IBJ is an amazing organization led by a charismatic, thoughtful and dynamic women, Karen Tse. She leads a terrific team of talented staff who punch way above their weight class. The' impossible' is but a challenge for IBJ. Anything is possible if you have a plan, are smart and determined. And that exemplifies the work of IBJ. IBJ moves mountains. It is the cutting edge innovator in fighting against torture and providing legal assistance and aid in difficult circumstances.
The focus of IBJ’s mission impresses me. The rights of an accused person, and the effective invocation of those rights by a defender on behalf of the accused, are so fundamental to a fair and just society. Yet, the ordinary citizen accused of a petty crime is so easily forgotten among the numerous social justice causes clamoring for society’s attention. IBJ does not forget.
IBJ’s practical, results-oriented approach also impresses me. IBJ works simultaneously with those who can lend legitimacy to its efforts – governments, bar associations, local officials – and with those who are on the frontlines of protecting criminal defense rights everyday – the legal aid and private bar defenders, of course, but also those with whom they interact, including police, prosecutors and judges. IBJ has a lofty vision of fair and equitable criminal justice systems, but its day-to-day work is in the trenches.
Finally, the audacious determination and undaunted dedication, not only of IBJ’s Founder and CEO Karen Tse, but also of the IBJ Staff, IBJ Fellows and IBJ JusticeMakers, is impressive beyond words. Nothing stops their efforts: not the pervasiveness of torture as a criminal investigation tool, not the prevalent political difficulties in the countries IBJ enters, not the enormity of the challenge. When Karen Tse says, “I believe it is possible to end torture in my lifetime,” how can we not help her and IBJ to do that?
I had the privilege to work for IBJ in 2009 and 2010. IBJ is an amazing organization with the ability to spur real change in local criminal justice systems throughout the world. IBJ has built an intertwined network of global criminal defense lawyers and supporters, aligned in the mission to end torture and improve the basic legal rights of ordinary citizens in developing countries around the world. I think that the performance of the organization could be enhanced by utilizing exisiting partnerships more, and ensuring the sustainability of all programs.
I started interning at IBJ with little work experience and was made to feel a valuable part of the team from the start. Geneva staff members are passionate, inspiring people who truly believe in their cause. This belief was infectious, and while I was working there, they proved that they could achieve much of what they sought to.
The 2011 JusticeMakers competition, which I helped organize, awarded 10 lawyers in developing countries (particularly Latin America, a relatively new region to the work of IBJ) with grants to help improve their criminal justice systems.
I also drafted reports to fundraisers and wrote fundraising proposals, which required me to read surveys and research on the results that IBJ achieves in the countries they work in, and found all of this very heartening.
Though at times I was a little overwhelmed by some of the tasks I was asked to carry out (IBJ staff delegate a great deal), it meant that I learnt so much and felt like a valuable part of the team.
Over the 10 years of its existence, International Bridges to Justice has done more to protect and advance the human and legal rights of the average citizen of those countries it serves, through its collaborative and educational approach, than any other organization anywhere. We are led by the Rev. Karen Tse, whose individual idealism and determination have made the most extensive and most beneficial difference in more lives and more countries than any other human rights advocate today. I am truly honored to be a small part of this great mission and to serve alongside some of the best people I have ever known.
I worked with IBJ's Cambodia branch ansd was based in the Pursat office. Cambodia has a very high rate of illegal pre-trial detention and a serious shortage of criminal defense lawyers. For these reasons IBJ's work is instrumental. The Pursat Office carried a very heavy case load and at the time only had one lawyer on hand. In addition to the case load, transportation and communication obstacles also slowed the office's ability to serve the community. Despite these set-backs, the staff was incredibly dedicated and had a large impact on the community.
In the summer of 2010, I was fortunate to work with one of IBJ's JusticeMaker fellows in rural, western Kenya. Over the past year, the fellow had done work to promote women's legal rights in an area where women traditionally are either unaware of or unable/unwilling to exercise their rights due to tradition. Through community meetings and various other outreach channels like radio shows, he had provided knowledge and an accompanying desire for change to many members of his community, and subsequently set up meetings with local government officials where people could express their concerns.
During my stay, he was still working tirelessly to promote discussion and advocacy for better governance in the region. I attended many, many community meetings to discuss the upcoming referendum on a new Constitution as well as other community concerns, including those surrounding prison conditions and the inadequacies of the legal system.
I was also fortunate enough to work briefly with another IBJ funded organization in the nearby city of Kisumu. Awarded a JusticeMaker fellowship in the same year, CLEAR Kisumu is essentially a legal aid organization for citizens who probably otherwise would not be able to afford/retain representation. While it is part of a broader organization, the Kisumu office was started as a result of IBJ funding. Even in my short time there, I could see their positive impact on the community and the legal environment in western Kenya, which is an 8-hour, pothole filled world away from the comparative sophistication of Nairobi. I attended a paralegal training where one of the attorneys was explaining basic property law to local citizens and outlining the forms and procedure required by the courts. Those citizens were then setting up a legal aid center, where they could turn around and help other citizens. Another day I tagged along to a prison where the attorneys and staff members made a presentation on the upcoming constitutional referendum and answered some of the inmates legal questions. At the prison it was very apparent that the legal system moves very slowly in Kenya and that many of the inmates would not have representation at all - even to answer routine questions about paperwork/forms to be filed at the court - if it weren't for the Kisumu office. As far as I remember, the inmates are provided with a single typewriter to type their own appeals, so any time or correspondence wtih an attorney can be extremely helpful.
I had an overall fantastic experience living and working in Kenya for the summer with two of IBJ's JusticeMaker fellowship recipients. The work that the $5,000 fellowships made possible was valuable to the community and humbling to behold - I saw people whose homes have no running water or electricity passionately advocating for improvement to the system of governance, the legal culture, and the prison system in their country. As an American law student interested in rule of law work in the future, my experience with IBJ was, in short, awesome, and it would be hard to overstate the importance of the work they supported in Kenya.
I volunteered with International Bridges to Justice from September 2010 until December 2010 as a law school graduate on deferral from my permanent job with a law firm in Washington, DC. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with IBJ. The staff is very small, which means a lot of one on one attention, and very dedicated to their organization. I worked primarily on helping establish and execute a grass roots competition to attract local attorneys in primarily Latin American countries to submit proposals for ideas they had on how to strengthen the rule of law in their country through educational or hands on programs. It was a good experience in teamwork as well as work management. Furthermore, I wrote a grant to help increase project funding for grass roots initiatives that focused on the intersection of criminal justice and HIV/AIDS.
As a volunteer for IBJ, I worked on a closely-knit team to plan and administer a grass-roots criminal justice competition called JusticeMakers. This competition gave international legal professionals the support and means to implement their own criminal justice initiative. I acted as the main point of contact to the competition's applicants, which meant that I was in constant contact with people from around the world.
Volunteers at IBJ have a lot of responsibility, and my supervisor was always supportive and willing to take on my ideas. Overall, this was an incredible experience, and I felt that I learned so much, both from communicating with international professionals and from the fantastic team at IBJ.
IBJ is a human rights organization that seeks to end criminal investigatory torture by strengthening the rule of law and developing legal aid systems in developing countries.
IBJ is a great place to work - the management board is nurturing and inspiring, the work is challenging and fascinating, and the international coworkers are amazing. While working there, my writing significantly improved and I was given the opportunities to meet brilliant legal minds at conferences, galas and other events.
IBJ works largely off volunteers, many of which are short-term volunteers. When I left the organization, I wish I could have stayed longer. Because of the goals of the organization, longevity and sustainability are important and some small details can go overlooked with a lot of short term volunteerships. I would recommend that people seeking to volunteer full time with this organization do so for no less than 9 months. Otherwise, they should work on very discrete projects.