Human Rights Clinic Addresses Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada


Maia Dombey in Geneva

Maia Dombey in Geneva, Switzerland


Indigenous women in Canada experience three times more violence than other woman and are seven times more likely to be murdered, according to a 2015 report by Statistics Canada. The rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women are so high that in August of 2016, the Canadian government launched a National Inquiry to examine the systemic causes of violence and provide recommendations to address them. 

Miami Law’s Human Rights Clinic’s “Canada Team,” comprised of second-year student Maia Dombey and third-year Janelle Rodriguez-Mena, partnered with the Feminist Alliance for International Action, Canada Without Poverty, the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Reyerson University, to draft a submission to the National Inquiry. The clinic’s contribution focused on providing an analysis of the right to truth of families, communities, and society and identifying concrete recommendations for redress, drawing on international and regional human rights law and comparative examples. The right to know the truth of what happened and have this commemorated and remedied is recognized by all major international and regional human rights systems, including the U.N., Inter-American, European, and African. 

“The right to truth goes beyond individuals and has a critical social dimension,” said the clinic’s Associate Director Tamar Ezer. “It underpins prevention, as well as social healing and is fundamental to human rights. It advances transparency and accountability, ensuring violations do not take place with impunity.”

The clinic students involved in this process found it incredibly rewarding—especially seeing their work directly referenced in our partners’ oral submission to the Canadian Inquiry. “Given that this systemic human rights crisis maintains a relatively low-profile globally,” Rodriguez-Mena said, “we were fueled by the urge to bring this issue to light and bring peace and resolution to these women and girls who continue to experience violence and discrimination, remnants of colonialism in Canada.” 

Playing even a small role in rectifying this crisis made every step of the demanding process valuable, the students said.

The project builds on the Human Rights Clinic’s previous work on this issue, including a presentation at a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as Clinic Director Caroline Bettinger-Lopez’s work in the Obama White House

Following up on the National Inquiry, the clinic connected with Gladys Acosta Vargas, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, who will be leading development of a General Recommendation, providing global guidance on the rights of Indigenous women. Dombey and Ezer traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with Acosta Vargas at the U. N. on February 12. They discussed potential collaboration and support for the General Recommendation and highlighted key issues that would need to be addressed to respect Indigenous women’s basic rights to safety and dignified lives. 

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