The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Erika Schneidereit

International law

Women are still seriously underrepresented in the shaping of international law

By Erika Schneidereit March 7, 2018 7 March 2018

Women are still seriously underrepresented in the shaping of international law

At first glance, it is perhaps understandable how international law could be misconstrued as gender-neutral. With seemingly objective doctrines and the fact that international legal rules apply primarily to states, it is difficult to see how this particular body of law could possibly be subject to feminist debate. But the very fact that international law appears to draw no gendered distinctions raises a red flag, as it suggests that international legal norms and institutions are free from bias. Contrary to its apparent universality, however, the development of international law has continually under-represented women and marginalized female perspectives.

The clearest example of how women are excluded from international law is their striking absence from the institutions shaping how international rules are made and applied. Despite recent progress, women remain under-represented in domestic legislatures around the world. In a system where states negotiate and ratify treaties (one of the two main sources of international law), this absence of female decision-makers is striking.

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International law

When the laws on universal jurisdiction mix with politics

By Erika Schneidereit December 5, 2017 5 December 2017

When the laws on universal jurisdiction mix with politics

 

Part 1 of this series provided an overview of universal jurisdiction, and looked at how Argentina has used this doctrine to dig into Spain’s troubled past. But how has Spain itself grappled with the benefits – and drawbacks – of embracing universal jurisdiction?

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction is certainly a polarizing subject in international law – so why dig into the history of its use in one particular country? While exploring the rise and fall of universal jurisdiction in Spain is undoubtedly intriguing from an academic perspective, it is more importantly a crucial exercise for advocates of the doctrine who seek to entrench universal jurisdiction as one of the core jurisdictional bases in customary international law.

Despite its recent fall from Spanish good graces, since its 1985 adoption into Spanish law “no country has been more assertive in using [universal jurisdiction] than Spain.” Spain’s championing of a legal tool used to prosecute human rights violations beyond national borders is somewhat surprising, given the country’s own historical experience with post-conflict justice — notably, Spain’s decision to effectively prohibit prosecution of the crimes occurring under the Franco dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War. Alternatively, it is perhaps precisely because of this reluctance to turn its historical gaze inward that Spain so readily allowed for the pursuit of justice outside its borders. 

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International law

Reluctant enforcement: The laws on universal jurisdiction

By Erika Schneidereit October 4, 2017 4 October 2017

Reluctant enforcement: The laws on universal jurisdiction


In international law, they are known as “victims of enforced disappearance” – individuals removed from their homes and typically never heard from again. But in Spain, they are known simply as ‘the disappeared’: the over 114,000 Spaniards who vanished during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship (between 1936 and 1975).  The word itself, “disappeared,” gives a glimpse of this tactic’s cruel effects. Victims’ families and friends are left with no explanation - the disappeared are simply gone, never to be heard from again.  

In the years that follow any war, there are calls for answers. Often, these calls go unheeded - sometimes because the government cannot risk reigniting tensions, sometimes because it simply lacks the political will to embark on a daunting quest for post-conflict justice.

When Spain emerged from dictatorship in 1975, it too struggled with how to reconcile the dark chapters of its past with a new vision for the future. Claiming that it needed to protect its nascent democracy, in 1977 the Spanish government chose to pass an amnesty law prohibiting prosecution of individuals for offences committed from 1936 to 1975 – a nearly 40 year period in which thousands of crimes had taken place. 

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International law

The challenges of preventing corporate human right abuses abroad

By Erika Schneidereit July 25, 2017 25 July 2017

The challenges of preventing corporate human right abuses abroad


The protection of human rights is one of the core values that Canadians hold dear. But do Canadian laws do enough to prevent human rights abuses committed overseas?

The challenges posed by this question have become increasingly relevant in a world where Canadian companies control vast operations in multiple countries. This issue has also drawn the attention of international bodies, such as the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. 

Earlier this summer, the working group visited Canada to examine issues involving Canadian corporations and human rights. Of particular interest was Canada’s extractive industry (mining and oil and gas) – unsurprisingly, given that more than half of the world’s mining companies call Canada home. While the group wrapped up its visit by applauding Canada for its commitment to addressing business-related human rights issues, it also identified a number of lingering concerns in preventing and remedying human rights abuses committed by Canadian companies operating abroad.

So, what’s so complicated about preventing corporate human right violations abroad?

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Privacy rights

Surveillance oversight requires international effort

By Erika Schneidereit May 3, 2017 3 May 2017

Surveillance oversight requires international effort

 

Since reports on Edward Snowden’s leaks on U.S. spying were published four years ago, the question of where (and how) to draw the line between privacy rights and security interests has generated considerable interest both domestically and at the international level. And yet, international law is still grappling with how to effectively regulate governmental surveillance and access to personal data.

Any discussion on the topic must begin by considering the right to privacy in international law, enshrined as a fundamental human right both in Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (as well as a handful of other international and regional agreements). But the right to privacy is also a qualified protection. Article 12 refers to no person being subjected to “arbitrary interference” with privacy and Article 17 prohibits “arbitrary or unlawful interference’ with privacy.

What does this mean exactly? 

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