Exams, Stress and Anxiety

So after the exams are over and the essays have been handed in, what do you do whilst waiting for your friends to catch up?
If you’re me, you’ll do copious amounts of french revision, read Louisa May Alcott novels and spend an entire day bleaching your kitchen and bathroom.
It’s the post-exam depression or, as I like to call it, distress-withdrawal. The feeling of listlessness following the stressful all-nighters and group studies. Personally, I haven’t been nearly as apprehensive about the exam period as some of my coursemates over the past two months. I’ve alternated finishing my own papers with holding peoples’ hands and offering compliments about their respective intelligences like metaphorical brown paper bags.
The thought had occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t genius enough to be suffering from this affliction- the full-out mania that precedes the exam period. Perhaps I’m ambivalent about it because I don’t care as much and won’t do as well as my panic-stricken peers. It’s irrelevant really. I can’t teach myself to look at coursework and tests with trepidation. I never have. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe it’s because I realize what a poor reflection of my knowledge they really are. Maybe the thought is just a safety blanket I use to console myself. I won’t know until mid-July anyways so I’m not worried.

I’ve always been fascinated by anxious people. It’s amazing how no amount of coaxing can help them. And what I find even more interesting is how they can remain highly functional in every day life… until the ball drops… at which point all their achievements fade in comparison to an exam that renders them virtually helpless.
Kagan studied temperament and distinguished between highly reactive infants (who exhibited distress when faced with unfamiliar and uncomfortable stimuli), low reactive infants (who were pretty unresponsive) and the inbetweeners. He undertook a longitudinal study that found a correlation between the temperament of the babies and a range of traits including extraversion/nervousness/inhibition in later life which basically rounded out a better understanding of anxiousness and anxiety.
What I like best about that article is the insinuation that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. High-strung individuals are meticulous, careful and more likely to be hired by Kagan as research assistants. So maybe it is a good idea to try to stress myself out a little now that I don’t have too much to lose.

I’m off to Belgium next week to visit my aunt and uncle who are stationed in Antwerp to await a work visa to Angola. I don’t know anything about Belgium aside from the fact some of them speak Flemish and that their French Fries are supposedly amazing. I haven’t researched it much either which is surprising of me.

The thought of my dissertation leaves me confused and I find it odd that we’re supposed to settle on a topic before receiving grades from our assessments. What if we chose something we turn out to be rubbish at?
I’m torn between social and economic rights, minorities, gender issues and corporate responsibility… I don’t know what to focus on. I want to talk to a professor about it but feel that I need to narrow down on my choice of topics a little before approaching anyone. I’m hoping this trip will help me clear things up a bit. I have a little less than a month to decide. I’m not anxious about it but the anxiety of others is making me feel that I should be :) Old news.

The 14th Annual Student Human Rights Conference

I’ve been trying to work on this post for a while now but it’s been low on my priority list since the semester has been winding down and it’s time to embark on the world of summative assessments and exam preparation.
So the 14th Annual Student Human Rights Conference took place earlier this month. It was organized by the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham and featured a range of experts and scholars from the field. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve partaken in the organization of the event along with five others in the LL.M. program and it was exhilarating to see all our hard work come to fruition. The project was overseen by someone with the HRLC but it was a delight to plan the conference over the course of the past few months. I’ve been extensively involved in non-profit event management but it’s always been geared towards community development in western countries. This is the first time I’ve managed to reconcile my interest in human rights with my love for event planning.
Anyway, the theme this year was Democracy and Human Rights. I won’t hash out the entirety of the conference (more information about that can be found here) but here are some of the biggest highlights:
– A special video message opening our conference from Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking about the importance of democracy
– The first time the conference featured a live twitter feed. Since I spent the majority of the morning plenary sessions managing registration, I loved watching the interactive discussion projected on the wall.
– A delegation from Khartoum University’s Faculty of Law. The HRLC was hosting them for the week and it was interesting to experience the ideas being bounced around by them during the panels.
– I did manage to sit in on the one panel that I was extremely keen on seeing: the Forgotten Subjects of Democracy. Bethany Schmidt’s discussion about prisoner’s voting rights made me nostalgic for my criminology days.
Aside from a few logistical glitches, the conference went off without a hitch and I’m very proud of what it has managed to accomplish. I think it’s important to provide a means for human rights students from a variety of disciplines to get together and collaborate.
P1040540And a picture of the planning committee with Alfred de Zayas, UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order (don’t you love his bow tie?!)

International Law versus Political Science (Part II)

When I was initially researching masters programs, I was encouraged by a professor to pursue international law. I was unsure about whether my background in political science and criminology had given me enough of a foundation to study international law at a postgraduate level. My first consideration surrounded the fact that I’d be learning alongside lawyers. The second involved the divergence from politics and what seemed like a wild foray into the world of law.
It appeared to be a good choice. The law is secure. It seemed to be more practical than something like politics which is essentially based on theoretical concepts and is extremely changeable.
But in the few months that I’ve been immersed international law, I’ve come to realize that the subject seems solid but at times, it may prove to be useless in fact.
The issue becomes complicated when I look at specific case studies- states overlooking the human rights violations of other states, the Security Council churning out coercive resolutions that are acceded to by the international community, new nations who can barely organize themselves never mind try to comply with their international obligations…
It is so often that heads of states and other authorities will either manipulate the law or ignore it all together for their own interests. That’s politics.
Politics is about how people do act instead of how they should act (the latter being international law).
Do I think international law is useless? Of course not, it has a mountain of potential.
But the past few months of study have given me a different approach regarding the role of politics in law. Maybe it should have been obvious from the start but states do not always comply. But following that line, a lot of states do comply. Political science has helped me discern why and when they comply and do not comply. I can see how states do act along with how they should act.
I think I’ve learned a lot by reconciling my understanding of political science with what I’m learning right now. It’s definitely been very insightful and has contributed towards rounding out my knowledge about how the world works.

Getting the most out of university outside the coursework

I was particularly excited about the new semester. Although I find the fact that three of my seminars take place on Thursdays fairly cringe-worthy, it does leave me with some spare time to get involved in other activities. Currently, I’m enrolled in basic french lessons, working with the Human Rights Law Centre, representing student views as a course rep and serving as Vice-President of the LLM Society. I never intended on becoming so deeply involved in extra-curricular activities but I don’t regret an instant… especially since some of our professors recently held a talk about careers in human rights law and how there are few and far between. They highlighted the need to stand out among your peers and to do whatever you can to gain skills aside from whatever we learn in the program itself.
As course representative, I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to convince my course mates to engage themselves in societies and voluntary work. Some are more receptive to the idea than others. The excuse I hear most often is that the workload stemming from the LLM is too heavy to consider doing anything other than just that.
I try to counter these excuses with two main arguments: Firstly, that everyone in our program is brilliant and will receive brilliant marks. How can employers distinguish between them without something tangible aside from their thesis topic? Secondly, that added work doesn’t always have to be tedious and boring. Planning a student conference is a great way to develop your team-building skills while having a lot of fun with your peers. Becoming a social secretary for a society allows you to display your event-planning capabilities while meeting new people. As long as you manage your time properly, you can gain a very wholesome university experience that doesn’t come at the cost of sacrificing your personal life. University is one of the only times in our lives when we’ll be given the opportunity to hang out with a large number of people who share the same passion as us. Why not make the most of it?
I’m convinced that the biggest lesson to be learned by students today is to rise above the bipolarity of endless readings and alcohol-fueled nights to find a happy medium that will allow them to work with others in developing their abilities which will, in turn, reflect really well while job hunting. It’s a win-win situation.

World Toilet Day

The reason I find it easy to talk about this because of its tongue-in-cheek nature but, let’s be honest, we take our toilets (and the humour that goes along with it) for granted.  When we really start thinking about toilets, we soon come to the realization that they are very important instruments to the fulfillment of human rights :) the right to life, health, an adequate standard of living…
Rights aside, the economic benefits of providing people with toilets are plentiful. It also encourages gender equity in education. Improving sanitation is a step towards providing people with health and dignity. Currently, over 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean toilets.
For more information, visit the World Toilet Organization- an NGO that supports global sanitation.

Juvenile Justice

We talked about children in the criminal justice system today. I’m a big proponent of restorative justice and that heavily played into my outlook on the topic of discussion.
Additionally, my criminological background has given me certain insight into why crime occurs and the sort of individuals who cause and are victims of crimes. When it comes to juvenile offending, these are just some things that I know to be true…

  • Youth crime is largely a result of socioeconomic factors
  • The levels of crime committed by male youth peak in their teenage and early adult years and steadily declines afterwards
  • Punishment and incarceration are not effective deterrence and, very often, they lead to a cycle of disruption and social exclusion in a child’s life- this is difficult to recover from

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that imprisoning young offenders does nothing for us, nothing for them and nothing for society as a whole. If anything, it traps them and hinders their development. We cannot raise active and law-abiding citizens within the justice system that we have today.
The biggest concern lies within a marginalized population- the poor (usually minority) child who is growing up in a stressful environment with inadequate care. This is the child that suffers the most from arbitrary and damaging judicial decisions and processes.
These concepts are difficult for the public at large to understand. It’s easier to vilify offending children and their parents instead of taking a reconciliatory and restorative approach to these issues.
During the Vancouver riots in 2011 following the loss of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team from the Stanley Cup playoffs, there was a frenzied witch-hunt of sorts that targeted teenagers and young adults for their participation in the riots.
These types of scenarios perpetuate the modern impression of youth as dangerous and immoral. Portraying them as deviants, in this fashion, does nothing but exclude them from mainstream society and alienate them- which, understandably, doesn’t help discourage them from a life of crime.
This is one of the reasons why I was impressed to see CommCRC’s General Comment 10 which emphasized the importance of raising awareness and diminishing the perception that youth are troublemakers and generally harmful towards others. We cannot ask youth to obey the law and, at the same time, demonize them in the social sphere. State, individual and group actions that strive to pursue and fulfill the committee’s recommendations are commendable:

Children who commit offenses are often subject to negative publicity in the media, which contributes to a discriminatory and negative stereotyping of these children and often of children in general. This negative presentation or criminalization of child offenders is often based on misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding of the causes of juvenile delinquency, and results regularly in a call for a tougher approach (e.g. zero-tolerance, three strikes and you are out, mandatory sentences, trial in adult courts and other primarily punitive measures). To create a positive environment for a better understanding of the root causes of juvenile delinquency and a rights-based approach to this social problem, the States parties should conduct, promote and/or support educational and other campaigns to raise awareness of the need and the obligation to deal with children alleged of violating the penal law in accordance with the spirit and the letter of CRC. In this regard, the States parties should seek the active and positive involvement of members of parliament, NGOs and the media, and support their efforts in the improvement of the understanding of a rights-based approach to children who have been or are in conflict with the penal law. It is crucial for children, in particular those who have experience with the juvenile justice system, to be involved in these awareness-raising efforts.
(Source: CRC.C.GC.10/96)

If we want our children and youth to stop committing crimes, we need to engage them in public discourse and start propagating a new conception of young people among adults- one that comprehensively identifies and acknowledges the different stages of childhood from a developmental perspective. This is incredibly important if we hope to raise principled citizens who can contribute positively to the community.

Nottingham City Centre

Robin Hood, Maid Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Most people don’t refer to folk tales when telling people about their university but it’s an essential part of being an UoN student.
Since I’ve spent most of my time thus far talking about the course content, I thought I’d write a little bit about the city of Nottingham.
Last Saturday, we headed over to the old market square. There was a weekend market going on with booths selling souvenirs (including Robin Hood memorabilia) and a lot of cheese shops (much to my delight). The market square is a pedestrian area overlooked by an imposing heritage building that houses the city council. Apparently, the old market square is very old. As per the city website…

At the time of the Norman invasion in 1066, Nottinghamshire was part of a Saxon kingdom called Mercia. For the previous two centuries it had been increasingly under attack from the north by armies of Vikings and Danes.
By 1155 Nottingham had grown into a small town and King Henry II granted it the privilege of holding a market on Fridays and Saturdays. At this time Old Market Square was called the Great Market Place. It would have been a busy place, bustling with trade and it quickly became the focal point for life in the town.
In 1225 there are legal records of an outlaw called Robert Hood. No-one knows for sure about the legend of Robin Hood, but he could have been a real character who walked through the stalls and traders right here in Nottingham’s Great Market Place.
In 1348 the Black Death plague had swept across England and many people in Nottingham died. But by 1449 Nottingham’s population had risen to about 3,000 people, a sizeable number for those times. It was in this year that King Henry VI gave the town of Nottingham and its county an independent status.
In 1485 King Richard III is thought to have rallied his army in the Great Market Place before riding to his defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth.
Historically the Square forms a meeting place for the people of Nottingham and is also the location for local events, civic protests, royal visits, celebrations and public mourning and many of Nottingham’s most defining moments have occurred here. Trophies won by Nottingham Forest Football Club including the European Cup and the FA Cup have all been held aloft in front of crowds here. More recently in 2003 a memorial service to remember the life of Nottingham Forest’s former manager Brian Clough was held there in front of national television cameras and thousands of local football supporters.
Many Nottingham people today have happy memories of the Old Market Square. It has been used for fairgrounds, festivals, protest rallies and even a temporary beach as the Square was transformed for Nottingham-by-the-Sea.

After buying some cheese, we ventured over to Primark in search of winter jackets (conveniently located right next to the square). Once we spent a good half hour shopping, we decided to find a place to have high tea.
The Larder on Goose Gate made our day. They carry a selection of teas and a variety of baked goods and sandwiches. I’m thankful it isn’t located on campus otherwise I’d be blowing this month’s budget there every afternoon.
We paid a visit to the Goose Fair this weekend (what’s up with all the allusions to geese in Nottingham culture?) It’s basically a large carnival that has been running for 700 years. It was quite crowded but we had lots of fun (despite the fact that I made the mistake of being inappropriately dressed to go on rides).
We headed back to the square and attempted to meet up with the rest of our group at Weatherspoons. There’s two of them in the area so we spent some time trying to locate the right one.
I’m hoping to visit downtown on Monday in order to sort out my phone situation. I’m trying to make do by using whatsapp on wifi but it’s getting a little tedious. I’ve been told about Carphone Warehouse- apparently, it’s a little bit like Wireless Wave- so I’m planning on dropping by there and maybe seeing a little more of the city.

International Law versus Political Science (Part I)

From my Human Rights Law book, an excerpt by Hina Jilani, an advocate from Pakistan:

As a lawyer and a human rights defender, I have frequently had to choose between political action, by way of advocacy or protest, and legal action, by seeking to assert rights through legal process.
One of the primary considerations in making that choice has always been: what is the best way of linking the search for justice, and the result achieved to respect for human rights? Another consideration is how to maximize public consciousness about the interconnectedness of a public debate and the persons who suffer the consequences of human rights violations.

This held particular interest to me as since, in the past, I’ve focused my actions and research on politics and activism, it was acknowledging the significance of the legal process that drove me to consider an LL.M. instead of an M.A. I feel that it is beneficial for those working in human rights to have an understanding of both the former and the latter, in the way that Jilani does.
Here are some of the other things I’ve taken a note of:
I’ve found it extremely striking how a lot of the discourse so far has involved the United States. I did expect an Anglo-American centric view of human rights law but I’d always assumed that Europe was as important, if not more important, than the United States when it came to the development of human rights.
I was right but only to an extent.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I had accepted that the version of history that was taught in my classes had an American bias but I assumed that this was because Canada didn’t have much to offer in terms of international political science. All the authors I’ve ever read were American (excepting maybe Iggy) and, unless we were taking a course specific to Canadian politics, it was assumed that whatever we would be discussing in the course would involve a lot of American thinking.
Another running theme, which is quite obvious, has been the tension between state sovereignty and international human rights law. Of course, I had always known that it was an issue. But since I never really concentrated on the law aspect (my degree usually dealt with theory and specific occurrences of human rights abuses), this has changed the paradigm with which I see international law.
The East-West divide between civil/political rights and economic/social/cultural rights is also something that I was previously aware of but I didn’t understand the full impact of until now.
The readings are extremely thorough and I’m learning a lot from them despite the single-paned windows that allow the jubilant shouts of inebriated freshmen to echo through at all hours of the night.
I feel like I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage academically since I spent 8 months letting my brain to turn to mush but that’s not a good enough excuse since most LL.M. students have waited a year or more before undertaking this degree.

Children are cute but is childhood a social construct?

Ironic really, since today was the day I audited the Rights of the Child module. It was the end of the day and I was trying to convince some of my fellow LL.M. candidates to attend it with me.
I’m bored of child rights
Not really interested…
Okay, given that today’s class was just a brief history lesson, aren’t child’s rights supposed to be the fun part of human rights? The part where we can all legitimately get fired up and morally appalled at the horrific ways that children are treated around the world?
Because children do have a right to be protected. Because they are a vulnerable demographic. Because childhood is an innate part of your life that holds a special quality.
Well, perhaps not really.
The conception of childhood has always varied from culture to culture and even the modern western paradigm of today hasn’t come to a consensus as to when a child becomes an adult.
At 18, they can vote. At 15, they can live independently. At 19, they can drink. At 16, they can drive. At 12, they can be found criminally responsible.
The problem doesn’t end with the arbitrary numbers that we have forced on children as a way to questionably determine their physical, mental and emotional maturity, we have abstract ideas about what children are and how we perceive them in any case.
For instance, we separate children from adults, they play different games and wear different clothes. We have an idea of them as innocent and naive, incapable of doing harm. We know that children aren’t rational actors so we protect them from themselves by suspending some of their rights until they mature.
But what I found most interesting of all is how we bear the burden of this responsibility.
I keep finding the notion tied to bodily rights and freedom- why is it the duty of human beings to take care of and support other human beings (even if the latter human being is their offspring)?
John Locke extrapolates about the love and affection that a parent has for a child but he never goes so far as to deem it a duty, for isn’t “paternalism [an] odious tyranny” (Archer, 2004)? Of course, the main idea being that as much as children need guidance and guardianship, adults deserve their freedom just the same.
This is relevant in terms of what quite a few of my friends struggle with. They don’t want to have children and resent the society that inflicts parenthood upon them.
In the ideal world, I do want children. And, aside from the children’s rights aspect, I find myself mulling over the right of adults to not have children or to take any responsibility for any children at all.
Of course, this is a small part of the debate concerning the history of child rights but it’s a compelling one nonetheless.

So many options, so little time…

I’ve attended a few modules, trying to pin down the perfect fit but they are all so fascinating, I don’t know which ones I want to pick. The downside to this is the copious amounts of readings that are required in order to keep up with the first day of class (which is in seminar format).
So far, the pool I have to choose from is:
International Human Rights Law
Public International Law
International Humanitarian Law
Regional Human Rights
Economic and Social Rights
Rights of the Child
Ultimately, I’ll have to pick four of these and this is proving to be difficult. Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law run for the whole year and we are assessed by a 3 hour long examination.
The course structure comprises of two terms that are both examinable in May. Some modules are assessed with essays while others require you to sit the exam. This narrows my options because, being a social sciences student who is partial to writing papers, exams are distressing to me.
I want to point out that I’m not a law student. While an LL.B. is strongly advised before undertaking an LL.M., it is not a requirement at some schools so long as your degree is in something relevant. For me, this was political science and criminology.
We also have to send in our preliminary decisions for the next semester too. I’m slightly disappointed that they aren’t offering a module specific to women’s rights but I know that it’s a subject that is bound to be covered by the other options. Anyhow, this is what the spring semester looks like…
Religion and International Human Rights
Minorities and International Human Rights Law
Rights, Humans and Other Animals
Imprisonment and Human Rights
United Nations Law
The trickiest part of choosing courses is that while my forte lies with minority rights, my criminological background has developed into a special interest for the justice system and incarceration. I decided to fore-go any of the criminal law classes that were taking place this semester in favour of classes that fit my chosen stream.
I’m also trying to procure a position with the Human Rights Law Centre (UoN has a very good one) as a student research assistant. I know I’d excel at planning their annual student conference but I really want to get out of comfort zone a little bit and branch out by editing their yearbooks and journal. I’m a research fiend so that may help.