Where utopia meets nirvana

Where utopia meets nirvana


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STRASBOURG, FRANCE — Sometime in March, I received an invitation from the International Institute of Human Rights here to attend a summer session in International and Comparative Human Rights Law. I first pondered on the thought of being away from work and family for four weeks. My husband, however, prodded me to submit my resume for consideration. By early May, I was surprised to get a letter of my acceptance. Still,I was in doubt as there was so much going on at work and family that leaving would seem difficult. Despite all the challenges, I took the flight to Strasbourg via Amsterdam and Frankfurt to attend this course. I am thankful to Silliman University, my partners at EDLaw, and my ever-supportive family for this opportunity.

It is summer here but the downpour frequents. Probably the wettest summer I have yet undergone thus far. The program is housed at the Escarpe building of the Universite de Strasbourg and has some 200 lawyers, law students, paralegals and human rights consultants in attendance from some 80 countries worldwide. Three of us are from the Philippines: Mark Taguinod from the Supreme Court, Krizna Gomez from the Ateneo Human Rights Center, and myself.

This year’s list of speakers excited us. We have experts from practically all human righs fields. Opening speaker Olivier de Schutter is the UN Special Rappeurteur for Food Programme. Internal Court of Justice and former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Justice Candido Trinidade spoke on the justiciability of social rights under all regional human rights mechanism.

His pristine theories on the subject kept me in awe. He says there should be no pragmatists in human rights practice, and absolutely abhors the famed divisibility regarded by the international community of economic, social and cultural rights vs. civil and political rights.

I also loved the intellectual discources of Prof. Besson from the University of Fribourg in the Netherlands when she outlined the tautological framework of social rights theory indicating that the recent debate on social rights stems from the notion that at best, they seem to be mere ideals than justiciable subjects.

I so look forward to Judge Fausto Focar’s (chair of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) lecture on July 18 on International Criminal Law, and no less than Nathalie Weizman from the ICRC on International Humanitarian Law. I only get to read Weizman’s works on IHL online.

Listening to experts on legal subjects is such an enriching experience. It is as beautiful as internalizing the beauty of 14th century German and French achitecture here in Strasbourg, or touring the artifacts and artworks at the Louvre.

Truly, learning brings one to a different level of existence where utopia meets nirvana, and the pragmatist might as well sleep.

Of course, the quest for human rights for all is a work in progress. The recent developments in the field include a regional mechanism for Asia (the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism), the allowance of individual complaints in all regional mechanisms and other regional bodies for regional treaties such as the CEDAW, Convention against Torture & Non-Discrimination, and the declaration of the right against discrimination as jus cogens.

It is good to note that the first Asian case on the CEDAW was won by no less than good friend Atty. Evalyn Ursua, a former classmate in Human Rights study, putting the Philippines in the forefront of protection of women’s rights.

I am here at Strasbourg to learn more of the legal complexities that abound in our world, in the hope of becoming a better lawyer and person.

On the side, I still do work for the institutions that I serve, and am happy to do it during my free time.

Apart from learning, I am also here to commune with other cultures and nationalities of the world who, despite all our inherent differences, all thirst for some kind of equality and non-discrimination.

Every individual is unique. This, to me, is the greatest message of this exercise.

Myrish Cadapan-Antonio
Executive Director, SU Salonga Center for Law & Development

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