Following the success of the inaugural JusticeMaker conference call with partners from South Asia and the Caucasus, Thomas Halusa (Singapore) and Wouter Krujis (Geneva) organized a second call in order to give another group of JusticeMakers the opportunity to be inspired by the progress of their colleagues’ projects. The conference call took place on 26 November 2010, with participation from Oanh Hoang Ngo (Vietnam), Jae de la Cruz (Philippines), Ajeng Larasati (Indonesia) and Shahanur Islam (Bangladesh). Their brainstorming session highlighted their innovative practices and unique approaches, and how these could be adapted for use in different countries.
The primary topic of conversation was the best way to interact with governments. Each JusticeMaker had different experiences of this, based on the significant variances in their project targets and processes. Shahanur, whose project focuses on raising awareness about torture and highlighting Bangladesh’s commitments to international treaties, takes a high-profile approach. His latest success, having four police officers arrested for the torture of a human rights activist, emphasizes the very proactive nature of his project. He uses the media to publicize instances of torture. He has had successes in fostering partnerships with the police, and periodically exchanges information with the local superintendent about the legal aid situation in Dhaka. By finding amiable partners in the police force, Shahanur is adhering to the IBJ method of “change from within.” By using a collaborative approach, he is likely to garner more partners in long term, thus helping to ensure that torture is eradicated from Bangladesh.
Oanh’s project focuses on analyzing the legal rights of juvenile and indigent detainees in and around Hanoi. She also intends to provide training for lawyers on this issue, and her work requires a lot of government interaction. Oanh’s application highlighted the fact that well-trained lawyers are needed to ensure that a sound juvenile legal aid network in Vietnam can be established. In order to achieve this, she has collaborated with the Bar Association, Ministry of Justice, and universities. The first training she held was attended by various dignitaries, including the Vice Chief Judge of Bacnih Province, the Head of the Appeal and Procuracy Department for the Hanoi prosecutor, the Vice-President of the Vietnam Bar Association, the Vice-Chief of the Vietnam Legal Aid Bureau, and two international lawyers from Warsaw, Poland. More than 200 lawyers-in-training were also present. By collaborating with the government to run these sessions, Oanh is able to foster long-term relationships and governmental support for other such initiatives. Oanh’s work to establish a strong support network can help ensure that her changes in Vietnamese juvenile justice will ultimately by systemic and long-lasting.
Government plays a central role in Ajeng’s project implementation as well. Ajeng focuses on ensuring that pre-trial detainees around Jakarta are educated about the legal system and their rights. She has to enter prisons and work hand-in-hand with detainees to complete her training sessions and achieve her goals. Although prison officials have welcomed her plans and have even invited her to enter the jails several months ahead of her planned visits, Ajeng has run into some bureaucratic challenges. In Indonesia, a person wishing to enter a jail needs permission from the Director General of Prisons. Bureaucratic delays in receiving this permission have slowed down her project implementation.
For Jae, whose project is to create a network of paralegals to support farmers’ rights in the rural Philippines, the problem at hand isn’t bureaucracy, but democracy. The recent elections in the Philippines have resulted in a change in government, and consequently most of the provincial officials have been replaced. Because many agreements that Jae had reached with these officials had been conducted verbally, with few paper records of decisions made, some of Jae’s immediate plans have to be re-assessed. Her plans to organize a round-table discussion between police, military, the Supreme Court and the Justice Department have to be re-started. Jae intends to avoid this issue in future by keeping concrete records of all the steps she’s taken. Despite this setback, Jae’s is hopeful about the future success of her project due to recent positive signs about the Filipino justice system. In a recent landmark decision, the Supreme Court temporarily suspended a judge that was deemed corrupt. This is the first in hopefully many steps towards the establishment of a more efficient legal system.
Dealing with bureaucracy is presents a challenge for all JusticeMakers. However, both Ajeng and Jae have found innovative ways to deal with it. Ajeng’s work is often adversely affected by corruption, which is pervasive in Indonesia, but she has developed an ingenious way of coping with these difficulties. When officials ask for bribes, Ajeng asks for an automated invoice to satisfy her NGO’s funders. This approach solves the problem in a non-confrontational way, and puts out the message that Ajeng won’t be affected by corrupt officials.
Jae manages to efficiently navigate the Philippines’ dense bureaucracy by befriending court officials. This allows her to receive information quickly, as employees of the courts are more willing to help her on the basis of their personal friendship. Jae has also procured a demand letter, which, when shown to officials, forces bureaucrats to provide the necessary material. Because this is a more acrimonious approach, and tends to take longer, Jae uses it only as a last resort.
In addition to discussions about governmental relations, IBJ wanted to hear from the JusticeMakers how they used media or P.R. to publicize their projects. The JusticeMakers who participated in the second conference call all had very different experiences with the media. Jae, for example, tends not to interact with media to spread her project’s message: farmers in the rural Philippines do not often use radio, newspapers or the internet; thus using a media source would not particularly add to her project’s reach. On the other hand, Shahanur utilizes media sources heavily to emphasize his project and its impact. By managing to stay in within the public’s sphere of interest, the effectiveness of his project has improved.
By interacting with each through the call, all the JusticeMakers were able to find hope in the passion and commitment of their peers. Ideas, such as Ajeng’s, of asking for receipts when people are soliciting a bribe, are adaptable and effective. Interactions such as these help lay the foundation for the fellowship IBJ hopes to inspire throughout the JusticeMaker community.