I spent several days reviewing the JusticeMakers applications and was struck by the dedication and courage of the applicants. As a public defender for 22 years, I understand how frustrating it is to stand up for justice at the side of an accused person. Although each of us has our unique experiences working in individual systems, there are universal themes that resonate beyond country borders and criminal justice systems.These themes revolve around protecting the fundamental rights of people everywhere. The right to representation by a qualified attorney or advocate is fundamental. The realization that the presumption of innocence is more than words in a law book requires constant vigilance. Each of us must work to preserve the integrity and dignity of the accused. To achieve real change takes concrete bold steps.
The proposals were examples of the individual commitment to taking those bold steps. For instance, Rommel Alim Abitria’s “Paralegal Coordinator Project” in the Philippines is one of many projects speaking to the need to move cases through the system to avoid indeterminate pretrial delay. Focusing on the Mandaluyong City Jail, Rommels hopes to organize a group of paralegal volunteers to provide inmates with legal defense resources and access to the court system instead of languishing in prison.
Other projects, like the proposal submitted by Chimwemwe Tasauka Ndalahoma in Malawi, recognizes the vulnerability of the incarcerated to physical and psychological mistreatment at the time of interrogation and proposed interventions. Chimewemwe hopes to uphold the rights of the accused and to prevent abuse and ill-treatment by raising awareness among law enforcement officials and health professionals.
Many of the applicants see the prevention of violence in overcrowded jail settings and the failure to segregate men from women in detention centers as a priority along the road to justice. Franck Kamunga Cibangu’s project in the Democratic Republic of Congo addresses the abuse of women in prison and proposes to establish a legal clinic for women in the city of Kinshasa.
This is only a brief glimpse among 64 inspiring plans for justice within some of the most fragile legal systems around the world. The rest can be viewed here.
Understanding that people committed to justice are facing similar struggles affirmed my belief that together we will be more equipped and more able to create meaningful change. Sharing ideas and relying upon each others’ expertise empowers all of us to move our systems forward.
JusticeMakers is a step towards developing a network of criminal justice defenders. Through this team effort we begin to raise each others’ awareness of the compelling needs we face each day as defenders, judges, police, prosecutors, civil society and government. The work that you have already done, in your application, is part of a larger movement that includes the work of International Bridges to Justice. IBJ is committed to advancing the development of fair, just, humane criminal justice systems. Your passion for the same cause is the starting point for an on-going collaboration with IBJ. Together we will make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens who find themselves accused of a crime.