By Sheelaa Ragavan and Fahri Azzat
“Change is brought about by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Karen I Tse is an extraordinary person doing extraordinary things”
Those were the words that moderator Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, Partner of Sreenevasan used to introduce Karen I Tse. There was truth in every word she said. Karen radiated inspiration that words fail to describe. The audience hung on to every word.
Karen started her talk by saying, “All of us coming together here today is inspirational to me.”
As the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of International Bridges of Justice (IBJ) she explained that her organization aimed to promote a systematic global change to bring justice. She spoke off the cuff and drew from her own experience in telling the audience that hope existed as long as there were people willing to stand up and fight for a cause. Coming together to bring about change is essentially what Karen believes in.
Karen gave an example of a four year old boy who was born in a Cambodian prison. The innocence of the little boy was the light that the prisoners held on to, when all else seemed lost. She pointed out that this boy, born with nothing to his name and in a forsaken place, brought about hope with a simple action by holding a prisoners hand. Surely we can do something to bring about change.
Karen quoted Albert Schweitzer who said, “At times our own lights go out. We have to be grateful for other people who will rekindle our light”. She aimed to be the “other people” and that ray of hope for change.
IBJ’s vision is for the implementation of due process of rights and the end of torture as a tool for investigation and interrogation; in other words, justice. She believes these goals are realistic and achievable. To that end, Karen has worked tirelessly in Cambodia, the country that saw her starting the IBJ movement. She admitted that in the beginning her efforts seemed futile. It was like the world was against her because the authorities completely refused to co-operate.
Karen’s work included training lawyers and others to be ‘Defenders’, as she called them. Defenders are trained to act as a counsel who would stand up and defend an accused person in court. She did so with the hopes of lowering the rate of successful prosecution based on confessions obtained through torture.
In addition to that, she worked with the United Nations to implement building blocks to enact proper laws for the benefit of each and every citizen. Karen was happy that after a long and difficult journey she is finally seeing success in her work. IBJ is also finding success in many countries around the worlds, including Zimbabwe and India to name a few.
“Torture is 100% preventable by having the proper laws and by using those laws” said Karen. She said that lawyers must be willing to stand up and do their part. She truly believed that every little step, as futile as it may seem at first, does matter. She went on to say that the lack of resources is never an excuse for injustice.
JusticeMakers is one of the many ideas that Karen has brought about through IBJ to fight the notion of lack resources. JusticeMakers is an online community where local lawyers can come up with innovative ways to help with early access to counsel and to avoid torture, with the aim of fostering the development of a global defender network. The annual JusticeMakers Competition awards $5,000 to “heroes of criminal justice” to aid with the execution of the plans locally.
Karen wrapped up her session by sharing with the audience what she was once told when she was at the brink of giving up, “Look for the Buddha or Christ in every person. People are transformed by love”. Karen pointed out that with a true sense of passion and love, even the hardest of hearts will soften. That was how she overcame the resistance she faced, with love.