By Slava Balan, LLM, PhD candidate
In December 2019, I enjoyed the enriching experience of accompanying Prof. John Packer, Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution, during visits to Geneva and Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) to advance minority rights and prevent conflicts.
In Geneva, Prof. Packer contributed to a meeting of experts aimed at strengthening the implementation of minority rights. The consultation was convened by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in collaboration with world-leading NGO Minority Rights Group. Many important and complex questions of current challenges were raised and debated at the meeting, including the work of the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms seeking to empower minorities and promote the realization of their rights. The meeting was chaired by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr. Fernand de Varennes (a Canadian and former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Moncton), and attended by members of the UN treaty bodies, recently appointed UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris of Latvia, leading minority rights scholars and key experts from international NGOs. Prof. Packer shared his substantial experience and called for the UN to consider commencing negotiation of a legally binding Minority Rights Convention to translate the 1992 UN Declaration into ‘hard law’ with a dedicated supervisory body.
While in Geneva, Prof. Packer convened a briefing on the case of The Gambia v. Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the UN Genocide Convention (1948) concerning the Rohingya genocide. Rohingya intellectual and activist Dr. Hla Myint (Foreign Relations Representative of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation – ARNO) was invited by Prof. Packer to co-present at the briefing. During the meeting Prof. Packer explained the opportunities and limitations of the case before the ICJ, and encouraged specialized UN bodies to make tailored submissions to the Court along with Governments and relevant IGOs.
In Chisinau, Prof. Packer conducted an expert training on Health, Human Rights and Minorities for the professional staff of Moldova’s Agency for Inter-Ethnic Relations, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and the Equality Council (Moldova’s national human rights institution akin to Canada’s Human Rights Commission), and provided on-the-spot expert advice to the members of the Equality Council regarding selected challenges and cases. Invited to Moldova by the Mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the purpose of Prof Packer’s visit was to help the three institutions develop their shared knowledge base and contribute to fairness for all persons throughout the country with a view to building public confidence in the rule of law and democratic governance. This is directly linked to peace and security in the country which has endured persistent political and economic challenges including part of its territory (predominantly Russian-speaking Transnistria) not under the State’s effective control. The better management or resolution of Moldova’s inter-ethnic relations would significantly contribute to the security and development of the country and the region.
Plans for an extended collaboration between the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Clinic and the Moldova Equality Council were discussed. Engaging uOttawa Law students in some legal research, notably of International and Comparative Law, to support the Moldova Equality Council would be meaningful for both the Council and students and deliver real value to the country.
As a doctoral candidate in Law under Prof. Packer’s supervision, it was a tremendous opportunity and great learning experience for me to attend and observe how Prof Packer employs law to strengthen the performance of key public institutions and build peace in such a context. Similarly, at the UN in Geneva I was able to attend and also address the minority rights expert meeting to which I shared some ideas from my doctoral work on mainstreaming the minority dimension through a human rights based approach. These were both invaluable and highly stimulating experiences for me and, we hope, useful contributions to the important work being done in Moldova and by the UN on a global basis.
We thank uOttawa Faculty of Law alumni (class of ‘81) Edith Neuberger and Norman Jesin for their financial support of the Neuberger-Jesin Professorship in International Conflict Resolution.