“How do we make sure that our mission for justice is not in its very process exploiting the stories and experiences of survivors – often racialized, marginalized, and othered people, especially women?”
Lawyer. Amanda is the Legal Director at the Canadian Centre for International Justice. CCIJ supports and assists people seeking justice for serious human rights violations and engages with Canadians through education and awareness programming. Amanda is also Director of the Philippe Kirsch Institute, which provides specialised legal education programmes with a focus on international law, human rights, and international criminal law, among others. In 2016, Amanda successfully spearheaded the international campaign #FREEHOMA to release the Canadian-Iranian political prisoner, Professor Homa Hoodfar, from Evin prison in Iran.
You work on international human rights law—what motivated you to do this kind of law?
My academic background before law school was in cultural studies and peace and conflict resolution. While spending time in Australia during my master’s degree, I started working on refugee issues and realized that knowledge of law would allow me to have a greater impact on refugee policy. Throughout law school I worked with refugee women who were survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and this experience steered me to the intersection of refugees, conflict, violence and justice. At the Centre, I work on these issues in a manner that has direct impact on survivors, but also empowers survivors to take a leading role in their justice efforts.
What most often hinders you from achieving justice?
Ironically, laws and policies are what most often hinder us from achieving justice for our clients. For example, Canada’s State Immunity Act generally gives foreign governments immunity in Canadian courts, making it very difficult for survivors to seek compensation for torture and other atrocities committed by those governments. Another example has been the reluctance by Canadian courts, until very recently, to allow Canadian corporations to be sued in Canada for the human rights abuses they commit abroad. However, these barriers make my work that much more important, because every success we achieve for our clients sets a precedent that brings us one step closer to achieving justice for many others.
You’ve worked on cases involving political prisoners. Was the case of your aunt, Professor Homa Hoodfar, at all unique?
Homa’s case was not necessarily unique. There is a long-standing track record of academics and intellectuals being imprisoned in Iran, including but not limited to dual nationals. However, what made Homa’s case unique was the the speed at which it was resolved, in very large part a testament to the effectiveness of diplomacy. From the perspective of a lawyer, it was very difficult to navigate the campaign and messaging knowing that Homa’s trial was still unfolding; everything we said and did would be scrutinized and had the potential to impact her case. Ultimately, the success of Homa’s case came from a concerted and collective effort: the United Nations, the Canadian government, other national governments, academics, activists, and individuals, particularly those in the Global South such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia. The campaign really was a global effort.
How have you found the environment for women in the legal world?
Women must work ten times harder to prove their worth and value, whether you are in a large corporate law firm or in a non-governmental organization. I was the keynote speaker at Law Needs Feminism Because Forum in Montreal this year because I strongly believe that women in law need to create spaces to support each other. I was happy to see women law students, law professors, and lawyers uniting to discuss the ongoing challenges we face in this profession, and the opportunities that we have to change these structural inequities. I have also implemented an intersectional feminist policy in CCIJ‘s legal department as I believe it is imperative that we are guided by intersectional feminism not only in our immediate work environment, but also in the work we carry out with clients and in our broader communities. In the context of international justice, I find an intersectional feminist approach poses the question: “How do we make sure that our mission for justice is not in its very process exploiting the stories and experiences of survivors – often racialised, marginalised, and othered people, especially women?”
Could you tell us about Women’s Charters and Declarations. Why did you create this network?
Women’s Charters and Declarations is a project that emerged out of several collaborative meetings with feminists from various backgrounds, emphasizing the need to have an archive of the legal and policy work that has taken place in women’s rights movements across the globe. The project is designed as a resource centre with quick, searchable, and structured access to women’s charters, declarations, and manifestos. My hope is that it will help mobilize and encourage new generations to get inspired by, learn from, and adapt these charters to their own contexts.