IBJ Cambodia Convenes Prisoners and Officers for Legal Rights Awareness Event in Ratanakiri Prison

This week IBJ Cambodia conducted a legal awareness discussion on the rights of prisoners for the detainees and prison officers in Ratanakiri’s provincial prison. Two sessions were held, once in the morning and again later that afternoon. At the second session, 20 prisoners attended, six of whom were women. There were additionally five prison guards, two of which were women, making it 52 participants in total. As part of IBJ’s Legal Aid outreach program, Rights Awareness Events are held frequently in an effort to educate the public on their basic rights within the criminal justice system.

IBJ a organisé une séance de sensibilisation juridique sur les droits de prisonniers pour les détenus et les fonctionnaires pénitentiaires dans la prison privinciale de Ratanakiri. Dans le cadre d’un effort visant à sensibiliser le public aux leurs droits fondamentaux, IBJ organise régulièrement les événements de sensibilisation juridique qui font partie de Programme de l’aide juridique d’IBJ.

កម្មវិធីផ្សព្វផ្សាយច្បាប់របស់អង្គការ
ស្ពានយុត្តិធម៌អន្តរជាតិIBJស្តីពីច្បាប់
និងសិទ្ឋិសម្រាប់អ្នកជាប់ពន្ឋនាគារ ដល់ជនជាប់ឃំុ និងមន្រ្តីពន្ឋនាគារ នៅពន្ឋនាគារខេត្តរតនគិរី ។

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Photos generously provided by Sophoes Phon

IBJ Zimbabwe Convenes Legal Practitioners and Law Society Members for Roundtable Discussion

John T. Burombo

September 2014

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IBJ Zimbabwe Fellows, Innocent Maja and John Burombo, hosted a roundtable discussion on 12th September 2014 to address the issue of corruption in the criminal justice system. The roundtable was paticularly focused on how lawyers have contributed to its growth and what can be done to reduce this scourge in the system. The legal practitioners and members of the Law Society of Zimbabwe who participated in this open discussion agreed that corruption had become rife in the criminal justice system and that lawyers had somewhat contributed to this by turning a blind eye to its occurrence and seemingly accepting it as normal.

The participants agreed that the main causes of the rise of corruption in the system included: poor remuneration for legal practitioners and other key justice stakeholders, general decline in morals and ethics, a culture of greed and self-enrichment, poverty, and abuse of power by state officials. They then identified the damage done by this system of corruption as including loss of public confidence in the system, loss of the public confidence in lawyers, justice being compromised, lawyers becoming incompetent and lazy, and the legal process becoming expensive due to payment of bribes.

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The participants agreed that the problem of corruption within the system was bigger than individual lawyers. Thus, the recommendation was made that lawyers act as a single body to challenge the problem using the Law Society and other organizations like International Bridges to Justice. They also made other recommendations to deal with the problem, which included compulsory continuous legal education for lawyers, the Law Society taking a decisive stance against members engaging in corruption, improvement of remuneration, particularly for junior lawyers, and running awareness campaigns against corruption.

The participants expressed gratitude towards IBJ for hosting the discussion; with one participant commenting that the event had dealt with “more issues that expected” and another saying it was “an enlightening event”.

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Highlights from the 2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMakers Competition:Gatavu Audace

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Gatavu Audace is a human rights defense attorney in Bujumbura, Burundi, who has witnessed the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS in Burundi’s criminal justice system. These experiences moved Audace to use his legal skills and connections within the legal community to create a network of pro bono defense attorneys to provide legal counsel to the most vulnerable within the criminal justice system who are without any legal defense.  Audace’s courage to devote his professional life to defending those most marginalized was awarded by International Bridges to Justice with the JusticeMakers Fellowship in 2012. Now two years later, he continues to raise the voices of the hopeless with renewed persistence.

Gatavu Audace

2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMakers Fellow, Burundi 

September 5, 2014

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What made you apply for IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition?

When I applied for IBJ’s JusticeMaker Competition, I was working with people living with HIV/AIDS and I was shocked by the way they were threatened in prisons. They were {not} considered as normal prisoners because of their incurable disease. I applied therefore to save some from prison as soon as possible.

What were some of the initial challenges you faced in implementing your work?

I faced the challenge of talking to judges that do not {give} consideration to the particular situation of prisoners with HIV/AIDS. There was a serious problem of undue delay of procedures and these people were hopeless! Some of them refused to take their medication and died in prison just because they considered their life already lost!

 What were you able to achieve with your grant of $5,000?

I stood beside hopeless people and raised my voice for their cases. I encouraged some of them not to give up despite the hardships they were experiencing. With the $5000, the prison officials and prisoners and the community knew that these people have value and are worthy. In representing them before the court, I gave them the consideration they longed for since they knew they was HIV positive.

What have you gained from joining the international community of JusticeMakers Fellows?

I am always learning from other Fellows. I now belong to a community of service providers to which I am conscientious of the quality of their work.

 As a recipient of IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition, what advice would you give to those looking to apply?

 IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition is an opportunity that is given to YOU to serve YOUR community. Don’t miss it! Try! You’ll never know if you do not try!

Podcast Interview with IBJ India Legal Fellow Gulika Reddy

Solange interviews Gulika at IBJ Geneva

 

Intern Solange Pittet sits with IBJ India Legal Fellow Gulika Reddy for International Bridges to Justice’s first official podcast! Visiting Geneva for the annual curators meeting of the Global Shapers Community, Gulika was able to meet with the IBJ Geneva team and share some of her personal experience working as a criminal defense lawyer in India.  Hear all about her work with IBJ, most challenging cases, and hopes for the future: IBJ Gulika Interview

Read more about Gulika and her work here: http://ibj.org/Team_India.html

Highlights from the Asia JusticeMakers Competition 2010: Harshi Perera

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After Harshi Perera received her law degree from the Open University of Sri Lanka in 2008 with a specialization in human rights, she began formally assisting Janasansadaya (JS) by responding to human rights violations and cases. She developed a particular passion advocating for the rights of children and women, perceiving these groups as some of the most vulnerable in Sri Lanka. Now 2010 Asia JusticeMakers Fellow Harshi Perera reflects on the competition and how far she’s come.

H.M. Harshi Chitrangi Perera

2010 Asia JusticeMakers Fellow, Sri Lanka

August 29, 2014

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What made you apply for IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition?

{To} work for another human being and make a difference. We needed a grant to do this.

What were some of the initial challenges you faced in implementing your work?

 The malpractices and delays in justice system, along with the {the lack of} professionals attached to it, proved difficult.  Criticism from the media when trying to give bail to a LTTE suspect also caused hindrances.

What were you able to achieve with your grant of $5,000?

What I achieved was more valuable than $5,000. I successfully fulfilled the goal, releasing five women pre-trial detainees from the Welikada Female Prison Ward.  One woman was an eight year pre-trial detainee, while another woman was released with her baby. We were able to help two other women, one whom had been remanded on fabrication of charge by the police and another woman who is a rape survivor whom had been remanded for not appearing before the court for five years.

What have you gained from joining the international community of JusticeMakers Fellows?

 Experience and knowledge.

As a recipient of IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition, what advice would you give to those looking to apply?

Work Hard. Have a dream of what you are going to achieve. Work double than the grant of $5,000. Work to raise voices instead of money.

IBJ Legal Fellow Thanked by Young Client at Prison Gates

Last Friday, IBJ Legal Fellow Kan Seng Houth met the man he helped free outside the gates of the Kompong Thom Provincial Prison in Cambodia. The young man expressed his deepest gratitude to Houth and to all the members of International Bridges to Justice Cambodia for coming to his defense. The two are pictured below, just after his release.

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Photos graciously provided by Kan Seng Houth

 

IBJ Brings Community Together for Legal Rights Awareness Event in Kampongthom Provence

The Defender Resource Center in Cambodia often puts together Legal Rights Awareness events with posters and brochures, radio campaigns, and community education events. On August 8th, 2014 IBJ lawyers and investigators hosted a Legal Rights Awareness Campaign where prisoner officers and defendants came together for a roundtable discussion at the Kampongthom Provincial Prison. By reviewing basic rights and answering questions,  IBJ helped individuals better understand the Cambodian legal system.

Legal Rights Awareness Campaign for Prison Officers and Defendants

Legal Rights Awareness Campaign for Prison Officers and Defendants

Meeting in Kampongthom Provincial Prison

Meeting in Kampongthom Provincial Prison

IBJ Lawyers and Defenders answer questions

IBJ Lawyers and Defenders answer questions

Prison Officials and Defendants come together

Prison Officers and Defendants coming together

 

Photos generously provided by Kan Seng Houth 

IBJ Lawyers Intervene to Save Young Boy After Forced Confession

Erika Larsen, Legal Intern

July 22nd, 2014

At 16 years old, Vannak[1] found himself being interrogated by two police officers – in fear that if he did not provide a confession for crimes he knew nothing about, he would be subjected to violence. The officers did not inform him of his right to a lawyer, and he feared the “large officer” would “punish him by hit[ting] him” if he did not provide the answers they sought. Vannak “was afraid, so [he] did what they said” and ‘confessed’ to serving as an accomplice to intentional damage to property and intentional violence – crimes which, given these particular circumstances, would warrant up to 15 years in prison and over 10 million riel ($2,000 USD) in fines[2].

Vannak’s friend had been in a fight a few days before police stopped Vannak in an internet shop and arrested him last November. Vannak had heard about the fight, but had no idea that since then his friend had attacked his foe with a knife, injuring the victim and damaging the victim’s house where the attack took place. When police questioned a friend of the perpetrator, he lied and implicated Vannak in the crime. However, the day the attack took place, Vannak had been hanging out with a friend, playing volleyball amongst other things.  When the police questioned Vannak, he was forced to give a coerced confession for a crime he was unaware even happened.

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Vannak recounts his experience in prison

After six hours in the police post, which is almost two hours from the Battambang/Thailand border-town where Vannak lives with his mother, Vannak was allowed to call his mother, and then was taken to the prison. However, because necessary prison admission forms had not been signed, and it was too late at night to find a judge to do so, Vannak was brought back to the police post where he slept for one night. It was not until his hearing the next morning that the judge informed him he should have a lawyer. The court clerk referred Vannak’s mother to IBJ when she arrived at the courthouse, after frantically rushing from their town to the Battambang court – a costly journey that she had to take multiple times during this ordeal.

After meeting with Vannak’s mother just a few days after Vannak’s arrest, Sothea (the provincial lawyer here in DRC 6) took on Vannak’s case in its earliest stages. The investigating judge dismissed the case against Vannak after Sothea presented Vannak’s friend who had spent the day with him on the date of the incident as a witness. Sothea further pointed out that there was no evidence indicating Vannak’s involvement in this crime.

Although the investigating judge dismissed the charges, the dismissal did not occur until after Vannak spent 15 days inside the prison. I wrote previously about the conditions a minor kept in the prison here in Battambang can face (see http://ow.ly/yDZ58), and the conditions Vannak faced were very similar. He spent his days in a five by five meter cell with 20 other inmates, finding both sleep and food scarce, but able to use his mornings for exercise. Vannak felt he was lucky, as he said new prisoners were often made to stay in the bathrooms until space opened up in the cells; however, because the prison guards took a liking to him, he instead stayed in the overcrowded cell.

Me (legal intern), Vannak[1], Vannak’s Mother, Kalyan (lawyer assistant); Taken at their home.

Me (legal intern), Vannak[1], Vannak’s Mother, Kalyan (lawyer assistant); Taken at their home.

Upon his release, Vannak says he was “absolutely happy.” As was his mother, who had spent each day crying because she “knew it was a mistake” and kept wondering “why they [were doing this] to her son.” As a single mother who makes only $100 per month as the owner of a pharmacy, she was unable to visit him because the prison was too far and she had already spent much of her income traveling to the IBJ office. Her sister attempted to visit but the guards refused to let her in because Vannak had only been in prison for a few days and their policy only allows for visits every 15 days. Needless to say, Vannak’s mother was “very happy” upon her young son’s release. Now 17, Vannak is in the process of completing 12th grade with hopes of becoming a doctor. Thankfully, false accusations and a coerced confession will no longer hold him back as he completes his education.

 

[1] Name changed for client’s privacy.

[2] Art. 29, 218, 414, Cambodia Criminal Code (CCC) (2009).

Highlights from the JusticeMakers Competition 2012: Reflecting on Our Challenges and Successes

 

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With the JusticeMakers Competition 2014 now underway, International Bridges to Justice would like to take a moment to reflect back on past Fellows whose legacies will serve to inspire future generations of JusticeMakers throughout the world.  2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMaker Fellow, C. Christian Zarweah from Liberia, answered a few questions about joining the international community of Fellows, what keeps him motivated, and advice for future applicants.

C. Christian Zarweah

2012 Justice Fellow, Liberia

August 14, 2014

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What made you apply for IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition?

Our world is filled with many people who are either affected by HIV/Aids, disability, poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, low-income backgrounds, sicknesses, the haves and the have-nots and they need someone to identify with them so as to find common practical solutions to their plights. It is only when collaborative efforts are applied like the initiative of IBJ can such people find peace and recognition and the dignity they deserve and desire. I was motivated to apply to IBJ to give some hope and dignity to people in my region and country who are affected and those who are vulnerable because of their status so as to give them legal defense and hope and a better sense and realization as to why they exist and what they can do to improve their conditions.

What were some of the initial challenges you faced in implementing your work?

The ability to mobilize and bring the different law enforcement groups and the affected individuals together to speak with one mind and work together was my initial challenge since that idea was strange in my region. Finally we succeeded in mobilizing the police, judges, magistrates, major and key stakeholders and the affected individuals and the medical people to begin to work together and collaborate for the welfare of the affected and vulnerable. Our success was then greatly due to the willingness of the different groups involved to coordinate and collaborate that finally yielded in a defense team been organized, a community volunteer group established and identification of the affected and most vulnerable women and children became a reality when their legal, emotional, and social needs were all addressed.

What were you able to achieve with your grant of $5,000?

The money itself was not much, but it served as catalyst, thereby giving us the different teams and elements to coordinate to ensure positive result as was in our case. There were multiple successes, but the outstanding one that kept ringing bell in my heart and ear was the story of a three year old girl who got affected at birth along with a mother in her mid twenties who herself was affected. We were able to identify this small family who had been chased from one home and community to another by family members, boyfriends, and friends because of their status. We intervened through our legal defense team, provided a place to stay, basic energy and food for them, and established a little table market for sustainability. The mother later became our key outreach person on the impact and effect of HIV/Aids. As I reflect on the face of this young child who found herself affected at birth with an infected mother, I realized that there are many unknown and unheard voices and stories like that three year old and her mother and I was continually encouraged to reach out with the funding from IBJ. We were also able to bring the judges, magistrates, police and stakeholders together to discuss on how to coordinate their activities so as to give legal protection and dignity to the affected and vulnerable. This collaborative effort was one of our key successes where law enforcers have worked independently in the past. We also succeeded in bringing the medical and clinic workers on board so as to work together to conceal the identity of affected persons from the community to avoid attack or abuse. We succeeded in that the medical people promised to help keep the privacy of the effected persons. This too was a major success from our end. The fact that even some of the most vulnerable were given monthly ration of energy food of which otherwise they could not obtain thereby giving them hope, dignity and the sense of belonging was a major success in itself. Our FM education and awareness made the general public to begin to respect the rights and dignity of affected people that too was a major success.

What have you gained from joining the international community of JusticeMakers Fellows?

I have learnt that together when we join hands and efforts and resources, we can achieve much. The little three years old could not be reached directly by IBJ, but through collaboration and coordinating resources, the little vulnerable three year old found grace and relief through an IBJ sponsored project. When we collaborate and better coordinate our expertise, resources and efforts, we will surely achieve more even with limited funding.

I also remain grateful to IBJ whose project support and intervention gave Lua and her daughter Susanna hope and stability and full legal protection.   Yes, indeed, together we can play our collective roles in building bridges to the affected, the neglected, the outcast, the forgotten, and the orphans and vulnerable because they are affected and we can renew their hopes and dignity.

As a recipient of IBJ’s JusticeMakers Competition, what advice would you give to those looking to apply?

As a recipient myself I would like to give these pieces of advice to those seeking to apply:

  1. That they truly have the human love and interest in what they want to do
  2. That they have the enthusiasm and determination to withstand pressure in the midst of multiple challenges
  3. That they are able to work with different people of different expectations and backgrounds
  4. That they have the interest of the affected and vulnerable at heart
  5. That they are willing to volunteer and serve rightly and properly doing the project and after

 

IBJ Training Unites New Generation of Chinese Defense Lawyers

August 2014

Jasmine Wang

From June to October 2013, IBJ China held its pilot Series of Training (SoT) in Beijing under its Defender Empowerment Series (DES) project. The SoT is a program of eight training sessions spread over four months aimed specifically at young lawyers just beginning a career in criminal defense. Potential applicants were expected to have passed the bar exam, to have worked less than three years in criminal justice, and a commitment to taking legal aid cases. Applications were submitted from across China and eventually 40 promising lawyers were selected to participate; many had to travel by air or overnight train just to attend the trainings.

 A major draw for the participating lawyers was the opportunity to learn from the DES Trainers, all of whom were invited for their specific expertise. These DES Trainers themselves had participated in a weeklong IBJ training focused on fostering highly interactive, case-based teaching methods. In addition, their experience in the field of criminal justice allowed them to provide participants with extremely practical and immediately useful skills.

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Lawyer Meng was an SoT participant who described how fortunate he felt for joining the program when he was still in the middle of his apprenticeship, “[As an apprentice]… I had an enormous caseload and there was a risk for the work to become mindless. Copying case reports word for word into my own notes, meeting clients and taking notes verbatim—I could easily lose focus of my work. Suddenly, after beginning the SoT, I was excited to put new skills I had learned directly into practice. It substantively helped to improve the way I take cases now.”

For Meng, the most useful skills he acquired were the ones directly related to his daily tasks—no detail was too small. As there is no standardized style guide yet in China, he specifically expressed gratitude to Trainer Zhang who taught him the exact font, text size, spacing between paragraphs and effective wording to use when compiling a defense submission for the court.

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Meng states, “I learned to create a note-taking system for interviewing clients that ensured I would ask for the key points necessary to build my case and to establish trust with my clients. For evidence, I now use the Diagram Analysis Method that Trainer Zhang taught me that has added enormous credibility to my submissions.”

Recently, in a case where the client was arrested for fraud, Meng made use the Diagram Analysis Method and tabulated each piece of evidence while providing an objective summary of its relationship to the case and its monetary value. This thorough analysis of evidence and the defense’s valuation of the accused’s crime was quickly accepted by the prosecution. According to Meng, “…the prosecution could tell that our work was of high-quality and it helped build their trust in us. Because of this, they supported our argument that the client had surrendered—a mitigating factor for the sentencing—and submitted a more lenient opinion to the court.”

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In the year since attending SoT, Meng finished is apprenticeship and his career has made great strides. Along with his associate Lawyer Ma—also an SoT participant—in July 2014 Meng launched a pro bono clinic, “Criminal Legal Aid for the Weak,” serving vulnerable populations in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province. Meng states, “After watching my teachers give so much to me and helping me achieve a level of confidence in my work, I really wanted to use these skills and give back to the community around me.”

Beyond providing a highly interactive training, SoT focused itself on fostering community and a sense of solidarity between colleagues in the work of criminal justice. This past weekend, sixteen SoT lawyers reunited for a salon organized by IBJ and reflected upon the effectiveness of the trainings and how their own careers have progressed since then. SoT Trainer Yi remarked to his students, “As individual lawyers, we cannot do so much or accomplish what we want from our careers. It’s only as a community of collaborators that we can really tap our potential as criminal justice lawyers.”

With the feedback and response from the Beijing pilot, IBJ plans to expand SoT in 2015 to four new locations throughout China.