them due to lighter complexions. Black women are less likely to be attended to in hospitals, they are more likely to be viewed as aggressive and angry, and, most pressingly, they are less likely to be believed when they come out as victims.
On the night of the shooting between Tory Lanez and Megan Thee Stallion, I was involved in a groupchat of nearly 100 black women that were attending the same university as I had been. Within minutes the groupchat had gone from a simmer to a full-on kitchen fire, everyone sending details of what had happened and what the news had been saying. Over the following weeks, when discussing the case, our topics strayed away from Megan herself in favour of addressing the responses to her victimhood. Megan, a dark-skin Black woman, was called a cockroach, online personalities began to speculate that she was a man, and others simply said that she had made it all up. The responses were disgusting and abundant, and many of us in the groupchat were exposed to the true colours of our peers and loved ones; nobody was defending Megan like they had when white women cried ‘MeToo’, nobody was sympathizing with the pain that she must have felt, and she had been stripped of her identity in favour of people referring to her as a caricature.
Black Women as Caricatures
In slavery-era minstrel shows, white people would portray Black women as one of two stereotypes: the Mammy, or the Jezebel. The Mammy is a character that possesses no personal life of her own, sacrificing everything to take care of a white family’s home or children, and she was supposed to be grateful for the space and privileges granted to her by the family that she ‘worked for’. A modern example of this caricature would be Viola Davis’ role in The Help, a film that, rather than focusing on the complex relationships of Black caretakers and the children that they watched over in the early 20th century, told the story of a white savior that ‘felt terrible’ for what she had to witness. The image of Aunt Jemima is also an example of the Mammy in popular culture, an image, and a false story, that was only changed after outrage in 2021 (Diaz).
During slavery, it was not rare for white women to express jealousy towards the slave women that would be sexually assaulted at the hand of white slave masters. This was not romance, yet it was interpreted as such by wives that longed for the attention of their husbands. The caricature of the Jezebel originated from such circumstances as these. White women believed that their husbands had been seduced by Black women and their sexuality, thus leading them to be victims of sexual assault. This, of course, is not the truth, and Black women suffered overwhelming abuses from slave owners, which is not reflected in the Jezebel stereotype. The Jezebel’s only influence is her body, which she offers in exchange for something that she desires, and though it is no longer common in media, the Jezebel caricature has left lasting traces in Hollywood films and series.
In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the caricature of the Sapphire rose to prominence, and the public believed this to be a true representation of Black women. The sapphire is the stereotypical ‘sassy Black woman’, she is loud, overbeating, hard-headed, and rude, and has directly contributed to the stereotype of Black women being angry and aggressive. The Sapphire is the ‘Angry Black Women’ that the public is regularly exposed to, and she is masculinized by portraying her as the dominant person in her relationships. The most common caricature of Black women in modern media is the Strong Black Women, also a product of the usage of the Sapphire stereotype. The Strong Black Women is a two-dimensional, emotionally incompetent character that very rarely gets to express an emotion aside from determination.
With a handful of ways to portray Black women, “the audience, and the creators alike, are going to constantly think that [they] have represented Black women in the way they are. When really, they have represented the same racist caricature over and over” (3:38 Al Jazeera). Having played the role of another Black woman stereotype, the Welfare Queen, Babirye Bukilwa sees herself as having been complicit in propaganda targeting Black women (Al Jazeera 6:40).
These stereotypes, even when put together, do not create a real character with personality and understandable motivations. None of these stereotypes or caricatures will ever be honest to the experience of Black women, because they lack depth and dimensionality. While there have been a few shows in recent years that have come out with honest stories about Black women, like Scandal, Insecure, and The Photograph, the startling lack of colour in media production has kept century-old stereotypes and caricatures alive, and these caricatures and stereotypes continue to thrive and work themselves into public opinions.
Defeminizing Black Women
Michelle Obama is successful, her birth name must be Michael; Francine Niyonsaba has a hormonal disorder, she must be competing as a woman to cheat her way to a gold medal; Megan Thee Stallion has taken agency and embraced her own sexuality, she must be .Marcus Thee Stallion’. Do you recognize a pattern? Successful, dominant Black women are constantly torn down and defeminized, and Black women that identify with traditionally masculine traits are rumored by the masses to be men themselves.
The defeminization of Black women began, again, with minstrel shows and slavery. When Black women were stripped of their agency, or when they were only portrayed as being voiceless, or mothering, their ability to embrace their own sexualities ceased to exist. Black women, in the sense of the Mammy trope, were seen as being nurturing, without desire for anything themselves. At the same time, the only sexual experiences of Black women in slavery were those defined by their slave masters, creating a culture that connected victimhood and sexuality when examining relationships of Black women.
Non-Black society has attributed masculinity as a whole to Black communities. They attribute perceived hypermasculine traits, such as violence and likelihood to commit a crime, to Black men, and both Black men and Women suffer as a result. Black men are more likely to be targeted by police violence, while Black women must suffer as they must prove themselves as being feminine beings to those around them. The default for femininity is the white damsel in distress, a character like Snow White, thus assuming Black women to lack femininity since they lack a light complexion (Blake). Even men in the Black community portray and discuss Black women as if they are lesser than because they have dark skin or because they have been brainwashed by the stereotypes of white society.
During the Womanism Movement in the 60s and 70s, Black women coined the word ‘misogynoir’ to encompass the extremely specific circumstances of which they are discriminated against. ‘Misogynoir’ is a word that not only captures the racism and misogyny that Black women endure at the hands of society as a whole, but also addresses, arguably, the biggest perpetrating group of stereotypes against Black women, Black men.
Issues faced by Black women are usually not as bothersome to Black men as they should be. In Why Are Black Men So Quiet About the Things That Matter to Black Women?, Allison Wiltz talks about Black conservatism and how it directly affects Black women. Black conservative men have, for decades, described abortion as being a tool for Black genocide, however, they do not speak on the fact that Black women are more than three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women (Wiltz). Often times, these same men claim that Black women are living off of welfare or cheating the system, but they never bother to comment on wage disparities between Black men and Black women, or even Black women and White women.
In recent years, books like Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall have addressed the way that ‘ratchet’/’hood’ women are viewed as ‘ghetto’ or ‘uneducated’. Books such as these suggest that Black men view Black women as being less than white women because they have chosen to use AAVE, or because they wear certain clothes. These mentalities and styles invented by Black women often end up in mainstream media, by which point they are deemed as being socially acceptable while Black women are still being labeled as ‘ghetto’ for trendsetting.
Black men have, in the past, picked up many of the stereotypes towards Black women that have been created by non-Black communities. Rather than speaking out against them, many Black men have, instead, chosen disbelief or complacency in order to advance in life.
In one apology addressed to Megan, a Black man said that he initially could not believe it, and that is why he chose to be hateful towards her. The “everyday violence that [Black women] deal with“sounds so crazy”as to be met with incredulity,” but this is the type of violence that they are faced with everyday of their lives, including from their very own community (Lane 295).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines parasociality as “Designating a relationship characterized by the one-sided, unreciprocated sense of intimacy felt by a viewer, fan, or follower for a well-known or prominent figure” (“Parasocial” O.E.D). In other words, a parasocial relationship is one in which a fan believes that they have a realistic, everyday relationship with a celebrity or creator because of the accessibility of their content.
Parasocial relationships can be dangerous, as the person that perceives a parasocial relationship may defend the celebrity, creator, or character, as if they are a friend, and they are unable to decipher that their relationship is one-sided. In a study published in Psychology and Marketing, Siyoung Chung and her team discovered that, the more a celebrity tweeted or interacted with fans online, the more likely they were to be endorsed by their audience (Chung). Not only is this excellent branding, creating falsified, and seemingly personal connections with an audience, allowing for significantly more successful marketing, but it is also a wonderful PR tool.
When celebrities with large, parasocial audiences get into scandals, any bad publicity can be easily overshadowed by their fanbase spreading other information, or simply polluting related hashtags with unrelated events/media. For Tory Lanez, his parasocial audience mixed with racism, misogyny, and misogynoir from members of the Black community, created a perfect storm to distract from Megan’s retelling of the events. Rather than finding conversations about what happened on the night of the shooting, or seeing evidence on your timeline, it is much more common to come across tweets calling Megan a liar, or claiming her to be a man.
In the midst of her trauma, Megan Thee Stallion was forced to relentlessly explain herself, blame and insults being spewed on every platform. At the time of the shooting, it is reported that she lied to a police officer regarding what had happened. Many ridiculed her for this decision, overlooking the historic relationship between Black men and police departments, especially in the United States. Others called her a snitch for saying anything at all, “as if she were involved with some crime ring with Tory Lanez” (The Takeaway 4:45). Megan, like other Black women, could not win, and this trial has grown to be as much of a minstrel show as the ones that took place 100 years ago. If Megan is a Sapphire, she can’t feel pain, right? If she is a Strong Black Woman, then she must not be a victim.
If you have gotten this far, and you feel anger towards my defense of Megan Thee Stallion, towards my defense of Black women as a whole, let me remind you: Tory Lanez is not your friend. Why are you defending him? Why are Black women stripped of any talents and education, viewed as even subhuman, once they reach fame? Why must Black women suffer no matter their position in life?
This trial is about Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez, but it has never been solely about Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez. This trial is about society and Black women, about Black men and Black women, this trial is about Black Women and pain. Nobody believes Black women, because society, including Black men, do not view them as people. If Black women are supposed to be protectors, who will protect them?
Blake, Arana. The Masculinization of Black Women. Nubian Message, 14 April 2022, https://www.thenubianmessage.com/2022/04/14/the-masculinization-of-black-women/.
Chung, Sarah., & Cho, Hichang. “Fostering Parasocial Relationships with Celebrities on Social Media: Implications for Celebrity Endorsement.” Psychology and Marketing, 34(4), 481-495, https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21001.
Lane, Nikki. “Ratchet Black Lives Matter: Megan Thee Stallion, Intra-Racial Violence, and the Elusion of Grief.” Linguistic Anthropology, 31, 293-297, August 2021, https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jola.12323.
In their book, Refugee States: Critical Refugee Studies in Canada, Vinh Nguyen and Thy Phu describe the concept of Canadian “humanitarian exceptionalism” in some detail. They describe it as “a belief that what sets Canada apart from the US and other nation-states is its distinct benevolence and commitment to human rights” (Nguyen and Phu, 3). As a result of this belief, Canadians may think themselves morally superior to inhabitants of other nations, especially the United States. In fact, a 2016 survey from the Angus Reid institute found that only 15% of Canadians considered the United States to be a “caring society” (Canada Guide). In other words, it seems clear that Canadian society both prides itself on its perceived humanitarian excellence, while also defining itself through its ethical superiority in comparison to other nations. This means that Canadian society, as well as individual Canadians, may feel less pressure or duty to investigate the human rights conditions in our own country and brought about by our government’s policies. “As long as we aren’t as ‘bad’ as the United States”, we reason, “can we really be all that ‘bad’”?
I would argue that this is not only lazy but an irresponsible and dangerous view to take on the protection of human rights in Canada. Why, if we view the United States to be so thoroughly disrespectful of human rights, can we not imagine an instance in which we might surpass their moral standards, but still fail to demonstrate humanitarian efforts of which we can be proud? Surely, if Canadians can so unanimously condemn the human rights violations which we have recently witnessed in the United States, we can muster a more rigorous and objective scale with which to measure our own actions. Unfortunately, the abdication of moral appraisal in favour of an assumed humanitarian supremacy over a handful of conveniently placed international rivals cannot be seen as anything other than a failure in the advancement of universal human rights.
Last year, while writing for Amnesty International U of T’s Candlelight blog, I submitted a piece highlighting the discrepancies between Canada’s benevolent image on the international scene and the difficult realities faced by its unhoused population. This year, I’d like to elaborate on this same theme while turning my attention towards the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Canada. This in the context of the trap set by the idea of “humanitarian exceptionalism”.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s infamous policies regarding the treatment of refugees or migrants seeking entrance into the United States, it perhaps became easier in recent years for Canadians to ignore the mistreatment of refugees by our own government. In a joint report released on World Refugee Day in 2021, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch declared that “Canada incarcerates thousands of people, including those with disabilities, on immigration-related ground every year in often abusive conditions” (Human Rights Watch). However, when compared to the more conspicuous abuses carried out by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agents during President Trump’s tenure, Canada’s mistreatment of immigrants and refugees has tended to fade into the background of our national consciousness. In 2017, Reuters reported that the Trump administration was considering the separation of Mexican children from their mothers upon “illegally” crossing the border into the United States (Reuters). The following year, the United States Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) publicly admitted for the first time to having separated 2 000 children from their parents as they crossed the border into the United States from Mexico (CNN). Faced with this abhorrent example of human rights abuse, it became easy for Canadians to cease the examination of our own systemic mistreatment of immigrants and refugees. I would argue that much of the energy which would have previously been spent on the promotion of the amelioration of Canada’s humanitarian measures in these areas instead became focused on the derision of the United States’ methods. This is clearly detrimental to the progress of human rights in Canada, and is also only one example among many. As long as Canada continues to measure the morality of our humanitarian efforts in relation to the often gross human rights abuses levied by American institutions, we will be wasting energy and resources which could be better spent on the questioning and bettering of our own systems.
Finally, I would indicate that this is not an outright condemnation of Canada’s efforts in the realm of human rights. According to the Fraser Institute’s 2022 Human Rights Index, Canada ranks 13th highest among the nations of the world (Fraser Institute). This is above the United States, and other wealthy nations such as the United Kingdom and France. Instead, this article is meant to denounce the idea that human rights efforts can be reduced to the ways in which they compare to each other. Human rights efforts, whether they concern the treatment of vulnerable populations such as the unhoused and those seeking asylum as refugees, or whether they concern the status of marginalized populations such as racial or sexual minorities, are inherently indicative of the ways in which we value the lives of our fellow humans. Is this pursuit not worthy of being measured in ways which transcend the petty temptation to comparison? If Canada wants to build a nation truly worthy of being deemed “exceptional” for its humanitarian pursuits, we ought to create an independent standard by which to measure our human rights efforts. If we seek “humanitarian exceptionalism” in the truest sense of the word, why do we lower ourselves to the standards of those nations we so readily condemn? The myth of “humanitarian exceptionalism” in Canada not only spells disaster for the progress of human rights in Canada, it also demonstrates a lack of imagination and belief in the true humanitarian potential of our nation.
Ainsley, Julia Edwards. “Exclusive: Trump Administration Considering Separating Women, Children at Mexico Border.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 3 Mar. 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children-idUSKBN16A2ES.
“Anti-Americanism.” The Canada Guide, 17 Nov. 2020, https://thecanadaguide.com/culture/anti-americanism/.
“Canada: Abuse, Discrimination in Immigration Detention.” Human Rights Watch, 20 July 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/17/canada-abuse- discrimination-immigration-detention.
“Family Separation – a Timeline.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.splcenter.org/news/2022/03/23/family-separation-timeline#2017.
“Human Freedom Index 2022.” Fraser Institute, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/human-freedom-index-2022#:~:tex t=Selected%20jurisdictions%20rank%20as%20follows,)%2C%20China %20(152)%2C.
Kopan, Tal. “DHS: 2,000 Children Separated from Parents at Border | CNN Politics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 June 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/15/politics/dhs-family-separation-numbers/ index.html.
Nguyen, Vinh and Thy Phu. Refugee States: Critical Refugee Studies in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2021.
The supposed synonymity of the word migration with mobility could not be more incorrectly reflected in the realities of 21st century migration. Instead, with migration come threats of humiliating immobility. People escape their unsafe conditions of oppression, war, and poverty and undergo a treacherous path with the hopes of reaching Europe’s promises of safety, opportunity, and equality. Yet, while European countries provide such promises for their citizens, their securities are not extended to migrants and asylum seekers from outside the continent. Instead, the European Union is involved in the process of refoulement – the return of migrants to unsafe places – by funding migration detention centres and surveillance in Libya, and by convicting volunteer refugee rescuers for crimes of human trafficking.
The refugee ‘problem’ develops from situations of nation-wide violence or oppression that make a country uninhabitable for most people. This has been the case in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea in the past two decades, as the countries’ growing insecurities and oppression contributed to a large exodus of refugees. One Syrian claimed that leaving the house to go to school in the morning was preceded with a daily farewell to family members as survival until the end of the day was not guaranteed (Mardini, 2020). While the rate of lives lost accelerate, those who survive the daily onslaught of war are faced with unending insecurities and oppressive conditions. Basic necessities become scarce and incomes nonexistent for many as facilities are destroyed, and production and import halted (McCarthy, 2022). Seeking refuge in other countries thus becomes the only escape for many. Jordan became a popular asylum for many refugees due to its close proximity to the war-stricken countries and its open borders. Yet the country’s own deteriorating economic conditions meant that minimal securities were all it had to offer to the refugees (Francis, 2015). Its structural stresses and overpopulation of refugees led Jordan to increase regularization which in turn led potential migrants to seek other countries for refuge.
Thus, in 2015, refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq headed towards Europe. Europe’s migration policy was based on the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Protection of the Refugees, and it stipulated a distributed responsibility for the protection of refugees upon entry to European territory (European Commission). This meant that once an individual seeking asylum enters European land or water, their human rights should be met and protection secured.
However, following the 2015 refugee influx, also known as the Europe Migrant Crisis, the policy proved to be more strenuous than not. Countries that had recently opened their doors to refugees, such as Italy in its 2014 search-and-rescue program Operation Mare Nostrum, took a different turn following the migrant crisis (Urbina, 2021). Poland and Hungary completely shut off their doors to migrants, and shoreline countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Malta began turning away migrant boats. Yet as public protest became global with the uncovering of the conditions refugees underwent on their way to Europe, governments could not be as blatant with their policies. Rather than contributing to direct refoulement, Europe began seeking ways to prevent migrants from even getting near to its shores. Two strategies were pursued: funding the capture of migrants in international waters, and ending the process of rescuing migrants from sea.
The former strategy was assisted by the European Union Trust Fund of Africa. Under the guise of addressing the root causes of political instability and displacement in Africa, the Trust Fund allocated 6 billion dollars to migration control (European Commission). Libya alone received half a billion dollars to capture illegal migrants heading to European shores. The year also highlighted the works of Frontex, the EU’s border agency responsible for coastal surveillance. Frontex was provided with resources that included surveillance drones to track migrant boats in both domestic and international waters in the Mediterranean (Urbina, 2021). Upon discovering migrant boats and dinghies, surveillance footage would be sent to Italy which would then signal Libyan coast guards to intercept the migrants. According to an Amnesty International report, around 15,000 people were intercepted at sea and taken to Libya in the first few months of 2021 (2021). European money taints the entire procedure starting with its funding of Frontex’s surveillance, to the training of the Libyan Coast Guard in migrant capture, and ending with the vehicles used to transport migrants from the seas to detention camps in Libya. In addition, a 2008 Treaty of Friendship between Libya and Italy formalized their cooperation in the containment and capture of migrants (Amnesty International, 2021). Italy would return those crossing central Mediterranean, and Libya would punish and detain them.
Upon capture, migrants are taken to detention camps in Ghout al-Shaal where gross human rights violations are carried out. People lie in overcrowded warehouses with poor ventilation and no sanitation (Urbina, 2021). Reports indicate the constant threat of individuals being singled out for physical torture and/or sexual assault (Amnesty International, 2021). Migrants are punished for assumed treachery and espionage, and their lack of cooperation with their oppressors leads to their assault. In the rare scenario where rebellions are successful, the authorities have been reported to conduct raids in shelters used by escaped migrants. HRW reports that on October 1, 5,152 people were arrested, 1 man killed and 15 injured (Roth, 2021). Reporters who attempt to contact prisoners are themselves detained and sometimes tortured under convictions of espionage.
Libyan law also allows for the indefinite detainment of unauthorized foreigners and their use for unpaid labor (Amnesty International, 2021). The migrants are stripped of their human rights as they enter an unending cycle of dehumanizing torture and enslavement with little to no hope for escape. Disappeared individuals are forced to work in factories or in the military indefinitely. Enforced disappearances allow for human rights violations to be conducted in detention centres with no accountability as individuals are erased, detention centres hidden, and violators protected from identification.
The second strategy of indirect refoulement adopted by Europe is the prevention of rescue operations in European waters. When migrants do escape Libyan Coast Guard and manage to enter European waters, calls for help are unheard. Migrants attempting to signal the coast guard are either ignored or are told to turn back. EU states withdrew naval assets from the central Mediterranean to avoid any chance encounters with migrant boats (Urbina, 2021). In the rare scenario where such an encounter does occur, migrants report to being passed by.
Non-state search-and-rescue operations and organizations have been continuously targeted by European states and reduced to powerless existence as they lose their abilities to actually help boats in distress. In 2018, volunteers working on the shores of Greece to provide blankets and water bottles to oncoming migrants were detained and persecuted under the false convictions of human trafficking and espionage (Cossé and Esveld, 2023). Sarah Mardini, a former Syrian refugee of whom the new Netflix movie Swimmers is partly based on, was held and detained in a Greek prison for over 100 days and is currently awaiting trial. Mardini, alongside fellow volunteer Sean Binder, face a sentence of up to 25 years for volunteering in the aid of migrants. In a Ted Talk interview with Odedre Mardini recounted the mental abuse and trauma she encountered in prison (2020). The conviction of volunteers and search-and-rescue organizations prevents any potential for migrant rescue whether that be in the sea or on the shores of Greece. It insinuates in potential volunteers and donors the fear of similar prosecution. Migrants have also become more vulnerable to the heinous consequences of refoulement as there is no longer anyone that can protect them.
The resentment of migrants is becoming more vocalized in Europe with growing accusations of migrants stealing jobs, threatening the safety of individuals, and tainting the European national and ethnic identities. It is thus necessary to point out here that Europe’s current prosperous conditions are tied to the juxtaposed insecurities in the war stricken countries. Firstly, the legacies of European colonialism that have created a perpetual cycle of detriment and exploitation in the global South have funded the parallel wealth and ‘development’ of Europe itself (Tusalem, 2016). Secondly, as indicated by the Treaty of Friendship and the African Fund, current European ties to the global South support oppression. After contributing to the dangerous conditions forcing people to migrate, the least European countries can now do is to protect refugees.
Accordingly, Europe should take responsibility for refoulement and provide compensation for its colonial legacies. This requires the deterring of ties with Libya and creating a more robust system of accountability and transparency for search-and-rescue operations. Only then will migration return to its synonymous equivalent of mobility and movement and be rid of its inappropriate association with life-threatening immobility.
Write for Rights – Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder: https://takeaction.amnesty.ca/page/50419/action/1?locale=en-US
Amnesty International. (2021). Libya: Horrific violations in detention highlight Europe’s shameful role in forced returns. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/ 2021/07/libya-horrific-violations-in-detention-highlight-europes-shameful-role-in-forced-returns/
Cossé, E., Esveld, B.V. (2023). Sea Rescuers Still Waiting for Justice in Greece. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/16/sea-rescuers-still-waiting-justice-greece
European Commission. Common European Asylum System. Migration and Home Affairs. European Commission. https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/policies/migration-and-asylum/ common-european-asylum-system_en
Francis, A. (2015). Jordan’s Refugee Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. https://carnegieendowment.org/2015/09/21/jordan-s-refugee-crisis-pub-61338
Mardini, S. Interviewed by Odedre, K. (2020). How I was arrested for handing out blankets to refugees | Sarah Mardini. TEDxLondonWomen.
McCarthy, J. (2022). How War Fuels Poverty. Global Citizen.
Roth, K. (2021). Libya. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/ libya#13d8c3
Spindler, W. (2015). 2015: The year of Europe’s refugee crisis. The UN Refugee Agency. https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2015/12/56ec1ebde/2015-year-europes-refugee-crisis.html
Tusalem, R. F. (2016). The Colonial Foundations of State Fragility and Failure. Polity, 48(4), 445–495. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26358277
United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951). https://www.unhcr.org/ 4ca34be29.pdf
Urbina, I. (2021). The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/06/the-secretive-libyan-prisons-that-keep-migrantsout-of-europe
The former strategy was assisted by the European Union Trust Fund of Africa. Under the guise of addressing the root causes of political instability and displacement in Africa, the Trust Fund allocated 6 billion dollars to migration control (European Commission). Libya alone received half a billion dollars to capture illegal migrants heading to European shores. The year also highlighted the works of Frontex, the EU’s border agency responsible for coastal surveillance. Frontex was provided with resources that included surveillance drones to track migrant boats in both domestic and international waters in the Mediterranean (Urbina, 2021). Upon discovering migrant boats and dinghies, surveillance footage would be sent to Italy which would then signal Libyan coast guards to intercept the migrants. According to an Amnesty International report, around 15,000 people were intercepted at sea and taken to Libya in the first few months of 2021 (2021). European money taints the entire procedure starting with its funding of Frontex’s surveillance, to the training of the Libyan Coast Guard in migrant capture, and ending with the vehicles used to transport migrants from the seas to detention camps in Libya. In addition, a 2008 Treaty of Friendship between Libya and Italy formalized their cooperation in the containment and capture of migrants (Amnesty International, 2021). Italy would return those crossing central Mediterranean, and Libya would punish and detain them. Upon capture, migrants are taken to detention camps in Ghout al-Shaal where gross human rights violations are carried out. People lie in overcrowded warehouses with poor ventilation and no sanitation (Urbina, 2021). Reports indicate the constant threat of individuals being singled out for physical torture and/or sexual assault (Amnesty International, 2021). Migrants are punished for assumed treachery and espionage, and their lack of cooperation with their oppressors leads to their assault. In the rare scenario where rebellions are successful, the authorities have been reported to conduct raids in shelters used by escaped migrants. HRW reports that on October 1, 5,152 people were arrested, 1 man killed and 15 injured (Roth, 2021). Reporters who attempt to contact prisoners are themselves detained and sometimes tortured under convictions of espionage. Libyan law also allows for the indefinite detainment of unauthorized foreigners and their use for unpaid labor (Amnesty International, 2021). The migrants are stripped of their human rights as they enter an unending cycle of dehumanizing torture and enslavement with little to no hope for escape. Disappeared individuals are forced to work in factories or in the military indefinitely. Enforced disappearances allow for human rights violations to be conducted in detention centres with no accountability as individuals are erased, detention centres hidden, and violators protected from identification. The second strategy of indirect refoulement adopted by Europe is the prevention of rescue operations in European waters. When migrants do escape Libyan Coast Guard and manage to enter European waters, calls for help are unheard. Migrants attempting to signal the coast guard are either ignored or are told to turn back. EU states withdrew naval assets from the central Mediterranean to avoid any chance encounters with migrant boats (Urbina, 2021). In the rare scenario where such an encounter does occur, migrants report to being passed by. Non-state search-and-rescue operations and organizations have been continuously targeted by European states and reduced to powerless existence as they lose their abilities to actually help boats in distress. In 2018, volunteers working on the shores of Greece to provide blankets and water bottles to oncoming migrants were detained and persecuted under the false convictions of human trafficking and espionage (Cossé and Esveld, 2023). Sarah Mardini, a former Syrian refugee of whom the new Netflix movie Swimmers is partly based on, was held and detained in a Greek prison for over 100 days and is currently awaiting trial. Mardini, alongside fellow volunteer Sean Binder, face a sentence of up to 25 years for volunteering in the aid of migrants. In a Ted Talk interview with Odedre Mardini recounted the mental abuse and trauma she encountered in prison (2020). The conviction of volunteers and search-and-rescue organizations prevents any potential for migrant rescue whether that be in the sea or on the shores of Greece. It insinuates in potential volunteers and donors the fear of similar prosecution. Migrants have also become more vulnerable to the heinous consequences of refoulement as there is no longer anyone that can protect them. The resentment of migrants is becoming more vocalized in Europe with growing accusations of migrants stealing jobs, threatening the safety of individuals, and tainting the European national and ethnic identities. It is thus necessary to point out here that Europe’s current prosperous conditions are tied to the juxtaposed insecurities in the war stricken countries. Firstly, the legacies of European colonialism that have created a perpetual cycle of detriment and exploitation in the global South have funded the parallel wealth and ‘development’ of Europe itself (Tusalem, 2016). Secondly, as indicated by the Treaty of Friendship and the African Fund, current European ties to the global South support oppression. After contributing to the dangerous conditions forcing people to migrate, the least European countries can now do is to protect refugees. Accordingly, Europe should take responsibility for refoulement and provide compensation for its colonial legacies. This requires the deterring of ties with Libya and creating a more robust system of accountability and transparency for search-and-rescue operations. Only then will migration return to its synonymous equivalent of mobility and movement and be rid of its inappropriate association with life-threatening immobility. Write for Rights – Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder: https://takeaction.amnesty.ca/page/50419/action/1?locale=en-US Works cited: Amnesty International. (2021). Libya: Horrific violations in detention highlight Europe’s shameful role in forced returns. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press- release/2021/07/libya-horrific-violations-in-detention-highlight-europes-shameful-role-in-forced- returns/ Cossé, E., Esveld, B.V. (2023). Sea Rescuers Still Waiting for Justice in Greece. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/16/sea-rescuers-still-waiting-justice-greece European Commission. Common European Asylum System. Migration and Home Affairs. European Commission. https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/policies/migration-and-asylum/ common-european-asylum-system_en Francis, A. (2015). Jordan’s Refugee Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. https://carnegieendowment.org/2015/09/21/jordan-s-refugee-crisis-pub-61338 Mardini, S. Interviewed by Odedre, K. (2020). How I was arrested for handing out blankets to refugees | Sarah Mardini. TEDxLondonWomen. McCarthy, J. (2022). How War Fuels Poverty. Global Citizen. Roth, K. (2021). Libya. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country- chapters/libya#13d8c3 Spindler, W. (2015). 2015: The year of Europe’s refugee crisis. The UN Refugee Agency. https:// www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2015/12/56ec1ebde/2015-year-europes-refugee-crisis.html Tusalem, R. F. (2016). The Colonial Foundations of State Fragility and Failure. Polity, 48(4), 445–495. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26358277 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951). https://www.unhcr.org/ 4ca34be29.pdf Urbina, I. (2021). The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/06/the-secretive-libyan-prisons-that-keep- migrants-out-of-europe
On the 10th of January of 2023, the trial of 24 individuals involved in volunteering humanitarian assistance to migrants on the shores of Greece began (Kennedy 2023). This trial appears to follow the trend of European authorities targeting humanitarian workers to discourage solidarity with migrants and deter the arrival of refugees to Europe (Kennedy 2023).
The defendants face serious charges for their work at the Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a Greek non-profit organisation that provides emergency aid in dangerous environments. Operating on the Greek island of Lesbos, the “crimes” committed at the ERCI include assisting people whose lives are at risk, searching and rescuing migrant boats in distress, assisting migrant boats on the shoreline (Kitsantonis 2023).
The defendants are accused of facilitating illegal migration to Europe, these accusations have drawn widespread criticism among international human rights organizations. Their charges include espionage, forgery, involvement in a criminal organization, people-smuggling, money laundering and other “farcical” accusations according to Amnesty International (Kitsantonis 2023).
The accusations of espionage condemn the defendants’ initiatives of monitoring local radio channels to learn the whereabouts of migrant boats in distress. (Smith, 2023). The money-laundering allegations incriminate fundraising efforts for the ERCI organization (Smith 2023).
“I am not a people smuggler”, says Sarah Mardini during an interview with BBC, a human rights activist accused of criminal activity and people smuggling following her lifesaving work at the Emergency Response Centre International (BBC 2018). She is one of the 24 defendants on trial and is herself a refugee from Syria (BBC 2018).
A European Parliament report has described this trial as the “largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe” (Aljazeera 2023). Many other critiques have suggested this trial is indicative of the efforts to discourage the work of migrant rights defenders and organizations, and deter refugees from coming to Europe (Amnesty International 2022). Simply put, the compassion and solidarity driving the action of the volunteers has been weaponized and criminalized (Amnesty International 2022).
In addition to creating a hostile and insecure environment for human rights volunteers showing solidarity to migrants, this trial delays the work of the ERCI organization. A UN human rights expert suggested that a guilty verdict for the defendants could lead to more migrant deaths at sea (OHCHR 2021). Along with this trial in Greece, several other prosecutions have been set in motion across Europe against NGOs and individuals. Considering the thousands of migrant deaths at sea every year, the effects of these sorts of trials must not be overlooked. Many are calling upon Greek prosecutors to drop all charges against the 24 individuals. (Amnesty International 2022).
In early February, the Canadian government deferred the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAID) to individuals suffering solely from mental illness by one year (Zimonjic 2023). Justice Minister David Lametti requested a delay for Bill C-39 to further investigate the potential risks of this new legislation (Zimonjic 2023). An interim report released in June 2022 concluded that “more remains to be done to ensure the necessary steps have been taken” before the March 2023 deadline (Zimonjic 2023).
According to the new bill, “mental illness” encompasses psychiatric conditions like depression and personality disorders, and excludes neurodevelopmental or neurocognitive disorders (Zimonjic 2023). Euthanasia was introduced to Canada in 2015 when the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting assisted death stripped citizens of dignity and autonomy (Cheng 2022). Assisted suicide was approved in Canada for individuals 18 and older with terminal illness in 2016, and was extended to those with non-threatening severe and chronic physical conditions in 2021 (Honderich 2023). Since 2016, the number of people receiving medical assistance in dying has increased each year, constituting 3.3% of all deaths in Canada in 2021 (Honderich 2023). The planned expansion to those suffering solely from mental illness has raised concerns about the MAID program as a whole.
Recent reports have indicated that vulnerable individuals are requesting and receiving assisted death due to poverty, loneliness, or lack of housing rather than failing health (Honderich 2023). Some argue that this indicates a crisis of Canada’s social safety net. In May 2022, Marie-Claud Landry, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, stated that giving people the option of assisted death because the government is, “failing to fulfill their fundamental human rights is unacceptable.” (Honderich 2023).
Bill C-39 attracted further criticism from three United Nations human rights experts in 2021 who warned that the expanded law will denigrate Canada’s disabled community, sending a message that serious disability is worse than death (Cheng 2022). Critics point to the story of Alan Nichols as evidence that MAID lacks sufficient safeguards. Nichols was a 61-year-old Canadian with a history of depression and concurrent mental health issues who was hospitalized in June 2019 following concerns that he was suicidal (Cheng 2022). The next month, Nichols requested euthanasia through MAID and was killed despite objections from his family and nurse practitioner (Cheng 2022). After his death, it was revealed that Nichols’ MAID application listed hearing loss as the reason for his request to die (Cheng 2022). Nichols’ family brought this case to the police, claiming that he had not been suffering unbearably, but was confused as he had been refusing to take necessary medication and wear a cochlear implant that helped him hear (Cheng 2022).
Most of the controversy surrounding this expansion is centered on assessing the “irremediability” of mental illness (Honderich 2023). Individuals only qualify for MAID in Canada if their
condition is considered incurable (Honderich 2023). However, the Canadian Mental Health Association cautions that it is “not possible” to classify any mental illness as irremediable, and thus disapproves of the upcoming expansion (Honderich 2023).
Despite fears from the public and professionals, Mr. Lametti assures that this legislation is not being taken lightly, claiming, “We are listening to what we are hearing and being responsive” (Honderich 2023). The federal government promises that Bill-C-39 will respect individuals’ autonomy but prioritize their safety (Honderich 2023). While the expansion of MAID may intimidate many Canadians, this delay should bolster their faith in the governments’ commitment and responsiveness to its people’s concerns.
Cheng, Maria. “‘Disturbing’: Experts troubled by Canada’s euthanasia laws.” AP International News, Associated Press, 11 August 2022, https://apnews.com/article/covid-science-heaalth-toronto-7c631558a457188d2bd2b5cfd360a867.
France-Presse, Agence. “Canada seeks to delay euthanasia for mentally ill.” SCMP, South China Morning Post, 3 February 2023, https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/3208926/canada-seeks-delay-euthanasia-mentally-ill.
Honderich, Holly. “Who can die? Canada wrestles with euthanasia for the mentally ill.” BBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation, 14 January 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64004329.
Zimonjic, Peter. “Federal government moves to delay MAID for people suffering solely from mental illness.” CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2 February 2023. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/maid-delay-solely-mental-illness-1.6734686.
In November of 2022, as negotiations over wages and contracts stalled with Ontario education workers, Premier Doug Ford elected to invoke Section 33 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). Also known as the notwithstanding clause, this section of the Charter allows for parliamentary powers in Canada to negate other Charter rights when legislating, for a five-year period (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). In addition, once utilized, this clause eliminates the potential for, and dismisses any objections to the legislation brought forth at the judicial level (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). In Ford’s most recent use of Section 33, he sought to prevent the strike of educational workers, after bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) failed to reach a mutual agreement (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). By invoking this clause, Ford, in effect, restricted the right of peaceful assembly, as codified in Section 2 of the Charter (Government of Canada, n.d.b).
Originally intended to distribute power equally among the federal and provincial levels, in recent years, the use of the notwithstanding clause has been questioned by human and civil rights organizations in Canada (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). Though this Section is meant to be invoked in challenging times, many provincial assemblies have begun to utilize this clause more frequently, and often not for its intended circumstances (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). As this clause is ultimately a violation of the rights of Canadians, many scholars and activists have called for its abrogation, and identified its overuse by provincial parliaments (Serebrin, 2022; Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022).
In Ontario, this clause has been called on three times by Doug Ford and his government, though was only enacted twice (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). The first of which was in June of 2021, when Ford utilized Section 33 to limit election funding by third party sources, after his original implementation of the legislation was overruled by an Ontarian judge (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). Though it was argued that this restriction of funding sought to eliminate outside influence in the provincial election, some argued it was ultimately a restriction of free speech (The Canadian Press, 2021).
Though Ford’s use of Section 33 is certainly troubling for the rights it restricts, it also is not the most blatant nor severe use of this policy to date. Many other provincial governments have utilized this clause to rescind Charter rights, such as the right to freedom of religion (Government of Canada, n.d.a). In 2019, the Government of Quebec passed the controversial and highly opposed Bill 21, that bans public employees from donning religious symbols while at work (Rukavina, 2022). Including hijabs, turbans, and any other religious wear, this bill, in effect, has targeted many of Quebec’s minority groups, and accordingly, has had horrific consequences (Rukavina, 2022). Not only has this legislation passed under the notwithstanding clause taken a large step backwards in religious and personal autonomy, but has, according to the Association for Canadian Studies, led to steep increases in hate speech and violence against these communities (Rukavina, 2022). Though in violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter, the Quebec government’s discriminatory and exclusive policy may persist with the protection Section 33 confers. Further, in 2000, the notwithstanding clause was also invoked in Alberta, to make changes to the province’s Marriage Act, and lay out a definition that saw marriage as an act that should only occur between a man and a woman (Mckay-Panos, 2018). Though not renewed after the clause’s five-year period, this too posed severe limitations on Albertan’s rights guaranteed by the Charter at that time (Mckay-Panos, 2018).
Though established with good intentions, the notwithstanding clause appears to have evolved as a weapon wielded by provincial governments to restrict the rights of Canadian citizens. Alongside concerns over the use of Section 33 comes calls to eliminate its existence from the Charter, for the injustices it has both enabled, and has the power to permit. Human and civil rights groups alike have begun these calls, such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, believing that this policy must be reversed to protect the very rights upon which the clause infringes (Zimonjic & Chevalier, 2022). While the repeal of this clause is highly improbable, it is nevertheless important to direct attention to, and call into question the invocation of a Charter section being used to inhibit rights, as opposed to protecting them. Ultimately, as Wherry elucidates, this clause allows the rights and freedoms of the majority to be dictated and controlled by the majority and those in power, which is contrary to the nature of the human rights Canada claims to defend (2022).
The Voice of the Tundra (Golos tundry) is an activist community on Russia’s media platform, “V Kontakte,” which represents the voices of Arctic Indigenous peoples in Russia’s Northwest Yamal Peninsula. Organized by and under the leadership of Nenets reindeer breeder Eiko Sérotétto, this local activism emerged in response to the state’s ongoing and intensifying industrialization in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YaNAO). Specifically, Golos tundry is concerned about environmental degradation, loss of land to extractivist industries, impoverishment of traditional Indigenous lifestyle, and state curtailment of Indigenous political organization.
As political scientist Arbakhan K. Magomedov recently noted, as a result of the state’s push for accelerated industrial development in YaNAO, the social tension between the Indigenous peoples of this region, the Nenets tundra aborigines, and the state and businesses have been “pushed to the limit” (Magomedov 220). The Russian government has turned the YaNAO into its “new oil-and-gas province” at the expense of the habitat and Indigenous way of life (Magomedov 216). Relying on Magomedov’s research, this article brings to light some of the material and political challenges the Indigenous peoples of this intensely industrialized region face.
Similar to Indigenous struggles against settler colonial states in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples of the Nenets tundra perceive themselves as struggling against the Kremlin’s extensive encroachment of their land and aggressive deprivation of the Indigenous way of life. This social change and tension were triggered by the state’s industrial development plans as early as 2009. The Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug has been experiencing extraordinary transformative changes in its resource-extraction capacity compared to other regions in the last decade (Magomedov 220). In September 2009, the then-premier of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin, declared during a conference in Salekhard that “The fields discovered on the peninsula can and must become our new oil-and-gas province” (Magomedov 220). Numerous industrial large-scale development projects soon followed. For example, the massive gas project Bovanenkovskoe was launched in 2012, and it was followed in 2013 by the construction of the USD$27 billion “Yamal LNG” (Liquefied Natural Gas) project, which consists of the production, liquefaction, and delivery of gas at the Yuzhno-Tambeiskii field. Additionally, the “Arctic LNG-2” project is set to launch this year. As of 2019, there were about sixty oil-and-gas companies (Magomedov 226).
These industrial development projects of the past decade have altered the natural landscape within Indigenous communities. For example, large areas previously used by Nenets for breeding and grazing reindeer are now occupied by oil-and-gas companies to extract, store, and transport natural resources. At least 6 percent of the land previously used by the locals for grazing is in the grip of the “Yamal LNG” project in Sabett (Magomedov 226-227). Eleven million hectares of land are in the hands of “Gazprom,” the partially state-owned multinational energy corporation (Magomedov 227). Infrastructure of all sorts, from gas pipelines to airfields and highways to settlements, had led to “the further contamination and degeneration of tundra expanses” (Magomedov 227). A significant amount of water surface area has been siphoned for the port of Sabetta, and a large amount of the Gulf of Ob’s aquatic area has been claimed for oil-and-gas industries (Magomedov 277). All of these industrial developments contribute to making the resources and land scarce for Nenets, contributing to the emergence of the Golos tundry.
Moreover, Indigenous peoples’ material well-being is at stake. Because economic actors are unwilling to give up these oil-and-gas industries, which contribute to the region’s economic growth and revenue, it is impossible for oil-and-gas companies to return former Indigenous kin-group land. Nenets, therefore, cannot access their land for breeding and grazing their reindeer. Many Yamal reindeer breeders expressed that they will face a depletion of land for reindeer husbandry, the threatened starvation and malnutrition of reindeer, and, as a result, loss of income (Magomedov 224).
In fact, the acute social tension between the Nenets and oil-and-gas companies is exacerbated by the disruptive intersection between the large-scale industrial complex and the largest reindeer herd in Russia (Magomedov 226). Natural disasters further exacerbate this predicament. For example, in the winter of 2013-14, about 90,000 reindeer perished due to a severe ice storm, and, in the spring of 2018, many more perished from a cold spring and an ice storm in addition to the shortage of grazing lands (Magomedov 232). Neither the state nor industrial enterprises compensate for these losses, although they are responsible for excluding reindeer breeders from using the land. Many reindeer breeders indicated to Magomedov that “an atmosphere of living on the edge, frequent environmental and natural cataclysms, and persistent risks have created an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear for tomorrow” (233-234).
Another pressing concern of the Indigenous peoples is the absence of leadership and formal representation in the system. There is a lack of statistical representation of Indigenous concerns. According to Magomedov, because the social interests of the Indigenous peoples and organizations are inherently contradictory from the alliance between the state and the capital, “the authorities are not going to support such research, as this threatens the reputation and status of the official Indigenous organizations supported by the state” (231).
In his interview with many Nenets, Magomedov notes that the“existing official Indigenous organizations and leaders are not defending the rights and interests of aborigines” (231). Seventy percent of the respondents expressed that they would “count only on themselves, friends, and relatives,” while 17 percent of them responded that they could rely on the help of “organizations and civic movements representing the interests of the region’s Indigenous peoples,” and only 13 percent of the respondents believe they can rely on “local, okrug, and federal organs of power (Magomedov 231).
This reality reflects the severity of the state’s curtailment of Indigenous organizations. While its activity was suspended in late 2012 by the Russian government, the Association of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East (RAIPON), which represents the interests of about 300,000 Indigenous peoples, was reinstated in March 2013 with government pressures to reorganize its leadership in a new direction (Magomedov 221). The current elected president, Grigorii Ledkov, is a pro-government United Russia member and State Duma deputy (Magomedov 221). According to Magomedov, this change of leadership seemed forced. The loyal president Sergei Khariuchi was removed, and so were two brothers, Rodion and Pavel Suliandziga, who acted as vice presidents. The latter, Pavel Suliandziga, emigrated to the United States in 2017 because he was subjected to state persecution (Magomedov 241).
The Nenets ethnographer and anthropologist Galina Khariuchi remarked on the Kremlin’s encroachment of Indigenous organizations and Indigenous lands: “I compare the current situation with the 1990s. Then we were deciding our fate ourselves. We freely spoke out and argued at congresses. These days everything is written out for us. Now only delegates can be present at congresses of organizations of Indigenous peoples; they don’t allow ordinary people” (Magomedov 222). For Sergei Khariuchi, this change was not only a “new extensive turn towards industrialization of northern territories” but also the reflection that “[Indigenous peoples] are one of the last barriers standing in the way of companies and states in the extraction of these resources” (Magomedov 222).
Worse, according to Magomedov, the state has double-downed on Indigenous activism in the Okrug. In response to increasing Indigenous activism—the politicization of Indigenous and environmental issues—the authorities of the Okrug perceived it as a “subversive activity” and accused the reindeer breeders of “waging an information war” (Magomedov 235). They also declare Golos tundry as “foreign agents” (Magomedov 235). Furthermore, the director of the YaNAO department of internal policy, Sergei Kliment’ev, declared in the regional parliament that “a stress point is being artificially created in the region, to create a new political reality,” indicating that the concerns of Indigenous peoples are falsely exaggerated (Magomedov 235).
Despite the state’s effort to curtail its movement, Golos tundry continues to raise awareness of its predicament on social media platforms (https://vk.com/golos_tundry) in tandem with the region’s Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). The leader, Eiko Sérotétto, established a political alliance with CPRF to contend with the Kremlin, becoming the authorized representative of Pavel Grudinin (Putin’s political opponent in the 2018 presidential elections) and, in 2018, a candidate for deputy to the regional parliament as a member of the CPRF (Magomedov 237). Sérotétto expressed his motivation for becoming a deputy: “I am troubled by the poverty and lack of protection of the Yamal’s Indigenous population, the reduction in the size of the reindeer herds and fishery resources. I am worried by the issue of preserving the nature of the tundra. This is our home, we must safeguard it for future generations.”
All of the above is but a glimpse of Russia’s North. As Magomedov’s research shows, political contestation and negotiation between the alliance of the state and capital and local Indigenous peoples have been “pushed to the limit.” And here in this article, I invite the reader to take a step back (but not look away) from the well-covered and hotly discussed ongoing Russo-Ukraine war and learn about the less-talked-about state intervention and capital accumulation in Russia’s peninsula.
Magomedov, Arbakhan. “How the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Arctic Defend Their Interests: The Social, Economic, and Political Foundations of Indigenous Resistance.” Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia, vol. 58, no. 4, 16 Nov. 2019, pp. 215–245., https://doi.org/10.1080/10611959.2020.1811560.
See also: Kharyuchi, Galina. “Sacred Places in the Nenets Traditional Culture.” Sibirica, vol. 17, no. 3, Dec. 2018, p. 116–137., https://doi.org/10.3167/sib.2018.170310.
Liarskaya, Elena V. “Settlement Nenets on the Yamal Peninsula: Who Are They?” Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, vol. 41, Apr. 2009, pp. 33–46., https://doi.org/10.7592/fejf2009.41.liarskaya.
Magomedov, Arbakhan K. “Oil Derricks or Reindeer? A Clash of Economics and Traditional Lifeway in Russia’s Far North.” Wilson Center, 22 Feb. 2019, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/oil-derricks-or-reindeer-clash-economics-and-traditional-lifeway-russias-far-north.
Mirovalev, Mansur. “In Russia, Indigenous Land Defenders Face Intimidation and Exile.” Indigenous Rights | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/1/23/in-russia-indigenous-land-defenders-face-intimidation-and-exile.
Staalesen, Atle. “In Russian Tundra Tragedy, up to 80,000 Reindeer Might Have Starved to Death.” The Independent Barents Observer, 3 Mar. 2021, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/climate-crisis/2021/03/russian-tundra-tragedy-80000-reindeer-might-have-starved-death.
On January 17, the BBC aired a documentary detailing the rise of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and it closely connected the political figure to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the Western state of Gujarat, which constituted one of the worst outbreaks of religious violence in recent Indian history. Subsequently, the Indian government imposed an emergency law which banned the documentary and any of its screenings—even in universities. Unsurprisingly, heavy policing and brutal arrests took place across several campuses as students began protesting against the ban.
As leader of the Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s largest right-wing party, PM Modi has been haunted for decades due to his inaction and complicity throughout the riots, although he still refuses to take proportionate accountability.
In fact, this was not his first time using the emergency law, nor his first time facing allegations of violating human rights. International human rights organizations and advocates have long been calling upon European leaders to address Modi’s “growing abuses and discriminatory policies” (Molander 2022). For example, BJP-led states have seen increasing illegal demolitions of Muslim properties, while Indian authorities have seen a heavy crackdown on students, journalists, civil society, human rights activists, and others who prove either critical towards the state or work to defend human rights amongst vulnerable communities (Molander 2022). Indeed, PM Modi even sanctions the increased use of intrusive technologies, such as Israeli-produced spyware, to curtail human rights and freedom of expression —a decision which proves unsurprising from the BJP leader.
The 2002 anti-Muslim riots took place in response to the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Local citizens had blamed the 59 deaths on Gujarat’s Muslims, which led to instances of religious violence claiming over 1,000 lives. At the time, Modi was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, and thus, Muslim criticisms against the current Indian PM are substantial. Furthermore, police are accused of standing by while Modi faced such criticisms, perhaps even supporting Hindu extremists throughout the riots. Specifically, the documentary highlights an “unpublished report from the U.K. Foreign Office that claims Modi was ‘directly responsible’ for the ‘climate of impunity’ that enabled the violence” (Syed 2023), despite the leader’s supporters citing a 2013 Supreme Court ruling “insufficient evidence to prosecute.”
PM Modi is not alone in facing immense backlash for his use of censorship. By invoking emergency laws on Twitter and YouTube, Twitter CEO and self-proclaimed saviour of free speech, Elon Musk, has come under criticism for carrying out acts which proved contradictory to his public campaign against censorship throughout his Twitter takeover. To be clear, emergency laws extend government censorship over social media companies, which would explain how Twitter and YouTube had their hands tied. Yet, this does not diminish the Indian government’s violations against democracy, free speech, and human rights—rather, it only further substantiates the dangers of granting unchecked authority over media to a powerful few.
Currently, the emergency law remains enforced across Twitter and YouTube, and Indian police continue to crack down on illegal screenings of the documentary.
Hussain, Murtaza and Ryan Grim. 2023. “Elon Musk Caves to Pressure from India to Remove BBC Doc Critical of Modi.” The Intercept, January 24, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/01/24/twitter-elon-musk-modi-india-bbc/
Canada has had a nearly six-year commitment to feminist foreign policy, with the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FAIP) announced on June 9th, 2017 as a means of rendering Canada into a global leader in women’s empowerment. Though it is a somewhat overlooked and forgotten development, the FAIP substantiates the importance of women’s rights in the international system, thus warranting this article’s assessment of the policy’s context, intent, implementation, success, and issues.
In Canadian society, women face unique adversities to equality, including forced marriage, gender-based violence, fewer education opportunities, legal barriers to work, more familial responsibilities than men, and limited control over reproductive health (Global Affairs Canada, 2021). Essential to Canada’s FAIP is the belief that, by promoting gender equality, the nation may effectively decrease poverty rates. In theory, allowing women greater participation in the economy would increase economic growth in the targeted nation(s), thus concerning Canada as such an investment in assistance would enhance national prosperity. The FAIP was announced after a year of consultation with over fifteen thousand people in sixty-five countries, including several women’s rights groups (Lamensch, 2020). Furthermore, the policy referenced a 2015 plan to reduce poverty and build peace, entitled the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Six key areas of the policy include gender equality, human dignity, inclusive governance, climate action, peace and security, and “growth that works for everyone” (Global Affairs Canada, 2021). Gender equality involves a sexual violence initiative and engages with differing levels of government to deliver programs supporting women’s rights; human dignity pertains to health and education; governance stresses the importance of political participation; climate action covers loss of resources, such as clean drinking water and renewable energy; peace and security involves women in post-conflict nation-building and peace negotiations; lastly, growth engages with economic and ownership rights. Overall, it is clear that the policy covers a huge range of issues. In one sense, this is beneficial because the policy is not limited, however, it also indicates that the policy lacks a cohesive vision.
Implementation involves investment, innovation, and partnerships. Canada vowed to put fifteen percent of its bilateral international development assistance investments towards gender equality. The policy abandons Canada’s previous “countries-of-focus” approach that concentrated assistance on a small list of countries and, instead, involves a broader range of countries, with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Involvement with multilateral groups such as the UN, G7, and G20—as well as the private sector, for financial assistance—is also a key part of the policy. Finally, civil society organizations such as women’s rights groups are expected to receive one hundred and fifty million dollars to develop programs to help promote gender equality (Global Affairs Canada, 2021).
Turning to real-world results, the official policy website boasts a list of success stories under the subheading “our policy in action.” From setting up community centres in Iraq refugee camps to clearing landmines out of Colombia, the policy seems to live up to its many goals in terms of both mission diversity and cross-global span.
With that being said, however, the policy must also be looked at through a more critical lens. There are contradictions and issues associated with Canadian foreign policy, and feminist foreign policy in particular. Scholars and policy analysts argue that the policy does not include definitions of gender or feminism, leaving out marginalized groups such as intersex or transgender persons (Tiessen, 2019), while also lacking inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals who may face added discrimination beyond gender. Furthermore, the efficacy of the policy is inhibited by other Canadian foreign policy objectives; for example, while the FAIP promotes the empowerment of female peacekeepers, the Canadian government nonetheless continues in concurrently selling weapons to Saudi Arabia (Bouka, 2021). As for more technical problems, the policy has no clear measures of success or ways to monitor long-term impact.
So, is the policy just performative activism? Canada has made it clear that the government views women’s empowerment as an important area to focus on, with a long-term goal of reducing poverty around the world. With that being said, the current impact and efficacy of the FAIP is a mixed bag. In the coming years, perhaps a revaluation will be needed to judge whether the policy is making any substantial long-term impact on gender equality.
Bouka, Yolande, et al. “Is Canada’s Foreign Policy Really Feminist?” Network for Strategic Analysis , Network for Strategic Analysis , 7 Oct. 2021, https://ras-nsa.ca/publication/is-canadas-foreign-policy-really-feminist-analysis-and-recommend ations/.
“Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Global Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, August 24, 2021. https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorit ies-priorites/policy-politique.aspx?lang=eng.
Lamensch, Marie. “Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, July 31, 2020. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canada-s-feminist-foreign-policy.
Tiessen, Rebecca. “What’s New About Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Canadian Global Affairs Institute , Dec. 2019, https://www.cgai.ca/whats_new_about_canadas_feminist_international_assistance_policy_the_ problem_and_possibilities_of_more_of_the_same.
Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is a beautiful, silent, creeping story of Black sexuality and the hidden anti-Black aggressions of academia. When I finished this novel, I was at Old Mill Station, sitting on the TTC on my way home from class on a chilly September night, not quite a flashbulb memory, but very close given the impact this story had on me. This is a novel that I will always recommend, and, having faced racism in an academic setting on multiple crushing occasions, it is a novel that brought me to tears. Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is a love letter to every Black academic, acknowledging the frustrating microaggressions deeply embedded into academic structures that often go ignored by our peers, but, more importantly, it is also a love letter to himself.
Brandon Taylor’s debut novel is a novel, seemingly, about nothing. When I had first read the climax, I had to go back and read it over again to confirm that it was, in fact, the climax. I easily fell in love with Taylor’s ability to accurately portray such a multi-dimensional situation, a life being lived; the ‘nothingness’ of the novel was not like watching paint dry, or waiting for water to boil, it was like a walk through the woods at night, hoping and praying for nothing to jump out. It was beautiful and tragic and redeeming, and it felt like, for the first time, I had the words and the stories that I had always been in search of.
Real Life begins with Wallace, the only Black student in his PhD program at a university in Alabama, going to the lake to meet his friends. The scene introduces his group of five, all of which are white PhD students that attend the same school. Throughout the novel, Taylor builds characters that anybody could encounter in their academic career, with the honesty of portraying Wallace as someone that often feels like an outsider within the cliquey dynamic of his friends.
In the laboratory where he spends much of his time, Wallace is subjected to impatience, frustration, and thinly veiled racism from the other scientists around him. Out of the lab’s characters, Brigit is the only redeemable personality, being a loyal and compassionate friend to Wallace. Much of his time in the lab portrayed in the novel is spent attempting to restart research that had been ruined by Dana, a scientist in the lab that seems to hate Wallace for no reason. Of course, the explanation for Dana’s behavior is much less simple, and her constant attempts to alienate and typecast Wallace make it very obvious that her behaviors are microaggressions. To outsiders, or non-Black people that have never had to see a woman’s knuckles turn white around her purse strap the moment you walk into a room, microaggressions often seem absurd, and they are often dismissed as being a figment of Black imaginations. Being Black, particularly in academia where faculty and peers refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room, it is unimaginably frustrating to experience the same daily patterns of small, racist acts and get told that they are being imagined. Taylor doesn’t beat around the bush with his depiction of microaggressions, he does not shy away from the frequency of them, nor does he create a magical solution to them for the sake of narrative. As is the nature of microaggressions in real life, nobody believes Wallace when he tries to speak up. Rather than someone recognizing Dana’s behavior as stemming from racism, Wallace is blamed for creating a toxic environment in their lab.
The microaggressions don’t end at Dana, who non-Black readers could dismiss as being raised in a racist environment or simply hateful of Wallace’s success, but it continues into Wallace’s own friend group. At a dinner party with every single one of his friends– save for Brigit– in attendance, Wallace’s thoughts of leaving his program are openly shut down because of what Roman, a friend of a friend, calls his “deficiencies” (Taylor 109). Prior to using this term, Roman describes how, without his doctorate, Wallace would suffer because of “the prospects for . . . black people” (108). He continues to describe Wallace’s thoughts of leaving as selfish and ungrateful, because Wallace apparently owes his department for even being so gracious as to let him in. The entire table is privy to the conversation between the two of them, but no one says a word, nobody makes any attempt to stand up for Wallace, or address the very obvious racism from Roman. During the encounter, “Wallace can only taste ashes in his mouth,” and reading the scene, I felt much the same (109). Despite the feelings of irreverence that I had towards the characters in Taylor’s constructed world at that moment, I had been in situations entirely too similar, and just as off-putting and disharmonious.
Wallace’s most poignant relationship is the one that he shares with Miller, a friend of his that swears to be straight in spite of his ongoing affair with Wallace. Miller often downplays the situation between him and Wallace, hiding it away from the world. Wallace is made, as he was in his childhood, to feel dirty, to feel like he is the one to be blamed. Despite the constant, underlying pulse of wanting Miller to do and be better, Miller never changes, he is always the wolf of the fable. What’s worse is Wallace’s easy acceptance of the way he is treated by Miller, and even their other friends; he cannot see himself ever being in the right, he is alway on the offering end of an unneeded apology.
We, as readers, get to earnestly consider the complexities of Wallace’s grief, having been a victim of his father’s cruelty in the past, and presently refusing to acknowledge that he is even experiencing grief for someone that had cared for him so little. Wallace must reconcile with the fact that he may not fit in at his university, but he may not have fit in during his childhood either. So what does that leave him with? What kind of place can he make for himself with what he has left? Though Wallace may seem like a pushover at some points, throughout the story he allows himself to think the thoughts that scare us too much to examine ourselves. He has spent years of his life in a scientific field, and he has gotten as far as being in a doctorate program, but he is now doubting whether it is something he really wants. After losing so many years of his life on his program, even entertaining the thought of leaving is brave, and it’s not something that many people would consider doing themselves. Wallace is not thinking of quitting because of the difficult dynamics of his program, but because maybe he has spent his entire academic career being driven by the opposite; maybe his academic career wasn’t in spite of others, but to prove that he could survive their spite.
Wallace’s story is painfully relatable and uncompromisingly truthful, and much of that is because it is semi-autobiographical to Taylor’s own life. Taylor himself had been born and raised in Alabama, and he dropped out of his own PhD program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue writing (Wheeler). His own university experiences were often filled with microaggressions and dissonance, well reflected in the progression of Wallace’s story in Real Life. Taylor “didn’t write this book for the white gaze,” he wrote it for people like his “queer, black friends” that felt as if modern campus novels didn’t “represent [them] in any sort of substantive way” (Wheeler). Though the novel does create a digestible framework for non-Black people to understand how deeply racism is embedded into academia, the novel’s purpose is not to educate, it is to show Black students, Black lovers of academia, that their experiences are real and their stories are worth being told. As a Black student, it is incredibly difficult to love an institution that will always be systemically against you, but Taylor understands it, and Wallace lives it.
Wallace’s struggles throughout Real Life do not fall on opposite ends of a spectrum, they don’t go from a bad hair day to saving the world from an apocalypse, no, Wallace’s problems are mundane; from silent, internal mental health issues, to being on the losing end of a difficult situationship. Wallace has problems that you would hear friends talking about over coffee, or see questions on an advice blog about. In an interview with the writers at the Booker Prize Foundation, Brandon claims “close observation” to be “how [he makes sense] of the world” (Booker Prize Foundation). His concentrated, persistent scrutinization of the regular and mundane creates a story that feels so exacting and sharp that, at points, it feels almost monumental in the way that it encapsulates a life lived. I struggle to find words to describe the various complete and incomplete feelings I was left with at the book’s finish because ‘mundane’ reduces it to something unworthy of a read. Real Life is melancholic, celebratory, validating, and unrelenting, but, above all else, it is honest.
Booker Prize Foundation. “Brandon Taylor Q&A.” The Booker Prizes, 2020, https://thebookerprizes.com/brandon-taylor-interview-real-life.
Taylor, Brandon. (2020). Real Life. Riverhead Books.
Wheeler, André. “’I didn’t write this book for the white gaze’: black queer author Brandon Taylor on his debut novel.” The Guardian, 5 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/05/brandon-taylor-author-real-life-interview.
We always say that “representation matters”, but what constitutes good representation of minorities in the media?
Disney’s animated show “The Owl House” was released in 2020 and has received much praise for the diversity in its characters. However, it was announced (not long after its release) that the show will not continue past season 3, as the show “did not fit Disney’s brand”; no official statement was ever released regarding how exactly it deviates from the usual Disney series (Anderton, J, 2021). Though it is saddening to see it end so quickly, The Owl House was truly an amazing show.
There are definitely other examples of good representation, and it is far from perfect, but I chose The Owl House as I believe that representation in children’s media is especially important. Many studies have shown that as children learn by observing their surroundings, they are impressionable and very easily influenced by the media that they consume (“Adolescents and the Media: Medical and Psychological Impact,” 1995). Positive representation of different minority groups in children’s media encourages the younger generation to learn more about different communities, subverting existing stereotypes against certain minority groups.
Therefore, to celebrate the release of the first episode of the last season a few months back, let’s take a look into why I personally believe The Owl House to be a great example of what representation in media should look like.
One of my favourite things about the representation in this show is that they are not simply putting in characters as “token minorities”. More often than not, shows nowadays tend to include minorities as side characters to appear “progressive”; some creators expect praise and credits for doing the bare minimum of having characters of diverse backgrounds. Most of the main characters in The Owl House are canonically queer, which is actually much more common in real life compared to having one “gay best friend” in a heterosexual friend group, so common that many queer people have reported that they tend to “flock together” (Jernigan, C., & Mistree, B. F., 2009). As a result, queer people in the show have different personalities, ethnicities, interests, and style, subverting the stereotypes around the community and emphasising intersectionality.
It is also important to bring up the fact that the show educates young children about different sexualities and genders. Lilith Clawthorne is canonically aromantic and asexual, and Raine Whispers is non binary. These are parts of LGBTQ+ community that is often neglected when it comes to representation in media.
In addition, the show does not focus on how the characters face judgements for being queer, unlike most western media nowadays where nine out of ten times gay characters’ character arc revolves around the fact that they are queer. While the show addresses the struggles the main character, Luz, faces for being “different” or “weird”, she was never judged for being bisexual; a scene that I remember distinctly was that the “mean girl” or bully in the show, Boscha, had always mocked Luz for everything that she does, but never the fact that she is dating another girl, Amity, to which her only comment was “they are not that cute.” (Fun fact: Boscha has two moms.) Another scene I found worthy of note was when Amity’s mother, Odalia, said Luz was unfit for her daughter, and that she would find Amity “a new girlfriend”; even though Odalia is an overall insufferable person and had a questionable parenting style, she did not hold judgement for the fact that Amity is a lesbian. In most western media, typically teen dramas, the above examples would have been a perfect moment to introduce homophobia into the show, per usual; however, The Owl House chose not to and created a world of comfort for its audience. While characters still face many problems in their lives (spoiler alert: the world ending, and all that), being queer seems to be the norm, or at least as common as being cisgender and/or heterosexual in this world.
I believe that the kind of representation in The Owl House, where diversity is celebrated, is much more effective (compared to constantly emphasising on the negativity that queer people face) in educating the younger generation and allowing queer youth feel seen. Not only was diversity in sexuality shown in a sense that there are gay characters, but it was also shown within the community, educating its audience about the “Q+”. All in all, The Owl House did a great job in being truly inclusive of different sexualities and genders, and I can not wait to watch season 3 next year.
1. Adolescents and the media: medical and psychological impact. (1995). Choice Reviews Online, 33(02), 33–0735a. https://doi.org/10.5860/choice.33-0735a
2. Anderton, J. (2021, October 9). Owl House boss shares real reason why Disney cancelled the show. Digital Spy. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/ustv/a37915254/owl-house-disney-cancellation-reason/
3. Disney Channel’s ‘The Owl House’ Gets Season 2 Order Ahead of Series Premiere (Exclusive). (2019, November 21). Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/disney-channels-owl-house-gets-early-season-2-order-1256811/
4. Jernigan, C., & Mistree, B. F. (2009). Gaydar: Facebook friendships expose sexual orientation. First Monday. https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v14i10.2611
5. Terrance, D. (Director). (2020, January 10). The Owl House. Disney.
Three weeks ago, Amnesty International issued a press release regarding LNG Canada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, criticizing the Canadian government and Coastal GasLink (CGL) for their continued policing and criminalizing of Indigenous “land defenders”, who protect their territory from pipeline development. A call-to-action pressuring the Canadian government and CGL to allow the “Wet’suwet’en people [to] exercise their rights over their traditional territories” (Amnesty International, 2023) was released, the article addresses a conflict prompting questions of whether the Wet’suwet’en community possesses legal rights to unceded land, whether such rights are acknowledged by the Canadian government, and, more importantly, whether such conflict constitutes a threat towards Canadian-Indigenous legal relations. Through investigation, we’ll find that the Wet’suwet’en do, indeed, possess legitimate claim to unceded territories and that the Canadian government’s infringement of Wet’suwet’en title proves unjustified. Furthermore, the Wet’suwet’en pipeline conflict illustrates an existing incompatibility between Indigenous and Canadian sovereignty, resulting from the Canadian government’s unsurprising exploitation of fiduciary privileges to substantiate their own economic priorities.
A brief overview of the conflict and opposing interests at hand
The Coastal GasLink is a natural gas pipeline being developed in northern British Columbia, which partially traverses territory belonging to the Wet’suwet’en First Nation community. While all five relevant Wet’suwet’en Nation’s band councils have signed benefit agreements with CGL consenting to the use of their land for pipeline development, the nation chiefs, possessing power within a “hereditary clan system,” refuse to offer such consent. An important distinction is to be made here between an “elected band council,” the form of political leadership endowed upon First Nations communities by Canadian settlers via the Indian Act; and a “hereditary clan system,” the traditional form of political leadership within First Nations communities prior to colonial contact. Claiming to have been granted Aboriginal title (unceded land rights) in the 1997 trial, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (Hernandez, 2020), the hereditary chiefs argue that the unconsensual yet unremitting development of the CGL pipeline is an unjustified land rights violation. As such, many Indigenous land defenders throughout the province have been protesting these proposed injustices by undermining the pipeline’s construction, and establishing roadblocks to prevent project development officials from reaching their sites (Baker, 2022). Meanwhile, standing to earn an estimated twenty-three billion CDN over the span of forty years following the pipeline’s construction, the federal government has largely endorsed the CGL pipeline ever since first commissioning the project in 2018 (Simmons, 2022)—this financial interest at least partially explains the government’s policing contributions towards the project, with RCMP officers consistently tasked with enforcing the law over supposedly criminally-behaved Indigenous protesters (Amnesty International, 2023). With that said, the pipeline is currently—as of the CGL’s latest briefing—beyond 80% complete, and will likely see full completion in the near future regardless of opposition efforts (CGL, 2023).
Upon inspection of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (3 SCR 1010, 1997)—a supreme court case resulting from Delgamuukw’s appeal of a previously failed trial—it’s clear that the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations were granted Aboriginal title over their territory in 1997, resulting mainly from the chief justice’s reconsideration of the Wet’suwet’en oral tradition, “kungax,” as valid historical evidence of pre-colonial territorial occupation. In remarking upon the original trial, Chief Justice Lamer stated that “the trial judge expected too much of the oral history of the appellants,” and that “if oral history cannot conclusively establish pre-sovereignty occupation of land, it may still be relevant to demonstrate that current occupation has its origins prior to sovereignty” (3 SCR 1010, 1997). Indeed, in the following trial, such oral history would be found sufficient in illustrating a pre-sovereign origin of occupation, granting Aboriginal title to the hereditary chiefs who brought the case to the supreme court. As a result, the Wet’suwet’en chiefs, by possessing Aboriginal title, possess land rights since 1997 characterized as (1) inalienable; (2) recognized by the Royal Proclamation of 1763; (3) communally held; (4) limited in use to actions which are “reconcilable with the nature of the claimants’ attachment to those lands” (i.e., forbidding ecologically negligent land use); and (5) protected by section 35 the Constitution Act of 1982 (3 SCR 1010, 1997). Clearly, then, Wet’suwet’en protestors are correct in their assertion that hereditary chiefs are owed unceded land rights as per the result of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia.
With this being said, there are additional details within Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, stipulating the circumstances in which Crown infringements of Aboriginal title may be justified (“constitutionally recognized aboriginal rights are not absolute and may be infringed by the federal and provincial governments…”). As such, we should consider whether the Canadian government could find justifications for the infringed use of Wet’suwet’en territory In constructing the CGL pipeline. In the document, the two tests of potential justification include: (1) furthering a compelling and substantive legislative objective; and (2) acting as is consistent with “the special fiduciary relationship” between the Crown and Indigenous peoples (e.g., “the development of agriculture, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric power,” “general economic development,” “protection of the environment,” and the “building of infrastructure and settlement of foreign populations”) (3 SCR 1010, 1997). First then, the CGL project does not stand to contribute towards any immediately notable legislative objective, and so cannot be warranted under the first test of justification. Second, while an argument might be made for the infrastructure, employment, and “economic development” produced within Indigenous communities by the CGL pipeline, the project also contributes towards ecological destruction and population displacement while providing the Indigenous communities with only a fraction of the total economic value estimated of the project (Simmons, 2022)—thus rendering any claims of the pipeline’s contributions towards a productive fiduciary relationship as tenuous and one-sided, and illustrating that the CGL pipeline is proven unjustifiable by both tests. As such, the use of the Wet’suwet’en land by federally— commissioned enterprises would rely upon the full and lawful consent of Aboriginal title holders— in this case, the hereditary chiefs.
With the Canadian government’s infringement of Wet’suwet’en land rights thus proven unjustified, their use of police action to enforce lawful compliance within Wet’suwet’en communities while refusing to hold themselves accountable to their own legal abidance of Aboriginal title demonstrates a self-contradictory logic, which effectively undermines the legal precedent meant to support Canadian-Indigenous relations in a broader sense. The federal government’s policing, surveilling, and criminalization of the Wet’suwet’en community via RCMP police action throughout the pipeline’s construction, negligent of the community’s title rights, is indicative of whose interests are most readily maintained and whose most undermined within Canadian-Indigenous legal confrontations. In criminalizing land defence and mobilizing police action against Indigenous protestors, and thus in transgressing the principles of Aboriginal title belonging to the Wet’suwet’en as is clarified within Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, the federal government implicitly retracts the legitimacy of legal frameworks developed to render Canadian-Indigenous relations sustainable and equitable. As Queen’s University professor Michael Luoma remarks on the federal government’s legal maltreatment of Indigenous communities in “Collective Self-Determination, Territory, and the Wet’suwet’en,” “if we cannot provide a consistent [note—consistent] answer to questions, then from a moral and legal perspective, the future relationships between Canada and many other Indigenous nations are in danger of being carried out in an ad hoc or arbitrary manner” (2022). Indeed, the negligent treatment of the Wet’suwet’en community and their legal history, if persisted upon with distinct nations, could further obfuscate Indigenous relations throughout the country. As such, steps should be taken towards the increased acknowledgement of Indigenous communities and the legal rights they are owed, although doing so may, at times, be of great expense to the Canadian government.
Luoma, Michael (2022, February 23). “Collective Self-Determination, Territory and the Wet’suwet’en: What Justifies the Political Authority of Historic Indigenous Governments over Land and People” in Canadian Journal of Political Science, 55(1), 19-39. Retrieved January 20, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423921000913.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines a number of individual rights considered to be essential to the preservation of human rights. Among these are freedom of religion, expression, and association; the right to life, liberty and security of the person; and freedom from unreasonable search, seizure and arbitrary detention. It is a common assumption that these rights and freedoms are absolutely inalienable and immutable. That assumption is wrong.
The notwithstanding clause, otherwise known as Section 33, was introduced to the Canadian Charter by Pierre Trudeau’s office; it was a concession to satisfy concerns that the Charter of Rights, as Trudeau’s office had initially drafted it, was “too powerful” (Zimonjic, 2022). The language of Section 33 holds that parliament, or the legislature of any given province, could temporarily disregard a provision of the Charter outlined in sections 2, or 7-15 (Government of Canada, 2022). There are, of course, limitations; any declaration made via the notwithstanding clause shall cease to be of effect five years after its implementation, though it can be renewed at the end of that 5-year term. At the time of the Charter’s drafting, Section 33 was intended as an escape-hatch (Zimonjic, 2022), evocative of the American “state’s-rights” model. The general understanding was that the notwithstanding clause ought to be a last resort, utilized only in the most unusual of circumstances. By its definition, the notwithstanding clause had the power to disrupt the execution of a number of fundamental Charter principles.
While this power may seem overwhelming on its face, the ability to disregard or supersede an established Charter right is not an unprecedented one. There is a process, called the Oakes Test, by which laws that limit a Charter right can be evaluated as justifiable or an overreach of power. It is a litigious procedure, arising from the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in R v Oakes.
This 1986 case saw the accused, Oakes, charged with possession for the purposes of trafficking after police caught Oakes with hashish oil and cash on his person. Oakes held that the drugs were his own and that he had no intent of selling them; yet, at the time, Section 8 of the Narcotics Control Act, under which he had been charged, held that anyone found with illegal drugs on them was presumed guilty of trafficking. This established a “reverse onus” in Oakes’ criminal trial. Rather than the burden being upon the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Oakes had to prove his innocence (Centre for Constitutional Studies, 2019). Oakes and his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of this onus, claiming it violated his Section 11(d) Charter Right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Supreme Court agreed this right had been violated. The ultimate question, however, was whether the violation of this right was justifiable under Section 1 of the Charter: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
The SCC ultimately ruled that to determine if a law’s imposition on an established Charter right was justifiable, the imposition had to pass a series of tests: first, that the law under review has a goal which is both “pressing and substantial”. Second, that the law limits the right in question only in such a way as is rationally connected to the law’s purpose. Third, the law must minimally impair the right. Fourth, the imposition upon the right is proportional to the effect of the law (Centre for Constitutional Studies, 2019). The Oakes Test is consequentially an effective, consistent measure by which to test whether a law has justifiably infringed upon a Charter right.
The notwithstanding clause’s metric of measurement is nowhere near as comprehensive nor consistent. It is typically invoked when there is a controversial court ruling (McKenzie-Sutter, 2022) and it can, in theory, provide a sanctified avenue by which provincial governments can override federal authority should a federal government overstep their jurisdictional reach (Callaghan, 2021). Supporters of the notwithstanding clause have opined that “It’s entirely possible that a judicial body will make a judgment on rights that many find abhorrent. Under a system where they wield ultimate authority over the matter, there is little recourse to challenge that judgment. The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is a stark example of this reality” (Callaghan 2021). While the notwithstanding clause is undoubtably conceptually admirable, its application has been controversial and, at times, in contradiction of Canadian citizens’ rights. Section 33 has been invoked some 26 times since its implementation. The majority of those invocations were tabled by Quebec. Most make it past initial invocation and into enactment. Some instances of particularly controversial uses of the notwithstanding clause in recent memory are Alberta’s 2000 case, Quebec’s 2019 case, and Ontario’s 2018, 2021 and 2022 cases.
In the first instance, Alberta invoked the notwithstanding clause in response to the federal government’s passing of Bill C-23 (CBC, 2012). Bill C-23 guaranteed same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples after a year of cohabitation. Alberta responded by passing Bill 202, which threatened to invoke the notwithstanding clause should Canada ever redefine marriage to anything other than a man and woman (CBC, 2012). The misuse of the notwithstanding clause is self-evident; the Supreme Court of Canada agreed, declaring Bill 202 and its threatened use of the notwithstanding clause ultra vires, or beyond legal authority, as of 2004 (S.C.R. 698, 2004).
In 2019, Quebec introduced the controversial Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, otherwise known as Bill 21. You may recall the furor that arose in the media after Quebec declared their intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause to support this act, which prohibited civil service employees and public teachers from wearing religious symbols, like kippahs, crosses and hijabs while working (Souissi, 2021). Quebec was successful in implementing the notwithstanding clause. Given the notwithstanding clause’s mandatory five year renewal, it may be overturned in the future; it will, regardlessly, impact the religious liberties of Quebec citizens in the meanwhile.
Ontario’s history with the notwithstanding clause is recent, and resultantly unique. In the province’s history, the notwithstanding clause has been utilized three times. First, in 2018, when the Ontario provincial government utilized Section 33 to reduce the number of wards in Toronto from 47 to 25. This reduction occurred alongside a municipal election, raising concerns that the Ford administration was severely infringing upon the democratic rights of voters (Ahmed, 2022). The second invocation occurred in 2021, when the Ford administration passed the Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act. In sum, the act prohibited third-party election advertising and advocacy during the election period, such as labour unions. The legislation was found to override the Charter, and was consequently struck down by Ontario Courts (Kelly, 2022). In response, Ford’s administration overrode the Court using the notwithstanding clause. More recently, Ford’s administration tabled the Keeping Students in Class Act, which utilized the notwithstanding clause to mandate striking teachers back to work. It was lambasted as an “unprecedented attack on workers’ rights” (Koskie Minsky LLP, 2022), and consequently revoked and deemed “never in force” (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, 2022).
In sum, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not the inflexible pillar it is sometimes perceived to be. In some instances, its “bending” is to the benefit of the citizenry. Section 33 could permit provincial governments to reject federal overreach, an insulation against oversteps by any prime minister’s administration. Yet like so many things, the notwithstanding clause can be invoked in ways that hinder, rather than uphold, basic rights. The “legalese” used to describe related governmental acts and resultant action can alienate most of us from the realities of what is being passed as law. That alienation may prevent us from realizing how, and when, Charter Rights and Freedoms are eroded without reasonable cause.
There is no question that we are privileged to live in a country like Canada. It is imperfect, and has a longstanding history of colonial violence, but it also has an established constitutional rights framework by which to challenge our own persisting human rights issues. Other nation-states do not necessarily have the same constitutional protections. Given our comparative privilege, it can be easy to forget that human rights are hard-won and, in some instances, easily lost. It is our civic duty to vigilantly monitor the ways in which our rights and freedoms as Canadians are in flux, to prevent government overreach at all levels. If the history of the notwithstanding clause can offer us any insights, it is that human rights are a constant practice, and not a milestone of democracy. We must constantly be mindful of how our rights adjust and flux, decade to decade, administration to administration.
Ahmed, H. (2022, August 8) Toronto v Ontario: Municipal Elections, Freedom of Expression, and Provincial Authority. Centre for Constitutional Studies. https://www.constitutionalstudies.ca/2022/08/toronto-v-ontario-municipal-elections-freedom-of-expression-and-provincialauthority/
Callaghan, G. (2022, July 6) In defence of the notwithstanding clause: Why Canada should hold onto it. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/in-defence-of-the-notwithstandingclause-why-canada-should-hold-onto-it-186375
CBC (2012, January 12) TIMELINE: Same-sex rights in Canada. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/timeline-same-sex-rights-in-canada-1.1147516
Kelly, Y. (2022, March 21) Ontario’s Bill 307 does more to restrict democracy than protect it. York Region News. https://www.yorkregion.com/opinion-story/10591141-ontario-s-bill-307-does-more-to-restrict-democracy-than-protect-it/
Koskie Minksky LLP (2022) The Keeping Students in Class Act. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=e7137110-7583-4533-9f18-468074bd55c1
Legislative Assembly of Ontario (2022) Bill 35, Keeping Students in Class Repeal Act, 2022. https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-43/session-1/bill-35
McKenzie-Sutter, H. (2022, Oct 31) What is the notwithstanding clause? An explainer on the rarely used provision. CTV News. https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/what-is-the-notwithstandingclause-an-explainer-on-the-rarely-used-provision-1.613270
National security education was incorporated into the Hong Kong school curriculum in the 2021-22 academic year as a consequence of growing localist sentiment and anti-Beijing creed. Last year, the Hong Kong Education Bureau substituted “liberal studies” in secondary schools for a new subject called “citizenship and social development,” and this year authorities have announced that the “current life and society” subject will also be replaced within the next two years.
“Liberal studies” was offered as an optional course in Hong Kong secondary schools alongside “life and society” as of 2012. “Life and society” covered the socioeconomic development of Hong Kong and China and their distinct political systems, but saw minimal uptakes. Pending the expiration of Hong Kong’s autonomy from China approaching in 2047, many fear that the education reforms only mark the beginning of cultural and institutional change in the city. Pro-Beijing politicians accused the more popular elective, “liberal studies”, of radicalizing youth and inciting the 2019 anti-government protests. As a consequence, the Hong Kong Education Bureau replaced “liberal studies” with “citizenship and social development,” centered on lawfulness, patriotism and promoting students’ understanding of China’s national security to foster a national identity.
The core values of “life and society” included social justice and freedom, but the words, “democracy”, “integrity” and “social justice” are notably absent from the curriculum of its replacement subject, “citizenship, economics and society”. Unlike the old subject that aimed to induce political participation, the new subject has dropped content regarding government decision-making procedures, including an admonishment to communicate with the Legislative Council. Instead, “citizenship, economics and society” is oriented towards enriching students’ understanding of Beijing’s jurisdiction through outlining the primary offences under the national security law and the Hong Kong Basic Law. The Education Bureau announced that they would provide teaching materials for the new subject at the beginning of this academic year, and textbooks for 2024. The textbooks will be reviewed by a committee whose members remain undisclosed, ostensibly to protect them from external pressure and prejudice. However, many question the legitimacy of the committee and these textbooks given that the new “citizenship and social development” textbooks from earlier this year erroneously claimed that Hong Kong was never a British colony, but merely an occupied territory.
In addition to academic content reforms, Hong Kong schools are facing pressure to increase teaching time apportioned to patriotic content. The Education Bureau has asked Hong Kong schools to allocate a quarter of teaching time during primary school education to activities and discussions concerning Chinese culture and the constitution. This overhaul of Hong Kong’s primary school education is driven by a new curriculum guide that emphasizes the cultivation of a sense of belonging and identity through national security education to become responsible citizens. This is a stark contrast to the learning goals under the old guide, which stressed the importance of discriminating between right and wrong and tolerance towards diverse values.
Owing to these changes, the Education Bureau conducted an inspection of 169 out of 1,160 schools in Hong Kong in the 2021-22 academic year and deduced that efforts to incorporate national security education into the curriculum was “unsatisfactory”. This inspection was brought on by the revision of the teachers’ code of conduct which details that they must advance national education and divulge illegal activities or “morally deviant information” to authorities. The previous administration promised to revamp the code after lawmakers accused teachers of instigating students’ participation in the 2019 protests.
As the expiration of Hong Kong’s autonomy from China approaches in the year 2047, many fear that these education reforms only mark the beginning of cultural and institutional change in the city. However, the reluctant uptake of nationalist initiatives promises the retention of Hong Kong culture and values for the time being.
Kang-Chung, Ng. “Patriotism, national security education should make up a quarter of primary schools’ teaching time, Hong Kong Education Bureau says”, South China Morning Post, 8 September 2022. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3191871/hong-kong-education-bureau-suggests-primary-schools-spend?module=hard_link&pgtype=article.
Yiu, William. “What you need to know about Hong Kong’s new school subject focused on national security, sense of belonging”, South China Morning Post, 16 October 2022. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3196123/what-you-need-know-about-hong-kongs-new-school-subject.
Undoubtedly the most viewed, and high on the list of the world’s most unifying sporting events, the FIFA World Cup captures the attention of billions around the globe, and last year 32 nations participated, competing for the cup in Qatar. The announcement of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup put the country in the international spotlight, drawing criticisms against FIFA and the Qatari government concerning the unjust treatment of migrant workers, who were indispensable to carrying out the numerous construction projects.
Qatar, a country of a smaller size than the state of Connecticut, won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in December of 2010. The scale of the event required Qatar to launch major construction projects— including new roads, stadiums, hotels, and transportation— in preparation for welcoming 1.5 million football fans. While the exact amount spent by the Qatari government on infrastructure since 2010 remains unclear, the estimates range from 200-300 billion dollars. (Foxman, Nair, 2022).
Let’s consider the fact that Qatar depends on a 2 million strong migrant workforce, which makes up 90% of the country’s overall workforce, and a significant portion of the country’s overall population (Dart, 2022). At the source of the systemic abuse against the millions of migrant workers in Qatar is the kafala (or sponsorship) system, an exploitative labour law system used mostly in the region of the Arab Gulf. The kafala system subjects the migrant worker to the strict control of their employer, who commands the workers’ entry or exit of the country, their ability to change jobs, the renewal of work permits, and their legal status in the country (Dumoulin, 2021). This system facilitates the exploitation of migrant workers and violation of migrant worker rights. Being subject to the will and interest of their employers, migrant workers can be trapped in working conditions that are extremely abusive without any opportunity to leave or oppose.
While Qatar has implemented some labour law reforms— notably, allowing migrant workers to change jobs without the approval of a former employer and slightly wage increases— these reforms have not been sufficient to abolish the kafala system in Qatar as a whole. Indeed, migrant workers in Qatar have no protection against labour exploitation and are still closely tied to their employer, relying on them for their legal status and permission of entry/exit of the country (Human Rights Watch, 2018). The kafala system is one of many other abuses against migrant workers in Qatar: there have been numerous reports of mysterious injuries, migrant worker deaths due to “natural causes”— a seemingly interchangeable term to describe extreme heat exhaustion— and unpaid wages.
Despite these reports, FIFA’s silence towards the migrant worker abuse in Qatar has been deafening. They hold responsibility in their decision of granting the right of hosting the World Cup to Qatar without imposing any conditions protecting the human rights of migrant workers employed to build their stadiums. (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
FIFA was aware of the infrastructure deficit in Qatar with regards to accommodating a World Cup and chose to benefit from the exploitation of migrant workers instead of change it.
At a pro-war rally held in the center of Moscow on March 18th, 2022, passionate sentiments of pride on the anniversary of Russia’s reclamation of Crimea and support for the ongoing efforts of Russian soldiers fighting to “liberate” Ukraine were shared, broadcast across Russia by state sponsored networks. The crowning moment of the pro-war rally occurred during a speech given by Putin himself, who paraphrased the Bible in an effort to justify the invasion of Ukraine to over 200,000 Russians in attendance: “There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends” (John 15:13) (Quay 4). This curious mixture of religion and propaganda that has been taking a hold of Russian politics in the last two decades is explained in part by Maria Engstrom’s essay on “Contemporary Russian Messianism and New Russian Foreign Policy”, particularly through the concept of “Katechon” and its resulting effects on Russian foreign policy and security doctrine.
Engstrom brings to light the understanding of Russia as “Katechon”, a Christian Orthodox term popularized by 20th century right-wing intellectual circles to serve as the “unofficial” official ideology of post-Soviet Russia. “Russia as Katechon” portrays Russia to be the world’s ‘shield’ against the apocalyptic forces of chaos, with the Russian state itself existing to defend against the Antichrist and the resulting end of times (Engstrom 357). Engstrom points out that this neoconservative understanding of the inherent purpose of the Russian state is not an aberration paraded by a handful of fringe conservative groups. Rather, it is literally embedded into the policy goals of Russia itself. For example, Russian foreign policy and state security doctrine have regressed to an outlook of the world that is more at home with religio-medieval dogma than modern international relations theory. For example, all states beyond Moscow’s control are interpreted uniformly as in league with the “external antichrist” (i.e. the decadent “Great Sodom” that is the West), whilst those within Russia’s borders not in agreement with official state ideology are considered the “internal antichrist”, no less dangerous than its external counterpart (Engstrom 363). Thus, because the Russian state is always understood to be under attack within this framework. Seemingly contradictory statements such as the following, spoken by influential young conservative publicist Egor Kholmogorov, make perfect sense: “Russians always “defend”, even when it might seem that they attack” (Engstrom 365).
Thus, it is in such a way that one sees the doctrine of “Atomic Orthodoxy” take shape, Russia’s “double shield”, composed of Orthodoxy to secure Russia on the ideological front and the atomic military-industrial complex to secure Russia’s physical frontiers (Engstrom 368). An oxymoronic environment which produces phenomena such as Orthodox priests blessing atomic warheads, this “double shield” policy delivers one clear neoconservative message: If it means saving the world from the clutches of the Antichrist, Russians are more than ready to “remove the lid”, as it is understood to be their sacred duty (Engstrom 368). The Russians will stop at nothing to achieve their interests, because ‘they are the third empire, and there shall not be a fourth. After Russia is only the Apocalypse” (Engstrom 368).
In line with Engstrom’s 2014 analysis, one can see Russia’s “Double Shield” out in full force eight years later, with Putin pushing neoconservative Orthodox dogma on the home front whilst his army liberates Ukraine from “evil” abroad, all the while flexing Russia’s nuclear capabilities should the West ever think of interfering with Russia’s “holy” struggle (Quay, Guardian 1). Critically speaking, in an effort to extend Engstrom’s analysis, one cannot help but wonder what Russia’s approach means for the world order: Is the cultivation of a Messianic destiny, backed by nuclear weapons, all one needs to supersede the global order? As thousands of years of political history mired in religious dogma have shown, it is hard to debate against “god” or even an idea which claims to be backed by “god”; Thus, one cannot expect the Russian people to emancipate themselves from such a compelling line of propaganda, one no less backed by the threat of overwhelming military violence. The prospect of this unique “double shield” threat, in my view, warrants the development of a “double sword” doctrine to meet it, namely, one that seeks to delegitimize the Russian leadership at every level, exposing the fact that their support for Orthodoxy and Messianic destiny is a loose ploy to legitimize their own control over their state (First Sword), and further, one that dares to tread the Cold-War-era path of nuclear diplomacy, enforcing the idea that playing hard and fast with nuclear weapons does not lend one free reign over the established global order (Second Sword).
Russia’s actions warrant global action, as Putin’s eyes are not only in Ukraine, but are on the entire globe. Both his methods and his aims are global in nature: his call for fighters from around the world to join the Russian Army to expel “evil” from Ukraine are not unlike the calls put out by various Islamic terror groups, calling fighters to help in the establishment of a “Global Ummah”. The phenomenon of “Atomic Orthodoxy” in Russia is certainly unusual, but by no means is it historically unique. The West would do well to ensure that the threat of ending history (and the world) outright does not invite history to repeat itself, with religion once again being misused towards politically immoral ends.
Engström, Maria. “Contemporary Russian Messianism and New Russian Foreign Policy.” Contemporary Security Policy, vol. 35, no. 3, 2014, pp. 356–379., https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2014.965888. .
Guardian. (2022, February 28). Putin signals escalation as he puts Russia’s nuclear force on high alert. The Guardian. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/27/vladimir-putin-puts-russia-nuclear-deterrence-forces-on-high-alert-ukraine
Quay, Grayson. “Putin Quotes Jesus to Justify Invasion of Ukraine.” Yahoo! News, Yahoo!, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/news/putin-quotes-jesus-justify-invasion-155344994.html.
What distinguishes human rights issues from celebrations of culture? Is culture a sufficient excuse or justification for the mistreatment of minority groups? Recently, these two questions have gained substantial traction within the media as the 2022 FIFA World Cup approaches, being held this year in Qatar—which is where the controversy begins.
The decision to hold this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar was deemed highly problematic by some due to Qatar’s record of human rights violations, as is demonstrated by the country’s criminalization of homosexuality, which can result in up to three years of prison in the country (Lewis 2022). In response, the “OneLove” campaign, an initative founded in the Netherlands to celebrate diversity within soccer communities, was due to take center stage (New York Post, 2022). To show their support, participants wear an armband featuring a multi-coloured heart to represent those belonging to all heritages, genders, and sexual identities. These armbands are meant to stand against discrimination and promote inclusion. The captains of seven countries competing were set to wear these armbands in solidarity, including England, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands (Ramsay and Nabbi, 2022). However, due to recent actions taken by FIFA itself, the initiative has been abandoned.
To discourage players from wearing OneLove armbands throughout the World Cup, FIFA declared that players found wearing said armbands would be given yellow cards and may face additional sanctions (Ramsay and Nabbi, 2022) as punishment. FIFA’s efforts seemingly succeeded, as all seven soccer federations backed down from the campaign. In a joint statement, they asserted that “[a]s national federations we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings” (New York Post, 2022). Thus, the movement was quashed before it ever truly began. Even so, the situation introduces another issue regarding Qatar’s stance on LBGTQ+ rights: some fans feel unsafe travelling to Qatar, fearing for their safety (Lewis 2022).
The Secretary General of FIFA, Fatma Samoura, said in a statement, “[n]o matter your race, your religion, your social and sexual orientation, you are most welcome, and Qataris are ready to receive you with the best hospitality that you can imagine” (Lewis 2022). However, at the same time, a statement from Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) reads, “[e]veryone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture” (Lewis 2022). In this case, then, culture seems to obfuscate matters of human rights, as the line between what is to be considered a human rights abuse and what is to be considered part of a separate country’s culture becomes blurred.
Teams were reportedly asked to “keep politics off the field” (New York Post, 2022). This raises the question: are human rights a strictly political issue, or do they supersede the realm of politics and possess a more universal significance? Should there be certain criteria necessary for selecting a country to host an international event as important as the World Cup? If so, how could such criteria be implemented while balancing the line between cultural relativism and cultural imperialism?
The Football Supporters’ Association, a representative body based in England and Wales, made a poignant statement encapsulating the situation. It reads, “[t]oday we feel contempt for an organisation that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance… No country which falls short on LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights or any other universal human right should be given the honour of hosting a World Cup” (Thorogood, 2022). It is clear that this situation is bigger than Qatar or soccer alone. Human rights are a topic of contention all around the world. Countries must figure out how to toe the line between respecting different cultures and standing up against blatant human rights transgressions.
Associated Press. “FIFA Threats Force World Cup Teams to Abandon ‘OneLove’ Armband.” New York Post. New York Post, November 21, 2022. https://nypost.com/2022/11/21/fifa-threats-force-world-cup-teams-to-abandon-onelove-armband/ .
Lewis, Aimee. “’It’s Not Safe and It’s Not Right.’ Qatar Says All Are Welcome to the World Cup but Some LGBTQ Soccer Fans Are Staying Away.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 19, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/19/football/qatar-world-cup-2022-lgbtq-rights-spt-intl/index.html.
Ramsay, George, and Zayn Nabbi. “England’s Harry Kane and Several Other European Captains Told Not to Wear ‘Onelove’ Armband at World Cup.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 22, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/21/football/onelove-armband-qatar-2022-world-cup-spt-intl.
Thorogood, James. “Onelove Campaign Hit by Threat of FIFA Sanctions .” dw.com. Deutsche Welle, November 21, 2022. https://www.dw.com/en/world-cup-2022-onelove-campaign-hit-by-threat-of-fifa-sanctions/a-6381 8810.
In 1989, famed director Spike Lee created Do the Right Thing, a film following the story of the Wall of Fame inside an Italian-American-owned pizzeria in a Black community. As tensions rise in the community due to the Wall featuring only famous Italian-Americans instead of also including famous African-Americans, due to the pizzeria being located in a predominantly African-America area, conversations are held to understand the treatment of Black people by other ethnicities, especially white people. Parallels can be drawn between 1989 and the present while keeping the messages of trailblazers Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X throughout the call to action. The main message of the movie is brought to the attention of the main character Mookie when the Mayor tells Mookie to “always do the right thing,”1 although he brushes off 1 the advice in the moment, the message becomes more apparent as the movie continues. All around the neighbourhood are conversations and actions with racial undertones and overt instances. Prevalent topics in the film include stereotypes, Black people’s influence on society, and the relationship between police and Black people.
This film creates an environment for viewers to understand the climate the characters were living in and compare it to the present day. The successes of Black people are constantly left out of the conversation when discussing people who have impacted the world we live in today. The central conflict in the film is the lack of inclusion for Black people on Sal’s wall of fame. The white characters in the movie continually disregard the importance of Black people. Pino takes away his favourite celebrities’ Blackness because they don’t fit his idea of what Black people should be like; the landlord wears a Larry Bird shirt, and when Black people don’t act according to how Sal and Pino think they should, they disregard their business and resort to using the n-word to describe them. The blatant mistreatment of the Black people in their neighbourhood directly translates into the main conflict of the hall of fame. Buggin’ Out wants people such as Malcolm x, Nelson Mandela, and Michael Jordan as people who should be on the wall, but Sal doesn’t see their importance being on the wall; he threatens his patron with violence and kicks him out as a result2. This scene is the beginning of Sal’s overt mistreatment of Black people, that catapults the movie into its following stages.
Radio Raheem’s death reflects the society where police violence against Black people is repeated. When Lee released this movie, he dedicated it to Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart. Five of these people were murdered by police while Griffth was a victim of the mob3. 36 years after this film’s release Black people are still victims of police brutality; the only difference in the headlines being the names. The names that many people today recognize are George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah Mcclain, Atatiana Jefferson, Daunte Wright. When comparing the victims of the 80s to now, it is evident that police brutality is still prevalent. Sentiments of characters in the movie reflect the opinions of people today when similar events to Radio Raheem’s death occur, such as, “They didn’t have to kill the boy,” “They did it again,” and “He died because of a radio.”4 This repetition of death within the Black community shows society’s disregard and disrespect for Black life. Black people are seen as less than their white counterparts and less deserving of their rights.
Spike Lee immerses viewers into a world similar to ours with the community, the personalities, and the heartbreak. Getting to know the characters who ultimately end up hurt by the events that play out reflects the real lives that are being affected every time the police murder a Black person. As a society, it is our job to fight the powers working against Black people. Through advocacy, action, and doing the right thing, the trajectory of Black lives can be changed.
1,4Do the Right Thing (Universal Pictures, 1989).
3 Richard Brody, “The Enduring Urgency of Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ at Thirty,” The New Yorker, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/the-enduring-urgency-ofspike-lees-do-the-right-thing-at- thirty.
Dmitri Trenin declares in his preface that Russia is a book intended for readers who are unfamiliar with Russia’s history. As such, Trenin aims to present Russian history in a way which differs from the West’s understanding of Russia as “negative and controversial” (vii). In doing so, Russia takes the reader on a 200-page excursion of 120 years of Russian history, detailing the historical and political development, which explains much of Russia’s contemporary behaviour. Trenin treats Russia as having its own “version of exceptionalism,” which makes it distinct from other nations (8). He suggests that there is a “bedrock” underneath Russia that continues to strengthen the “core features of the nation’s existence, its self-image, and its worldview” and that the reader can only understand these changes by examining the “collective experience” of the Russian people (3). The book’s central thesis holds that, while Russia has experienced changes to its ruler and government, it nonetheless remains a “succession of states and represents the continuity of a country” precisely because Russian society has retained the core features which make it exceptional (9). Trenin presents two momentous and recurring features which have shaped the last 120 years of Russia’s political development. First, Russia’s strong rejection of foreign domination persists alongside her acquiescence toward domestic authoritarianism (9). Second, Russia’s “essentially lonely” nature (despite having a high degree of contact with other countries) (9). And Russia’s frequent contact with foreign countries is often the source of external threats and modernization (9). While his analysis of Russia’s ‘loneliness’ is a noteworthy observation, the reader should pay more attention to how Trenin imagines the boundary of Russia, as well as what he means by being Russian.
Russia gives the reader a quick survey of Russia’s 20th century, presenting important themes such as culture, economy, society, and ideology. The reader will learn about the ‘Silver Age’ of Russian arts, the New Soviet Man, refugees escaping Communist Russia, the GULAG, economic developments and policies, protest movements, state-society relations, and much more. Trenin’s discussion of the state and its leaders, foreign relations, and elite politics is the most emphasized component. By giving a brief historical account of Russian history—from the 1917 Russian civil war to Putin’s 21st-century ascension—through which he illuminates the causes of critical events, Trenin highlights the persistent and significant role of a strong state and authoritarian leader in providing stability during times of upheaval in Russia’s history Further, Trenin asserts that evil consequences often ensue after state collapse (179).
Tracing the collective experience of the Russian people, Trenin makes the case that while leaders of Russia had extraordinary agency in shaping the country’s political trajectory, it is the enduring feature of the people’s will to reject foreign domination of Russia at the expense of their “own domestic sovereignty vis-a-vis [the state]” that prevented the breakdown of Russia in challenging times (9). Trenin believes that this forfeiture of individual autonomy to the authoritarian rule at home is the “supreme national value” and is deeply embedded in the “Russian psyche” (7, 9). However, while there is much evidence one can point to, such as the 1812 Napoleonic War, or the Great Patriotic War, there is also ample evidence that challenges the reading that Russians see their submission to authority as a “supreme national value.” Notably, Trenin himself remarks that the 1905 and 1917 peasant revolutions in Tsarist Russia were a key pretext for the rise of the Bolsheviks (26-34). Also, he notes that many Russians fled to Europe to escape Communist rule (125). Furthermore, considering Pyotr Stolypin’s implementation of martial law, Lenin’s Cheka, Stalin’s Purge, and the tradition of the Russian security agency, all to maintain social stability, fearing uprising and unrest from societal groups, the reader should seriously question the merit of Trenin’s argument that there has been a consensus, tacit or explicit, between the ruled and the ruler on the “supreme national value,” even in times of crisis (9).
Moreover, the reader is left wondering, by the end of the book, whether Trenin’s claim about the recurring core feature of Russian’s acquiescence toward authoritarianism (and the persistent pattern of authoritarianism itself) will continue to be a ‘recurring’ feature. Indeed, Trenin himself points to the possibility that generational change and existing political conditions could lead to a state that is less authoritarian in nature (163). Even though Putin and the state are authoritarian, the establishment of democratic electoral institutions and a growing middle class in Russia could one day transform this core recurring feature.
To be more charitable, the reader can concede that Trenin is suggesting an account that Russian exceptionalism derives from a transcendental conception of Russia as a nation that conceives an amorphous territory and a population that inheres Russia’s millennium-long history and the two core recurring features as its national mentality and traits. However, it is equally important to examine who are the “Russian people” and what Russia is as an “unbroken whole” (9, 11). While Trenin explains what Russia is not—that today’s Russia is not a different country from the USSR and the Russian Empire—he fails to give an affirmative account of what Russia is. Indeed, there is not a definitive answer to this, and expecting Trenin to answer it persuasively in a 200-page book is unreasonable. Nevertheless, this absence should make the reader (re)consider his formulation of Russia as an “unbroken whole.” The fact that Russia’s territory has been reduced substantially after the collapse of the Russian Empire and again after the dissolution of the USSR has central implications for the conception of Russia. This geopolitical decline seriously challenges his conception of Russia as a whole, given that many of the populations formerly belonging to the Russian Empire and USSR are not a part of contemporary Russia. It is also questionable to claim the population who were once within the territory of the Russian Empire and the USSR as “Russians.” According to NKVD records, “half-million Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Belarusians fought the Soviets in rural areas” (Colton 53). Also, anti-Soviet ethnonationalist movements during and after the Soviet rule also challenge Tenin’s reading of Russia as an “unbroken whole” (153-154).
Trenin’s account of the second core feature is more compelling and conforms to the charitable reading of Russia as a nation that persistently embodies “a Russian psyche” In the last 120 years, Russia has been lonely and exceptional in its vain search for national security amidst an unfriendly, modernizing world. Japan challenged Russia’s presence in the Far East, leading to a major defeat in 1905 for the Russian Empire (25-26). In 1917 Russia was forced to fight against Germany but was never invited to the 1919 Versailles peace conference and the League of Nations (46). In the 1930s, Britain and France had little concern for the fate of the USSR, so Russia, relying on itself, was pressured into signing a non-aggression pact with Germany (78-79). Trenin argues that Russia had to rely on itself in challenging times and thus often finds itself isolated. Indeed, increased connectivity with China, Britain, and the U.S. in the 1940s ended soon thereafter upon the rise of the Cold War. Meaningful and friendly engagement with the West since then never occurred, despite the disintegration of the Union and the introduction of capitalism and electoral democracy in the 1990s (145-146). Confrontation with the U.S. and NATO became more real after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its intervention in Syria (173-174). However, its relationship with China grew closer (174). Russia, Trenin argues, has been estranged from the West but is “by no means isolated” (173-174). Indeed, current events support Trenin’s analysis: the ongoing Russian-Ukraine War has deteriorated US-Russia and EU-Russia relationship while Russia has become closer to China.
The reader can strengthen Trenin’s account of Russia’s relative isolation by arguing that Russia’s geography and historical legacies played a deterministic role in shaping the political attitude and choices of the Russian elites. Russia is vast, remote, and difficult to access by sea. While this geographical limit prevented Russia from naval invasions, it also foreclosed the reach of sea merchants and the exchange of ideas (Poe 49). The centrality of Russian Orthodoxy and Russia’s closed borders also stifled any intellectual and cultural exchange with the West (Poe 41). Moreover, the relative proximity with Western Europe—and the extraordinary technological and military ascendance of the former circa 1500-1600—threatened Russia and agitated its reform process, eventually producing a distinctly Russian form of social organization (Poe 38-57).
Even if the reader rejects the persistent “bedrock” underneath Russia, Trenin’s analysis of Russia’s political pattern—1) authoritarian rule as a persistent feature and 2) relative isolation—offers a good measure by which the reader can judge Russia’s contemporary political development. When the authoritarian state is absent, Russia will likely reverse into political instability (9). Trenin suspects that “a political crisis following Putin’s final departure is virtually pre-programmed” (162). And, while Trenin makes clear in Russia’s conclusion that post-Putin Russia might not embrace liberal capitalism and conform partially to the West, his analysis of Russia’s relative isolation gives freshness and trenchancy to his interpretation of a “Russian’s Russia” and provide the non-specialist reader with a good historical account of where “Russia is coming from.”
Colton, Timothy J. Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York, Oxford University Press, 2016.
Poe, Marshall T. The Russian Moment in World History. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2003.
Tens of millions of football fans all over the world were rejoicing as the 2022 FIFA World Cup began. Since 2010, when Qatar won the contract to host the 2022 World Cup, it has spent upwards of $220 billion on unprecedented construction to prepare for this World Cup (Worden, 2022). Qatar has evidently spared no expense to transform its desert into a beaming hub of decadence, complete with new stadiums, buildings, hotels, and highways—that is, until one considers the migrant workers who built this infrastructure. Investigative journalism and reports from Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have found disturbing human rights abuses including the death of over 6,500 migrant workers during Qatar’s construction, making it one of the deadliest sporting events in history (Pattisson & McIntyre, 2021). The list of human rights abuses also includes expensive recruitment fees, appalling living conditions, threats from their employers, modern-slavery tactics, and lying about and delaying worker salaries (Goodman & Worden, 2022) all against a backdrop of LGBTQ+ discrimination, disregard for women’s rights and a lack of press freedom to investigate aforementioned migrant abuses (Goodman & Worden, 2022, Human Rights Watch, 2022).
Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, opened a news conference in Doha, Qatar, with a surprising one-hour monologue, stating: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Doubtful to say the least, as Qatar has some of the most repressive migrant labour policies in the world, beginning with their abusive “Kafala” labor sponsorship system which uses “modern-day slavery” tactics to provide as much cheap and dispensable labour as possible (Goodman & Worden, 2022). The “Kafala” is a debt-bondage system, in which migrant workers looking to work in Qatar must take out loans to be recruited for work. These loans can range from seven hundred to fourteen thousand USD, in some cases a financially crushing responsibility which can take years to pay off (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Migrant workers in Qatar are then tied to their employers, or “sponsors,” and cannot request or renew their residence permits without the sponsor’s permission. However, if the sponsor fails to renew the permit, it is the worker who faces punishment (Amnesty International, 2021).
Additionally, these workers face deadly working environments, some of which possess exorbitant heat levels. There is also the systemic use of stealing and delaying wages of migrant workers. Thousands of migrant workers suffer from late or non-payment of wages (Amnesty International, 2021), thus taking out costly loans to pay the illegal recruitment fees. These have devastating impacts on workers who are providing not only for themselves but for families back home–many of these workers have had to return home with no money as a result (Amnesty International, 2022).
Additionally, the living conditions within dorms are just as horrid as working conditions outside. Workers tend to live in dirty, cramped, unsafe accommodations (Amnesty International, 2021). Indeed, Amnesty found men sleeping in bunk beds in rooms of eight or more people, although Qatari law and the Workers’ Welfare Standards allow for a maximum of four beds per room and prohibit bed sharing and the use of bunk beds (Amnesty International, 2021).
When workers are bold enough to complain about their conditions and human rights transgressions they are met with strong threats from their employers. One migrant worker working at the Khalifa Stadium said that they “went to the company office, telling the manager I wanted to go home [back to my country] because always my pay is late. The manager screamed at me saying ‘keep working or you will never leave!’” (Amnesty International, 2021). Mohammad, who maintains green spaces in the Aspire Zone, said, “The company has my passport. If my sponsorship status changes they will send me back and I have a lot of debt to pay…, I want my passport back… [and] the camp is no good, there are eight of us in one room – it is too many. But I cannot complain [because] they will end my job.” (Amnesty International, 2021). Couple this with the fact that migrant-worker trade unions are illegal and therefore one cannot organize, protest, nor strike against their employers’ hopeless system of control, exploitation, and abuse—migrant workers in Qatar cannot strike for their basic human rights. Workers who refuse to work because of their conditions are threatened with pay deductions, or get handed to the police for deportation without receiving the pay they are owed (Amnesty International, 2022).
These Migrant workers overwhelmingly arrive from poorer countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ghana, and Kenya (Worden, 2022), leave their country behind for years in hopes of providing a better future for their children. As Gianni Infantino once said, “Qatar is offering migrants the opportunity to provide for their families, whereas Europe has closed its borders,” adding elsewhere in the press conference that he would compensate workers and their families who faced abuse and death while building the World Cup stadiums (Goodman & Worden, 2022). However, there is no indication that the legacy fund will go to any of the thousands of families who lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons to Qatar’s brutal working regime. Furthermore, Qatar forbids the press freedom necessary to investigate migrant labour abuses, making it nearly impossible to document and track death and abuse as a result of the World Cup construction (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Qatar has also refused to do autopsies on workers who have died; if officials claim the deaths were “natural causes” then they are not obligated under Qatar’s labour law to compensate the families (Worden, 2022).
Importantly, all of these violations occur against a larger backdrop of intense LGBTQ+ discrimination. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and as recently as this past September, Qatari security forces arrested and abused LGBTQ+ people in detention (Goodman & Worden, 2022). The teams of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland announced that their captains will no longer be wearing armbands in support of LGBTQ rights during the World Cup, since tournament organizer FIFA promised to sanction any players who wear the bands (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Qatar also has a male-guardianship system which shows discrimination and a lack of rights for the women of Qatar as well.
Some of the saddest cases that Human Rights Watch have seen regard families wherein the main breadwinner, a young man, goes to Qatar, takes out a loan to work there, works in debt bondage, gets cheated of wages, does not receive the wages he was promised, and then has his body returned home to his family in a coffin (Goodman & Worden, 2022).
The following is a statement from former Qatar migrant worker, Hari, featured in a “report” by Human Rights Watch: “When I went to Lusail in Qatar, there was nothing. There wasn’t even a single building. Now there are towers everywhere. We built those towers. In the heat, we worked out of compulsion with face covers. We were drenched in sweat. We poured water, sweat, from our shoes. Even in that heat, we worked hard. My son did not recognize me when I first came from Qatar to Nepal…I met my son only five times in the 14 years I was away. I used to cry and feel bad that I had to stay away from children for work” (HRW, 2022).
A following statement from Nanda Kali Nepali, whose husband was one of those deaths: “My husband used to work as a driver. He used to come for two months every two years. This time, only his dead body came, four years after he had last visited Nepal. What would he say? He used to say, “I will work here ’til I can. We have loans we need to repay.” My husband was my source of support. Without him, who do I rely on? I sit and I cry on my own. Whom can I show my tears to?” (HRW, 2022)
Although FIFA regards themselves as “not the police of the world” (Worden, 2022), they were entirely aware of the Kafala system in Qatar along with Qatar’s position on social issues, but none the less granted them the contract while turning a blind eye to the severe human rights abuses, presenting them as a strong ally and friend to the international governing body of FIFA.
A. I. (2021, July 29). Qatar World Cup of Shame. Amnesty International. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/
A. I. (2022, October 20). Reality check: Migrant workers’ rights in QatarA. Amnesty International. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/02/reality-check-migrant-workers-rights-with-two-years-to-qatar-2022-world-cup/
H. R. W. (2022, November 19). Qatar: FIFA World Cup opens without remedy for migrants. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/19/qatar-fifa-world-cup-opens-without-remedy-migrants
H. R. W. (2022, November 21). Qatar: Rights abuses stain FIFA World Cup. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/14/qatar-rights-abuses-stain-fifa-world-cup
Goodman, A., & Worden, M. (2022, November 21). World Cup in Qatar is “deadliest major sporting event” in history, built on a decade of forced labor. Democracy Now! Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.democracynow.org/2022/11/21/fifa_world_cup_qatar_labor_rights
Pattisson, P., & McIntyre, N. (2021, February 23). Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded. The Guardian. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022
Worden, M. (2022, August 23). The World Cup is exciting, lucrative, and deadly. Newsweek. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.newsweek.com/world-cup-exciting-lucrative-deadly-opinion-1735799.
In the twenty-first century, the internet has become a vital method of communication. Most people use it to receive information, socialise and express personal feelings, emotions and/or concerns on an abundance of issues to a wide audience. It is these attributes that create the internet’s enabling nature. The idea that the internet is a place of limitless connections and we, as its users, are limitless by extension, has helped mould it into a cornerstone in popular culture. Ultimately, it has become a very hard thing to live without and yet that is exactly the reality many Iranians will come to face.
The government of Iran has a complicated history with suppressing access to the internet and consequently the freedoms of expression, association and information. From the early 1990s to the mid 2000s Iranians enjoyed free access to the internet without much government intervention or overreach (Alimardani, 2021). It was only until the presidential election of 2009 did the fate of free and unrestricted internet access in Iran change for the worse. After winning re-electron through widely suspected voter fraud the returning President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to crack down on all anti-government, anti-Islamic and reformist/regime change rhetoric being spread across the internet in Iran (Alimardani, 2021). What resulted was a decade of off-and-on again bans and restrictions placed on Western media and internet services such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook (Alimardani, 2021). Since 2009, there seems to have never been a time where Iranians once again enjoyed free and uncensored access to the internet like they had previously. Yet somehow, the situation may have further worsened.
In July 2021, the government of Iran moved forward with a certain piece of troubling legislature. When first made public it had been officially titled by Iranian parliament as the “Cyberspace Users Rights Protection and Regulation of Key Online Services Bill” and was seen by many observers as another effort to further censor and control internet access in Iran (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2021). Concerns over access to the internet, journalism and certain individual freedoms due to this bill were presented to the government but all proved futile. This disturbing bill, roughly half a year later, is now well on its way to being passed into formal and official Iranian law.
As of the time of writing the bill is now called “Regulatory System of Online Services Bill” but is commonly referred to as the “Protection Bill”. Sadly, this new name did not entail a change in structure as the complete nature of the bill is just as terrifying as it was originally predicted to be. Firstly, the bill will prohibit and ban any foriegn internet service that does not maintain physical representation in Iran itself (Article 19, 2021). What this does is essentially block American internet services which cannot have an official presence in Iran due to US sanctions. The bill also encourages Iranians to use locally provided internet services only and criminalises the creation, distribution and usage of VPNs (Article 19, 2021). These two parts of the bill go hand-in-hand. By making VPNs illegal the government is forcing Iranians to strictly use Iran-based services if they want to access the internet. Yet perhaps the most frightening features of the bill are the last two. The government will require Iranians to use their real, legal identity when accessing the internet and most internet infrastructure will be overseen by the Iranian Armed Forces (Article 19, 2021). With online anonymity completely extinguished the public will be forced to censor themselves. This is especially true if they know the army is constantly motoring what they say and do on the internet.
The “Protection Bill” has been condemned by many organisations, namely the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In an official statement published at the beginning of March 2022, the OHCHR denounced the bill. The statement claimed that the “Protection Bill” would isolate Iran from the global internet and cited concerns about the restrictions on the free flow of information in and out of the country the bill would inevitably cause (OHCHR, 2022). Both cases brought up by the statement are of equal legitimate concern yet the bill is still set to pass in mid-March 2022 and the Iranian government is seemingly unheeding to international criticism. The future of the internet and Iran is no doubt in trouble.
The implications of the “Protection Bill” will be detrimental not only to many of the rights and freedoms of Iranians but also the nature of the internet itself. For a while now it has been difficult for Iranians to advocate for change over the internet but this bill will be the final nail in the coffin. By pacifying Iranians internet access the government is actively destroying what the internet is supposed to do. It is ultimately a service intended to connect people and help bring ideas together for further development. Without unrestricted access to the internet none of this is possible. The death of free internet access in Iran is not only a disgusting betrayal of human rights but also an attack on the internet itself.
Alimardani, Masha. “New “Protection” Bill on Internet Freedom.” The Iran Primer. October 14, 2021. Updated February 23, 2022. https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2021/oct/14/internet-freedom-iran-and-new-protection-bill
“Iran’s parliament moves forward with troubling bill to further restrict internet.” Committee to Protect Journalists. November 1, 2021. https://cpj.org/2021/11/iran-parliament-bill-restrict-internet/
“Iran: Parliament’s “Protection Bill” will hand over complete control of the Internet to authorities.” Article 19. August 5, 2021. https://www.article19.org/resources/iran-parliaments-protection-bill-will-hand-over-compl ete-control-of-the-internet-to-authorities/
“UN human rights experts urge Iran to abandon restrictive internet bill.” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. March 1, 2022. https://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=28176&LangI D=E
War is evil. The consequences of war are unequivocally atrocious and unimaginably far-reaching. Monuments are destroyed, families are torn apart, precious human lives are lost. No one escapes war unscathed. Amnesty International does not support war. I, like many others, am fundamentally a pacifist, and abhor war and armed conflict in all cases. Amnesty International does, however, support “freedom from mental and physical violence” as well as “freedom of conscience and expression” (Candlelight U of T). My agreement with this second tenet compels me to present my argument for the armed intervention of NATO in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because I feel that the war in Ukraine will not end until Putin is forced to retreat from Ukrainian land. To this end, I will dispel a common justification for the nonparticipation of NATO troops in the conflict.
I am against the development and continuation of the war in Ukraine. That said, because Putin’s aggression and greed are what caused the invasion to begin, it is impossible to achieve this aim without forcing his retreat from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine is an all-too familiar scene. In an unfortunate turn of events, the only way to stop the war in Ukraine is to briefly escalate tensions by forcibly expelling Russian troops from Ukrainian territory to restore peace in Europe and around the world. This is not Putin’s first foray into Ukrainian sovereign territory. In 2014, he annexed and occupied the Ukrainian region of Crimea. At the time, sanctions were launched by the United States, the European Union, and other international organisations against individuals, businesses and officials from Russia. Despite this, Russia maintained control of this Ukrainian region. It is clear from this example that sanctions, while admirable and useful, are insufficient to deter Vladimir Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine.
When Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine on February 24th 2022, they renewed a brazen attack on the sovereignty of that country, as well as the safety and human rights of its citizens. The European and African unions, individual countries, NATO, as well as the United Nations have all condemned the Russian Federation’s illegal attack on Ukraine in the strictest terms. The Canadian Government called on the Kremlin to suspend “hostile and provocative actions”, terming the attack “egregious” and an example of “unwarranted aggression” (Prime Minister of Canada). There has likewise been an enormous and quasi-unanimous push towards implementing harsh sanctions on the Kremlin and the oligarchs whose interests it is said to privilege. These include penalties in the areas of aviation, trade, energy, private wealth, shipping, media and technology (Reuters). This amounts to an escalation of the tactics employed by the West following the 2014 attack on Ukraine, but it is clear that sanctions alone have not been enough to stem the violence which has been constant since the initial incursion.
When Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine on February 24th 2022, they renewed a brazen attack on the sovereignty of that country, as well as the safety and human rights of its citizens. The European and African unions, individual countries, NATO, as well as the United Nations have all condemned the Russian Federation’s illegal attack on Ukraine in the strictest terms. The Canadian Government called on the Kremlin to suspend “hostile and provocative actions”, terming the attack “egregious” and an example of “unwarranted aggression” (Prime Minister of Canada). There has likewise been an enormous and quasi-unanimous push towards implementing harsh sanctions on the Kremlin and the oligarchs whose interests it is said to privilege. These include penalties in the areas of aviation, trade, energy, private wealth, shipping, media and technology (Reuters). This amounts to an escalation of the tactics employed by the West following the 2014 attack on Ukraine, but it is clear that sanctions alone have not been enough to stem the violence which has been constant since the initial incursion.
Western leaders have implicitly stated that NATO troops will not be sent into Ukraine to oppose Russian forces out of concern for the safety of their countries, and in order to avoid an escalation to the violence. Joe Biden opposed the presence of American troops in Ukraine as that would be “a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another” (CNN). Unfortunately, Ukrainians don’t have the luxury of choosing to stay uninvolved for their safety. 81% of Canadians support the actions which Trudeau and his cabinet have already taken with regard to Russia’s attack on Ukraine (Global News). So far, this includes assistance for Ukrainian refugees, economic sanctions levelled at Russia and Russian oligarchs, and the sending of lethal military equipment to aid Ukraine’s defensive efforts (Government of Canada). Despite this, only 39% of Canadians support the direct involvement of Canadian troops in this conflict, something which is predicated on NATO’s involvement (Global News). Although it cannot be doubted that the above sanctions are effective and important, they have been proven painfully unsuccessful at avoiding war in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are refused military intervention even as they suffer at the hands of the Russian invasion. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians are dead, including many children. In the face of this tragedy, the potential danger posed to our Western nations cannot be enough to dismiss sending military support to Ukraine. If the West refuses to “escalate tensions”, Putin will. And this to the detriment of innocent Ukrainians.
If Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has taught us anything, it is that he will not be placated. If his troops take Kyiv, it will only be a matter of time before he targets Moldova or Poland, or any number of neighbouring nations. Because of this, it is not only unfair of NATO and its allies to refuse to send troops out of a concern for their own sovereignty, it is also illogical. If Putin is allowed to continue his march on Ukraine, it will become a march on Europe. Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia… These are all NATO powers which border on Russia or its ally of Belarus. NATO countries will not be spared violence by allowing Russia’s government to occupy Ukraine. Russia will gain land, resources and momentum, and NATO will still have to defend its member states when Putin decides he is not satisfied with Ukraine, as he was not satisfied with Crimea in 2014.
For these two reasons, it is both unjustifiable and illogical for NATO to refrain from sending troops into Ukraine to repel Russian forces. Doing so is not only callous, when Ukrainians cannot choose safety through non interference, but also useless, because it is clear that Putin will continue to threaten NATO and its allies through his potential revised position as occupier of Ukraine. Therefore, in order to avoid further war and in both Ukraine and neighbouring countries, it is imperative that NATO send troops to the defence of Ukrainian sovereignty. It must be made clear to Putin, and to all other oligarchical and authoritarian regimes, that peace in Europe and around the world is critical to ensuring “freedom from mental and physical violence” as well as “freedom of conscience and expression”, and that those who seek to infringe upon it will not be given the leeway to do so. Though it may seem oxymoronic, the above exposes the escalation of tensions in Ukraine as the swiftest course to peace.
Boynton, Sean. “Canadians Support Actions against Russia over Ukraine, but Have Economic Concerns: Poll – National.” Global News, Global News, 11 Mar. 2022, globalnews.ca/news/8674701/ukraine-russia-canada-ipsos-poll/.
Canada, Global Affairs. “Government of Canada.” GAC, Government of Canada, 10 Mar. 2022, www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internati onales/sanctions/russia-russie.aspx?lang=eng.
“Statement by the Prime Minister on Russia’s Attack on Ukraine.” Prime Minister of Canada, pm.gc.ca/en/news/statements/2022/02/23/statement-prime-minister-russias-att ack-ukraine.
“Tracking Sanctions against Russia.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-CRISIS/SANCTIONS/byvrjenzmve/.
Wolf, Zachary B. “Here’s What Biden Has Said about Sending US Troops to Ukraine.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Feb. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/02/24/politics/us-troops-ukraine-russia-nato/index.html.
The Russo-Ukrainian war is a localized invasion that managed to expose the global human rights violations of refugees from around the world. In the span of the first few days of the attacks, Europe’s acceptance of White Ukrainian refugees and the media’s overtly racist portrayals and discrimination of non-European refugees all quickly played out to show the blatant double standards of Western dealings with the refugee crisis.
Following the third week of the influx of 3 million Ukrainian displaced persons into Europe, the European Union (EU) activated a renewed Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) that aimed for the immediate integration of Ukrainian refugees into other European societies and their protection for the span of one year. The original TPD was initially formed in 2001 to establish the required process for hosting asylum seekers fleeing persecution or conflict. It was renewed March of 2022 to specifically address the needs of Ukrainian citizens. The renewed TPD’s first few articles grant Ukrainians the ability to travel without a visa for 90 days out of a 180 day span as a way to maintain autonomy over their choice of residence, and to spread the burden of hosting refugees across Europe. The directive also provides Ukrainians the right to medical care, employment, education and shelter.
Although the TPD was already well-established during the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, it was not extended to the refugees of these countries. During the influx of Syrian citizens in 2015, European countries did not activate the TPD with the claim that the refugees had not met the required criteria to put the directive into effect. Most Syrians were placed in temporary camps and not given the necessary aid as stipulated by the directive, putting them in a ‘state of limbo.’
In as recent as 2021, European states including Denmark, Turkey and Sweden intensified the pressure put on Syrian refugees to return to their countries, and protection was restrained. A report by Amnesty International identified that those who did return to Syria faced harrowing consequences of torture, rape and disappearance. While military attacks were less frequent, the “Coverage of Ukraine Refugee crisis is ‘racist’” – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor] instability of the region and its ongoing human rights abuses did not cease. European countries, however, declared Syria a safe zone and enforced deportation strategies. The pressure put on Syrians is only made worse with the hostilities held by European citizens who continue to express blatant Islamophobia and nationalism. In Turkey, mob attacks and a public outcry against Syrians pressured the government to deport some of the refugees in 2019. Denmark was one step ahead and decided to not deal with the issue at all by preventing refugees from any form of aid with its self-declared “zero-asylum policy.” It also instituted a “jewelry law” that granted the government the right to seize refugee assets as a way to ‘pay rent’ for their stay. These laws do not extend to Ukrainians.
Poland is another European country exhibiting striking double standards. It has been praised for its open-door policy as it welcomes all Ukrainian refugees and encourages its citizens to be generous hosts. Poland’s humanitarian efforts extend from the community to the federal and military levels who, as borders open up to 1.4 million Ukrainians, offer transportation services, shelter and healthcare upon arrival. Poland’s hypocrisy exposes itself when looking at its past dealings with refugees that are as recent as late 2021. In the fall and winter of 2021, between 2,000 and 4,000 Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees were left stranded between the borders of Poland and Belarus, prevented entry from either country. They were not allowed proper shelter, food, clean water or medicine. 13 people died from hypothermia as temperatures fell to below freezing, and 431 Iraqis were forcefully sent back to Iraq in repatriation flights. In October of 2021, Poland adopted an amendment that denies refugees the right to seek asylum and dismisses further applicants, an illegal violation of international refugee law of which Poland is a signatory.
Even when looking at Ukrainian refugees today, discriminatory practices are still prevalent as Polish generosity is only extended to White Ukrainians. African students recount the segregation process initiated by Polish forces, where students were explicitly given second priority to entry and forms of humanitarian aid, sometimes being charged for it. Their spots on buses and trains were taken to make room for Ukrainians and, upon arrival in Poland, refugees were separated into two lines: one for White Ukrainians, and the other for visible minorities. Visual footage and personal accounts further reveal that physical and verbal abuse was a common tactic used against African, Indian and Arab students upon entry into European countries.
Public portrayals of the Ukrainian crisis only furthers the antagonism, while also revealing the racist criteria of refugee admission and hypocritical nature of European governmental intervention. A popular justification for the conflicting treatments of Ukrainian refugees as opposed to Syrian, Afghani, and Yemeni refugees has been the different proposed levels of civility. Undue judgements are made that accuse non-White refugees of posing a threat to European culture, and sometimes going to the extent of claiming that refugees might be harbouring potential terrorists. While Ukrainians are praised for their armed resistance, Palestinian and South African struggles for freedom are simultaneously condemned and given the label of ‘violent terrorism.’ The strategies taken by governments, corporations and media outlets are also revealing of the double standards they inhibit. Examples include the immediate sanctions imposed on Russia and the promotion of cultural boycotts, two tactics USA and Europe refrained from using against Apartheid South Africa and Israel. Biden’s rash labelling of Putin as “war criminal” – a contradictory term previously avoided until thorough investigation has been conducted – also exposes the politically-motivated and far from righteous double standards when dealing with oppressive regimes.
Political science assistant professor Lamis Abdelaaty points to the astounding immediacy of labelling oncoming Ukrainians as refugees. She draws on the 1951 Refugee Convention that defines the status of a refugee as one that is directly persecuted and unable to return to their country of origin. Contrastingly, while not dismissing the dangerous state of Ukraine, its citizens are fleeing generalized violence rather than persecution. They have the ability and capacity to flee as opposed to other refugees whose treks across the world were arguably as dangerous as their presence in their country of origin. Syrians were not initially given the status of refugees and were subliminally portrayed as migrants, the former being a term to represent temporary asylum seekers in need of aid, while the latter encompassing individuals seeking permanent residence and hence ones who are in competition with the locals for employment and shelter.
The striking double standards presented by the Ukrainian crisis are attributed to two factors: the inherent racism of European states that were built on the exploitation of the Global South, and the political motivations of USA and Europe that jump at the chance of delegitimizing Russia. However, such motivations are not credible enough to justify the continued racist treatment of non-European asylum seekers. Afghans and Iraqis, who are in the situation they currently are in due to US and Western interference, and Syrians and Yemenis, are still victims of persecution in their origin countries and should thus be extended the protection of Europe’s TPD. The same goes for non-European asylum seekers from Ukraine, who are fleeing from the same threats as European Ukrainians.
The most important action we can take as individuals is to dismantle our societies’ inherently racist structures that exhibit themselves most vividly during times of crisis and to call out the institutions and individuals who harbour such hostilities. Humanitarian efforts supporting victims of malicious war crimes and racist refugee policy must be endorsed so they can continue to help refugees who face physical and psychological trauma in both their home countries and European countries alike.
Solidarity is an action that must be equally extended to all victims of oppression and its selective use is a facade calling for deconstruction. If you stand in solidarity with Ukrainians, you must extend the same empathy to African-Ukrainians, Indian-Ukrainians, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, Palestinians, Indigenous communities, Sahrawis, the Rohingya, Uyghur and every other oppressed group around the world that you have the power of supporting.
‘European Union Council directive 2001/55/EC establishing the existence of a mass influx of displaced persons from Ukraine’ (2022) Official Journal of the European Union L 71
Micinski, N.R. (2022). The E.U. granted Ukrainian refugees temporary protection. Why the different response from past migrant crises? The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/16/eu-granted-ukrainian-refugees-temporary-protection-why-different-response-past-migrantcrises/
‘European Union Council directive 2001/55/EC establishing the existence of a mass influx of displaced persons from Ukraine’ (2022) Official Journal of the European Union L 71 p. 2
Micinski, N.R. (2022). The E.U. granted Ukrainian refugees temporary protection. Why the different response from past migrant crises? The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/16/eu-granted-ukrainian-refugees-temporary-protection-why-different-response-past-migrantcrises/
Petillo, K. (2022). Stuck in limbo: How Europe can protect Syrian refugees. European Council on Foreign Relations. https://ecfr.eu/article/stuck-in-limbo-how-europe-can-protect-syrian-refugees/
Amnesty International. (2021). Syria: Former refugees tortured, raped, disappeared after returning home. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/09/syria-former-refugees-torturedraped-disappeared-after-returning-home/
Ozduzen, O., Korkut, U., & Ozduzen, C. (2021). ‘Refugees are not welcome’: Digital racism, online place-making and the evolving categorization of Syrians in Turkey. New Media & Society, 23(11), 3349–3369. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820956341
Hardman, N. (2022). Denmark’s Mismatched Treatment of Syrian and Ukrainian Refugees: Government Should Treat All Refugees Equally. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/16/denmarks-mismatched-treatment-syrian-and-ukrainian-refugees
Rosenzweig-Ziff, D., Rauhala, E., Bearak, M. (2022). As trains of Ukrainian refugees arrive in Berlin, E.U. offers warm but ‘temporary’ welcome. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/02/ukraine-refugees-berlin-temporary-protection/
International Rescue Committee. (2022). What is happening at the Belarus-Poland border? International Rescue Committee. https://www.rescue.org/article/what-happening-belarus-poland-border
Rosenzweig-Ziff, D., Rauhala, E., Bearak, M. (2022). As trains of Ukrainian refugees arrive in Berlin, E.U. offers warm but ‘temporary’ welcome. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/02/ukraine-refugees-berlin-temporary-protection/
CBS News. (2022). Black Ukraine refugees allege discrimination while trying to escape Russian invasion. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/black-ukraine-refugees-racism-discriminationrussian-invasion/
Dias, I. (2022). Ukrainian Refugees Are Being Embraced by Europe. Why Weren’t Syrians? MotherJones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/03/ukrainian-refugees-are-being-embraced-byeurope-why-werent-syrians/
The Associated Press. (2022). Europe’s different approach to Ukrainian and Syrian refugees draws accusations of racism. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/europe-racism-ukraine-refugees-1.6367932
Al Jazeera Staff. (2022). ‘Double standards’: Western coverage of Ukraine war criticised. AlJazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/27/western-media-coverage-ukraine-russia-invasion-criticism
Dias, I. (2022). Ukrainian Refugees Are Being Embraced by Europe. Why Weren’t Syrians? MotherJones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/03/ukrainian-refugees-are-being-embraced-byeurope-why-werent-syrians/
Munayyer, Y. (2022). On Watching Ukraine Through Palestinian Eyes. The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/world/ukraine-palestine-occupation/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%204.03.2022&utm_term=daily
Long, C., Corder, M., & Tucker, E. (2022). EXPLAINER: Who’s a war criminal, and who gets to decide? AP News. https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-biden-united-nations-jenpsaki-40e21508055f7ff65424afe2d8e406d8
GA Res 2198 (XXI), UNHCR, UN (28 July 1951) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Dias, I. (2022). Ukrainian Refugees Are Being Embraced by Europe. Why Weren’t Syrians? MotherJones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/03/ukrainian-refugees-are-being-embraced-byeurope-why-werent-syrians/
The 1906 Constitution of Iran would only age seventy three years before the theocracy resulting from the Islamic revolution would replace it in December of 1979. The new collection of laws took influence from Islamic principles and concepts. At first glance, with the exception of the inclusion of religious ideas within a number of articles, the Constitution reads as any other. However, it is not what’s written down that matters, rather whether it is put into practice; whether reality is congruent with legislation.
Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerns itself with the “Rights of the People.(Constitute Project, 2021)” Article 27, specifically, states that, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam. (Constitute Project, 2021)” In short, peaceful demonstrations are permitted.
Despite this law having been in the constitution, untouched, since 1979, the Iranian regime is notorious for shutting down any form of protest, no matter how peaceful. The demonstrations of November of 2019 are a recent and tragic example.
Years of government mismanagement and corruption led to an almost 300% increase in the price of fuel; a natural resource that was supposed to have been nationalised, but never was (United States of Peace, 2021). Despite people being aware of the government’s brutally intolerant reactions to any form of opposition, the people of Iran courageously took to the streets in peaceful protest on the 15th of November (United States of Peace, 2021).. Unarmed civilians were met with riot police, tear gas, and live bullets (United States of Peace, 2021). Personal acquaintances of deceased protesters asserted that their companions died of gunshots to the head and/or to the chest (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Later, the testimony of a former security officer would assert that orders from the office of the Supreme Leader authorised the firing of bullets directly at people (Iran International, 2022). On the 16th of November, the government enacted an internet blackout, effectively cutting off the country from the international community (Human Rights Watch, 2020). This was detrimental given the fact that local news outlets are heavily censored. Social media was the primary form of communication between the average Iranian and the outside world and, for those who were unable to protest physically, it was a means of using their voice to accumulate attention from international media and other groups.
By the end of the protests, hundreds were killed, thousands were injured, and at least seven thousand people were arrested (many of whom had sustained severe wounds) (Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2020). The specific numbers are a subject of controversy as the regime, unsurprisingly, threatened many of the victims’ families to silence. Furthermore, they were forbidden from holding funerals or hosting memorial services This attempt to supress the truth becomes increasingly abhorrent when we consider the fact that many of the victims’ families were already underprivileged, scilicet, low-income and working-class (Fassihi and Gladstone, 2019). Such systematic repression in response to a public gathering where arms were not carried (by anyone other than the IRGC and other such security forces) and the subject matter was not in any way “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam,” is emblematic of the regime’s efforts to subjugate the Iranian people and prevent them from seeking justice, reform, or even just closure for their loss. The “Rights of the People,” as outlined in the regime’s very own constitution have never and still do not translate into reality.
There are myriad other examples of protests that ended in public devastation including (but not limited to): the Student Protests of 1999, the 2009 Green Movement, and the 2017 Economic Protests (United States of Peace, 2021). All started peacefully, all ended in spilt blood and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Detainees have since been subject to torture, and in some cases, execution. Furthermore, their families have been routinely threatened and gaslighted. Violence from the theocracy is not unprecedented, but that is not an excuse to overlook these atrocities.
Every human should have the right to speak freely, especially with regards to their fundamental needs. The people of Iran have been deprived of this right for decades. They have, and continue to suffer under a regime that cannot even uphold the laws that they, themselves, wrote. It is the responsibility of the international community and human rights organisations to hold the Iranian government accountable for their infringement of human rights. Formal investigations into these crimes should not simply be ideas that are forgotten as soon as they are suggested, rather they should be seriously followed through. The regime has been a source of trauma and agony, not only for the people living on Iranian soil but also the millions of Iranians scattered across the globe. Their continuing presence in a position of authority is detrimental to both the victims of their obscenity and those who must witness it.
Constitute Project. “Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 1989.” Constitute Project, 26 Aug. 2021.
Fassihi, Farnaz, and Rick Gladstone. “With Brutal Crackdown, Iran Is Convulsed by Worst Unrest in 40 Years.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/world/middleeast/iran-protests-deaths.html.
Human Righs Watch. “Iran: No Justice for Bloody 2019 Crackdown.” Iran: No Justice for Bloody 2019 Crackdown, 17 Nov. 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/17/iran-no-justice-bloody-2019-crackdown.
Iran International. “IRGC Officer Says 850 Killed in Two Iranian Provinces Alone in 2019 Protests.” Iran International, Iran International, 6 Feb. 2022, https://www.iranintl.com/en/202202065630.
Ministry of Immigration and Integration. “Iran November 2019 Protests.” The Danish Immigration Service, 2020.
United States Institute of Peace. “Fact Sheet: Protests in Iran (1979-2020).” The Iran Primer, 21 Jan. 2021, https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2019/dec/05/fact-sheet-protests-iran-1999-2019-0.
In the United States’ latest revision on placing legal restrictions for women’s access to safe reproductive care, the Florida State Legislature voted to ban abortions for women after 15 weeks. This latest law is following a similar law passed in Mississippi which will go to the Supreme Court sometime this summer. Florida had been a haven for women seeking abortions throughout the south, so this ruling poses a threat to millions of women seeking safe healthcare. Access to safe abortions is a human right and despite the religious rationale given by conservative politicians, the reality is that abortions happen. Though sanitary and safe abortions with legal oversight are the ones restricted, illegal and horrific procedures that are a danger to women seeking them will continue.
The reality is that women who seek abortions, often who fall into younger age groups with comparatively less disposable income relative to their peers, are likely to seek protect their future and fear of the situation a baby would be born into. This results in many cases where women seek abortions whether they are legal or not. The New York Times published data on the abortions sought in Texas following a new restrictive law on abortions in that state. This data found that though the number of abortions shrunk, its impact was severely restricted by women seeking abortion pills and out-of-state legal abortions. In total, the New York Times estimates that abortions fell by about 10%.
The reality is that these laws don’t stop abortions, yet they endanger women and harm marginalized and lower income communities the most. Women who can afford to travel to another state, take time off from work, and pay for child care and/or transportation will continue to have safe and legal abortions. Yet, women who don’t have the ability to do so will be faced with a horrifying reality. Some effects include women carrying to term a fetus when they are not emotionally or physically prepared for or seeking a dangerous, painful, and horrifying illegal procedure. The Guttmacher Institute reports that in 1965, illegal abortions accounted for close to 200 deaths and 17% of pregnancy-related deaths.
The laws being introduced in Florida, Mississippi, and many others are ineffective in stopping abortions, and will result in horrifying deaths as well as traumatizing and unwanted pregnancies that are easily avoidable. These restrictions will further burden the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of our society.
Gold, Rachel Benson. “Lessons from before Roe: Will Past Be Prologue?” Guttmacher Institute, 14 Sept. 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue. 2. Mazzei, Patricia, and Alexandra Glorioso. “Florida Lawmakers Vote to Ban Abortions after 15 Weeks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Mar. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/03/us/florida-abortion-ban.html?searchResultPosition=4. 3. Sanger-katz, Margot, et al. “Most Women Denied Abortions by Texas Law Got Them Another Way.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/06/upshot/texas-abortion-women-data.html
In January of 2019, former U.S. President, Donald Trump, and his administration, enacted the “Remain in Mexico” policy (MPP) (Abdalla, 2022). Since then, this program has become a contentious issue, making up a key tenant in Joe Biden’s 2020 election campaign (Abdalla, 2022). Shortly after President Biden’s inauguration, he ceased accepting new enrollments in this program, and finalized the eradication of MPP in June of 2021 (Abdalla, 2022). While fulfilling his promises, two states, Texas and Missouri contested the removal in court, and won, the program being reinstated in August (Abdalla, 2022). While Biden has since asked the Supreme Court to overrule this decision, and will begin doing so in April of 2022, the program continues (Abdalla, 2022).
Former president, Donald Trump, made much of campaign and tenure, on the premise of anti-migration and xenophobic sentiments (Abdalla, 2022). The MPP program is in consequences of these discriminatory ideologies, looking to end “frivolous” asylum-claims (Abdalla, 2022)). This program mandates the removal of any arriving migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border, forcing them to, much like its namesake, remain in Mexico (Human Rights Watch, 2022). These migrants must stay in Mexico while their claims are heard in court, processed, and ultimately until the decision has been made to grant or deny them entry into the U.S. (Abdalla, 2022).
Since its establishment in 2019, this program has come under heavy criticism for the dangerous conditions and violence asylum seekers are subjected to as a result (Abdalla, 2022; Human Rights Watch, 2022). It is estimated that over 71,000 migrants have been a part of this program in its duration, including children, and people with disabilities and chronic health issues (Human Rights Watch, 2022). Subsequently, many of these asylum seekers have reported to be at risk of and experienced violence, including rape, extortion, kidnapping, and murder (Abdalla, 2022). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this number reached upwards of 1,500 as of February 2021 (Human Rights Watch, 2022). Many of these migrants have also reported a lack of access to basic services, such as health care (Human Rights Watch, 2022). In addition to these grave violations of human rights, these asylum seekers have also been forced to to wait months, and even years to have their claims heard in court (Abdalla, 2022). This program is evidently a violation of human rights law, international law, and migration law, and yet it continues.
Since courts in Missouri and Texas ruled in favour of reinstating the program last year, Biden and his administration has made strides to make the process safer for asylum-seekers (Abdalla, 2022). Including providing interviews to evaluate the threat of returning to Mexico, determining whether these asylum seekers are well-founded in their fear, and thus not safe to return to Mexico (Abdalla, 2022). In addition to making access to lawyers readily available, and mandating that case decisions be made within 180 days (Abdalla, 2022). While these changes may be a step towards protecting more migrants, they are also largely symbolic. Migrants and asylum seekers alike continue to have their rights violated, and those who are forced back to Mexico, remain in danger.
This programs, and others like it, such as Title 42, a policy restricting asylum-claims during Covid-19, are evidence of the United States’ failing immigration laws, and xenophobic foundations (Human Rights Watch, 2022; Montoya-Galvez, 2022). It has been, according to HRW (2022), fundamental to Donald Trump’s efforts to destroy the asylum-system in the U.S., and to the exacerbation of the inadequacies of the current system. Ultimately, creating an institution that is deleterious to immigrants, and in contradiction to many laws. Sparking investigations into this program, and others like it; court challenges, and appeals to previously made legislative decisions by human rights groups, and others (Human Rights Watch, 2022).
In February of 2022, the Supreme Court answered calls-to-action by many of these organizations, deciding to rule on the ultimate fate of the MPP program (Montoya-Galvez, 2022). Arguments will begin in April of this year, against the court decisions to restore the policy (Montoya-Galvez, 2022). This case is a part of many other’s taken out by the Biden administration to fight the numerous blocks the Texan government has made to President Biden’s immigration policies (Montoya-Galvez, 2022). While there is hope that the Supreme Court will overturn the smaller court’s decisions, effectively ending the MPP’s reign, it does not end the atrocious conditions migrants experience when attempting to enter the United States. The high-levels of migrant apprehensions, and later detainments, in conjunction with other discriminatory policies, such as the aforementioned Title 42, continue to contribute to the deplorable circumstances surrounding migration (Montoya-Galvez, 2022).
Abdalla, J. (2022, January 7). ‘Remain in Mexico 2.0’: How did the Trump-era policy get revived? Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/7/remain-in-mexico-how-did-a-trump-era-pol icy-get-revived 2. Human Rights Watch. (2022, February 7). ‘Remain in Mexico’: Overview and Resources. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/07/remain-mexico-overview-and-resources 3. Montoya-Galvez, C. (2022, February 19). Supreme Court agrees to weigh in on legal fight over the ‘Remain in Mexico’ border policy . CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/immigration-supreme-court-remain-in-mexico-border -policy/
As the Winter 2022 Olympic Games come to a close, the questions of its morality still persist. Located in Beijing, China, this year’s Olympics came under immense criticism throughout the media due to the numerous human’s rights abuses occurring in the country. Despite the high levels of surveillance throughout the country, restrictions in freedom of speec, and the persecution, detainment, and torture of Uyghur Muslims and other ethinic groups, the Games continued (Lamney 2022; Wharton, 2022). Many human rights organizations challenged the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) choice to hold the event even in the country, as it has been recognized that China’s behaviours are paramount to extreme human rights abuses, and the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims akin to genocide (Lamney, 2022). Calling into consideration the ethics of the Olympics.
Unfortunately, the criticisms are not new, similar ones were raised prior to 2008 Summer Games in Beijing (Lamney, 2022). Many hoped these Games would prove to be beneficial for China, encouraging them to better-position themselves in the world, as well as improve their human rights (Lamney, 2022). Yet, these optimisms proved futile, while China has grown influentially in the last decade, its ill-treatments of its citizens have become more dire (Lamney, 2022).
Over the past decade, the world has seen China evolve into an authoritarian state, its population under constant surveillance, and facing harsh punishments for speaking out against the regime (Lamney, 2022). In 2017, numerous reports came forth, detailing the experience of Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic minorities, experiences in China’s Xinjiang “re-education” camps (Amnesty International, 2022). Including arbitrary imprisonment, torture, forced labour, forced sterilization and abortions, and the suppression of Islam (Amnesty International, 2021). Under the guise of quelling extremism, the Chinese Government has gone to extraordinary lengths to mask the true nature of these camps (Amnesty International, 2021). Since then, numerous human right’s organizations, and governments alike have called out China’s deplorable violations, such as Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch
When it was confirmed, in the spring of 2021, that the Winter Olympics will indeed be held in Beijing, it sparked a wave of denouncements on the international stage. While many columnists drew attention to the rights abuses, and the boycotts government officials, like President Biden, have made, few called out what this piece will argue should have happened: a complete boycott while the Games remained in China (Wharton, 2022).
A key point being made in many articles is that a total boycott of the Olympics would be harmful, taking away chances the athletes have worked their whole lives for (Lamney, 2022; Wharton, 2022). While it is difficult to not sympathize with this viewpoint, and the athletes potential loss, it is, in my opinion, inappropriate to dismiss the situation in China for this reason. Yes, athletes work hard, devote their lives, and give up a lot for their sport, but people in China are being persecuted for their religion, tortured for basic beliefs, and imprisoned for speaking out against these injustices (Amnesty International, 2021). The stage may be the largest in the world, the exposure and competition like no other for the athletes, but that is not justification for complicity in this treatment. Like many human rights organizations, this excusal of China’s violations is akin to sports-washing (Regencia, 2022). That being, “the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using a major or prestigious international sport to improve its reputation, through hosting a sporting event, the purchase or sponsorship of sporting teams, or by participation in the sport itself’ (Wikipedia). Much like the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing, this event, and the attendance of it, not only ignores the human rights abuses, but provides China with a stage to boost its reception (Lamney, 2022; Regelcia, 2022). Despite the devastation it would be for athletes to miss-out on the Olympics, it is what should have been done, if not to call out China’s atrocious behaviours, then to not excuse them, or grant an opportunity to disguise them.
The IOC, and some athletes alike, took this excuse one step further, calling the Olympics a space free from politics, which is instead focused on unity (Lamney, 2022; Wharton, 2022). While the claim itself is not only preposterous, it is also historically and contemporarily inaccurate. The Olympics has long been used as international stage for politics, from the 1936 Games in Germany during the Nazi regime, to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists during the American anthem in the 1968 Mexico City Games (Lamney, 2022; Wharton, 2022). It too has been contended that the continued existence of the Olympics itself rests in politics, those in which are quite troublesome (Wharton, 2022). This year’s Olympics, and the decision to hold them in China, is claimed to be one in which stems from China’s monetary status as an authoritarian state (Wharton, 2022). Unlike other democratic countries, China does not have to ask and get permission for spending large amounts on the Olympics, rather its state has full discretion over its spending (Wharton, 2022). Because of this, many have speculated that in the near future, we will begin to see a pattern of the IOC choosing authoritarian states for their hosts, in order to avoid obstacles and conflicts in planning and hosting the Games (Wharton, 2022). Thus, while the IOC contends the Olympics to be a space free from politics, it is entrenched in them, and nothing to ignore. These are not the Games of unity, but rather those of division, placing the athletes’ and viewers’ importance above those suffering grave rights violations in China.
The Olympics have long been an enjoyable event for many people, supporting your country’s athletes, and watching the best of the best. Yet, this year’s Games have posed a difficult situation for many, between rooting for their country, and acknowledging the egregious human rights violations occurring in China. While it is hard not to see the validity of the athletes’ attendance at this year’s Olympics, especially when appealing to emotions, it is nonetheless a Games entrenched in ethics. In my opinion, this year’s Olympics were unethical, dismissive, and unfortunately communicative of a disastrous message. That being, it is okay to put aside China’s atrocious behaviours, and allow them to mask such, in order to continue the event, its profits, and ultimately its blissfully ignorant enjoyability on an international stage.
Amnesty International. (2022, January 11). China: Draconian repression of Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to crimes against humanity. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/china-draconian-repression-of-musli ms-in-xinjiang-amounts-to-crimes-against-humanity/
Lamney , D. (2022, February 6). We can’t let China use the Olympics to mask genocide and human rights abuses . The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/06/we-cant-let-china-use-olym pics-mask-genocide-human-rights-abuses
Regencia, T. (2022, February 3). Chinese exiles: Boycott winter olympics over Uighur ‘genocide’. Winter Olympics News. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/2/chinese-exiles-boycott-beijing-olympics-ov er-uyghur-genocide Wikipedia (n.d.). Sportswashing. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sportswashing
Wharton , D. (2022, February 1). The ‘feel guilty games’?: China’s human rights issues have forever marked the Beijing Olympics. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/story/2022-02-01/feel-guilty-games-beijingwinter-olympics
Turkey’s decision to ignore the Council of Europe’s deadline to release Turkish activist and businessperson Osman Kavala has come as no surprise. Assaults on human rights and the rule of law have been commonplace in the last few years, particularly since the attempted 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In fact, Kavala was indicted due to his alleged role in the July 2016 attempted coup, hours after being acquitted for “attempting to overthrow the government by force and violence” in connection with the 2013 mass protests which began in Gezi Park (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Kavala was accused of financing the Gezi Park protests, attempting to overthrow the government by helping orchestrate the 2016 coup, and espionage. He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without parole. After a hearing on January 17, 2022, a Turkish court ruled that Kavala should stay in prison, despite his more than four years in pre-trial detention (ABC News, 2022).
The European Court judgment in Kavala v. Turkey (Application no. 28749/18) found violations of the following provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights: Article 5(1) (right to liberty and security), Article 5(4) (right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention), and the rarely used Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken together with Article 5(1). The Court continues to demand the Turkish government to release Kavala. Any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations and breach the obligation to abide by the judgment in accordance with Article 46(1) of the Convention. The Court said that by detaining Kavala, the Turkish authorities have “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as human rights defender” (International Commission of Jurists, 2020).
Osman Kavala’s History of Activism
In 2002, Kavala founded the civil society organization Anadolu Kültür. It works towards developing collaborations among artists, cultural workers, and NGOs from Turkey and its neighbours, as well as other countries. The organization also supports youth social involvement, and implements projects to strengthen Turkey’s relations with Armenia. It has also published works relating to the history of the Armenian Genocide and the Syrian refugee crisis (Anadolu Kültür).
Internationally, Canada has a spotless reputation. It is a clean, developed, technologically advanced country with a plethora of natural resources. In addition, the people are known for their kindness and exemplary treatment of others. In fact, to foreigners, “Canada is bathed in a glow as rosy as the leaf upon its flag.” (How Canada is Perceived Around the World, CBC, §3). The city of Toronto represents the crowning jewel of Canadian urbanism for many. It merges sophistication, excitement, opportunity and wonder, all while boasting the title of “most multicultural city in the world.” (Toronto: the City of 140 Languages, BBC). For these reasons, it might give the uninformed observer whiplash to consider the underlying failures of this fabled city to protect its most vulnerable. On a daily basis, commuting along Toronto’s major arterial roads will expose the commuter to countless unhoused individuals. It is enough to shatter any unqualified and false illusion of the city and, by extension, the country as a whole and its citizens. On average, 8,700 Torontonians are experiencing homelessness on any given day. This means that for every 10,000 people in Toronto, approximately 30 are homeless (About Toronto Homelessness, Homes First). And yet, the city maintains only 6,800 beds for those experiencing homelessness, many of which are only 24-hour respite beds (City of Toronto). How can good PR mask such glaring negligence of our most at risk? When brutal Canadian nights are spent in outdoor parks and on street corners, babies and seniors alike feel hunger gnawing at their insides. More than 100 unhoused people died in Toronto in 2021 alone (CBC). How do we muster the audacity to present such a falsely noble image to the world?
From this example come the following questions: where has this delusion come from? Who is perpetuating it? What are the consequences of its continued existence and success?
Unfortunately, in the midst of tragedy, the overwhelming response often consists of disguising the issue. For example, in the case of homelessness in Toronto, funds and efforts are lent to make transit shelters and subway stations inaccessible to those in need of shelter. Iron bars are placed on park benches to avoid the unseemly sight of someone hopeless to get some rest. Unnecessary architecture, like the pop-up restaurant that evicted dozens of unhoused individuals in 2019, misuse resources that could be allocated to the care of these people. These changes do nothing to solve the underlying issues which cause homelessness (The Problem with Literally Dining in A Bubble, Toronto Star). Toronto is not alone in this hypocrisy, perpetuating an aura of wholesome trustworthiness while simultaneously declining to meet the needs of the people. Many are those jurisdictions that enjoy a glamorous appearance in the sight of the world, all while perpetuating injustices on their people. Failure to clothe, feed and house all those who are in need is among humanity’s greatest failures. Who can we rely on if we cannot rely on each other?
The above is a concrete example of this frightening phenomenon. If it a surface level slight -if the material reality of millions was not affected by this farce – it would be unreasonable of me to condemn it so harshly. After all, who has not attempted to show their best face to the world? Who does not shy away from their faults? As it stands, however, the failure to recognize this issue will prevent the full provision for the survival and thriving of individuals both locally and worldwide. Thus, we would be irresponsible to denounce it in any but the clearest terms. How can we respect the humanity of each person 一 including “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (UDHR) 一 if we do not acknowledge that it is not indeed being respected? To amputate the roots of inequality and suffering in society, we must cease to be dazzled by the blooms of good manners and good PR. This article aims to sweep aside these distractions and reveal our dangerous attitudes towards injustice and inequality. As long as an ounce of humanity’s energy is spent masking our equals’ suffering, rather than working towards the alleviation of their suffering, we will fail to enact lasting change.
Our greatest strength as humans lies in our ability to collaborate and pool our resources. Conversely, our greatest weakness is our propensity towards factionalism and discord. That said, two things can be gleaned from this: first, we will be unable to act ethically and care for all of humanity if we do not overcome the delusion that we are already doing so. Second, if we do not overcome this misapprehension and work together to provide equality, all will be weakened. Even those who do not suffer acutely from inequality will not fail to suffer from the failure to address it. These are the stakes we are operating under. We cannot afford to hide from our mistakes any longer.
“About Toronto Homelessness.” Homes First, 9 Feb. 2021,
homesfirst.on.ca/about-toronto-homelessness/#:~:text=There are approximately 8,700 people,wait list for supportive housing.
City of Toronto. “City of Toronto 2021/22 Winter Plan Adds Additional Shelter Spaces, Affordable Homes and Enhanced Street Outreach for People Experiencing Homelessness.” City of Toronto, 22 Oct. 2021,
www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-2021-22-winter-plan-adds-additional-shelt er-spaces-affordable-homes-and-enhanced-street-outreach-for-people-experie ncing-homelessness/#:~:text=From April 2020 to September,within the Toronto Community Housing.
Drolet, Gabrielle. “The Problem with Literally Dining in a Bubble.” Thestar.com, 8 Apr. 2019,
“Ever Wonder Why You Can’t Lie down on Most City Benches? It’s Thanks to ‘Defensive Design’ | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 2 July 2019, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/how-defensive-design-leads-to-rigid-benches -metal-spikes-and-visual-violence-in-modern-cities-1.5192333.
“More than 100 Unhoused People Died in Toronto This Year. Some Say the Shelter System Is ‘Crumbling Quickly’ | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 30 Dec. 2021,
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/homeless-deaths-toronto-2021-1.6300513. “Toronto: the City of 140 Languages.” BBC Travel, BBC,
As Kazakhstan made its way into the new year, the Central Asian country was gripped by intense civil unrest. The rage and anger emitted from the people of Kazakhstan erupted into a violent explosion seemingly overnight, but, in reality, this chaos has far deeper roots. For a long time now, Kazakhstanis have been in great discontent with their government and leaders. With limited room for democracy and transparency, Kazakhstan, a former member of the Soviet Union, seems to have been placed in a strange gray zone. It exists in a post-Soviet era but does not share much of the change and reform that other ex-Soviet states enjoy. Now the floodgates which held in the people’s collective resentment seem to have flung wide open, and the culprit is the most common thing in the country: oil.
Kazakhstan has an abundance of oil. According to Reuters, the country has recently produced 1.6 million barrels of oil per day (Bousso and Edwards, 2022). Such a vast tap into this highly coveted resource has helped keep fuel prices relatively low for Kazakhstanis. These affordable prices extend to include a certain type of fuel called liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, which many in the country use for transportation (BBC, 2022). However, as the new year approached, the price of LPG spiked upwards to an uncomfortable level for the majority of Kazakhstanis. In outrage, citizens in the western end of the country headed to the streets in protest even though unauthorized gatherings and demonstrations are illegal in Kazakhstan (BBC, 2022). As the demonstrations continued and spread with more people joining in all over the country, it soon became clear that this was not only about LPG prices.
The lack of democratic rights and freedoms in Kazakhstan has been deemed the true source of the movement. What started as a wave of anger over sharply rising fuel prices has evolved into a much more encompassing demonstration. A brief background in Kazakhstani political history in the post-Soviet era is necessary to fully understand why this is the case.
Since its independence from the Soviet Union until 2019, Kazakhstan has been openly ruled by one man – Nursultan Nazarbayev (Walker, 2022). Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019, giving way to the new and current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. It is strongly believed that Nazarbayev still controls Kazakhstan, with Tokayev acting as a mere political puppet. This assertion is supported by the fact that Tokayev comes from Nazarbayev’s party, the Nur Otan party, and was personally hand-picked by the former president himself (Putz, 2021). Therefore, Kazakhstan is still under the control of the same man. What all of this means is that this Central Asian nation has remained politically stagnant for thirty years straight.
Those years in question were not specifically prosperous for anyone but the select few individuals in power. The Nur Otan party has been routinely connected to corruption, suppression of the press, a lack of transparency and other autocratic tendencies. The government under Nazarbayev has afforded its citizens very little in the way of rights and freedoms. This oppressive way Kazakhstan treats its citizens has built strong resentment towards the Nur Otan party and government. This irritation had seemed to finally hit a breaking point at the beginning of January. For the people of Kazakhstan, it is no longer about fuel prices. It is about their treatment over the last thirty years.
Unfortunately, due to government-issued internet blackouts, the details revolving around the Kazakhstan protests, as they were happening, are inconsistent (Kirby, 2022). However, we can be sure that the clash between civilians and law enforcement resulted in the government’s brutal measures to cease the protests. As the protests spread over the country, they began to get into violent contact with police and other authorities. According to the Almaty – the biggest city in Kazakhstan – police force, dozens of protesters were killed, and hundreds were arrested during the days the protests and riots gripped the city (Regan, 2022). It is a similar pattern in other large cities throughout the country. Rioting, vandalism and looting became a common feature as the protests devolved into mindless violence between police and civilians.
Even as the government, barring President Tokayev, resigned, the protest and violence continued. The president eventually denounced the protesters as “terrorist bands” and called upon Kazakstan’s allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to dispatch peace-keeping forces (Thomson Reuters, 2022). The CSTO is an alliance of ex-Soviet states, including Russia, to help its members maintain order in their own respective countries. The alliance had dispatched 2,500 troops, most of whom were Russian (BBC, 2022). With the military and law enforcement beginning to take back control in Kazakhstan cities, the protests and riots began to lose momentum.
The violence in Kazakhstan has been destructive to the Kazakhstani state and the average civilian businesses and families that were ruined in the chaos. As the dust from these events settled, Kazakhstan has found itself polarized and shaken. No one can say for certain what will happen next, but there is an obvious path forward – that being peaceful reform to the country. With its abundance of natural resources, Kazakhstan can improve the lives of all its citizens but instead chooses to make the very few and powerful richer. The injustices that have been served to the citizens of Kazakhstan for more than thirty years must end. The people of this Central Asian nation should be able to choose their future and not live under one predetermined by one man. The citizens of Kazakhstan deserve better and should not have to choose between living in a state of tyranny or one of turmoil.
Bousso, Ron and Rowena Edwards. “Key Kazahk oilfield hit by protests.” Reuters. January 6, 2022.
Woven into the fabric of French politics are values of liberty, and republicanism, which most palpably manifests through France’s practice of “laïcite,” or secularism. A product of French philosophy and history, “laïcité” was signed into law in 1905, advocating for the separation of church and state (Villeminot, 2016). From its inception, laïcite required attitudes of neutrality in terms of faith, ensuring everyone’s freedom to practice their religion (Villeminot, 2016). However, French secularism is evolving to be understood as one that attacks the freedom of religion instead of protecting it. The value of laïcite is rapidly associated with Islamophobic sentiment, as legislation passed in the name of secularism applies more evidently to Muslims.
The 2004 ban of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools and public offices means banning a visible cross and Christian veil, the Islamic hijab and burqa, the Jewish Kippah, and the Sikh Turban. In 2022, a bill was passed extending this law to prohibit the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols” by participants in sports events organized by “federations and affiliated associations” (Upadhya, 2022). The law further states that rules for using public swimming pools or artificial bathing areas must respect the neutrality and secularism of public services (Upadhya, 2022). Despite the absence of mentioning the hijab, or the burkini (modest full-body covering swimsuit worn by Muslim women), it is fairly evident that the law was targeted toward these two pieces of religious attire. Is it Islamophobic? Or is it because the hijab is truly too conspicuous of a religious symbol?
Islamophobia can be understood as the dislike of, or prejudice against, Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force (Oxford Languages). Accordingly, why is laïcite, and Islamophobia conflated as associated values within the context of France? The legislation regarding the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols in official settings is used to target religious visibility. This implies that to be true to your religious beliefs while identifying as French, you must be an invisible Muslim, Sikh, and perhaps, an invisible Christian. There is hesitation as to whether laïcite is fairly enforced, with two binaries being made out, Christianity being on one end of the spectrum and Islam on the other. Given France’s previous association with the Church, cracking down on Christian conspicuous religious symbols seems to be less of a priority than those of an Islamic nature. Iman Abdelali Mamoun expresses, “how is it that in France the [Church] bells ring each hour to demonstrate a Christian presence, and yet Muslims don’t have the right to express their religious conviction [Athan- Islamic call to prayer]? So, let us be thoroughly discrete and stop all these [Church] bells”. The double standard, although somewhat subtle, exists. Therefore, is legislation in the name of laïcite is passed in the name of Islamophobia or not.
President Macron explains that legislation specific to the Islamic faith and in the name of laïcite is passed with a logical reason. Macron asserts that due to his belief that republican values such as free-thinking and free speech are under threat due to “Islamic terrorism,” he believes that “Islam is a religion in crisis.” Granted, terrorism in the name of Islam has been an ongoing global issue that remains contentious. Attacks in France, made by fundamental Islamic groups, were incontestably horrific, entailing the Bataclan attack, the Strasbourg shooting, as well as the killings of Charlie Hebdo and Samuel Paty. However, Macron’s words provoked violent attacks on Muslims that were not revealed and swept under the carpet. Islam, in France, has been painted by French figureheads as a religion of violence and terror that prove antithetical to French republican values. Under this guise, Macron calls for Islamist separatism, the institution where many draw the line as bordering on blatant Islamophobia. Macron fails to differentiate between fundamentalist terrorism and the religion of Islam. Moreover, it should be noted that this level of enforced secularism appeals greatly to the far right and sections of the left. Thus, Macron’s tightening of proposed legislation lends itself to a political dimension when leveraging support.
As a result of Macron’s push for Islamist separatism, Muslims have been somewhat stripped of their right to exercise their citizenship fully. It is fair to question, is it coincidental that because the hijab is conspicuous by nature, the legislation applies more directly to Muslim women? It is a valid response to argue that Macron’s push for Islamist separatism is no coincidence; in the name of ‘liberty’ and ‘integration,’ a free pass is given when infringing on religious rights and policing women’s bodies. In essence, the French political trend of arguably marginalizing Muslims through legislation is not necessarily coincidental under laïcite.
Affairs, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World. n.d. “Islam, Secularism, and the Culture Wars in France.” Berkleycenter.georgetown.edu. Accessed January 25, 2022. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/islam-secularism-and-the-culture-wars-in-france.
“France, Secularism and Hijab Paranoia | UpFront (Feature).”
Academics are actively discouraging Black students from pursuing academia through anti-Black sentiments.
By: Jasmin Smith
Portrait of the Black Student
When I was fifteen years old, my favourite English teacher taught me a lesson: academia is more important than my comfortability. “Your fellow students will have permission to say the n-word when reading,” she said, “and if you’re upset about that, you’ll need to mature some more, because that’s what it will be like in university.” There were only two other Black kids in my class, and we attended the only predominantly white high school in our city.
Two years later I would graduate with honours and attend my top choice of university, one of the best in Canada. This university is where I learned my second lesson: Black people are not wanted in academia. My institution, one that I had gone through a laborious process to decide on, had decided to come out in solidarity for a white professor who said the n-word. Never in my life, until that moment, have I ever felt so out of place or unwanted somewhere that I had paid thousands of dollars to attend. I had turned down better schools because I felt the institution would be a perfect fit, and here I was, having hateful messages sent to my Twitter account because I had spoken out about my disappointment towards the university.
A few weeks ago I was taking a break from work when I saw a news headline pop-up on my phone, feeling my heart sink to my feet. A teacher at a high school in one of Canada’s most diverse cities— one of the few Canadian cities that made me feel safe as a Black person— had gone to class in blackface as a Halloween costume. My first thought wasn’t disgust or anger; in fact, the teacher himself was the last of my worries. The first thing I felt upon reading the article was despair, and it was despair for the students.
Race in Childhood
Children are not born with an inherent ability to discriminate towards other races; they are a completely blank slate, influenced by every aspect of their upbringing until they are old enough to establish their own opinions.
Studies from the University of Toronto have been able to establish that between 6 months and 12 months of age, babies develop a preference towards their own race. This occurs as a result of their environment and social group, and will not occur if babies are surrounded by a diverse group of people during these crucial months (Weir, 2021).
Until the age of roughly five years old, children are conditioned mostly by their families and those that they are often in contact with – thus their biases will begin to reflect those of their parents and relatives (Weir, 2021). At this point in life, it is too early for them to be influenced by institutional or societal perspectives on race.
Race in Canadian Public School Systems
At five years old, in a school setting, children are more likely to see their Black peers getting in trouble or struggling academically (Weir, 2021). Black students are more likely to be blamed for classroom problems, and more likely to be accused of cheating. These struggles faced by young Black students are not a result of their lack of effort or intelligence, but a result of the lack of primary assistance received from their teachers, who are often more focused on the success of their white peers. There are many alarming statistics regarding the correlation between race and graduation rates in American schools, with only 73% of Black Americans graduating, in contrast with 87% of white Americans (Weir, 2016). Canada, however, seems resistant in the collection of race-based data in public school districts.
Toronto is one of the few Canadian cities that has examined the connections between economic status, sex, and race in connection with education. In a 2018 study published in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, it was found that Black secondary school students in the Toronto District School Board were less likely to be in completely academic streams in comparison to their white counterparts, and they were found to have worse grades overall (Robson, Anisef, et al., 2018). The study also concluded that black students were less likely to attend university, and most notably, that “inequality in later-life outcomes is rooted in early-life disadvantages” (Robson, Anisef, et al., 2018).
These Black students are not suffering academically due to a lack of intelligence or ability, but a dire lack of support from academic staff. When young students witness their peers being treated as if they are undeserving by figures of authority, especially those who are meant to be teaching them about the world around them, they grow to assume these biases themselves. From this comes stereotypes regarding Black people being unintelligent or only having the capabilities to perform labour jobs. If this uncaring nature towards Black students is stemming from the exact same people that are meant to nurture them most, and their peers are adopting the same sentiments, when does that begin to reflect in their self-worth?
Racial Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
According to the CDC, Adverse Childhood Experiences “are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years)” and they can result in an inconceivable scope of later life consequences, many of which can negatively shape the rest of an individual’s life.
The University of North Carolina’s School of Social Work has developed a compelling argument as to why racism itself should be categorized as an ACE, as opposed to just the consequences of it. Racism is a direct cause of violence, inaccessibility to healthcare, and wrongful incarceration; however, the CDC fails to mention the impacts that racism itself can have on mental and physical health (Lanier, 2020).
Putting aside the discrimination that occurs within the healthcare system, racism is something that many Black people are forced to think about on a daily basis. Racism is something that can be experienced anywhere, at any time, and it can even infiltrate spaces that have been deemed safe. The constant threat of discrimination can cause mass amounts of stress as well as other serious mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety (Lanier, 2020). Moreover, constant stress can lead to hypertension, which is a direct cause of many heart conditions and other serious physical health concerns (Lanier, 2020).
Children of colour, and particularly black children, are able to tell when their peers harbour negative emotions towards them, and kids can begin to detect racism from a very early age. In fact, “studies focusing in detail on perceived self-reported racism and discrimination find rates around 90% for Black children” (Lanier, 2020). Experiencing racism is an extremely traumatic experience at any age, but children are especially influenced by discriminatory experiences, and they can often shape the success of a child’s future and the choices they make later in life.
Back to Toronto
Now you may be wondering why such a long exposition was required in order to discuss the Halloween incident that occured at Parkdale Collegiate Institute, but each of these aspects are relevant to understanding the true harm done by the staff member.
The staff member’s costume had been reported by a student to the institution’s vice-principal. Why was it that a student – a child in a categorically “safe space” – was the one who had to tell wrong from right? As of November 17th, the teacher is no longer employed at the institution, but the question still stands (Rocca, 2021). There are a number of people that the teacher must have seen prior to arriving to class that morning. The school has other teachers and staff, yet none of them held their colleague accountable before he entered that classroom, irreparably changing many of those students’ perspectives on academia forever.
The trauma resulting from racism is a feeling that I had never truly known until I attended my first year of university. Once I had, I hoped that nobody else would have to experience the same. Although it was idealistic of me, the hopeless, desolate realization of society’s inherent discrimination is a feeling that can never be replicated, nor fully described to someone who has not experienced it. A child should not have to endure a first encounter with systemic racism, but it is unfortunately an aspect that is deeply ingrained within our culture. However, despite the inevitability of discrimination, a child’s first experience with racism should certainly not occur in an academic setting, where their parents are trusting the school staff to protect and shield their children.
For at least one student in that classroom, the experience of having their educator wear their race as some sort of caricature would permanently damage their view of the world. When the teacher was put on home-assignment and not immediately terminated, that sent a message: white voices are more important than Black comfortability in academia. I felt heartbroken over reading about the event because I knew that these children would have to learn the same lessons that I did. Some of them— who may feel the same love and adoration towards academics that I always have— may be left with a sour taste in their mouth for the rest of their education.
Question & Rationale: What constitutes as police misconduct under basic law in Hong Kong? To what extent can the police be prosecuted for misconduct in Hong Kong protests? I am personally connected to this topic and am really interested in finding out more about it. My inquiry is based on the legal significance of police brutality, through which I examine the bindingness of legal principles, and attempt to identify gaps, opportunities and ambiguities in the law.
Disclaimer: Please note that this is an analysis from the issue pertaining to my perspective on the matter.
According to the Police Force Ordinance, a regulatory document by which Hong Kong police officers should abide by, officers should exercise a high degree of restraint when dealing with the public and it clearly states that the violation of police regulations constitutes as police. So far, not one police officer accused of police misconduct has been charged or prosecuted over protest-related actions. The Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) is responsible for handling complaints concerning police misconduct, however, no information has been released from the Hong Kong government on the degree of prosecution police officers will receive. 
There are in total three issues that I discovered. 1. The term “police misconduct” is vaguely defined. 2. There is a lack of transparency of police guidelines. 3. The Independent Police Complaints Council’s (IPCC) is inadequate in responding to complaints
Vaguely defined term of “police misconduct” creates environment for government manipulation
A police representative told the Washington Post that the Hong Kong Police Force has always complied with stringent protocols when patrolling protests and “regulations are “benchmarked” against international standards. However, there currently isn’t a definite definition for the term “police misconduct” in the Police Force Ordinance, and the vagueness of the term can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted by the general public. Even worse, misused by law enforcers when evaluating whether one is guilty of police misconduct. To support this argument, The Nation accuses Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai Chung for publicly favoring the police officers by justifying their violent actions while intensifying public discontent by calling the clash “a riot”. The implications of a vaguely defined term not only leads to societal frustration, but also potential freeing of guilty law enforcers. Nonetheless, the missing definition of “police misconduct” allows punishment to be unaccounted for in the Police Force Ordinance. In a confrontation between police and protesters, police shot an 18-year-old boy in the chest at close range with their firearm. Reportedly, the police officer was not penalized but the student was charged with rioting and assault. Setting aside potential media bias and misinformation, the lack of transparency fostered anger amongst citizens. From a police officer’s point of view, the vague term increases the vulnerability of their job as well. On one hand, they could be falsely charged of police misconduct. On the other, it is easier for them to avoid liability. A commonly used argument of police officers for police brutality is self-defense. Since the term of police misconduct is defined vaguely, police are allowed to avoid responsibility. Such actions jeopardizes the reputation of the entire Hong Kong police force. Therefore, Hong Kong law enforcers should amend the Police Force Ordinance Sec 6 to include a clear definition of the term “police misconduct”, as well, include reasonable punishments for different instances.
2. Lack of transparency in police guidelines
“Violating police regulations” is the definition of police misconduct in the Police Force Ordinance, widely used by law enforcers. However, according to the Washington Post, the law-enforcement manuals containing police guidelines and training manuals was not disclosed to the public officially until December 24, 2019. Only after the “leak” of part of the manual. This lack of transparency of the manual allowed the government and law enforcers to justify the police officer’s violations of police on their own means, neglecting the undisclosed manual. A viral video on social media shows a 57 year-old retired mechanics instructor who was within 12 yards of a police line outside government offices. He was pleading for police to stop provoking protesters. During which, he began yelling obscenities. An officer aimed what looked like a gun at him. Soon identified by weapon experts that it was likely loaded with balls containing pepper spray. The old man fell on the ground and had to be carried away from the public. Yet, the police’s spokesperson claimed police officers acted with restraint. From which we could understand, the police saw firing shots at him was the only way to restrain him. Chapter 29 of the leaked Police General Orders details protocols around the use of force, mentioning that the only time officers are allowed to use “deadly force” is when there is “assault intended to cause death or serious bodily injury”, as well, officers should be “accountable to their own actions.” Applying this clause to the abovementioned incident, verbal threats should not be constituted as an intent to “cause death or serious bodily injury.” According to the manual, officers should’ve responded with verbal reinforcements or verbal. The Hong Kong government has not obliged to their international legal obligations to investigate alleged abusive police, and fails to demonstrate commitment to human rights and the rule of law. The implications of the lack of transparency highlights the need of such to maintain public order and to keep the public informed.
3. Independent Police Complaints Council’s (IPCC) inadequacy in responding to complaints
There are currently two underlying problems with the IPCC. First, the complaints council’s panel is mostly made up of conservative and pro-government figures. The chairman of IPCC, Dr. Anthony Francis Neoh is appointed by Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam, who is appointed by the Chinese government. Dr. Neoh’s political stance is therefore mainly conservative and pro-government. As well, the vice-chairmen of the IPCC are mostly pro-government. Therefore, such politically biased leaders compromises the independent investigations of the complaints submitted. Second, the IPCC is inadequate in monitoring independent investigations launched by citizens because of their lack of legal power and investigation capability. According to the Nation, between 2011 and 2018, there had been approximately 2119 complaints about police beatings submitted to the IPCC, the IPCC had only confirmed 2 of the cases. This shows the incapability and inefficiency of the IPCC on dealing with complaints. Since the beginning of pro-democracy protests, it was reported by the South China Morning Post that the Hong Kong police had received 1,200 complaints regarding their behavior during protests. However, according to the IPCC official website, in the most recent publication of 2018-19, there were no published complaints concerning police misconduct or police brutality. In order to fully account to all complaints, the Hong Kong government would have to alter its complaint review system by granting the committee more legal power for investigation and interrogation, which ensuring that leaders’ decisions are not threatened by power.
Clearly, this legal issue currently present in Hong Kong is allowing accused police officers escape their legal responsibilities. Such discontent among citizens have taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economy as well, over reputation in the international community. The strains between police and citizens will forever by engraved in the history of Hong Kong politics. The threat placed on the civil rights of Hong Kong citizens is furthered by their vulnerable position during protests towards unregulated police force.
Kuo, L. (2019, December 11). Foreign experts quit Hong Kong police brutality inquiry over lack of powers. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/11/foreign-experts-quit-hong-kong-police-brutality-inquiry-over-lack-of-powers
In the Angolan Civil War, two major parties, the MPLA, and UNITA were engaged in a dangerous conflict. Beginning in 1975, the war finally ended when Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, was assassinated in February 2002, and with the Luena Memorandum on April 4, 2002 (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 15). The war can be split into several phases, some of which were more deadly than others, but the total cost of the Angolan conflict is “immeasurable” (Rocha 2009, 16).
This research paper will explain why and how the country devolved in civil war shortly after independence, the responsibility of different actors, before finally concluding about how this conflict affected and continues to affect Angolans socially and politically.
Independence to Civil War
By its modern borders, Angola had been formalized as a Portuguese colony at the Berlin Conference in 1884-85 (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 11). A military coup in Portugal on April 25, 1974, signalled the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa (James 2011, 41). The Alvor Agreement stipulated those elections would be organized before independence around October 31, with independence set for November 11, 1975 (James 2011, 55). The agreement promised a tripartite government between the three fundamental independence movements – the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) (Davidson 1977, 142). Notably, in the ensuing Civil War, the FNLA was not a significant factor.
The Portuguese suspended the Alvor Agreement after the MPLA had driven the FNLA and UNITA out of Luanda in late August. By then, it was clear that the Portuguese would abandon Angola on Independence Day (James 2011, 58). On November 11, the MPLA declared the creation People’s Republic of Angola in the capital city of Luanda, while UNITA & FNLA declared the Democratic People’s Republic of Angola in Huambo (64).
Angola and the Cold War
The Cold War had a profound effect on Angola. Both key actors, UNITA and the MPLA, were backed by their global superpower.
W. Martin James III (2011) argues that the Alvor Agreement was purposefully sabotaged by the MPLA, with support from Cuba and the USSR, as they were aware that they would lose any election (253). The MPLA became a Marxist-Leninist party in 1977, so gained the support of the communist world (194). UNITA argued that the MPLA was a new colonial power, as they only had strength because of the USSR and Cuba (James 2011, 103).
Comparatively, Victoria Brittain (1998) argues that UNITA’s popularity was immense because of Jonas Savimbi’s, the leader of UNITA’s, significant anti-communism (10-11). The US, South Africa, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire) actively supported UNITA as they attempted to take Luanda militarily before the November 11 deadline (2-3). However, Between 1975 and 1983, MPLA was recognized as the legal government of Angola by every powerful nation except the US – UNITA was recognized by none (James 2011, 189).
A turning point was when the US recognized the MPLA regime in 1993 (Vidal 2008, 141). In 1991, the MPLA made a key concession, with the Bicesse Agreement, by agreeing to multiparty politics for UNITA accepting a ceasefire (Brittain 1998, 43). UNITA decided to undo the 1991 electoral results, which declared a resounding MPLA victory by force; therefore, the US-led international community switched its support from the rebels to the MPLA (Messiant 2008, 101).
The Claims to Power
The Statute of the Portuguese Natives of the Provinces of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea created by the Portuguese separated the indigenous African population from a tiny elite of civilized assimiladoes. The assimiladoes enjoyed some of the rights of Portuguese citizens, so this policy had a profound and lasting impact, helping to create the divisions and mistrust between the independence movements (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 11).
The MPLA supporters were those who descended from mestizos and assimiladoes. UNITA embodied the economic aspirations of Ovimbundu (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 12). The ethnic identification of these movements has largely emerged about because of conscious political manoeuvring by each group (12). UNITA appealed to their supporters by pointing out that the MPLA was a minority party that was not a black Angolan political party but dominated by mestizos and assimiladoes who keep black Angola subjugated (James 2011, 102). To avoid accusations that they were not African at all, the mestizos, whites and assimiladoes who formed the MPLA needed a class-based ideology (Newitt 2008, 74).
UNITA claimed to stand “for those who had not only been unjustly excluded from power at independence” (Ball and Gastrow 2019, 13). Furthermore, most of the leadership for the MPLA spoke Portuguese, so Savimbi believed that people would support a leader who spoke their language (James 2011, 104). UNITA respected ethnic customs and traditions, while the MPLA suppressed them. Yet many commentators have pointed out that the leadership of all the nationalist movements came from a group of Angolans classified as assimilados – those who had displayed a stipulated level of education, Portuguese culture, and economic independence (Newitt 2008, 53).
In March 1991, the MPLA abandoned Marxist-Leninism and adopted democratic socialism/social democracy (Brittain 1998, 43). In October 2002, UNITA declared itself a fully disarmed and democratic political party (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 15). There are approximately 200 registered political parties, but they have very little social, economic or ideological difference between themselves. The reason for this is that 27 years of civil war has increased the levels of mistrust among the population, making it extremely difficult for people to collaborate and co-operate with each other (Rocha 2009, 12). As a result, UNITA and the MPLA remain the two most prominent political actors, yet the MPLA is still the dominant party and has never been adequately unseated. The opposition party has been sufficiently weakened through decades of guerilla warfare and government propaganda that they do not hold any power capable of challenging the MPLA.
Additionally, the problems that led to the division between the three independence movements remain. Angola as a sovereign territory is a reality, but the modern Angolan nation still discriminates based on ethnicity, creed, class, religious or political affiliation (Rocha 2009, 2). People were killed, not for political reasons, but because they belonged to the wrong category. These social inequalities remain in modern Angola, as the civil war introduced a culture of each one for himself and the notion of survival of the fittest. Notably, while the civil war has further entrenched these inequalities, Portuguese colonial policy undeniably encouraged and deepened ethnic tensions and rivalries (3).
The consequences of the civil war are, apart from the direct war damage and neglect of infrastructure, some poor public policies and distorted economic programmes (Rocha 2009, 1). Today Angolans ranked as one of the lowest in world ratings in terms of human development, as less than 40% of the population has access to clean water and sanitation, while 70% do not have adequate social services (2). The generation born in 1975 has known nothing but war for 27 years, while almost one million people died, and hundreds of thousands have been physically and psychologically maimed (4-5). Four million people have been displaced, and 27 years of war have meant that almost every single Angola victim of disrupted family life (2).
Furthermore, while Angola has not had a level of violence seen in 2002, there is still violence in a specific region of Angola – Cabinda. Cabinda is an area in Angola separated from Angola by a 25km strip of DRC territory (Sadiqali 1976, 30). Several campaigns arguing for the independence of Cabinda were founded in the early 1960s (Warner 1989, 33). Since 2002, many Cabindans still support demands for independence. Towards the end of 2003, the Angolan government signalled that it was prepared to talk peace or even consider a referendum – however, the conflict remains unresolved (Meijer and Birmingham 2004, 15).
So, while peace is welcoming, there are still many social and economic obstacles that Angola still faces to search for a better life. Angola needs to develop; otherwise, there will be further social upheaval (Rocha 2009, 16).
Western Sahara is a region that is given very little attention in international media. Crowned as Africa’s last colony, It is a country that has been fighting for self-determination and independence for well over a century. Spain colonized the country until 1975 and as it was leaving, Morocco swiftly came in and for over forty years has held a brutal occupation of Western Sahara which is in defiance with U.N. convention and international law (Zunes). Currently, no country recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara (except the United States in 2020), but the lucrative extraction and exploitation of resources seem to be stopping the international community from taking any real action. The main reason for the occupation is for the plundering of its natural resources and fish, as Western Sahara is home to one of the largest sources of phosphates and rich fishing waters that supply the E.U. with much of its seafood (Contini).
Since its occupation, the Moroccan government’s occupation of Western Sahara has been characterized by decades of torture, disappearances, killings, and repression against the pro-independence Sahrawi people (natives of Western Sahara) living in the occupied territory. In 1991, the U.N. sponsored a ceasefire and promised the Sahrawi people a referendum on self-determination organized by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO (U.N.). Since then, Morocco has blocked attempts to organize a vote and the U.N. Security Council has refused to implement its referendum plan or allow MINURSO to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara (Democracy Now). International media has ignored the occupation in part because Morocco has blocked foreign media from entering and reporting on Western Sahara (Democracy Now).
Days after the Moroccan invasion (in 1975), Secretary of State Henry Kissinger privately told President Gerald Ford, “He hoped for a rigged U.N. Vote” to confirm Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara (Smith). Half of the Sahrawi population fled invasion to neighboring Algeria and the Moroccan invasion set off a 16-year long war with the Sahrawi liberation movement, known as the The Polisario Front. Morocco’s army, with help from the U.S. military, drove the Polisario to Western Sahara’s eastern region from the coast. Morocco then created the longest minefield and the second-largest wall on earth with help of U.S. weapons companies Northrop and Westinghouse (Democracy Now). The 1700 mile wall divides Sahrawis who remain under occupation from those who fled into exile. The U.N. Ceasefire ended after the Moroccan military broke into a southern no-go buffer zone on November 13th, 2020, to attack Sahrawi civilians and exchange fire with the Polisario Front (Democracy Now). This action came soon after a top U.S. general met with the commander of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Southern Zone, which covers Western Sahara. As the Polisario populated regions and Morocco clash, many have been arrested in the occupied territory. These arrests include many of the peaceful protesters, a large proportion of whom are women, who demonstrate inside the capital of Western Sahara, Layouhn. They have been repeatedly sexually assaulted, beaten, and taken to secret prisons where thousands of Sahrawis have gone to be tortured, killed, or have disappeared for resisting Moroccan occupation (HRW).
The U.S.-Morocco relationship dates back to 1777 when Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the U.S. as a nation (U.S. Department of State). Since then, alongside the military aid and funding, the U.S. announced Morocco as its largest non-NATO ally following the Cold War, opening the doors for more military deals. The relationship is mutual as we see that money has flowed both ways. For example, state-owned Moroccan phosphate company, OCP, which operates in Western Sahara, donated millions to the Clinton Foundation before the 2016 election (Vogel). Fast forward to the presidency of Trump and we see that Morocco and Israel have agreed to establish diplomatic relations as part of a U.S. brokered deal. The U.S. is now the first country to recognize Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara in return for relations and strengthening the legitimacy of Israel in occupied Palestine as well as opening the way for more military contracts that will be used to further oppress the Sahrawi people (Cambridge University Press, 318-323).
Democracy Now, an independent journalism website, was one of the first media operations to be able to get inside the country in years. In 2016, the journalism service published an exposé where we see how the Sahrawi people are suffering and their commitments to self-determination and freedom. Some of their stories are highlighted below.
One prominent interview from the publication was with journalist Mohamed Mayara who speaks about the torture and murder that his family faced at hands of Moroccan authority. He notes, “my father was one of 4 brothers kidnapped…he was kidnapped sent to jail, spent one year and six months and was killed after being tortured” (Democracy Now). When asked about what kind of risk he takes speaking to a reporter based in the western world he replied, “I have a seven-year-old daughter, I tell her about my father who was kidnapped, I tried to teach her that one day that I will face the same fate…so I am always waiting” (Democracy Now). And when asked why he takes that risk despite all the persecution he has witnessed he states, “Because I think this engagement is the duty of freedom” (Democracy Now).
Elghalia Djimi, Vice President of ASVDH, which is an association that traces the files of Sahrawi disappearance victims and former victim of forced disappearance herself, was asked what had happened to her as a victim of forced disappearance. She responded, “What happened to me happened to all prisoners…Moroccan state and secret police used dogs as a form of torture…they stripped me naked…I lost all my hair because of the chemicals they used on my head chemicals used on my head…” (Democracy Now). She was waterboarded, beaten with a baton on her feet, threatened with rape, and much worse. Like Mohamed when asked why she was taking such risk she said, “I am not afraid, I took a vow that we have to talk about this issue, if we do not speak out, especially us as victims who have suffered all of this, this problem will remain” (Democracy Now).
What Can You Do?
The situation in Western Sahara is a dire occupation that has been going on for far too long without any sort of broad mainstream coverage or support from the international community. Amnesty International UofT encourages all readers to stay informed on the subject and to contribute to change through various organizations that are still fighting for the native people of Western Sahara: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Front Line Defenders to name a few. Please consider making a financial contribution to these organizations as well.
If you were asked to predict the next century’s emergent human rights issues, what would you say? There’s no shortage of crises to choose from. Anxieties among laymen and experts alike span environmental, political, and technological topics. The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner has issued warnings regarding climate change’s effects on the rights to development, food, sanitation and housing (OHCHR, 2015). The International Journal on Human Rights has similarly predicted compounding crises of poverty, urban development and increasingly isolationist immigration policy (Petrasek, 2014). The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has written extensively on the threats that advances in technology like artificial intelligence, automation, and digital information constitute (BHRRC, 2021).
In the face of these formidable challenges, more futuristic and cerebral concerns can lose their potency. I believe that intellectual property rights, AKA IP rights, are a prime example of how highly theoretical concepts can escape public scrutiny. Outside of academia’s ivory tower, IP rights can seem underwhelming compared to broader human rights concerns. In reality, IP rights are shaping the future of freedom of information, access to cultural heritage, artistic expression and Indigenous rights (OHCHR, 2015).
The extent of our day-to-day entanglement with IP’s gargantuan spread could (and has) filled volumes. I couldn’t do it justice in a small article. So instead, I’d like to introduce you to what IP is, the basics of how it works, and a select assortment of ways it’s influencing human rights close to home. It’s my hope that you’ll agree intellectual property rights are instrumental to human rights as a whole and you will engage critically with related issues in future.
So what exactly are IP rights? They’re a legal quantification of intellectual, intangible assets, giving ownership over inventions, designs, creative products, brands and more (CIPO, 2016). At its core, intellectual property rights are about ideas. Who owns an idea? How do they come to own them, and what gives them that right? Who can use an owned idea? Who can profit from it?
Think of a company brand. Maybe the cafe you buy coffee from on your morning commute, or your favourite clothing store. Their company name is an intellectual property right. They own it. They have applied for ownership of that specific name with the Canadian Intellectual Property Right office, secured it, and registered it. Nobody else, individual, corporation or organization, has the right to use that name without the brand’s permission, or outside the scope of fair use outlined in S. 29 of the Canadian Copyright Act (Government of Canada, 1985). That same brand also owns the intellectual rights to their logo and unique products. As an example, Starbucks owns the phrase “Pike Place”.
Songwriters own original melodies and lyrics. Authors own their stories and the unique aspects which comprise them. In a particularly infamous example, Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, petitioned to have all fan fiction involving any aspect of her publications removed from fan fiction websites (Pauli, 2002). Her push failed, but only because fan fiction is considered transformative and therefore fair use (Kopp, 2021).
Functional inventions and invention blue-prints can also be owned. Vaccines, including the various COVID-19 shots, are patented (Lindsey, 2021). So are genetically modified organisms (Coles, 2021).
This is where we begin to see the obvious overlaps between IP rights and human rights.
In a 2015 submission to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, science and culture were described as “fundamental to human dignity and autonomy” (Shaheed, 2015, p. 3) Exploitative intellectual ownership practices therefore constitute a uniquely insidious threat. Shaheed, the report’s author, drew on the collective concerns of international human rights organizations when she noted that the tension between IP rights and human rights was characterizable as the tension between community and privatization (2015, p. 3). Knowledge and practices that had traditionally been held as communal property, if not birthright, were being appropriated by private entities (Hale, 2018)
Jenna Rose, a researcher at the Grenoble Ecole de Management’s Business Lab for Society, referred to this process as “scientific colonialism” in an article about biopiracy in the medical field (2016). She described medical biopiracy as follows:
“Often, in the search for new bioresources, researchers draw on local people’s traditional knowledge about the properties of a particular plant, animal or chemical compound. [Biopiracy is] when researchers use traditional knowledge without permission, or exploit the cultures they’re drawing from.” (2016)
Biopiracy and resource appropriation is an ongoing issue in agriculture as well. Monsanto, a genetically modified seeds distributor, has been named by Indigenous activists as one of the largest corporate biopirates around today (LaDuke, 2005, p. 115). Seeds were historically common property. Farmers would collect seeds through progressive harvests, effectively creating a genetic bank of good farming stock. Some private corporations, Monsanto included, have thrown their weight behind privatizing certain genetic materials, using the genetic modification of existing crops as grounds for ownership. Companies like Monsanto are known for “creating sterile seeds or requiring farmers to sign contracts stating that they will not save seeds from Monsanto’s crops.” (LaDuke, 2005, p. 115) A 2004 Canadian legal case, Monsanto Canada Inc. v Schmeiser, set a legal precedent with far-reaching implications across agriculture.
As LaDuke describes it, “in Monsanto’s notorious case of Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Saskatchewan, a lifetime’s work in seeds garnered from careful plant breeding was almost ruined by pollen blown in from [Monsanto’s] neighbouring fields of Roundup Ready canola.” (2005, p. 115). Schmeiser gathered seeds from the crops that had sprung up along his property line for use in planting. He was sued for patent infringement. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Monsanto’s favour (SCC, 2004). Note that Schmeiser had not intended to infringe on any patenting claim. Circumstances blew viable Monsanto seeds into his field, contaminating his genetic seed bank. Schmeiser was held to be in violation of Monsanto’s patenting but was not financially liable because the seeds were of mitigable benefit without Roundup Ready chemical spray, which Schmeiser did not have (Cullet, 2004).
A basic principal of the Supreme Court’s finding was that ignorance of infringement is not a defence for it (BYU, n.d.). This raised alarming speculative questions for activists and farmers alike. How are farmers supposed to know if a crop growing on their property is the genetic copyright of another company? If they’re financially liable for any profit they earn from a GMO, irrespective of their knowledge of that crop’s copyright status, how can they protect themselves? This question is particularly relevant in light of the unsupervised cross-breeding of GMO’s and non-GMO’s (The Royal Society, 2016). While humans are beholden to IP law, pollinating agents like insects, birds and wind are not. What happens when accidental pollination inevitably occurs and alters the composition of a farmer’s crop?
Biopiracy and the copyrighting of natural resources are consequently indicative of two emerging problems. Firstly, the appropriation of a community’s heritage and the subsequent exclusion of that community from their traditional resource. Secondly, the “developmental monoculture and agenda underscoring Global IP regimes and their exploitative extension […] indigenous communities are now being increasingly compelled to defend their culture at, what is regarded by dominant Western narratives as, the cost of the public domain.” (IP Osgoode, 2000) Non-Indigenous farmers are similarly burdened by larger monopolies’ exploitation of genetic patenting at the expense of smaller agriculture.
IP and human rights are also competing in the medical sphere. Earlier in this article, I mentioned that the COVID-19 vaccine is held under patenting. Amnesty International issued a report on that patenting earlier this year, stating in no uncertain terms that the monopolistic hold select pharmaceutical manufacturers have on the vaccine is obstructing poor and developing nations from accessing life-saving treatment (Amnesty International, 2021, p. 4).
“While Europe, the US and a handful of other states emerged from lockdown […] parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America plunged into renewed crises, pushing ill-equipped health systems to the brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week […] Despite receiving billions of dollars in government funding and advance orders which effectively removed risks normally associated with the development of medicines, vaccine developers have monopolized intellectual property, blocked technology transfers, and lobbied aggressively against measures that would expand the global manufacturing of vaccines. Some companies- Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna— have so far delivered almost exclusively to rich countries, putting profit before access to health for all.” (Amnesty International, 2021, p.4)
Prior to the release of Amnesty’s report, Pfizer was making headlines for publicly opposing the US administration’s call to waive COVID vaccine patent rights (Breuninger, 2021). None of the three companies named by Amnesty have since waived their IP protection.
I hope I’ve been able to illustrate how the implementation of IP rights can sometimes stretch beyond the reasonable scope. As a final, more light-hearted example of this phenomenon, consider reality t.v. celebrity Kylie Jenner’s attempts to trademark the name ‘KYLIE’. Her initial application was challenged by Kylie Minogue. Minogue’s legal team argued that Jenner’s application should be refused, on the grounds that it “would lead to confusion among consumers between the two Kylies […] The USPTO commonly refuses to register trademarks when the applied-for mark is confusingly [sic] similar to other, already-registered marks.” (TFL, 2019) Anyone else named Kylie who had used or intended to use their name in the course of doing business would likely have similar concerns.
While this seems like a silly example, many communities and organizations take the intellectual ownership of genetic materials, natural resources and vital medical treatment just as seriously as you might take somebody else claiming ownership of your name. And rightly so.
The United Nations have acknowledged every human’s right to food, medical care, participation in their community’s cultural life, and share in the benefits of scientific advancement (UN, 2021). IP rights should not invalidate the basic human rights which sustain and define us. They are expressions of collective history, family traditions and personal identity. To patent and copyright them is to patent and copyright our ways of life.
It is important to note that IP rights are not, as a whole, a threat to human rights. To the contrary, they can be used to protect consumers, entrepreneurs and artists from exploitation (US Chamber of Commerce, 2009). Yet like so many other things, its practice can be manipulated to serve private interests at the expense of others. Critically interacting with IP rights at every stage of their development and implementation is integral to insuring they serve us, rather than harm us.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for a little over a year now, I would like to first remind everyone to stay safe, wear masks and wash our hands. It is critical that we still encourage safety measures, even if we are vaccinated and in person. The topic discussed in this short essay will be on anti-Asian racism and the effects it has had on the Asian community.
Recently, the Asian community has experienced some successes in the aspects of pop culture with Shang Chi, Squid Game, K-pop and various Asian beauty products making large impacts across the globe. Despite this success and reputation boost for the Asian community, we cannot forget the hate and discrimination Asians have faced throughout history, particularly during this past year and how that has affected the Asian community. Anti-Asian sentiment was reignited last December, when the first cases of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus arrived in North America. Almost immediately, the Asian community was berated and assaulted by people looking for something to blame for the state of the world.
It did not help that government officials from various countries including the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, and France were making statements that either directly or indirectly hinted towards incitement and/or encouragement of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. In Italy, one governor told journalists that Italians would be better at dealing with the virus than the Chinese because of their “culturally strong attention to hygiene, washing hands, taking showers, whereas we have all seen the Chinese eating mice alive.” (Human Rights Watch). Among these negative statements, the most famous has been the term “Chinese virus” used by Trump. These statements made by professional government officials and leaders spurred even harsher attacks against the Asian community.
Since the initial outbreak in November 2019, people of Asian descent have been subjected to derogatory language in public, social media, and government reports all around the world. The community has been the victim of physical attacks and racist actions that all lead back to the virus. There have been cases of violent threats in the UK and Australia, while reports of serious attacks spread through Spain and the United States. (Human Rights Watch) Canada is not an exception. Since the pandemic started, there have been over 1128 cases of attacks against Asians reported, with many more unknown. (Katherine Lee).
How do Asians feel about these racist acts and threats directed at them? Research from Alice Chen, Arminée Kazanjian and Hubert Wong discuss how individuals of Asian descent find it harder to seek help for mental illness. This is due to cultural biases and perceptions of the system along with pressures to save face and endure. There are fewer sensitive approaches to mental health in Asian culture, leading many people to experience confusion and doubt in the face of blatant and violent discrimination within their neighborhoods. Many individuals of Asian descent already have a hard time staying quiet about mental illness, and anti-Asian racism only amplifies that. Psychologist Helen Hsu has previous stated in an interview that “I’ve heard a lot of Asian patients say things like, ‘Well, my family said to work hard and stay quiet, then everything will be fine.’” (Katherine Lee). Societal pressures are also what drives those who are a part of the Asian community to stay silent about their struggles. In her article, Katherine Lee writes that Asians are among the wealthier racialized communities and are considered the model minority by the West. Due to these perceptions and beliefs, many people in the West don’t believe Asians are struggling and consider their mental health issues “a false narrative”.
Despite the recent success associated with various Asian entertainment groups and trends, we cannot forget the extreme amounts of anti-Asian racism that have been occurring since the outbreak of the virus. Some ways we can stop this racism today include educating yourself about the history of racism in the Asian community, providing resources to victims of violence, addressing mental health in racialized communities, and donating to various non-profitable organizations such as The Asian Mental Health Project.
Chen, Alice W., et al. “Why Do Chinese Canadians Not Consult Mental Health Services: Health Status, Language or Culture?” Transcultural Psychiatry, vol. 46, no. 4, Dec. 2009, pp. 623–641, doi:10.1177/1363461509351374.
Image is free to use with no attribution required.
As the holidays season has fallen upon us, I have been reflecting on this time last year. It was a time characterized by rising cases, near constant anxiety, and perpetual isolation. I remember the distinct feeling of longing for my family and friends. During a period of joy, light, music, food and love, the winter felt colder and the nights longer. The holidays, typically a joyous break from traditional monotony, became a bittersweet period of mourning what was lost. This year we can travel again, see our vaccinated older relatives safely, and spend time together in conversation over meals cooked with endless love and dedication. With that being said, the one part of holidays that we participated in last year and this year, the material exchange of goods, feels particularly relevant to discuss.
Although the holidays are a time of joy, they are also characterized by the wasteful production and consumption of an immense number of unnecessary products. We typically generate 3 million tonnes of extra waste in the month of January, during the holiday season, where 80,000 tonnes of clothing are included in this tally. Though we enjoy giving and receiving gifts during this period, Zero Waste Canada cites that within 6 months, only 1% of everything the average person buys is still in use and the other 99% has been discarded.
In the current age of constant advertisements and accessible clothing/products around us, the holidays have become an opportunity for marketing by businesses and consumption of cheap goods for family and friends. These goods particularly include holiday themed items and exorbitant amounts of clothing. As opposed to looking forward to a time for family, friends and relaxation, little kids look forward to Christmas with long lists for Santa. Moreover, parents search nearby department stores, online commerce platforms, and malls for goods to satisfy those lists. Gift giving, as it has evolved in today’s consumerist culture, sometimes loses the special feeling of a personal touch or meaningful message associated with the actual good itself.
Many people, young and old, wish for clothing around Christmas. Considering this demand, people justifiably often turn to cheaper options and end up buying fast fashion items for their loved ones. However, the consequences of these decisions are disproportionately correlated to the the low-price tag on the item. Fast fashion labels such as Gap, H&M, Zara and many others are able to keep their prices relatively low due to mass production of their clothing using cheap materials in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Cambodia that have relatively inconsequential labor laws. Therefore, the garment workers receive low wages and are forced to work incredibly long hours. In a truly horrific example, The Guardian reported that at least 540 female garment workers in Bangladesh disclosed threats and sexual abuse in their workplaces, which included factories for H&M and The Gap, between January and May 2018. The Guardian wrote that the abuse is a result of the global supply chain structure. H&M and The Gap’s fast fashion supply chain model creates unreasonable production targets and low bidding costs, resulting in employees (the majority of whom are women) working overtime hours without additional compensation and facing pressure to work quickly.
Sadly, these conditions worsened further during the pandemic. When we were online shopping for clothing, shoes, and other goods that we thought we needed or as an activity to pass the time during the pandemic, the garment workers in factories were further suffering from increasingly dangerous conditions exacerbated by suspended payments. The Clean Clothes Campaign interviewed 49 garment workers in these countries, to which 70% responded they had experienced delayed payments and lower wages than before the pandemic. Given wages that are barely capable of supporting life and obtaining food to sustain families before these cuts, the reality of delayed or lowered wages were matters of life and death for these families. These brands, in their unrelenting dedication to low prices and mass production of goods for consumers, were pushing their workers beyond their breaking points during the pandemic. The Clean Clothes Campaign reported that a garment worker in a factory that supplied products for H&M in Bangladesh detailed to a reporter that “We have been severely exploited in the name of pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic was not our fault, but it was us who were given less than half of our normal salary. At first we protested, but the factory management said, ‘If you protest or form a union, you will not get a penny from us and you will not only lose your job, but also you will be evicted from this area and will never get a job in any other factory again.’ So, none of us could form a union in this factory.” In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Clean Clothes Campaign reports that the said companies refused to pay for an estimated $40 million worth of clothing and goods that were already produced or in production.
During the holiday season and in the time afterwards, I hope that we can remember what we were missing this time last year and prioritize time spent together. Our planet and its people cannot sustain the current culture of unrelenting consumerism. Therefore, I ask that we consider shopping for items that are multipurpose and/or multiuse. I also request that we demand as much as possible from companies that are dedicated to fair treatment and wages for their workers and they take action to manage waste effectively. Moreover, if more socially/environmentally conscious products are out of the price range of consumers, with some extra time spent looking, great quality options can be found at second-hand stores. Remember that the consequences of an item bought and discarded have implications for people working to make these products, and the nations who accept the pollution and mass waste produced in North America, thousands of miles away.
Hetherington, Barb, et al. “Zero Waste Christmas.” Zero Waste Canada , Zero Waste Canada, 2017, http://zerowastecanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Zero-Waste-Christmas.pdf.
Oshri, Hadari. “Council Post: Three Reasons Why Fast Fashion Is Becoming a Problem (and What to Do about It).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 May 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/05/13/three-reasons-why-fast-fashion-is-beco ming-a-problem-and-what-to-do-about-it/?sh=670f7794144b.
Jessop, Andy. “Discover the Environmental Impact of the Christmas Season.” Commercial Waste, 8 Dec. 2020, https://commercialwaste.trade/the-true-cost-of-christmas/. “Abuse Is Daily Reality for Female Garment Workers for GAP and H&M, Says Report.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 June 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jun/05/female-garment-workersgap-hm-south-asia.
“H&M, Nike and Primark Use Pandemic to Squeeze Factory Workers in Production Countries Even More.” Clean Clothes Campaign, Clean Clothes Campaign , 30 June 2021, https://cleanclothes.org/news/2021/hm-nike-and-primark-use-pandemic-to-squeeze-factor y-workers-in-production-countries-even-more.
Image Attributions: HM christmas, HM, November 9, 2017 https://galleriariga.lv/en/hm-svetku-kolekcija-ir-klat/ Gap switches to “Merry Christmas”, Politics Red, December 8, 2013 https://www.patheos.com/blogs/bristolpalin/2013/12/the-gap-switches-to-merry-christmas/ Zara “party wear”, Zara, 2021 https://www.zara.com/ca/en/woman-evening-l1104.html?v1=1906800
The term “freedom of the press” is (loosely) defined as the understanding that communication and expression through various media should be considered a right to be exercised freely. Such mediums include (but are not limited to) printed and electronic materials, with a particular emphasis on materials created with the intention of being shared with the public at large. Central to the denotation of this principle is the implied absence of coercion from state or state sponsored actors, not only from the released media product but also in its initial inception and creation (Freedom House).
Why is such a principle so important in the first place? Firstly, one will be hard pressed to consider a free press corps as an ultimate good in and of itself. It will come as a surprise to no one that both written and electronic media outlets are far from being considered bastions of altruism. All media outlets are, at their core, profit seeking entities. Thus, contrary to what one may believe, the truth is not in their best interest, but only increased engagement with their various media products. With this truth in mind, it is not hard for one to draw a causal link between profit and the perpetuation of discord. As is agreed by many experts ranging from Political Science to Communication Studies, unbridled press corps can often be attributed to enormous public angst (Tsfati 10). For example, divisive ideologies may proliferate, youth may be corrupted before they properly learn how to disseminate information, and even the public at large may be nefariously manipulated, despite their best interests. Amid such circumstances, how could the state not be justified in strongly regulating or even suppressing the press corps?
In light of this line of thinking, one should note that while such concerns are valid, they misunderstand the point. The right to a free press makes no assumptions on the content or quality of that which it facilitates. Rather, in protecting such a right, what is being defended is not what is being discussed, but the very forum of discussion itself, ensuring that it is open and conducive for public engagement. Thus, crudely summarized, a Free Press is not in itself valuable. Rather, the value in such a vehicle lies in its inherent ability to facilitate criticism, both of the government and of society at large (Charles Koch Institute).
This is also the reason why even avowedly liberal governments may find themselves at odds with the principle of ‘Freedom of the Press”. The private institutions who champion this principle naturally come to embody all that power abhors, power both new and entrenched. While this fact has been studied and proven extensively, it is also intuitive, for power does not respond well to criticism (Freedom House).
For a real-world example of such behavior, one need look no further than Belarus. Often referred to as ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship’, suppression of what little freedom the nation’s press corps had manage to secure for itself was brutally suppressed and continues to be suppressed amidst the ongoing protests surrounding President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration. One of the most shocking displays of suppression came in May of 2021, when the Belarusian government grounded an international Ryanair flight bound for Vilnius, arresting the Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. Photographs taken nearly two months after his arrest suggest that Protasevich had been subject to various methods of torture during his time in government custody (Tétrault-Farber 2).
While not many efforts to suppress the freedom of a nation’s press corps are quite as shockingly blatant as those that have occurred in Belarus in recent months, such activity is by no means unique to Belarus. In the neighboring country of Russia, it is not uncommon for reporters to receive letters directly from the Kremlin, requesting their immediate resignation. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for publicly funded Russian companies to buyout majority stakeholders in various private media companies, companies that often have no immediate relation to the nature of their work (Corbus 11). For example, the largest stakeholder of REN-TV, widely lauded as Russia’s last nationwide television network with independent news programming, is owned by a subsidiary of Severstal, Russia’s second largest government owned steel company, in a buyout first initiated in 2006 (Kishkovsky 4).
On must realize that the protection of a free press is a constant war rather than a one-off battle. While government authorities are often its traditional enemies, in the modern age one must realize that everyone is a threat to its existence. Anyone can create content with the power to influence anyone. Thus, even in a liberal society, the integrity of the press corps can be eroded, and furthermore, such erosion can often be manipulated to seem in the public’s best interest.
For example, with regards to internet regulation laws in the United States, news aggregating applications are simultaneously being projected as biased against conservatives, and much too willing in the promotion of far-right ideology, divisive ideology which at once finds a home within conservative bases (Samples 11). Thus, what is to be done? How much regulation is enough? How much is too much? How much is too little? How is one to balance the ideal of a free and open medium with a medium that is far too open to manipulation? These are open questions that must be asked on a continuous basis by all who truly believe themselves to be true defenders of democracy and its associated liberal ideals. For, threats to a free press can as easily come from within, via popular legislation, or they may come from without, via tyrannical government.
Beyond becoming a critical consumer of media rhetoric and policy, as is outlined above, what else may one do to further ensure that the Freedom of the Press is respected? Hundreds, if not thousands of journalists are unjustly imprisoned across the world every year for nothing other than simply making their opinions known to the world. While such a phenomenon certainly is not new, the advent of digital activism ensures that everybody can express solidarity with these victims of conscience, ensuring that justice is done to them and their cause. Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign often highlights the plights of several political prisoners, among whom several are often journalists or those specifically targeted by their governments for their views (Write for Rights).
All are encouraged to participate in such events, as it is only through these individual initiatives that lasting change and protection for the many may be realized.
In July of 2020, the Federal Court of Canada passed a ruling that withdrew Canada from their participation within the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) (Canadian Council for Refugees [CCR], 2020). An agreement which legalized the transfer of refugees back to whatever “safe” country they landed in first, either Canada or the United States (Government of Canada). The proposed withdrawal from this agreement was brought forth on the grounds of the egregious conditions in which the United States treated those who were sent back from Canada, including arbitrary imprisonment, psychological abuse, and extreme human rights abuses (CCR, 2020). The court justified their decision to leave the STCA because of the United States clear and appalling violations of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCR, 2020). The section in which gives all persons the equal right to security and liberty, a right infringed upon by the erroneous treatment of refugees in the U.S. (CCR, 2020).
Almost one year later, in June of 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) released a report detailing the appalling treatment of immigrants in Canada, those in which are remarkably similar to the conditions for which Canada left the STCA (Gros et al., 2021). According to this report, Canada imprisons thousands of people a year on immigration related charges, often involving abusive behaviour (Gros et al., 2021). Not only are the reasons for which these immigrants are detained not disclosed or arbitrary, but their release dates are kept from them as well (Gros et al., 2021). During their imprisonment, immigrant detainees face some of the most putative measures, including being housed in maximum security prisons, and emplaced into solitary confinement, finding that these conditions were even harsher for Black immigrants, and those with psychosocial disabilities (Gros et al., 2021). These abuses have had devastatingly severe impacts on the mental health of these immigrants, often resulting in feelings of hopelessness, failure, and sometimes suicide (Gros et al., 2021).
It is not difficult to draw the parallels between this abuse, arbitrary detainment, and human rights violations, that not less than a year ago Canada’s courts denounced the United States for (CCR, 2020). Both HRW and AI hold that something must be done to eradicate these atrocious conditions and treatment (Gros et al., 2021). A report done in 2016, in conjunction with the University of Toronto, AI, and many other organizations, provided suggestions for eliminating these abuses (Muscati, 2016). Including, but not limited to, establishing an independent body to which the Canadian Border Patrol Service Agency (CBSA) is held accountable, modifying existing laws and regulations, imposing requirements to access of essential services for both physical and mental health, and increasing funding to find safe, healthy, and adequate housing for immigration detainees (Muscati, 2016). Since this, both the CBSA and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada have responded, declaring their intentions to look further into this issue, but action has yet to be seen (Ossowski, 2021; Wex, 2021). While Canada may never change their approach to this issue, there is hope through advocacy by AI, HRW, and institutions like UofT, that there will be amendments in the future.
Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, known as the “two Michaels,” returned to Canada after spending over 1000 days detained in China. Their collective story is a harrowing example of China’s human rights violations and willingness to use people as a means for geopolitical gain. Now that they are home and present in the minds of Canadians and others, it is essential to report their treatment while in China accurately. Background information is necessary to understand the severity of the tribulation the two Michaels faced.
In early December of 2018, a woman named Meng Wanzhou was about to make a layover stop in Canada while flying to Mexico (Corera, 2020). Nothing, in particular, made this stopover in Vancouver strange, but Wanzhou was no ordinary tourist. Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, and the United States wanted her on charges of bank and wire fraud that helped her company circumnavigate the US sanction on Iran (Karphal, 2020). As soon as she landed in Vancouver, Canadian officials arrested her and prepared her extradition case to the States. Several days later, Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig were detained in China.
Korvig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, were convicted of vague espionage and spying charges, with the latter being sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese courts (Aziz, 2021). Many people speculated that the arrests were an act of retaliation by the Chinese government after the arrest of Wanzhou in Canada. Despite Canadian and American attempts to persuade China into dropping the charges, the two men would go on to spend nearly three years of their lives detained. The conditions of their detention were brutal, and they highlight the gross and arbitrary imprisonment tactics employed by the Chinese government.
Korvig and Spavor spent most of their imprisonment completely cut-off from the outside world. Chinese officials allowed the two men to make only a handful of phone calls throughout their captivity while also barring Canadian diplomats from reaching them (Coletta, 2021). To put into perspective how isolated they were, Korvig and Spavor appeared to be missing common knowledge about current international events. For example, after a long-overdue meeting with a consular in October of 2020, Korvig was finally informed that the pandemic had spread across the world, resulting in the death of millions (Hopper, 2021). Deprived of basic information pertaining to current events, Korvig and Spavor spent their days detached and unaware of what was happening in the outside world.
Isolation was not the only thing the two Michaels had to cope with during their detainment, as the actual physical conditions of the prison cells were inhumane. Reports determined that both men were forced to live in tiny cells filled with other prisoners and were denied the ability to leave (Hopper, 2021). Unlike Western prisons, these detainment centres contain no communal spaces such as exercise yards or dining halls. Besides the confined, brutal living conditions, the two Micheals were also subject to psychological torment. The bright lighting of the cell was kept on during all hours of the day, allowing for little rest, and the two were treated to daily integrations by Chinese authorities (Nossal, 2021). The Chinese government’s mental and emotional abuses inflicted on Korvig and Spavor are unspeakable.
The arbitrary conditions that the Korvig and Spavor were subject to are gross inflictions on human rights. It has been a massive relief to have both men return home. However, it is important to acknowledge that these isolation conditions, physical confinement, and psychological abuse are not unique to the two Michaels. China has been detaining people in this brutal fashion long before the Korvig and Spavor were sentenced to prison there. The Chinese government will continue to act in such a manner until they face a firm international stance. No human being should be subject to such treatment.
Aziz, Saba. “ ‘Free at last’: Canadian Michael Korvig, wife speak about emotional return from China.” Global News, 26 Sep. 2021,
There shall be no justification for what the government of Zimbabwe has done to its citizens. Led by republican President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the government has once again failed the people of Zimbabwe. In Mnangagwa’s election speech in 2017, he promised to improve the quality of the government and reach across political ethnic and racial lines to strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy (Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?). Filled with hope, Zimbabweans anticipated a political evolution. Yet, after Zimbabwe’s military brought an end to 37 years of rule by former president Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime, it’s continual presence as a key political player complicated Mnangagwa’s task of reinstituting effective governance (Zimbabwe’s “Military-assisted Transition” and Prospects for Recovery). On August 7, 2020, Zimbabwean police transferred prominent journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, and opposition leader, Jacob Ngarivhume, to the infamous Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison (Chigumadzi, 1). Both were arrested and accused of inciting police violence, while in reality, the government played a prominent role in unreasonably enforcing violence amongst the protesters (Chigumadzi, 1). The treatment they received was terrible, being put in leg iron casts, and denied of bail, private visits with lawyers and family, food and adequate covid-19 precautions (Chigumadzi, 1). However, this is only one of the many issues that encapsulate the political persecution and public repression of Zimbabwe’s military state, marking the beginning of social unrest among Zimbabweans. In response to the thousands of protesters who marched on the streets, the government ordered a vicious attack – deploying soldiers as well as police force (Piguo, 1). To say the least, groups of protestors have also engaged in intimidation, vandalism, and looting. Though some of it was undeniably orchestrated, most appeared to be spontaneous (Chigumadzi, 1). By referencing the political ideology of the philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill, it justifies the protests and serves as a framework for the defective government’s reconstruction. On the contrary, philosopher Edmond Burke’s political ideology fails to draw on the issue at hand, undermining the significance of innovation within a political context and favouring President Mnangagwa’s absurd policies and decisions.
John Stuart Mill was a liberal during the nineteenth-century, and in the modernized society, his ideology and written work continue to resonate with politicians. He is often brought up during discussions of social justice and income inequality, and his theories criticized privilege, oppression, and injustice. Mill’s theory of three liberties: the absolute freedom of opinion of sentiment, liberty to pursue one’s own tastes and pursuits, and liberty of combination among individuals, justify the protester’s motives of protesting. In his first liberty, he understood that silencing the expression of an opinion as peculiarly evil, “robbing the human race.” His theory supports the protesters’ purpose for attacking the government’s decision to subjugate opposing voices through violence. Further, this theory also validates the protesters’ resentment towards the government’s resolution to block internet services, suspending the flow of information and bringing about the prevalent confusion (Piguo, 3). Hence, giving the protesters justified reasons to protest for their concerns about the absence of freedom. Nonetheless, in Mill’s second liberty, he truly believed in “the liberty to pursue one’s own taste and pursuits,” where people should be allowed to live their lives exactly how they see fit, as long as this does not harm others in their society. Though modern-day politicians might refute Mill’s theory for it offers society a disproportionate amount of independence and freedom, but his individualistic values support the citizens’ protests for their futuristic expectations. However, only if we exclude the casualties from the physical encounters between the police force and protesters that created disunity within Zimbabwe. Mill’s liberal individualistic conception is also seen in his third liberty which underlines an individual’s freedom of choice to form groups of human rights activists, as long as this does not harm others in their society. If individuals of Zimbabwe wish to form an opposing stance to the government in the hope of advocating the respect for fundamental human rights, they should be entitled to do so. These ideas from Mill’s political philosophy strengthen the motives of protest and directly contradict Zimbabwe’s traditionalism, and unless convictions turn against this mindset, the demand for continuing traditions will only increase.
In addition, Mill valued individualism, his theory could be used to remodel and embellish the dictatorial government as a whole. Mill’s Harm Principle embodies the notion that “the sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” This could prompt the government to limit its unreasonable use of assault towards opposing groups and politicians as it is unreasonable to exercise power over protesters, except a minority of protesters who participated in lootings. Though the government’s order of violence on its citizens could be appropriated as an act of “self-protection” for state owned properties and police officers, it is evident that the government has a distorted idea of restricting opposing voices to retain its power. Accordingly, the government should reevaluate its attitude towards individual rights and achieving social utility based on Mill’s values, striking a balance between individual autonomy and government interference to limit freedoms in the interest of preventing harm to others. Individual protesters should have the freedom to defend their rights subsequent to the unlawful arrests and restraint of freedom made by the police and military, rejecting the government’s long term abuse of power. In order to achieve a balance, the government should cease its human rights violations, such as the invasion of privacy, obstruction of movement and limitation of access to information by peacefully reaching a consensus with the protesters and acknowledging their stance. Effectively, the government should utilize Mill’s Harm Principle to amend its structure, and manage opposing groups democratically.
On the other end of the political spectrum, the philosophy of Edmond Burke, the founder of conservatism would support the Zimbabwean government in defending contemporary arrangements against both idealistic desires and innovative schemes of reform though it is shown to be over-optimistic and out of date. Given that Burke’s ideology outlines the tradition and custom of the social contract, he does not consider innovative reforms suggested by citizens as necessary to the success of a country. He regards innovation as the result of a selfish temper and confined views, reinforcing the government’s desire to deny democratic changes from an authoritarian state. This theory also highlights the characteristics of conservatism seen in our contemporary society. Along with the rejection of innovation shown by the Zimbabwean government, Burke’s theory rejects the idea of changes in the government because he believed, “the entire progression of the commonwealth would be demolished.” Despite that, the government of Zimbabwe failed to take into account that the dismissal of these proposed changes violates democratic principles in our modern society, which are different from Burke’s conservative theory. The government’s disbelief in new changes to prevent the loss of power, similar to Burke’s theory, led to Zimbabwe’s failure in achieving democracy. Burke implied that the present generation does not have the right to ask for a change in politics because it would risk the country becoming a disaster: “It [is not] among [this generation’s] rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who came after them a ruin instead of a habitation.” This further empowers the Zimbabwean government in casually making decisions to benefit itself, and continues to justify public repression and freedom violations. Despite he urged people to understand the significance in teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers, the consequences of his conservative thinking contradicts his belief.
Contrary to Mill’s theories, Burke’s perception of a government body implies the idea that citizens cannot depose an oppressive government due to the risk of a disaster. Despite that, the Zimbabwean government’s introduction of fiscal and economic reforms led to the hyperinflation of goods and services (Piguo, 10). As well, the values of ordinary citizens’ income and savings have been cut by more than half, further impoverishing an already struggling population (Piguo, 10). This counters Burke’s theory, indicating that an oppressive government is the cause of disaster, not the opposing opinions of citizens. Further, Burke believed that social achievements should be built up over time and suggested governments to find a compromise between what everyone wants and what’s beneficial to society from a historic point of view. However, as society develops, fixating on historic views in modern-day democracy brings on contradiction. After the ousting of Zimbabwe’s former authoritarian government, it marked a change, defying historical political values, and submitting to presentist democratic values. Yet the government’s response to violence towards the protests shows the embedded military influence in decision making, reflecting the fear of losing power. Similar to the government’s worries, Burke believes a change in government operation might trigger the fall of a government. He believed that the experience and obstacles a government had endured in its past should be recognized and preserved, hence rejecting the disposition of a government. Further, there was not an adequate structure that he approved of to act as a guide for changes during his time. Lastly, he viewed the state of government as a living organism, underlining the complexity of a society. Therefore, no one should be able to redirect the power as it might lead to a disaster. Although he recognized that a change in the law is necessary, he thought reforms should be made from a historical perspective. However, this would lower the efficiency of his reform in the ever changing society. Similar to the situation of Zimbabwe, laws aren’t likely to change as it is proven over time that the current system gives the government power over the citizens. Hence, it is seen in both Burke’s theory and the Zimbabwean government’s actions that they both value having power more than beneficial and efficient changes to the community.
Zimbabwe is in desperate need of reform if the government’s aim is to maintain stability and transition into a democratic country. John Stuart Mill’s liberal theories embody both sociality and freedom, guaranteeing freedom to individuals from different ideological groups. His theories underline Zimbabweans’ right to fulfill their interests through the uninterrupted expression of opinions. Supporting Zimbabweans’ humanitarian concerns and holding the faulty government accountable, the Zimbabwean government should take into account Mill’s theories and carry out changes to become a democratic state. On the contrary, Burke’s theories challenge the effectiveness of innovation based upon his old-fashioned thinking and support the Zimbabwean government to a certain extent where both Burke and the government value power over change. His theories are relatively controversial considering many aspects support the authoritarian government’s decisions. Critics believe that the Zimbabwean government is likely to be able to “put a lid” on the unrest and take activists off the streets, emphasizing the need for a reform of the government (Piguo, 22). As time goes by, though both philosopher’s ideologies were beneficial to future generations, being part of the foundation of the establishment of parties and the role of the member of Parliament, we should not be restricted by the views of historical philosophers as their ideas might not be up to date. Politicians should incorporate citizen’s current needs and desires, taking into consideration its effects on the future while making political decisions to form a harmonious society.
JS Mill, On Liberty, 1859.
Mutsaka | AP, Farai. “Scores of Zimbabwe Protesters Arrested, Military in Streets.” Washington
Background On February 1, 2021, there was a military coup in Myanmar, which a country in southeastern Asia, bordering India, China, Thailand, and Laos. This coup halted the nation’s first quasi-democracy that had previously held power since 2015, led by Aung Sung Suki. Aung Sung Suki is widely considered to be a controversial figurehead who successfully transformed Myanmar into a democracy after a long history of military dictatorship, yet whose leadership has been marred by ethnic violence and potential unethical alliances with the military now in power.
Protests Since the coup, there has been widespread civil disobedience against the oppressive policies put in place by the military government in power, the Tatmadaw. These immediate policies included seizing control of infrastructure, suspending international and national flights, stopping internet access in most major cities, and closing the stock market and major banks. All of these measures were justified under claims of a “constitutional” state of emergency declared by the military. Though these protests started peacefully, they quickly turned violent and sparked ruthless retaliation by the government. On February 20, 2021, two unarmed protesters were killed, including a 16-year-old boy, prompting millions to go on strike two days later. The retaliations have escalated with the military, killing 600 and maiming, injuring, and torturing thousands more on March 27, 2021. This incredible violence inspired an armed resistance by the Burmese people, who call themselves the People’s National Defense, and they engage in jungle gorilla warfare against the Tatmadaw. Despite facing rampant food insecurity and constant threat from the Tatmadaw, the People’s National Defense is determined to fight for liberties and the freedom that had once existed. Yet this army is underfunded, and many have been pushed up into the remote hills where they must combat hunger, poisonous snakes, and dengue along with their families when the Tatmadaw systematically burns villages that are home to these resistance fighters. Despite these challenges, the horrific conditions don’t diminish the determination of the resistance, which has been further galvanized by their shadow government calling for a revolution by armed insurrection on September 7, 2021. Many of the Burmese people have a complicated relationship with the armed resistance in support of their former democratic government given the atrocities inflicted upon ethnic groups in the nation such as the Rohingya Muslims. In a state of disorder and terror, it is hard to distinguish what is being fought for, but some believe that this fight for liberty is a turning point for the Burmese people as it is uniting all Burmese people in a fight for liberation. Thet Swe Win, a Burmese human rights activist, notes the Tatwondow’s terrorization of Burmese people in villages and urban areas has “opened people’s eyes to the rights abuses other ethnic groups have long been facing”. As a result, people have started to broaden their horizons for the liberty they are fighting for.
Humanitarian crisis: This armed coup and ensuing resistance had caused the death of at least 1180 armed resistors and civilians, the destruction of innumerable villages and homes, and displacement of at least 176,000 people internally with an additional 22,000 to other countries. The Tatmadaw has been documented using tactics against Myanmar’s civilian population such as burning villages, looting properties, torture, and mass arrests. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees such as the Rohingya Muslims that have fled ethnic terror for decades. Many of these refugees flee with their families to India, which is an arduous journey that involves spending days in the woods without food or water and having to cross the Tiau River that separates the nations. And there are growing concerns that neighboring countries such as Thailand will begin to turn away refugees at the border.
What can be done to help? The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is multifaceted and severe. Civilians, members of the rebel army, and refugees all are in dire need of support. There are many approaches that could be taken to support these groups, including: donations to various humanitarian aid organizations, advocacy to local representatives and the federal government of increased sanctions, and blockades, and establishing a “no-fly zone” over Myanmar. Some reliable organizations that could be donated to include: The International Rescue Committee (which has been supporting Myanmar since 2008), Save the Children (which supports children in dangerous situations around the world and specifically provides support to children and families in Myanmar that have been affected by the deadly violence occurring). In addition, donations to the Civil Disobedience Movement will provide support to Burmese people participating in protests against their authoritarian government. In addition, support to the Burmese people could include contacting your country’s relevant diplomatic and government representatives to ask for increased sanctions on Myanmar in solidarity with the protestors trying to weaken and destabilize the military in control. Another method of support could involve exerting pressure on our government to support the Secretary General’s special envoy on Myanmar, per Christine Schraner Burgener’s request in her speech to the UN press conference on October 21, 2021. Her request noted that international leadership not accept the Tatmadaw as a legitimate established government as they are responsible for the majority of the instability and violence in the nation.
References: 1) Goldman, Russell. “Myanmar’s Coup and Violence, Explained.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Feb. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/article/myanmar-news-protests-coup.html. 2) Wee, Sui-lee. “Thousands Flee Myanmar for India amid Fears of a Growing Refugee Crisis.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/19/world/asia/myanmar-refugees-india.html?search ResultPosition=2. 3) Martin, Michael F. “Myanmar’s Opposition Wants U.S. Intervention. Here Are Some Options.” Foreign Policy, 24 May 2021, https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/24/myanmar-opposition-coup-us-intervention-sanctio ns-options/. 4) Win, Thet Swe. “The Coup United the People of Myanmar against Oppression.” Opinions | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 1 Oct. 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/10/1/the-coup-united-the-people-of-myanmar -against-oppression. 5) UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP). “Myanmar Emergency – UNHCR Regional Update – 1 September 2021.” UNHCR Operational Data Portal (ODP), UNHCR , 1 Sept. 2021, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/88481. 6) Snodgrass, Erin. “5 Ways to Help Anti-Coup Protesters on the Ground in Myanmar Right Now.” Insider, Insider, 11 Apr. 2021, https://www.insider.com/ways-help-anti-coup-protesters-myanmar-right-now-2021-4. 7)Desk, News. “Myanmar Situation Deteriorating – United Nations Press Conference (21 October 2021).” The Global Herald, The Global Herald , 21 Oct. 2021, https://theglobalherald.com/news/myanmar-situation-deteriorating-united-nations-press-c onference-21-october-2021/. Image Source: New York Times October 26, 2021
Poland’s nationalist, far-right Law and Justice (PiS) party has been the dominant party in the country since winning the majority of seats in the lower house (235 out of 460 seats) and upper house (61 out of 100 seats) in 2015 parliamentary elections.
Elections and political parties often face tumultuous cycles. Yet political change does not substantiate action to reduce the power of a country’s basic institutions of justice that are meant to keep all political agendas from crossing irrevocably defined ethical boundaries. After coming into power, the PiS terminated the terms of three constitutional judges belonging to an opposition party and nominated three judges to represent the PiS, a move that ignored the timeframes of their terms of office (Tomczak, 2020). Legal experts across the world deemed the change to the Constitutional Tribunal as an illegal, unwarranted attack on judicial independence that established a link between the most powerful independent court and the ruling party of parliament (BBC, 2016). With a presupposition of corruption overshadowing future rulings made by the Constitutional Tribunal, the rights and freedoms of Polish citizens would be inevitably modified as well (Kobyliński, 2016).
The party’s propaganda and attempts to delegitimize the human rights of sexual and gender minorities have only continued in recent years, with the Law and Justice party winning the vast majority of local elections in 2018 and maintaining power in the lower house of parliament during 2019 parliamentary elections (Beswick and Abellan-Matamoros, 2019).
Amendments to the electoral code of Poland in 2018 signed by President Duda changed the framework of the National Electoral Commission (PKW). Previously, all nine members of the commission were appointed by courts, although the reform allowed seven out of the nine members to be chosen by parliament, perpetuating biased influence of the ruling party throughout the electoral process (Freedom House, 2020).
Observers of the 2019 parliamentary elections from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that although the elections were generally conducted in a transparent and fair manner, the effect of judicial reforms and state sponsored propaganda through public broadcaster channels reduced the ability of voters to make an informed, impartial choice or to lodge election related complaints without undue influence from government authorities (Freedom House, 2020).
Ruling of the Constitutional Court
With the Law and Justice (PiS) party having exerted firm control in the past of Poland’s institutions and continuing to do so for the foreseeable future, the quality of life and impact on sexual and gender minorities has become a human rights cataclysm that cannot be ignored for any longer. With the most powerful institutions in the country falling in line to the ruling party, political agendas became commandments that all citizens were subjugated to, irrespective of whether it deprived them of basic human rights they had previously enjoyed.
Abortion restrictions had previously severely limited the rights of women in Poland, only allowed if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, if the woman’s life was in danger, or if there were fatal fetal abormalities (Gessen, 2020). However on the 22nd October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal, tied to the political agenda of the PiS party, held unconstitutional the provision of allowing an abortion should there be fatal fetal abormalities. The tribunal’s justification relied on defining abortion to be permissible only in instances of “absolute necessity”, a vague term seemingly allowing the court to propogate the ideas of the PiS without acknowledging or protecting the rights of pregnant mothers. Notably, the constitutional rights of women were hardly mentioned in the judgement, including but not limited to: guarantee of human dignity, the right to freedom, the right to life, the prohibition of torture and degrading treatment, the right to privacy, the protection of health, and the special protection of mothers before and after birth (Krajewska, 2020).
Emergence of Women’s Strike Protests
Following the ruling on 22 October 2020, activists mobilized across the nation to call for a change to the eroding, precarious status of reproductive rights in Poland. The umbrella term for these protests were colloquially referred to as the Women’s Strike, although since its inception the protests have come to encompass a wide variety of human rights issues and call attention to socioeconomic disparities (Gessen, 2020).
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, life, liberty, and security of the person to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments and/or punishments are provisioned in human rights treaties to which Poland is a party (UN General Assembly, 1966). However, Amnesty International has documented multiple instances of police brutality against peaceful protesters.
On 9 November 2020, activist Gabriela Lazarek was violently arrested while protesting peacefully in front of the Ministry of Education (Bednarek, 2020). She faces charges of unlawfully influencing by force or threat of the actions of authorities, punishable by up to three years in prison (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1997). Amnesty International holds that these
charges are unjustified. On 10 November, activist Katarzyna Augustynek was arrested in Warsaw while she was protesting peacefully (TVN24, 2020). Video footage shows her talking to three police officers when a fourth officer approaches and demands to see proof of identification, to which she refuses as police do not have a legal basis for conducting an identification check. Katarzyna was forcibly arrested and charged on the basis of a violation of the physical integrity of an officer on duty, punishable by up to three years in prison (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1997). Amnesty International holds that these charges are unjustified. On 11 November, multiple instances of excessive use of force by police on protesters were documented. On 18 November 2020, police kettled protesters and used pepper spray directly in their faces.
Concerns that the police will continue to resort to excessive use of force and criminalization of peaceful protesters are of the utmost importance during a time where Polish authorities appear to be turning a blind eye to citizens who oppose the deprivation of reproductive rights and social mobility. In fact, Polish authorities appear to be taking punitive actions against the constituents to which they are obligated to represent.
What Can You Do?
Broad actions taken to consolidate power in governments is not a new phenomenon. Nor is the deprivation of basic reproductive rights and those of sexual and gender minorities through the corruption of a country’s institutions of justice. In these tumultuous times, we must ask ourselves whether we are willing to stay uninformed and take no action against these sorts of horrific phenomena that continue perpetuating inequalities at every level of society, or whether we will call for change.
With the onset of a global pandemic, traditional forms of social mobilization have been restricted in order to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Fortunately, activism has increasingly taken advantage of digital channels. Amnesty International at the University of Toronto encourages you to stay informed on the actions of Polish authorities particularly as it relates to the treatment of protestors and contribute to change through letter writing campaigns, petitions, and other forms of communication to raise awareness among peers. Please consider making a financial contribution if you are able to do so to organizations including but not limited to: Amnesty International, Stonewall Poland, and Human Rights Watch!
1. “Poland’s Constitutional Court Clashes with New Government.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Mar. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35766482.
2. Kobyliński, Konrad. “The Polish Constitutional Court from an Attitudinal and Institutional Perspective Before and After the Constitutional Crisis of 2015–2016.” Wroclaw Review of Law, Administration & Economics, vol. 6, no. 2, 2016, pp. 94–107., doi:10.1515/wrlae-2018-0006.
3. Tomczak, Malgorzata. “Poland’s Government Creates Constitutional Crisis It Will Find Hard to Resolve.” Balkan Insight, 30 Nov. 2020,
4. Kurasinska, Lidia. “This New Political Party in Poland Wants to ‘Re-Christianise’ Europe.” OpenDemocracy, 27 Feb. 2019,
www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/new-party-poland-aims-re-christianise-europe/. 5. “Poland.” Freedom House, freedomhouse.org/country/poland/freedom-world/2020. 6. Gessen, Masha, et al. “The Abortion Protests in Poland Are Starting to Feel Like a Revolution.” The New Yorker, 17 Nov. 2020,
8. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, p. 171, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3aa0.html
9. Bednarek, Michalina. “Aktywistka Gabriela Lazarek Spędziła Noc ‘Na Dołku’. Wyszła z Poważnymi Zarzutami.” Wyborcza.pl, 11 Nov. 2020,