On 19 November 2010, IBJ Singapore and IBJ Geneva facilitated a multi-time zone brainstorming session to encourage the JusticeMakers to recognize the powerful resource their peers can be in the success of their projects. Using Skype, moderators Thomas Halusa (Singapore) and Wouter Krujis (Geneva) managed the participation of JusticeMakers across seven time zones and four countries. Rasul Jafarov (Azerbaijan), Junaid Khalid (Pakistan), Waqas Abid (Pakistan), Bijaya Chanda (India) and Harshi Perera (Sri Lanka), took the opportunity to update IBJ headquarters and each other on their respective successes and failures in project implementation and methodology. IBJ International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage sat in on the call as well, to provide insights from his many years of field work experience.
Initially, the JusticeMakers discussed the advantages and drawbacks to publicizing their projects. Harshi and Junaid stood out for their contrasting experiences. Junaid’s project, the organisation of legal camps for underprivileged communities around Karachi, requires a lot of support from local leaders. One area where training was planned had been rocked by a bomb blast several days before the event was to commence. After the Department of the Environment initially refused his request to train in the district, Junaid used the media to his advantage. By promising—in addition to publicizing the training – to reflect the positive work of the Department in the media, the trainings were given permission to move forward. Junaid’s approach positively reflects IBJ’s methodology. He built bridges with government representatives, a link which should help facilitate future programming.
Harshi, on the other hand, has run into difficulties through her use of newspaper articles that publicize her project. Her project involves serving as lawyer for female pre-trial detainees held at Welikada Prison, but not everyone in Sri Lanka is supportive of Harshi’s desire to give accused criminals competent legal representation. Following a critical newspaper editorial suggesting Harshi supported terrorists through her work, she had to curtail her public profile. Matters were complicated by fears for the safety of a foreign documentary journalist working alongside Harshi. Fortunately, nobody was hurt and the issue raised no long term problems; however it showed that complications can arise by using the media to raise one’s profile. Harshi’s predicament reflected a central aspect of field work: the need to ensure that personal safety comes first in order to guarantee the long-term success of one’s work.
Rasul’s project, the training of Azeri inmates on early release mechanisms, requires significant government interaction as he has to enter prisons to complete the trainings. Unfortunately, Rasul’s initial request to directly tutor prisoners was declined by the Ministry of Penitentiary Services. Rasul is re-submitting his request for access and doing so through the various options presented under Azeri law. Working within the framework of domestic laws—which is the IBJ model—will help secure the viability of Rasul’s project. However, while waiting for the permission to be granted, he has taken on additional projects to ensure that his important work does not stall—namely the establishment of a hotline to advise prisoners’ families of the relatives’ rights to release under the law. After initial low call volume, he was able to directly increase participation by publicizing the hotline in newspapers, magazine and online TV. Rasul is a good example of a JusticeMaker taking a proactive, multi-faceted approach to tackling an issue – which lends the project a greater chance of succeeding in the long run.
After a spirited discussion, the JusticeMakers agreed that while not all projects required the same degree of press and media support, some publicity was necessary to educate their fellow citizens about the importance of their work. The benefit—such as government access and increased citizen awareness—outweigh the risk in most, but not all, cases. The IBJ team agreed that taking risks in order to bring an issue to the attention of a larger audience can be important part of project implementation; however, Sanjeewa stressed the need to put personal safety first, and take appropriate measures in case a threat does arise.
One positive aspect of media coverage is that government agencies may be more likely to want to collaborate with the JusticeMakers, if the conditions are amenable. Such a scenario is well-reflected by Waqas’ experience. His project—raising legal awareness for brick kiln workers in Kasur—had initial difficulties engaging government officials, who discouraged his work when he met with them. Their initial suspicion could be ascribed to the historically close ties between landowners and regional officials. However, through perseverance and positive press coverage, Waqas’ work gained an elevated profile, which resulted in access to prison officials, such as the Kasur Jail superintendent. The superintendent facilitated a meeting between Waqas and the Social Welfare Department, who have subsequently expressed interest in signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Waqas’ organisation. The incremental steps Waqas took have aided the ultimate success of his program. Through developing relationships with the prison officials and Social Welfare department, his project will have more enduring impact as trust is built over time.
In comparison to other JusticeMakers’ experiences, government employees in India did not need media motivation to support Bijaya’s work. Due to extreme overcrowding in Kolkata sub-jails (a subsection of India’s prison system for pre-trial detainees), prison officials were more than happy to welcome her program: teaching pre-trial detainees how to navigate the legal system. Even with the officials’ support, however, Bijaya still faces difficulties with the bureaucracy of acquiring identity badges, which are required to enter the jails. To overcome this problem, Bijaya is working with influential lawyers and Kolkata’s bar association to receive the badges. Through the bar association, Bijaya has also found 15 lawyers who committed themselves to representing pre-trial detainees pro-bono. This model reflects IBJ’s approach of fostering partnerships with various organisations, in a bid to bring access to justice for the underprivileged.
The JusticeMakers’ took comfort from each other that the inefficiencies and difficulties they faced in project execution seemed universal, and everyone complained about the slow pace of justice in the developing world. However Sanjeewa counselled that perseverance was necessary, and that they should continue to look for support from IBJ offices and fellow Justicemakers in making their visions a reality.