Posted by: kelseypaske | October 30, 2014

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health – Kelsey Paske

Life in India…where to begin?

India is a country of contradictions; severe poverty intermingled with incredible wealth; Hollywood fashion and Bollywood films; vibrant traditional clothing and grey smoggy skies. While my time in India was certainly challenging personally and professionally, the three months I spent living in Delhi will be something I cherish.

The Lawyers Collective was a truly interesting place to have worked. Established by Anand and his wife Indira Jaising, both of whom were dedicated delivering legal services to those most vulnerable and marginalized. It was certainly motivating to walk into an office each day were lawyers were litigating access to medicines and drug policy, the rights of LGBTQI persons, women’s rights – including domestic and sexual violence and sexual harassment in the workplace – and of course conducting research for the UNSR role Mr. Grover has held for the past six years. The nature of the work, the dedication of staff made this workplace unlike any I’d experienced before.

Mr. Grover is often described as a controversial man but controversy in this industry is necessary. Anand is very human rights centric, while his outgoing and strong willed personality may ruffle feather in Geneva, but there is no disputing he places human dignity at the forefront of the his agenda in advocating for the right to health.

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health

The UNSR staff each have their area of expertise outside of assisting Mr. Grover with UNSR obligations and research. Anand’s research assistants are incredibly knowledgeable and demonstrate a talent and dedication to applying a ‘rights based’ approach to all of their work. They ensured that I applied ‘rights based’ approach in conducting research and writing Very talented and knowledgeable research assistants that are well networked, within the health and international relations space.

December 11th marked a devastatingly emotional day for LGBT individuals and the staff at Lawyers Collective. An appeal regarding Section 377 came before the Supreme Court of India; challenging the successful Naz Foundation case of 2009 in the Delhi High Court where section 377 was read down to exclude consensual homosexual sex – finally legalizing homosexuality in the Indian state. Unfortunately, in an archaic decision the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court due to constitutional infirmity. While this marked a tremendous step back for the Indian state and progressive equality, Mr. Grover and the staff at Lawyers Collective as well as thousands of LGBT activists across India continue to ensure their sexuality is recognised with respect and dignity.

The treatment of LGBT people became a clear focus point for the Lawyers Collective and the UNSR. I was involved in researching the atrocities occurring against LGBT people in Nigeria and Uganda and the significant right to health implications of the national laws. Upon receiving images and first hand accounts of violence, I was utterly distraught at the devastating affects the laws had on individuals, and the increasing ‘jungle justice’ involving acts of torture and degrading treatment, ultimately diminishing the security, dignity and respect of LGBT in both states. Unfortunately, the rights of LGBT people still need to be prioritised globally as 82 countries continues to outlaw homosexuality.

While much of the work was to be kept confidential, the primary focus on my internship was the thematic report to be presented to the General Assembly and Human Rights Council. The focus of this report was the proliferation of unhealthy foods, diet related Noncommunicable Diseases and the right to health. Anand is incredibly passionate about tackling the accessibility and availability of unhealthy junk foods in the global market. This accessibility of unhealthy foods is contributing to the obesity epidemic; a known pre-curser to diet-related NCDs (including respiratory problems, cancers and diabetes). The marketing of such foods to children and low-income groups is particularly rife; often resulting in a food desert and food swamp in low-income areas. The research exposed the serious gaps in international human rights law with regard to an accountability mechanism for transnational corporations, whose influence abroad whilst contributes to economic advancement, also contributes to numerous human rights violations.

As a young blonde female in Delhi, harassment was a daily occurrence. I realised the insecurity that women face; in a country where gender equality is laced through the Constitution but not practiced. The gender bias I experienced and the discrimination and harassment I endured prompted me to consider what Indian women’s experience of gender-based violence – ultimately shaping my current Honours research on the political economy of gender-based violence in India. I am grateful that this internship has paved a particular academic interest and shaping my future work.

The word I use to describe my experience in India is intense. The city of Delhi is aggressive, chaotic but also fascinating. The work at Lawyers Collective often concerned quite confronting and interesting subject matters, but provided a great sense of purpose. As challenging and confronting, as Delhi was to live in, I do find myself missing the chaos, my colleagues, friends and the culture of community. There is something about India, which is often difficult to articulate but it’s that very ‘something’ that should encourage people to visit.

I want to thank the staff at the Castan Centre and Lawyers Collective for affording me the opportunity to live in India, work alongside incredibly dedicated and inspiring staff and seeing first hand how human rights law in action both domestically and internationally. The experience was certainly rejuvenating and has provided me with more energy to continue to seek the path of securing the realization of human rights for all.

*Please note this my own opinion and experience and does not reflect the UNSR on the Right to Health, Lawyers Collective or Castan Centre.


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