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Andrew Stobo Sniderman ’07 — Canada

Human Rights Defender, Lawyer, Writer

For Andrew Stobo Sniderman ’07, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the abuses at the Guantánamo Bay prison had a big effect in setting him up for a career as a human rights defender, as did his experience advocating for an end to the genocide in Darfur.

“The most formative practical experience I had at Swarthmore was working on Darfur activism with a group of phenomenal students,” says Sniderman, who co-founded the organization that became the Genocide Intervention Network. “The College gave us a little office in the basement of the train station and a couple of computers. There were a few mice scurrying, so we set up a mouse trap and we got a printer and a long-distance phone plan. I remember having this feeling of limitless possibility, that if we were clever enough and worked hard enough, we could do anything. We were part of a student movement trying to use American power for something worthwhile in this moment when the abuses of American power were so obvious to all of us.

“Meanwhile, I’m kind of a foreigner,” Sniderman says. “Part of me said I’d like to go back to Canada one day and be in those rooms where we’re trying to decide our place in the world.”

Sniderman was able to realize that goal when he served as human rights policy adviser to Stéphane Dion, the first foreign minister under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Sniderman, a Rhodes Scholar who earned a law degree from the University of Toronto, has focused his career as a lawyer and journalist on issues related to international human rights, refugee law, and—closer to home—Indigenous peoples’ rights in Canada. In April 2018, he argued his first case before the Supreme Court of Canada, against the imposing of mandatory minimum fines, or “victim fine surcharges,” on criminal offenders.

Now a visiting researcher at McGill University’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism in Montreal, Sniderman is working on a book about an Indigenous reserve in Manitoba, the white town next door, and the legacy of racism.

“I’m trying to explain using this very local case why these reserves are separate and unequal,” Sniderman says. “It’s inevitable that if you’re a Canadian righteously writing speeches and working on global refugee policies that you come face to face with the hypocrisies of Canada.”

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