2017 Year in Review

August 14, 2017

Dear IHRP supporters,
I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the IHRP’s accomplishments over the past year, as the Program has continued to advance the field of international human rights law. I am thrilled that the IHRP will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and am grateful for your invaluable support over the years.
We will be celebrating the Program’s 30th anniversary with a cocktail reception and photography exhibition on September 14 between 6-8 p.m. in Flavelle House (78 Queen’s Park Cres.), featuring a keynote address by Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and former IHRP Director.
The theme of the evening is impact: For three decades, our Program has equipped students and recent graduates with the skills, the knowledge and the professional network to become effective human rights advocates. The IHRP has also successfully helped challenge human rights violations in Canada and abroad, by engaging in comprehensive research and advocacy that aims to reform law, policy and practice. The photography exhibition will focus on six core areas of IHRP work over the past three decades: refugee rights, the rights of women and girls, international criminal justice, counter-terrorism, freedom of expression, and corporate accountability for human rights. 
Please purchase your tickets now to join us on this special evening.
Research and Advocacy
Canadian Immigration Detention
Over the past year, the IHRP has continued its focus on immigration detention in Canada, culminating in two landmark reports on the system’s impact on children: “No Life for a Child”: A Roadmap to End Immigration Detention of Children and Family Separation, released in September, 2016; and Invisible Citizens: Canadian Children in Immigration Detention, released in February, 2017. The reports analyze the Canadian immigration detention system in light of international human rights law, and provide an overview of social science evidence regarding the mental health consequences for Canadian and non-Canadian children who have been affected by immigration detention. This legal analysis and social science overview was grounded in interviews with refugee lawyers, mental health specialists, service providers, and community activists. Most important, the reports bring to the forefront testimonies of mothers who had been caught up in the immigration detention regime, and were either detained with their children or separated from them. The two reports outline a roadmap for the Canadian government to revise the immigration detention system to abide by international law, by ending child detention and family separation.
The IHRP released both reports at press conferences on Parliament Hill, garnering significant international and local media coverage, including in The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CBC, CPAC, and CTV News. The IHRP continues to engage in numerous high-level meetings with government ministers, members of parliament (including members of the standing committees for Immigration and Public Safety), senators, policy advisors in the ministries of Immigration, Public Safety, and Health, as well as with various officials from the Canada Border Services Agency.
Since the publication of the two reports, Canada has witnessed the tangible impact of the IHRP’s advocacy: The number of children living in immigration detention has dropped significantly, and various robust and positive policy initiatives have been set in motion. We continue to engage with various government officials and advocates to ensure that these policy changes are ultimately entrenched into law.
Rights of Indigenous Women
Over the last year, the IHRP has also engaged in research and advocacy in a variety of other international human rights commitments made by the Government of Canada. In June 2017, Human Rights Watch released its submission to the Canadian Government entitled, Police Abuse of Indigenous Women in Saskatchewan and Failures to Protect Indigenous Women from Violence. The IHRP partnered with Human Rights Watch on this project and our clinic students provided comprehensive legal research, writing, and editing support. The submission highlights the need to examine how policing failures and distrust of law enforcement endanger Indigenous women.  The lack of accountability for policing abuses against Indigenous women exacerbates long-standing tensions between police and Indigenous communities.
In October 2016, the IHRP attended Canada’s review before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva.  The IHRP and Human Rights Watch provided the CEDAW Committee with a joint-submission highlighting two areas of concern: police failures and abuses that contribute to Indigenous women’s and girls’ increased vulnerability to violence; and access to safe water and sanitation on First Nation reserve communities in Ontario.
Freedom of Expression
On the international side, the IHRP continued to deepen its collaboration with PEN International and PEN Canada through the publication of Fearful Silence: The Chill on India's Public Sphere. The report was an update to the IHRP’s 2015 report, Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech, which detailed ways in which intolerant individuals and groups have used vaguely worded laws and a cumbersome legal system to silence their opponents. A year later, the update paints a sobering picture for the state of free expression in India, revealing that a growing culture of intolerance linked to a rising nationalist discourse has taken root in the country.
The IHRP also researched and drafted three joint submissions with PEN on freedom of expression to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India, Brazil and Guatemala’s human rights records. Our students travelled with PEN to India and Guatemala as part of the fact-finding research for the reports, which contained comprehensive recommendations for each country.
Rights to Housing
Over the past year, IHRP clinic students have continued to assist United Nations Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha in researching her annual report, focusing on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.  The theme of this year’s report was the financialization of housing and its impact on human rights, particularly the right to adequate housing. The report calls for a paradigm shift away from treating housing as a commodity to prioritizing housing as a fundamental human right. Our two students attended the 34th session of the United National Human Rights Council on March 1, 2017 in Geneva for the official presentation of the report.
Working groups
Through its volunteer working group program, the IHRP continues to expand its database on country-conditions memorandum detailing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. IHRP students also continued to support the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to expand access to key international humanitarian law resources, and to build the Women’s Human Rights Resources database housed at the Bora Laskin Law Library. This year, students also summarized numerous cases for inclusion in the Global Health Rights Database: a free online resource for law from around the world that is interactive, searchable and a fully indexed website of case law, national constitutions, and international instruments.

In 2017, the IHRP launched a new Digital Verification working group that is at the cutting edge of contemporary human rights investigation. Our students are assisting researchers from Amnesty International in examining and authenticating digital content, including photographs and video from social media sources. Due to the proliferation of smart phones and open social media platforms, evidence of war crimes and other human rights abuses (such as mass graves or summary executions) are increasingly first reported on social media. The working group is international: Our students are working alongside students from the Berkeley University Human Rights Centre in the USA, the Pretoria University Human Rights Centre in South Africa, and the University of Essex Human Rights Centre in the UK.
Capacity building through experiential learning
Research Associates
I am pleased to advise that the IHRP has secured funding from the Honourable William C. Graham to hire three researchers over the next three years, on six-month contracts. The William C. Graham Research Associate positions will increase the depth and reach of our program’s research and advocacy, while also investing in the careers of recent graduates who may be seeking a path to international human rights law and advocacy. On August 14, 2017, The IHRP hired recent graduate Petra Molnar (JD 2016, UT Law) as the first of these researchers. Petra is a lawyer specializing in refugee and human rights law and has worked in the field of forced migration for 10 years. Petra is also currently starting a research institute in Turkey and is working on a book on the Syrian conflict. While at the IHRP, she will be researching human rights abuses against migrant workers in Canada.
Securing funding for these research associates has been one of the top priorities for the IHRP, given the success and impact of previous positions. In August 2016, the IHRP used a one-time grant to hire recent graduate Hanna Gros (JD 2016, UT Law) on a six-month contract to research immigration detention, which has enabled us to produce two landmark reports. In addition to the impact the IHRP has had on this issue, the fellowship has also been an invaluable opportunity for the fellow’s professional growth as a human rights advocate. Hanna has had the opportunity to present the IHRP reports at local, national and international conferences, discuss her research with the media, contribute to on-going litigation as a researcher on immigration detention, author multiple articles and book chapters on immigration detention, write a submission to Canada’s Universal Periodic Review, and network with advocates to develop other projects related to immigration detention. For the fellow, this opportunity was an essential alternative to conventional legal practice. It not only allowed her to embark on a meaningful career path, but also develop an innovative approach to the law as a tool for advocacy and justice.
Summer Fellowships
This summer, we were delighted to once again send sixteen law students into the field, to learn about international human rights law in practice, and increase the capacity of their host organizations. Students are working on diverse human rights issues in Canada and around the world, including at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Thailand, the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, as well as a host of civil society organizations in Israel and Malawi, among others.
I look forward to sharing more successes with you in the months to come. In the meantime, please accept my thanks in advance for your ongoing support of the IHRP and our important work. 
Samer Muscati