Championing human rights

Human rights lawyer Leilani Farha has joined Carleton University for the 2007-08 academic year as its first recipient of the Law Foundation of Ontario’s (LFO) Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship.

Farha, a staff lawyer at the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and director of CERA’s women’s program, is taking aim at poverty and housing discrimination by focusing on law reform initiatives that advance the economic and social rights or marginalized groups.

“This fellowship has provided a unique opportunity to engage the academic community — students and professors alike — in an area of human rights practice that does not always receive enough attention,” said Farha. “Understanding and enforcing the economic and social rights of poor people is integral to ensuring their dignity.”

In the fall term, Farha coordinated and presented a human rights and housing workshop for students and community workers which was well attended and generated a lot of discussion about housing concerns for students and others in Ottawa. She also provided a guest lecture on the politics of human rights, drawing on her experiences advocating at the United Nations for new legal standards on women’s economic and social rights. As well, Farha also undertook a major research initiative on the intersections of violence against women and the right to adequate housing under international human rights law.

Farha is housed within the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies’ human rights program and will spearhead a number of new initiatives as part of the Social and Economic Rights program. In the winter term, students under her direction will research a Philippine case study, in which a community was evicted in favour of a railway project. At the beginning of February she will host a colloquium featuring two leading experts in the field of economic and social rights: Shelagh Day (Poverty and Human Rights Centre) and Bruce Porter (Social Rights Advocacy Centre). The colloquium will focus on how lawyers, advocates and academics can use international human rights law to claim economic and social rights such as the right to housing, food and healthcare.

Undergraduate students enrolled in the human rights program will also have an opportunity to apply theory to real-world situations, through practicum placements with NGOs and government departments focused on human rights and social justice.

“It is vital to my work to engage students directly, to support them to explore areas of law that are particularly relevant to poor people, and to encourage them to work in this area when they graduate,” said Farha. “It is very exciting to be working collaboratively with the Institute to advance our substantive understanding of what it means to claim economic and social rights.”

The Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship is funded by the LFO and establishes community-based partnerships between post-secondary institutions and associations that interact with the legal system.

The LFO was founded in 1974 to develop a fund for legal education, research and aid as well as to establish law libraries.

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