Defending the right to
political and social action
For over four decades Inter Pares has been committed to promoting deep and enduring relationships of common cause among civil society organizations in Canada and around the world – as equals, among equals. That is what Inter Pares signifies, and is the nexus of our action.
Over that long period there have been countless situations in countries around the world where we have walked alongside people and their organizations experiencing the hard steel of repression against their aspirations and actions for political freedom and progressive change.
Our world is now in a particular moment of concerted and unabashed attacks by the powerful, against people who organize to protect their rights, develop ideas and mobilize for peaceful change.
In August 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, delivered her report, Saving Lives is Not a Crime, to the UN General Assembly. She found that rather than protecting rights, states are using judicial intimidation, criminalizing protest, assembly or speech to curb dissenters. And she expressed her outrage that governments are also criminalizing human rights and humanitarian organizations, using measures originally introduced as counter-terrorism laws.
This trend is not just in far-away places: as this publication goes to print, Canada’s Parliament is considering introducing new powers of mass surveillance through the new National Security Act, Bill C-59.
Also in 2018, attacks against human rights defenders protesting corporate abuses increased by 34%, including legal harassment, intimidation, assaults and murder. In greatest danger were land rights defenders protesting violations by mining and agribusiness. Women human rights defenders are facing heightened threat, sometimes targeted for being activists - sometimes just for being women.
But at the same time, everywhere, people are refusing to let close around them the space for dissent and debate that they themselves have forced open through their courageous action. They think, organize and mobilize for policies and programs that benefit people and protect rights.
It is our perspective that it is precisely this mobilization – and its successes – that is prompting the repressive reaction of the powerful. For that reason, now is a time to redouble our efforts to defend the defenders, working in common cause for a better world.
In this annual report, we share what we have learned with others over time, using examples of experiences and actions of ordinary people mobilizing to do extraordinary things. In these organizations and others, people are coming together to exercise their humanity, audacity, and courage to effect positive change in their communities.
What is happening today is not new. It is inherent in the quest for a humane and just world. The struggle to create – and recreate – dynamic, healthy civic spaces is age old; a story with far more success than failure, far more victories than defeats, far more remarkable accomplishments of deep communal cooperation than the opposite.
What is required is that we remember this, and remember that these successes come with people – acting together – persisting in our vision and our action to protect our dreams and aspirations, and to share them with others in our common struggle.
Without community, there is no liberation.
Message from Inter Pares board member
2018, the year I joined the Inter Pares Board of Directors, was a demanding but fulfilling year.
Demanding, because to accompany and effectively uphold the mission of Inter Pares and its support of organizations and social movements struggling courageously against injustice and discrimination, requires significant mobilization of resources, and accountability. We operate in a context of deepening humanitarian and environmental crises, shrinking civic space, and the rise of right-wing populism. All of this impacts our collective social justice action defending the rights of vulnerable people. Despite this context, the work of Inter Pares’ counterparts in 2018 was remarkable.
Fulfilling, because Inter Pares was able to participate in and help move forward promising initiatives, including pursuing additional program funding for our work on sexual and reproductive health and rights, participating in the W7 international forum in Ottawa, advocating for strong Canadian foreign policy in response to the Rohingya crisis, and supporting organizations that defend the rights of LGBTI groups, among others.
Looking back on 2018 I want to honour and recognize the quality and engagement of Inter Pares staff and board. This is a group of people with diverse experiences who truly demonstrate their commitment and solidarity. They make me proud to be part of the board as together we advance Inter Pares’ mission of globalizing equality.
I want to honour and recognize the quality and engagement of Inter Pares staff and board.
Inter Pares in the World
Inter Pares in Burma
Inter Pares in Canada
Inter Pares in Asia
Inter Pares in Africa
Inter Pares in Latin America
Over 60,000 refugees from Burma are supported by COBEM & its member groups.
Tenaganita & Coalition of Burma Ethnics in Malaysia
For the third time that day, Elise Chen is on the phone, trying to discover the fate of an ethnic refugee from Burma who’s been locked up in an immigration detention centre. No one answers her call. Last year, Malaysian authorities arrested, detained, and treated brutally more than 1,800 refugees. Pregnant women, children, and the elderly were not spared.
Elise works with Tenaganita, a Malaysian organization that defends the rights of women, migrants, and refugees. With Inter Pares’ support, Tenaganita provides mentoring and assistance to the Coalition of Burma Ethnics in Malaysia (COBEM), an alliance of eight community groups formed by self-organized refugees from Burma. COBEM currently serves over 60,000 individuals, including health support, education, and help in cases of arbitrary detention.
COBEM also acts as an intermediary between its communities and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Last June, the UNCHR announced the cessation of refugee status for Chin refugees, despite ongoing conflict and militarization in Burma’s Chin State. COBEM actively opposed this decision, as did the Chin Human Rights Organization, another Inter Pares counterpart that documents systematic rights abuses. The UNHCR recently suspended the cessation process, citing new research and community opposition.
It is a victory – but the struggle to gain legal status in Malaysia continues. In a context of ongoing human rights violations and impunity in Burma, it is clearer than ever that going home is not an immediate option for many who have fled. For those refugees in limbo in neighbouring countries, often with few rights, international solidarity is more urgent than ever. In the meanwhile, Elise will continue to defend refugees’ rights, and Inter Pares will continue to stand with Tenaganita and COBEM.
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Canada
Rasha Hilal Al-Baiyatti
Having grown up in Iraq, Rasha Hilal Al-Baiyatti knows all too well the danger of restricting free speech and democracy. She has seen first-hand the consequences of a brutal government crack-down on civil society.
This is why Rasha – an Inter Pares staff member – is now passionately involved with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). Inter Pares is a founding member of ICLMG and in 2018 Rasha was elected Co-Chair of their Steering Committee. For Rasha, this role is personal, professional, and political.
ICLMG was founded to protect human rights and freedom of expression from encroachment by the Canadian state. It seeks justice for individuals targeted by an “anti-terror” agenda. ICLMG challenges growing social and legal intolerance and xenophobia in the name of national security.
In 2018, ICLMG launched a campaign to address concerns about Bill C-59, the so-called new National Security Act. Among its problematic measures, the bill empowers national security agencies to conduct mass surveillance by collecting bulk data on Canadian citizens with no requirement that it be lawfully obtained. Data can be used to repress dissent and place further restrictions on already marginalized communities. In the name of counter-terrorism, elements of this legislation dilute civil liberties and fuel fear of “the other.”
Rasha warns that we not allow this fear to erode our freedom. Too often, national security legislation reduces our freedom, without evidence that it makes us any safer. Rasha continues to support ICLMG to prevent Canadian society from moving further towards a climate of repression and injustice, and to promote civil liberties and our fundamental rights and freedoms.
As many as 100,000 Canadians could be falsely flagged on the no fly list simply because of the number of people with the same names.
Likhaan Center for Women's Health, Philippines
Growing up during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s Arnold Vega witnessed the repression of peoples’ organizations first-hand. But as a teenager he also witnessed their strength in the form of the People Power Revolution that restored democracy to the Philippines. Now, decades later, under President Duterte, the clampdown on free expression is returning. State violence is ubiquitous. A culture of misogyny thrives. Fundamentalisms constrict reproductive rights.
This is why every day, Arnold Vega gets up at 4:00 am and catches the bus that will – three and half hours later – bring him to the centre of Manila where he works with the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, a feminist, civil society organization. Every evening he makes the same trip – taking even longer if the traffic is bad – to get home.
Arnold could find work closer to home but he believes passionately in Likhaan’s mission – to provide respectful, high-quality sexual and reproductive health care to women and girls from some of the most marginalized communities in the Philippines. Each of Likhaan’s clinics also has a network of community health workers and volunteers with whom Arnold closely collaborates. They are responsible for outreach; talking to women and girls in their homes, the streets and alleyways so that community members can become their own advocates. This vision of blending medical care and political organizing, to achieve a just and equal society with the struggle for women’s rights at its core, sustains Arnold on those long commutes.
Inter Pares is privileged to work with Arnold and to support Likhaan’s courageous work.
A total of 13,068 people were reached by Likhaan through education sessions.
Tiniguena is working with 2,000 women farmers, who are providing 5,000 schoolchildren with fresh, organic vegetables.
Sanhá João Correia
Sanhá João Correia grew up on the island of Galinhas, in the Bijagos Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau. He grew up in two worlds: one embedded in Bijago knowledge and traditions; the other, in a Brazilian university, studying agronomy. Back in the archipelago, Sanhá now works with Inter Pares’ counterpart Tiniguena overseeing an innovative school garden and meals program.
As a founding member of the Civil Society Network for Food Sovereignty and Nutrition (RESSAN-GB), Tiniguena and allies succeeded in influencing national food procurement policies. In 2018, Tiniguena partnered with the World Food Program and other NGOs to launch a national school meals program. Rather than rely on imported food aid, the program sources fresh, ecologically grown vegetables from local farms. Tiniguena is working with 2,000 women farmers, who are providing 5,000 schoolchildren from 37 schools with fresh, organic vegetables. The program includes school gardens to supplement the school meal program and serve as outdoor classrooms for teaching biology, nutrition, and gardening.
In a country that has fallen prey to landgrabs, and where women’s access to land and to markets is a constant obstacle, this program shows great promise. The school meals program is improving child nutrition, building new skills in agroecology, and has created a secure market for women farmers. Should the pilot program be successful, it will be rolled out to schools across the country.
Sanhá is proud of the school gardens. Guided by his Indigenous culture, he is also applying new scientific teachings in agroecology, and transmitting this knowledge and passion to new generations.
Fondo Lunaria & Poder Mestizo, Colombia
Tatiana Galera Cueto
From an early age, Tatiana Galera Cueto witnessed first-hand the impact of illegal armed groups in her native Cordoba, located in Colombia’s northern Caribbean region. A largely rural and politically conservative area, Cordoba has long been a corridor for drug trafficking and armed conflict.
In collusion with landowning elites, paramilitary groups targeted individuals who challenged the highly unequal status quo by carrying out assassinations of social leaders, conducting massacres and forcibly displacing entire communities. Reinforcing machista and patriarchal norms, these militias also conducted “social cleansing” operations, systematically erasing any trace of sexual and gender diversity and giving Cordoba the notorious distinction of having the second highest rates of LGBTI victims in the country.
As a form of resistance, Tatiana and other LGBTI individuals and allies came together in 2012 to form Poder Mestizo (Mestizo Power). The group has since become an important social actor in Cordoba, providing a platform for diverse youth to express themselves through art, music, dance and social mobilization. Poder Mestizo has also contributed to efforts to build peace with justice, by raising awareness about the conflict’s impact on LGBTI people so that their truth becomes an integral part of the official history.
Poder Mestizo is one of 48 grassroots groups supported in 2018 by Inter Pares counterpart Fondo Lunaria. For Tatiana, “This support has strengthened the leadership skills of our members and enabled us to build something of our own in an area where that had never existed. It has motivated us to continue because now we know there are many other people and organizations throughout the country, even in more difficult circumstances, working for the same thing.”
Poder Mestizo is one of 48 grassroots groups supported in 2018 by Inter Pares counterpart Fondo Lunaria.
Getting to know our donors
In this year’s annual report, we honour all those who choose to leave a legacy for future generations through a gift in their will to Inter Pares. The following is part of Inter Pares donor Eleanor Millard’s story and her vision of a social justice legacy.
The summer I graduated from university in British Columbia, I was looking for work and ended up in the Yukon. I have lived here ever since. In the early years I was a social worker. Later I became involved in education and communications projects with First Nations across the North, including several years as Minister of Education for the Yukon. I am really interested in Paulo Freire, which led me to co-create the first two literacy projects in the Yukon, in Dawson City and Whitehorse, and also the Yukon Development Education Centre in Whitehorse. I’ve written four books about the life and culture of living in the North. My travels took me to Central America and the Caribbean, and my interest in the area's history and development grew into two Master's degrees.
I first met Inter Pares at a literacy conference in Edmonton in 1979, at a workshop about Paulo Freire. Inter Pares really intrigued me. They were enthusiastic and energetic and they had a great approach to social justice. I started donating then. I liked the idea that Inter Pares was also working in Canada. What really appealed to me was the fact that Inter Pares works collaboratively with counterpart organizations, rather than walking in and saying, “These are the solutions.” It just seemed logical, when I was writing my will, that a gift to Inter Pares would be the kind of thing that I would want. It’s not the amount that matters, but it is something that I know will carry on after me.