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Areas of Research on Human Rights and Legal Pluralism

1.  Cultural Diversity

1.1 Encounters between Culture and Law: Centaur Jurisprudence Research Project

Researchers: René Provost, Kirsten Anker, David Howes (Concordia), and Eric Reiter (Concordia)

Project description [.pdf]

The Legalization of Culture and the Enculturation of Law conference site (Friday, 21 February 2014 at the Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

The encounters of law and culture within legal institutions are complex and dynamic, intersecting at multiple sites. We have identified three distinct sites, understood as normative sites in which legal knowledge is produced. The project proposes to critically analyse each of these sites by combining legal and anthropological perspectives. The first site, “translation of cultures”, relates to the process of representing cultures as facts that fall into categories known to law. The second, “acculturation of justice”, centres on the ways in which legal institutions react and adapt in an attempt to be culturally sensitive. This includes experimenting with alternative modes of conflict resolution, where legal processes are adapted to local cultural exigencies. The third, “pluralized narratives of law and cultures”, touches on the impact within a given community of the narrative created by legal institutions in the process of applying legal norms. In this respect, the project seeks to assess the rayonnement of legal culture beyond the boundaries of legal institutions and, by the same process, analyze the extent to which legal culture itself is shaped through these encounters.

1.2 Human Rights and Diverse Societies

Book at Cambridge Scholars Press: Human Rights and Diverse Societies: Challenges and Possibilities (2013)

Editors: Colleen Sheppard and François Crépeau

Contributors: Colleen Sheppard (CHRLP) François Crépeau (CHRLP), Peter Leuprecht (UQÀM), Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra), Ranabir Samaddar (Founder and Director of the Calcutta Research Group and Refugee Watch), Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez [.pdf](Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta), Vrinda Narain (CHRLP), Yossi Yonah (Department of Education, Ben Gurion University of the Negev), Anna Sevortian (independent expert, who was formerly the Director of Human Rights Watch Russia), Didier Bigo (Professor at King's College London Department of War studies and MCU Research Professor at Sciences-Po Paris), Joris de Bres (Race Relations Commissioner, New Zealand Human Rights Commission), Pearl Eliadis (International human rights lawyer, CHRLP)

This book project emerged from the Echenberg Global Conference on Human Rights and Diverse Societies, held in the fall of 2010. Scholars and activists from around the world convened to discuss complex issues linked to human rights and social diversity. In engaging with theoretical perspectives that question the “universality” of human rights as well as the practicality of diverse applications of human rights, this collection of essays explores how human rights can be employed to empower historically excluded/marginalized groups. It also examines how human rights can be invoked to further social inclusion. The essays reveal that the claim for universality of human rights is far from complete when faced with diverse (and diversifying) societies; in this way, the question is no longer about attaining universality, but much more about the discourse and challenges that surround it in the twenty-first century.

(Funded with the Assistance of the Echenberg Family Conference Fund)

1.3 Religious Freedom and Equality: Intercultural Encounters and Continuing Challenges

Centre Researchers: Vrinda Narain and Colleen Sheppard

Drawing on recent Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence and public policy and law reform developments in Quebec, the ways in which religious freedom and equality rights are being addressed in contemporary Canadian legal contexts are examined. The research retraces the establishment of a human rights framework for protecting religious minorities in Canada, highlighting the historic recognition of adverse effects discrimination and the duty to accommodate. The emergence of an effects-based approach to constitutional protection for freedom of religion and the duty of accommodation is also reviewed. These legal developments, moreover, have occurred within a broader public policy framework that endorses multiculturalism in federal law and policy and interculturalism in Quebec.

(Funded by the Ontario Law Foundation Grant)

1.4 Religious Revival in a Post-Multicultural Age

Centre Researchers: René Provost, Shauna Van Praagh, Angela Campbell, and Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli

This research initiative, co-researched with Tel Aviv University, involved a two-stage research project on “Religious Revival in Post-Multicultural Societies.” The first stage took place in Israel in June 2009, with three Centre members (Angela Cambell, Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, and Shauna Van Praagh) joining nine scholars from Israel and abroad for a two-day closed workshop. The second stage occurred in January 2011 at McGill University with a public conference [.pdf] at which written papers were presented.


2.  Equality and Inclusion

2.1 Interdisciplinary Research Network on Discrimination and Inclusion

This project was established in Spring 2013 on the initiative of Colleen Sheppard, Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. Visit the Network's page for more information.

2.2 Systemic discrimination: contexts and complexities

Researcher: Colleen Sheppard

The primary objective of this research initiative is to contribute to clarifying the meaning of systemic discrimination and to identifying effective strategies for preventing and remedying it. It builds on Colleen Sheppard’s book, Inclusive Equality. The Relational Dimensions of Systemic Discrimination in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

2.3 Community initiatives

Collaboration avec le Barreau du Québec, sur un projet pour une profession plus inclusive

Researchers: Colleen Sheppard, and two students: Isabelle Bourgeois, Aisenstadt Fellow of the CHRLP, and Anne-Claire Gayet, Research coordinator of the CHRLP

La collaboration vise à contribuer à la réflexion du Barreau du Québec sur comment rendre la profession juridique plus inclusive. La recherche a porté sur l’identification des programmes et stratégies adoptés en matière de promotion et de gestion de la diversité dans les autres Barreaux canadiens, aux États-Unis et en Europe, ainsi que d’autres initiatives pour lutter contre la discrimination dans d’autres ordres professionnels.

2.4 Aisenstadt Equality and Community Initiative

The initiative has its own section on our site.

2.5 Related initiatives


3.  Economic Justice

3.1 Economic Justice and Human Rights Project

Researchers: Nandini Ramanujam, Colleen Sheppard, Allison Christians, François Crépeau, Jane Glenn.

This research program examines how pervasive socioeconomic inequality and poverty create a critical challenge to human rights in an increasingly globalized world.  Poverty not only contributes to the devastating material inequality that shapes the lives of the poor, but it also undermines the human dignity of those it affects.  This program reconsiders the human rights and economic justice debate through four interrelated research axes: 1) how the law contributes to the creation and maintenance of socioeconomic inequality; 2) how inequality and unrealized socioeconomic rights in turn undermine civil and political rights; 3) how to develop effective human rights strategies to realize economic justice when the state is no longer the exclusive actor and territorial boundaries are less determinative of unjust outcomes; and 4) how endemic poverty represents a critical challenge for current human rights discourse and approaches.

3.2 Rule of law and Economic Development

Researchers: Nandini Ramanujam (Principal Researcher of Russia Legal Research Team), Patrick Healy and René Provost

Research project webpage

This initiative involves interdisciplinary research across Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the socalled BRIC countries) to compare the systems and structures in which law operates, and evaluates the current climate of rule of law and its relationship to economic development within each country. The year-long research has culminated in a report entitled “Rule of Law and Economic Development: A Comparative Analysis of Approaches to Sustainable Economic Development Across BRIC” [.pdf] (authored by Nandini Ramanujam with Mara Verna, Lead Researcher & Research Coordinator, Julia Betts, Senior Researcher & Editor, Kuzi Charamba and Marcus Moore, Researchers). Comprehensive in scope, the report comprises eight sections in total including preface, introduction, five main sections (governance, institutions, the judiciary, media and civil society organizations, and corruption), and conclusion. As a complement to the corruption section, a compilation of relevant international and domestic laws and agencies provides an overview of anti-corruption efforts across Brazil, Russia, India and China.

3.3 Indignation, Socio-Economic Inequality and the Role of Law

Workshop Coordinators: Jane Glenn (McGill), Anneke Smit (Windsor) and Véronique Fortin (University of California)

Centre Researchers: Colleen Sheppard and Jane Glenn

An international and interdisciplinary socio-legal workshop held at Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law in June 2013. The papers presented at the Conference will be published in the Oñati Socio-Legal Series.

3.4 Tax Justice

Researcher: Allison Christians

Tax Justice Roundtable (May 2013)

3.5 Labor Law and Development

3.5.1 Labor Law and Development: Perspectives on Labor Regulation in Africa and the African Diaspora

Researcher:  Adelle Blackett

 Special journal issue published in (2011) 32: 2 Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal with Adelle Blackett (guest editor), Dzodzi Tsikata, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Diamond Ashiagbor and Chantal Thomas.


“Our approach is to emphasize North-South relations in the regulation of labor in the new economy; this includes considering the ways in which economic restructuring re-creates conditions of the South in the North. We have been inspired by initiatives such as Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), the International Network on Transformative Employment and Labor Law (INTELL), and Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). Our area focus is deliberately on Africa and the African diaspora, regions too often overlooked in discussions of globalization and labor law in the global North. To focus on these regions requires researchers to be alive to the importance of earlier forms of racialized and gendered market construction, including through triangular trade, the enslaved movement of persons, and colonialism. It also entails a contemporary approach attuned to the significance of the extractive economy to technological innovation, to the psychological dimensions of post-colonialism currently a real part of the “globalization of the mind,” as well as to peoples' resource-fuelled territorial dislocation and labor migratory effects. […]

To conclude, this special issue deliberately inserts itself amongst the ongoing reflections about the future of labor law. Yet no angst about a need for a robust labor law flows through these articles. The contributions to this special issue reaffirm the urgent importance of state mediation of the market with plural forms of inclusive, participatory social regulation across governance levels to ensure social justice including distributive justice beyond borders. The future of labor law is critically important; for that reason, and in Antoine's words, “[l]abor law should not be allowed to sit back and be comfortable with itself.” (Excerpts from the introduction, written by Adelle Blackett at 303-04 and 310).

  • See also Adelle Blackett & Lévesque C, eds, Social Regionalism in the Global Economy (Routledge 2011)

3.5.2 The Idea of Labour Law and its Relationship to the Market

Researcher:  Adelle Blackett

Adelle Blackett questions the industrial model as its historical starting point, and takes her work back to different forms of exchange of labour, including slavery.

  • Adelle Blackett, “Emancipation in the Idea of Labour Law” in The Idea of Labour Law, edited by Davidov and Langille, Oxford UP 2011.

3.6 Land and housing

Researcher: Jane Glenn

Professor Glenn’s current research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, focuses on access to housing in the Caribbean basin and on the right to housing as an example of economic and social rights in Canada (funded by the Faculty of Law’s Dobson Fellowship Fund).

  • Jane Matthews Glenn, “Informal formality: tenantries, ejidos and family land” (2008) 4 International Journal of Law in Context 135

Formality and informality in housing is a continuum, rather than an either/or proposition, with many examples along the continuum. This paper focuses on three examples of housing solutions – Barbados tenantries, Mexican ejidos and Saint Lucia family land – which are situated at the fulcrum of the continuum, at the point where it tips from formality to informality, and attempts to unravel their formal and informal elements. While the starting hypothesis was that each is informal from a public law point of view but formal from a private law one, closer examination suggests that their private law aspects are more nuanced than first appeared.

3.7 Human Rights and Structured Vulnerabilities

Researcher: Catherine Lu

This five years project (2013-2017) aims to clarify the role of human rights in a theory of global justice, and to develop an account of the practical innovations and structural transformations required to align contemporary agents and structures towards greater human rights realization. Catherine Lu’s research will focus on exploring some particularly challenging issues raised by the problem of human rights violations arising from structured vulnerabilities.

3.8 Decent Standards for Domestic workers

(see section 5.2)

3.9 Related initiatives

3.9.1 Course on Economic Justice in a Globalized World: Role of State and non-State Actors

(LAWG-520, Fall 2013)

Instructors: Nandini Ramanujam, Colleen Sheppard, Allison Christians, Christophe Golay, Alana Klein

Course Outline: A paradigm shift is taking place in the global discourse on social and economic rights. As traditional rights-based approaches have failed to deliver economic wellbeing to a large part of the global population, new stakeholders are exploring alternative approaches to the challenges of economic growth and its distribution within and across societies. These stakeholders seek to influence the course of global economic security, trade and development by asking how the state, the market, and civil society interact in an economically integrated yet politically divided world. The re-emergence of the State as a central player in pushing domestic and international economic agendas, now alongside a panoply of watchful, wary, and vocal non-state actors, challenge us to reimagine our conceptions of the roles played by the state, the market, the third sector and the fourth estate, in the allocation of the world’s resources. This course will highlight some of the emerging themes in this emerging global economic order.

3.9.2 McGill/Hebrew U. Summer Program in Human Rights

 "Reimagining Socio-Economic Rights" - July 28-August 2013, Jerusalem, Israel

3.9.3 Other relevant courses at the McGill Faculty of Law

3.9.4 Human Rights Internships organized by the CHRLP

 See the International Human Rights Internships Program 2012 Report [.pdf]

3.9.5 Labour Law and Development Research Laboratory


4.  Disability Rights

4.1 Transformative Justice: Mental Health and Human Rights in the Workplace

Centre Researchers: Colleen Sheppard and Derek J. Jones

(Research Assistance of Nicholas Caivano, Rathlyn Fellow at the Centre)

Presented at the “Together Against Stigma: Changing How We See Mental Illness”, 5th International Stigma Conference, Mental Health Commission of Canada, June 2012, Ottawa.

As part of the Centre’s emerging commitment to examining the rights of persons with disabilities, this research initiative focuses on mental health and the workplace. It assesses issues related to privacy and equality rights at various stages of work relationships, including, pre-employment and/or entry into a profession, reasonable accommodation at work, and return to work policies. The research explores the dilemma of difference whereby individuals are stigmatized if they disclose their mental illness, but denied necessary accommodation if they do not.

4.2 Mental Health and Human Rights Instruments

Researcher: François Crépeau and Anne-Claire Gayet, Research coordinator of the CHRLP

4.3 Related initiatives

4.3.1 Disability Seminar Series

4.3.2. Disability Rights Fellows and Scholars

  • In 2012-2013, LL.M. students Dianah Msipa and Eliana Rosas Aguilar were the two first Disability Rights Fellows at the CHRLP. They received Disability Rights Scholarships from the Open Society Institute (OSI) as well as funding from the Rathlyn Foundation and Justice James K Hugessen Fellowships at the Faculty.
  • Futsum Tesfatsion Abbay, whose doctoral thesis dealt with “Disability rights in Africa: towards citizenship approach”, received his DCL degree in 2012.

4.3.3 Portfolio on Disability and the Law

This is a project run by the Human Rights Working Group student club, Faculty of Law, McGill University

4.3.4 Human rights internships organized by the CHRLP

See the International Human Rights Internships Program 2012 Report [.pdf]


5.  Migration

5.1 Migration and Mobility Rights Initiative

Researchers: Adelle Blackett, François Crépeau, Evan Fox-Decent, Alana Klein, Frédéric Mégret, René Provost, Colleen Sheppard, Jaye Ellis, Arash Abizadeh

This interdisciplinary initiative was founded around the idea of mobility and migration, with a focus on the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of migrants. Migration touches and is embedded in many other human rights issues, such as women’s rights, children’s rights, labour law, administrative due process, refugee law, and humanitarian law. Migration is a complex human experience that must be addressed from the angle of several disciplines and must not be simplified.

5.2 Decent Standards for Domestic Workers

Researcher: Adelle Blackett

In 2008, when the International Labour Organization sought expert help regarding domestic workers, Adelle Blackett was brought on as a “technical advisor” and took a lead role in writing Decent Work for Domestic Workers, a report which surveys the state of laws and policies around the world and proposes directions for standard-setting. The case she made was that domestic work should be treated as work like any other, but also as work like no other. She made a human rights case for including domestic workers in the corpus of labour law, in a way that takes into account the specificity of domestic work.

  • Regulating Decent Work for Domestic Workers / Réguler le travail décent pour les travailleuses domestiques

Special Journal issue edited by Adelle Blackett and published in (2011) 23: 1 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue Femmes et Droit, University of Toronto Press.

“The observed contemporary rise in the demand for privatized care work cannot be separated from the state retreat from the provision of certain services and an observed increase in the tendency towards the privatization of care through a cost reduction logic and a weakened commitment or capacity to pay for social protection via employer taxation and contributions in an environment where employers are perceived also to be footloose investors who may relocate. And the persistence of the need for contracted care in many developing countries reflects, in part, the fact that most have never had the privilege to develop robust social security systems.

So, instead, it is typically racialized, “othered” women—often highly educated as qualified nurses or teachers—who relocate through a process of “care resource extraction.” They provide undervalued, subsidized, care in private households from rural to urban areas in the same country, from lower income to higher income countries in the same region, or in other economically emerging regions of the global South, or increasingly from South to North. They leave their own families behind, sending remittances in their place. Increasingly, it is this broader, multipronged dynamic that is referred to as “global care chains.” These women face the multiple structural disadvantages associated with travelling from the South to the North, under restrictive immigration controls and segmented into precarious forms of employment on which they are dependent not only for their own livelihood but also for those of families “back home.” Their disadvantage is structured and constructed through the current failure to liberalize the movement of persons. It is this disadvantage on which “workers with family responsibilities” depend for personalized, and increasingly privatized, care.” (Excerpt from the introduction at 3-5).

5.3 Refugees and Forced Migration, Human Trafficking

Researcher: François Crépeau

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

The Refugee Law Reader, the first comprehensive on-line model curriculum for the study and implementation of the complex and rapidly evolving field of international asylum and refugee law, is now accessible in all four languages (English, French, Russian and Spanish).

The Reader’s new website offers easy access to the complete texts of up-to-date core legal materials, instruments, and academic commentary. As a “living book”, new editions of The Reader always reflect the most important developments in International Refugee Law that have occurred since the first on-line publication in April 2004.

We encourage professors, lawyers, judges, decision-makers, advocates, and students across a wide range of national jurisdictions to visit The Reader and to make use of its enormous resources.

See also François Crépeau, Delphine Nakache et Idil Atak, dir, Les migrations internationales contemporaines. Une dynamique complexe au cœur de la globalisation (Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2009)

5.4 Related initiatives


6.  Indigenous Peoples

6.1 Legacies of Injustice and Residential Schools: Responsibilities and Relationships through the Lens of Law

Researchers: Colleen Sheppard, Kirsten Anker, and Mark Antaki with the collaboration of Evan Fox-Decent

The Centre has prepared three working papers for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on issues related to “Legacies of Injustice and Indian Residential Schools: Responsibilities and Relationships through the Lens of Law.” The primary objective of the research is to enhance understanding of human rights abuses that occurred during the Indian Residential Schools era through advanced legal and interdisciplinary research. We also examined how these human rights violations implicate both constitutional and international law and how we can begin to recognize and redress historic wrongs without creating or perpetuating further harms. The research also explored critical and Indigenous perspectives on reconciliation.

6.2 Indigenous Legal Traditions in the Transsystemic Legal Education Program

Researcher: Kirsten Anker

Project co-sponsored by McGill’s Faculty of Law and Justice Canada, with additional funding from the McGill Teaching and Learning Improvement Fund

The project investigates the inclusion of indigenous legal traditions in McGill’s Transsystemic Legal Education Program. It continues a process of curriculum development in the Faculty of Law that acknowledges indigenous legal traditions as a source of Canadian law, alongside the civil law and common law traditions. It aims to address challenges – both in the form that education about indigenous law can take (where law may not be textually transmitted) and in the legitimacy of teaching indigenous law in a largely non-indigenous institution – by engaging in a collaborative process with local and regional First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. The context of transsystemic legal education provides a unique intellectual approach to understanding the interplay between the various legal traditions that students explore in this course. The links that it will forge between the Faculty of Law and different indigenous communities will likely lead to other kinds of collaborative endeavours, whether in research or teaching, that will enrich the general intellectual community of the Faculty and the University. The hope is that other law faculties would be encouraged by this initiative to introduce students to indigenous traditions as a source of law in their curricula, and to do so via a collaborative path.

6.3 Visiting Fellow

  • Geneviève Painter, doctoral candidate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley
    Her doctoral research focuses on critical perspectives on human rights, social movements, and settler colonial-indigenous relations. Her current project concerns the human rights dimensions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

6.4 Related initiatives

6.4.1 Aboriginal initiatives at the Centre

6.4.2 Human Rights Internships organized by the CHRLP

See the International Human Rights Internships Program 2012 Report [.pdf]

6.4.3 Aboriginal Law Portfolio

This is a project run by the Human Rights Working Group student club at McGill's Faculty of Law.


7.  Violence: Prevention and Redress

7.1 Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

Researchers: Payam Akhavan, René Provost

  • P. Akhavan, “Preventing Genocide: Measuring Success by What Does Not Happen” (2011) 22:1-33 Criminal Law Forum
  • P. Akhavan, “Self-referrals before the International Criminal Court: Are States the Villains or the Victims of Atrocities?” (2010) 21:1 Criminal Law Forum 103
  • P. Akhavan, “Whither National Courts? The Rome Statute’s Missing Half: Towards An Express and Enforceable Obligation For the National Repression of International Crimes” (2010) Journal of International Criminal Justice 1245.
  • P. Akhavan, Reducing Genocide to Law: Definition, Meaning, and the Ultimate Crime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • P. Akhavan and R. Provost, eds, Confronting Genocide: Jus Gentium Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice (Springer Publications, 2010).

7.2 Post-conflict justice and reconciliation

Researchers: Frédéric Mégret, René Provost

7.3 Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

Researchers: René Provost, Frédéric Mégret

7.4 Define the Line: Clarifying the Blurred Lines Between Cyberbullying and Digital Citizenship

Centre Researchers: Shaheen Shariff (Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill) and Shauna Van Praagh

Define the Line is a research program directed by Dr. Shaheen Shariff, an international expert who has pioneered research on cyberbullying over the last decade. Through its website, its research projects (Facebook, SSHRC), and its outreach initiatives, the program aim to help clarify the blurred lines between cyberbullying and digital citizenship, with a focus on policymaking, education and law. The program aims to share its research findings and expertise with policymakers, educators, and jurists to help them understand the complex nature of cyberbullying and address the existing policy vacuum on the legal and ethical limits of online expression. Effective policymaking, which is grounded in an understanding of digital natives and prioritizes education over legislation, will help to reduce occurrences of cyberbullying and foster digital citizenship in youth from a young age. (SSHRC Standard Research Grant)