United Nations director discusses international human rights with faculty of law

The faculty of law at the University of Manitoba welcomed Marcia Kran to the school’s Fort Garry campus last week, where she gave a lecture on the subject of human rights law.

Kran, a distinguished graduate of Robson Hall, was, until recently, director of research and the right to development division at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva.

She spoke for an hour last Thursday to an audience of law faculty and students, covering topics relating to human rights law, including a history of the founding of the UN. She drew attention to the role that Canada played in its development, for example, in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court.

“I invite you to think about how the body of international human rights law that has been developed so far, and how these norms and standards can be used in your future practice of law,” Kran said.

Kran emphasized the importance of domestic law in strengthening international human rights law and vice versa.

“The maximum effect of international human rights standards can only be achieved if these norms and standards are implemented nationally through domestic legal systems [ . . . ] There is considerable experience within Canada regarding relying on international human rights in domestic courts. International human rights law can be used to assist the interpretation of domestic law; there is plenty of basis to build legal arguments on this international human rights framework.”

Upon graduating with a law degree from the University of Manitoba, Kran worked as a prosecutor for the attorney general of Manitoba for six years, before undertaking a graduate degree in Sweden.

“My time studying in Sweden really enthused me about pursuing human rights work. And I continued from there, and did another master’s degree in Toronto in political science, so I am a political scientist and a lawyer, and I think that helps a lot at the UN, in understanding political elements, and being able to have a multidisciplinary take on things,” Kran told the Manitoban.

In addition to working at the United Nations, Kran has also worked on the domestic side of human rights law at the Department of Justice Canada in the legal policy section.

“When Canada ratifies international treaties, the national law has to be changed to be in compliance with these international obligations, and I specifically worked on changes in national criminal law in that regard,” she said.

When asked about Canada’s participation at the United Nations and the changes she has seen in recent years, Kran said Canada has not been as engaged as it was in the past.

“Canada had such a good record at the UN, and not just in the human rights pillar – in peacekeeping, and in a host of other areas,” said Kran.

“However, recently I’ve noticed that Canada has not been as active as it used to be in a progressive way on human rights.”

Earlier this year, Canada clashed with the Human Rights Council when it brought forward concerns about Canada’s record. Iran and other countries with dubious human rights records were part of the council.

“It is important to remember that all countries are developing countries when it comes to human rights. No country is perfect. The human rights framework is not being perfectly or fully applied by any country in the world, and this is true for Canada as well. We must remember that, even if the issue is being raised by Iran,” explained Kran.

Kran was also in town to attend the Isaac Pitblado Lectures as a keynote speaker. The focus of this year’s series was on human rights.

The Pitblado lectures are a long-running series dating back to 1960, and are collectively presented by the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, and the faculty of law at the U of M.