Sunday, 29 April 2007

Master Class - Karen Tse

• During the Human Rights Master Class, I was part of a smaller workshop group with Karen Tse. Getting to know a bit more of her story was for me one of the highlights of the Forum at Oxford. Tse leads the citizens group International Bridges to Justice, which represents a powerful example and strategy for systemic social change. The group is working to build fairer and more effective criminal justice systems around the world ... starting in China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and now expanding its activities to Africa and Latin America.

• International Bridges to Justice was founded in 2000 as a collaboration between lawyers, academics, and business leaders. It promotes the rule of law, good governance and equitable legal rights for all citizens by ensuring the effective implementation of existing criminal defence, justice and human rights legislation. Operating from the premise that just and reliable legal systems translate into secure and stable societies, the group works to strengthen the practical skills of public defence lawyers, improving legal aid and public defender infrastructure and increasing the awareness of basic legal rights and processes among ordinary citizens.

Example. China remains one of the world's most obstinate abusers of basic human rights. It didn't outlaw police torture and threats until 1996, when it also dictated for the first time that defendants have the right to a lawyer and are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In mainland China dissidents are routinely arrested and held incommunicado ... and the Chinese judiciary is still locking up lawyers when they press too hard in defending the accused.

International Bridges to Justice has brought public defender training to Chinese lawyers, and has put them in touch with an international support network of other lawyers, which can help provide mentoring on specific cases. The group has also been organizing promotional campaigns aimed at ordinary citizens; and running awareness campaigns with prosecutors, judges and police. Just four years ago, police stations in China featured banners stating: “Confess: Better Treatment — Resist: Harsher Treatment!” Today, you are more likely to see International Bridges to Justice posters announcing: “If You Are Arrested, Know Your Rights!”
International Bridges to Justice brochure
“The Power of Persuasion: Karen Tse Legal Rights Activist” By Elizabeth Weiss Green in US News 30 July 2006
“The Dreamer” by Robyn Meredith in Forbes Magazine 18 April 2005