International Bridges to Justice

Dedicated to protecting the basic legal rights of ordinary citizens in developing countries


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About the project Edit

Working to guarantee all citizens the right to competent legal representation, the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a fair trial.

For more than ten years, International Bridges to Justice has been expanding its tools to support defenders of justice and human rights throughout the world. We conduct an array of global programming designed to reach the largest number of human rights and criminal justice defenders possible. We have developed a wide range of training manuals, country assessment and scorecard tools, and other resources, all accessible by lawyers everywhere through IBJ’s on line e-learning program (

Our Criminal Defense Wiki (, based on the same software as Wikipedia, brings case law, codes, treaties, and other resources to lawyers in developing countries throughout the world. We also support our global, on-line JusticeMakers network (, through which we select defender activists from throughout the world, and provide them with seed grants, as well as a support network empowering them to undertake projects such as rights awareness campaigns, multi-stakeholder dialogues, and defense bar trainings. To date, IBJ’s JusticeMakers have included individuals from 31 countries including Colombia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan.

In addition to this global programming, at present we maintain permanent programs in six countries. Through these country-by-country programs (, we have been able to train police and prosecutors, empower defense lawyers, and genuinely change the manner in which criminal justice systems operate.

In what ways is this project unique and creative? Edit

What is the social value of this project? Edit

Country Programs

IBJ’s country programs are the backbone of our efforts across the globe. We currently maintain an active presence in six countries: Burundi, Cambodia, China, India, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. In the years ahead, we plan to open offices in an additional 18 countries. Our country programs contain several essential elements, including the following:

• Defender Capacity Building, in which we build the key skills required for criminal defenders to perform their jobs professionally, safely, and with the greatest effect on the justice system.
• Defender Resource Centers, offices through which IBJ-trained lawyers provide legal defense services at the earliest possible stage of a criminal proceeding.
• Criminal Justice Reform, including roundtables to bring together all justice sector stakeholders to develop practical solutions to access to justice issues, while also breaking down barriers, building respect and promoting collegial relationships.
• Rights Awareness Campaigns, using posters, brochures, community education events, radio call-in shows and public service announcements to help individuals understand and gain access to their legal rights.

Read more about our programs


JusticeMakers is an online community that shares intellectual capital and best practices in the field of criminal justice, with the aim of fostering the development of a global defender network. The project seeks to unleash the collective energies of criminal defenders from around the world and realize the vast potential of international human rights legislation. The annual JusticeMakers Competition awards $5,000 to “heroes of criminal justice” to implement their initiatives locally.

Thus far, IBJ has hosted three JusticeMakers Competions. Its inaugural global competition in 2008 awarded 11 fellowships. In 2010 IBJ hosted not one, but two JusticeMakers Competitions: the Asia JusticeMakers Competition ending in May 2010 and a global competition focusing on Latin America that ended in December 2010. In total, IBJ awarded 34 JusticeMakers Fellowships in 26 countries from throughout Asia, Africa, and South America.

For more information about our current JusticeMakers Fellows and upcoming events, visit

Lifelong learning plays a crucial role in the development of lawyers around the world. IBJ’s Legal Training Resource Center increases defense lawyer capacity worldwide by offering general instruction on topics all lawyers need to know to practice law effectively as well as more advanced practice courses in criminal defense. Through the provision of worldwide, on-demand web-based eLearning courses, IBJ builds the key skills required for criminal defenders to perform their jobs effectively and uphold the rights of the accused, specifically the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a fair trial and the right to defend yourself.

These educational materials are developed under a global curriculum that reflects local laws and international human rights standards.

Go to if you want more information or to sign-up for one of our eLearning modules.


International Bridges to Justice believes that increased access to legal resources is a prerequisite for the implementation of the rule of law. In recent years, new approaches to communication and information management have profoundly altered the way institutions function. Many lawyers in developed countries take instantaneous access to legal resources for granted. However, lawyers in developing countries still cannot find even the most basic resources such as penal and procedural codes. It is essential that those seeking to bring about systemic change are aware of current treaties, international human rights norms, local laws and the creative approaches to criminal defense.

IBJ’s Criminal Defense Wiki brings, codes, treaties, case law and other resources to lawyers throughout the world. The website is based on the same software as Wikipedia, and joins criminal defense practitioners, other lawyers and legal professionals, law students, and professors together from around the world to conduct research and develop cases with the most up to date resource materials possible.
For more information, visit, and learn more about what you can do to help.


Criminal defense training is far from a universal concept and therefore difficult to come by in most developing countries. As many laws that uphold basic rights are relatively new, academics, criminal justice partners and legal practitioners have not yet developed and implemented procedures that apply and protect these rights. To address this development and implementation, IBJ creates empowerment and cultural exchange programs called Communities of Conscience. These Communities enable defense lawyers in North America and Europe, and legal aid lawyers in developing countries to exchange best practices and skills.

Typically, selected defenders travel to a North American or European location for an intensive training program that comprises on-site visits to public defender or legal aid offices, detention centers, court houses and law firms and also offers practical skills training in legal skills vital for effective practice. These exchanges create a network of skilled practitioners and mentors, who offer guidance, awareness and support for the role of defenders worldwide. The participants return to their legal communities to operate as leaders and trainers.

What is the potential of this project to expand and develop? Edit

Where we work: Burundi, Cambodia, China, India, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Singapore

What was the triggering factor of this project? Edit

Message from Karen Tse – Founder and CEO

Not so long ago, as a lawyer working for the United Nations, I experienced a dramatic shift in my perceptions of approaches to international human rights and issues concerning the detained and imprisoned. I remember peering through the bars of a cell in Cambodia and talking with a young boy who had been detained, tortured by the police, and was languishing in prison, confused and daunted by what would or could happen next. Like most prisoners in Cambodia, he had no lawyer or human rights worker to defend him or safeguard his rights, and he had no pending trial date to determine his guilt or innocence. I flashed back to ten years before, to my college days of organizing letter-writing campaigns for political prisoners. We had demanded that they be free from torture and be granted their right to fair and speedy trials. But as I came face to face with this young boy, I realized that neither I nor my fellow students would have written a letter for him. He was not a political prisoner; he was just an unimportant 12 year old boy whose mischievous behavior, trying to steal a bicycle, had landed him in this quandary.

The prison guards were nice enough and did not appear too concerned that I was talking to this young boy who bore obvious signs of beating. They didn’t have much to hide: after all, use of force to extract confessions was just a part of standard police operating procedures. As I looked into the face of the boy, I felt myself wondering where we had gone wrong. I wondered why his interests, those of a “common” and “undeserving prisoner” had not made it into my “mission” statement.

Perhaps ten years ago, there might have been precious little that we could have done for this boy. Since that time, however, governments throughout Asia, including Cambodia, Vietnam, and China have passed new laws outlawing torture and providing citizens with basic rights, including their right to a defender. It was precisely because this boy was not a political prisoner, someone the government had any interest in, that he could easily have been the beneficiary of focused international attention. Citizens like him were unimportant to the government and the denial of their basic rights now had less to do with present policy and more to do with vestiges of an old legal system that formerly tolerated and even condoned this denial of rights. In his face, I recognized the thousands like him, not only in Cambodia but in countries like China and Vietnam as well, who would be the direct beneficiaries of a functioning criminal justice system with a standard of basic human rights. By helping these countries to implement their own domestic laws consistent with human rights principles and helping to safeguard prisoner rights, we had the opportunity to drastically improve and perhaps even save the lives of everyday citizens.

Vishna, a four year old boy who was born and lived in a Cambodian prison is my favorite hero. Because he was born in the prison, the guards who knew him his entire life grew quite fond of him and allowed him free range of the prison. He was small enough to climb through the bars. When I met him, though, he was getting older and could no longer get through the bottom rungs of the prison bars. But he could climb up to the third bar, which was slightly bigger, then slowly turn his head to the side and then find a way to barely pass through the bars to the other side. Everyday that I went to the prison, he would go through this process so he could run out to meet me. Then he would take my hand and go with me to each and every prison cell. At each of the 156 prison cells, he would reach his little hand or finger in to make contact with a prisoner. For most of them, he was their greatest joy.

I often think of Vishna. A boy born into a prison without material or physical comfort. But a boy who had a sense of his own heroic journey and desire to give up a piece of his life to something greater than himself. I think of the contributions he made to the prisoners’ wretched lives both on an individual level as he reached out his hand so many times, and also of the contributions he made to human rights through me – for he so often gave me strength when I was not sure why I should continue on. This heroic spirit and journey to reach behind the bars of injustice is open to all of us.

Please join Vishna in this heroic journey and let us partake in it together.

What is the business model of this project? Edit


Host a Defender party
Show the TED video, distribute IBJ information, and get people talking about what all of us
can do, working together, to end torture as an investigative tool! Contact us at for more information.

Mentor, Train, Advise or Create a Community of Conscience
Communities of Conscience are empowerment and cultural exchange programs enabling a rewarding exchange of skills and practices between legal professionals in North America and Europe and their counterparts in developing countries. If you’re a member of a law school, religious group, private business, law firm, chamber of commerce or other interested group, you can help IBJ to organize these important exchanges by identifying individuals and institutions willing to serve as mentors and partners. You can also help us with arrangements including design of exchange programs, fundraising, housing, food, and other logistics. Contact us at for more information.

Intern / Volunteer with Country Programs or JMs
We have numerous possibilities to volunteer in our headquarters office in Geneva as well as on site at one of our six country programs. Applications for summer internships must be sent before January 15th of the year in question. Applications for internships during other periods are accepted all year long. For examples of the kind of internship and volunteer opportunities available, please download the following file: IBJ 2012 Internship . To apply for an internship please send a CV and cover letter explaining where and why you want to volunteer for us, and for how long you would be available, to

Conduct Research for DefenseWiki
Law students/professors/experienced criminal defense practitioners and others can share their knowledge on our DefenseWiki website in order to create a valuable online resource for criminal defense lawyers in developing countries. Contact us for more information.

Develop eLearning content
Law students/professors/experienced criminal defense practitioners and other interested professionals can help to develop materials for our eLearning Program that offers defense lawyers both general instruction as well as more advanced practice courses in criminal defense. Contact us at for more information.

IBJ needs help with translation of its publications, from blog posts to legal training curricula, especially in the following languages: Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian. Contact us at for more information.

IBJ Runners for Justice
Save this date and get involved: On October 7, 2012, IBJ will run for justice in Geneva. We are actively seeking runners and sponsors. Contact us at for more information.


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