Canadian lawyers go to court for human rights

| January 4, 2013 | 0 Comments
Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights has sent Canadians lawyers into refugee camps in Western Sahara, where they assisted in the peace process.

Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights has sent Canadians lawyers into refugee camps in Western Sahara, where they assisted in the peace process.

Many Canadians cling to Canada’s past international reputation as a broker of peace, as an important middle power and as a protector of human rights. These sentiments stem from as far back as the 1950s, when then foreign minister Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for defusing the Suez Crisis. Yet we also have more recent interventions and contributions to peace and security for which to be proud.

Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) is dedicated to encouraging the pursuit of these objectives.

CLAIHR represents Canadian lawyers and students interested in international human rights. We promote and protect these rights within Canada and in relation to Canada’s actions abroad. While there are many larger organizations that deal with human rights abuses around the world, CLAIHR is the only Canadian organization to focus its energies exclusively on issues that arise within Canada, relate to its residents, or by Canadians abroad.
Over the years, CLAIHR has been involved in many initiatives, such as sending Canadian lawyers into the refugee camps of Western Sahara, where they assisted the peace process. It has also worked with rights-based organizations in South and Central America. CLAIHR has also helped Canadian law students pursue human rights internships abroad. It is also active in litigating cases involving international human rights and international crimes.

For example, in 2011, CLAIHR successfully made arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case that has the potential to assist victims of torture who are attempting to hold their tormentors accountable in Canadian courts. CLAIHR will also be intervening in early 2013 in the Quebec Court of Appeal in a case involving the first prosecution and conviction under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

In this case, the defendant, Desiré Munyaneza, was a key perpetrator of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in one of Rwanda’s prefectures (provinces). One of the charges was related to his involvement in the mass slaughter of 500 Tutsi civilians who had been seeking shelter in a church. Munyaneza was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has appealed the conviction and sentence and CLAIHR has been granted status as an intervener in this appeal.

As an organization run exclusively by volunteers, CLAIHR devotes most of its energies to educating the public, lawyers, students and judges on issues relating to international human rights. In October, CLAIHR completed a symposium commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P). This doctrine was spearheaded by the Canadian delegation to the United Nations in 2001 and was put to the test with the recent military intervention in Libya.

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine attempts to strike an appropriate balance between state sovereignty and the protection of vulnerable people. It also emphasizes the use of non-military means to reach peace before the big guns are brought to bear. This doctrine is arguably the most important contribution Canada has made to international affairs since the Suez Crisis.

To commemorate this, CLAIHR hosted two sold-out events, starting in 2011 with an evening with Michael Ignatieff, who was part of the Canadian delegation to the UN when the doctrine was formulated, and concluding with a panel discussion with senators Roméo Dallaire and Art Eggleton and former MP Martha Hall Findlay. The panellists covered issues such as child soldiers, Canada’s role in the NATO action in Kosovo in 1999 and whether regime change should even enter the discussion of the R2P at all.
In 2013, CLAIHR will continue with the public education and advocacy campaigns it has started to encourage debate and policy decisions.


Jillian Siskind is the president of CLAIHR. For more information on CLAIHR’s work or to get involved, please visit the website at and follow them on Twitter @CLAIHR.

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Category: Diplomatica

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