Sonya Nigam

Sonya Nigam

Sonya Nigam is Director, Office of Human Rights at the University of Ottawa. She can be reached at

Column: Human Rights . . . Here & There
Naming and shaming of international human rights abusesWith the widespread reporting that our 24-hour news cycle allows, as well as citizen videos and distribution of information through social media, it is hard to deny the occurrence of human rights abuses when they arise. We see the images and hear the sounds, often reported only a few hours after they have taken place — apartment buildings torn apart, maimed children in hospitals, women crying in despair, reports of terror and repression.
Monday, 11 November 2013 08:00

Armed conflict and the right to health

Armed conflict and the right to healthWhen most of us speak of war, we think of it as a singular event. Something to be won or lost, part of history, not connected to the present unless we are “at war.” Our time horizons are so short and truncated. And yet the reality of war is that it continues to ripple through the memories of the affected lands and their peoples.
The first step towards corporate accountability for actions abroad?There is no doubt as a resource-based economy, Canada has developed an impressive and robust extractive industry sector some would argue is part of our “national security interests.” While this sector brings important gains to the Canadian economy, oil, gas, and mining activities are increasingly taking place in remote areas that have a detrimental effect on local, often indigenous, populations.
Monday, 09 September 2013 09:56

Human rights on campus

Human rights on campusWhen one hears the call “back to school” we tend to think of small children and teenagers and grade school. However, we can also include young adults and university campuses in that refrain.
Monday, 12 August 2013 09:00

Exploring dignity through imagined spaces

Exploring dignity through imagined spacesI had not intended my summer reading to be work related, but Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi, has left me thinking about women’s rights in Iran, the importance of freedom of expression, cynicism towards political leaders, and a real questioning about how little we understand Islam and the particular histories of countries in the Middle East.
The quest to deal with minority populations in ChinaEthnic Tibetans living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other remote areas are experiencing difficult times. A shopping mall is being built directly in front of the iconic Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa. With a modern train system, millions of tourists, and a variety of economic development projects the visual landscape of old Tibet is being erased within our lifetime. To be sure this is progress for some, but it is not without a social and cultural cost.
Monday, 10 June 2013 10:28

Facing racial ‘discomfort’

Facing racial ‘discomfort’ Race is a complicated issue.
Art, cultural citizenship, and resistanceAs a lawyer, when I hear about human rights abuses my reflex is to seek legal solutions through criminal prosecution, a more human-rights-positive approach to interpretations of laws and regulations, and, when all else fails, new legislation. However, over the past year or two, I keep bumping into things that bring my attention to another form of resistance that is perhaps more accessible and more democratic — art.
Monday, 15 April 2013 13:31

Is this Progress?

Is this Progress?Every once in a while I come across a book that changes my understanding of the world. Laurence Bergreen’s Over the Edge of the World, which describes Magellan’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe, has had this effect on me. It is a truly harrowing tale of determination, discovery, and human strengths and weaknesses across different cultures. It made me step back and look at trade as a human endeavour.
Monday, 11 March 2013 09:00

The criminalization of dissent

The criminalization of dissentArticle 1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

— Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Adopted by General Assembly resolution 53/144 of Dec. 9, 1998

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