International Justice in the News is a monthly e-newsletter about the people involved in the work of international courts and tribunals, significant developments in international justice, and publications and resources of interest. This issue is edited by Leigh Swigart, director of Programs in International Justice and Society.
To comment or to subscribe, please complete this form.
Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice
"Decolonizing Accent in English-Language Teaching"
This month’s Spotlight comes from Language, Culture and Hub member Mingyi Li. Mingyi is a Ph.D. student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. For her Master’s degree, she explored how Western influence has affected Chinese doctoral students’ understanding of the West before they came to Canada, as well as their decision to select Canada as the destination to advance their academic careers.
The Language, Culture and Justice Hub recently held a webinar that explored related issues. Entitled “Toward Language Justice in Higher Education," the event featured Hub members Marguerite Lukes, Vijay Ramjattan, and Shawna Shapiro. View a recording of the webinar here.
In this Spotlight piece, I wish to present a small part of my MA thesis from OISE. The overarching goal of this thesis was to examine the identity formation of Chinese international students – born in the 1990s and having spent a substantial amount of time living in both China and Canada – as they negotiate their understanding of race, nationality, values and beliefs throughout their settlement journey in North American countries. This Spotlight aims to present how the language learning experiences of Chinese students before they come to the West can change their behaviors when they settle in the West.
The findings of my study indicated that all participants received “standardized North American English accent” training at different levels when they were in China. The impacts of the accent training were different for each individual participant. According to participants’ stories, the ideology of native-speakerism was deeply embedded in the professional thinking of and activities used by their English teachers during the time they studied in China. For example, one participant recounted:
I do not think that we have the choice of having ‘Chinese accent’ when speaking English in China’s education system. We only can have North American accent or UK accent. I remember our elementary and secondary English curriculums were all North American English. My English teachers in high school asked us to repeat after all kinds of North American radios. We were required to try our best to have the same pronunciation and speaking habits as white people.
Another participant shared a very similar story:
All of my English teachers in elementary schools and my after-school English classes played the North American and UK radios for us. They wanted us to have the same accents as those broadcasters. I think the accuracy of English speaking was very emphasized in China’s English classroom. We tend to find the most accurate pronunciation [of English]. I cannot even have the same pronunciation as the Chinese broadcasters when I speak Chinese, which is my mother tongue. How is it possible to have the accurate pronunciations as the English broadcasters?
The process of asking students to imitate North American and British accents formed a colonized mentality within the language classroom. It divided students into accent hierarchies based on the level that they could speak the so-called standard English. As a result, the colonized mentality led to alienation and estrangement, which is often “accompanied by the internalization of deficit views toward self and community, inherently shaped by the scorn, hostility, and resentment of the dominant elite toward a subaltern population” (Darder, 2018, p. 12). One participant in this study explicitly indicated that, because of her training in standard English speaking in China, she has always been very conscious of her own accent when speaking English. Although she fully respects the diverse accents of English, she still critically judges her own accent and grammar every time she speaks English publicly.
This particular finding in my study reflects a prevalent phenomenon in the language classroom, where monolingual ideologies still dominate teaching practices and there is a lack of critical consciousness. As language educators, we should neither annihilate nor devalue students’ dignity and their cultural backgrounds; rather, we should raise their cultural confidence through English teaching, and allow them to deconstruct, critique, reform, and reconstruct the ideological foundations of knowledge and culture.
People in the News
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently called on States in the Americas to advance their efforts to ensure that older people can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, in conformity with the Inter-American Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Older Persons. This convention, in force since January 2017, was established “to promote, protect, and ensure the recognition and full enjoyment and exercise, under conditions of equality, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of the elderly, in order to contribute to their full inclusion, integration, and participation in society.” The first and only international treaty that recognizes the rights of older persons in a broad and comprehensive manner, this Convention has been ratified by only a handful of states in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Uruguay.
On 4 November, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly will concurrently elect a replacement to serve out the International Court of Justice (ICJ) term of Judge Antônio Cançado Trindade of Brazil, who died last May. Cançado Trindade joined the ICJ bench in 2009 and was re-elected in 2018. His second term would have ended in 2027. In casual elections produced by the death of a judge, it is expected that the judge will be replaced by a national of a member of the same UN regional group (but not necessarily from the same country), in this case the Latin American and Caribbean Group. Three candidates have been nominated: Professor Marcelo Kohen, from Argentina; Professor Paulo Borba Casella, from Brazil; and Professor Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brandt, from Brazil.
Developments in International Justice
Photo Credit: EDUARDO SOTERAS/GETTY IMAGES
There has long been a general consensus in the international community that humanitarian personnel and operations should not be targeted in the context of armed conflict. Technological change has now required that these protections be extended to online as well as offline environments. This understanding was recently adopted by the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in a resolution entitled “Safeguarding Humanitarian Data". Learn more about this new resolution in an ICRC Blog post by Tilman Rodenhäuser, Balthasar Staehelin, and Massimo Marelli, who “explore how these rules impose limits on digital threats against impartial humanitarian organizations and propose legal, policy and operational measures to safeguard them against such threats”.
Qatar approaches, reactions to the host country’s various violations of international norms have only increased.
First, there is the treatment of migrant workers, many working under conditions of forced labor, who built the World Cup stadia in Qatar. The Atlantic Council notes that despite supposed reforms of the Qatari employment model, “workers in Qatar are still victims of a litany of rights abuses, including retaliation by their employers when trying to leave employment, nonpayment of wages, lack of repercussions when employers commit crimes against their workers, and, in extreme cases, worker deaths.” Then, there is the suppression of LGBT rights in Qatar. Human Rights Watch believes this issue should have been taken into consideration when Qatar was selected as the 2022 host by FIFA, which in 2016 adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the lead-up to the competition, it has also been found that Qatari authorities are restricting the accreditation process for journalists who are to cover FIFA matches. According to Reporters Without Borders, “[b]y requiring that the media, when they apply for accreditation, agree to abide by a number of conditions, some of which are vague, ambiguous, and open to arbitrary interpretation, Qatar is clearly seeking to discourage, if not prevent, the foreign media from talking about anything other than football.” Finally, there is the environmental impact of the Qatari World Cup, as reported by Al Jazeera: “Qatar World Cup 2022 organisers have promised a carbon-neutral tournament but environmental groups are warning that the football event will be far more polluting than advertised.”
In response to these alleged human rights violations, some major European cities – including Barcelona , Paris and London – are banning public viewing areas where fans can gather to watch the World Cup matches.
The first report of the United Nations International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement stresses the critical place of lived experience in taking action against racism. The chair of the Mechanism, Yvonne Mokgoro, made a statement to this effect before presenting the report during an interactive dialogue at the recent UN Human Rights Council meeting. The Expert Mechanism's mandate was established in 2021 “in order to further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement globally, especially where relating to the legacies of colonialism and the Transatlantic slave trade in enslaved Africans, to investigate Governments’ responses to peaceful anti-racism protests and all violations of international human rights law and to contribute to accountability and redress for victims”. Read the full report of the Mechanism.
Photo Credit: IRANWIRE/VIA REUTERS
Publications and Resources of Interest
In a response to al Attar’s piece, scholar Vivek Bhatt – who notes he is writing not in disagreement but in solidarity with al Attar – describes his own experiences in introducing students to international legal knowledge that lies outside the usual canon. In his “mission to incorporate issues of injustice and inequality into [his] teaching,” Bhatt has “consistently found communities of exceptional students who urge one another to develop more sophisticated critique of international law.” He underscores the “importance of discussing and teaching critical thought, including racial injustice: each individual’s lived experience of international law is shaped by history, context, and sense of place, and each experience deserves to be known.”