In an effort to enhance the credibility and quality of the JusticeMakers competition, the JM team posed several questions at our last weekly meeting, with issues of applicant motivation, analytical statistics and sustainability highlighting just a few. One question seemed to stand out in particular and it went around the room rather cautiously – “Would you apply?”
While some non- legal enthusiasts remained silent, I found myself abruptly replying, “Yes! definitely.”
My rationale was clear. For most JD candidates in the United States, the reality is that summers are usually filled with lists of Corporate opportunities, and some occasional academic ones. For others like me, a graduate student concentrating in international law, human rights and transitional justice at Columbia University School of International Affairs, the usual outlet for internships are advocacy-oriented NGOs or the United Nations. But IBJ has presented new opportunities.
In fact, upon hearing of International Bridges to Justice, I did not hesitate to apply in early Spring. Instead, I withdrew my applications at other places, and turned down opportunities at the UN and the Clinton Foundation to work on issues that I really care about. I was excited by the opportunity to work for a non profit that was legal oriented and rooted in criminal justice reform.
As for JusticeMakers, if presented with an opportunity like this at Columbia, I would whole-heartedly apply, as it would ideally prepare me with a foundation to pursue the fieldwork I have been looking for. After a fair number of conversations with my colleagues in graduate school, it is clear that they would as well. Why?
1. There just aren’t many opportunities to pursue a project in public interest law, where one can dictate the terms of his/her work and really focus on their passions, be it women, children, human rights, advocacy or basic rule of law procedure.
2. JusticeMakers is an opportunity to engage with stakeholders within their respective societies and create sustainability within developing states. Much of the transitional justice dialogue has focused on the lack of these efforts and the need to fill in essential gaps between de facto and de jure realities.
Does one need to be an absolute expert in the law to attain a JusticeMakers award?
No. He or she just has to have interest and sufficient knowledge in the system, the cultural realities and the basic problems within a given country. With the help of legal mentors, justice experts and academic scholars, the winners will gain the necessary skill set to produce long-lasting, effective change, alleviate human rights abuses and partake in achieving due process.
I hope graduate students will run with this opportunity and apply. Successful development, after all, rests on the establishment of rule of law. Without efforts of organizations like IBJ, opportunities like JusticeMakers, and committed individuals that spur change, governments will continue to ignore the basic tenets of the responsibility to protect, an integral theme of current international dialogue on sovereignty.