BENEFITING: INTERNATIONAL BRIDGES TO JUSTICE
After decades of constant conflict, Cambodia’s judicial apparatus was non-existent.
People languished in prisons without trial, covered with signs of physical violence, violence that didn’t come from the other inmates. The guards didn’t think they had anything to hide. Their use of force to extract confessions was simply standard police operating procedure.
Realizing that torture was seen as the cheapest method of investigation, and armed with the knowledge that early access to competent defense counsel is the most effective shield against torture, Karen founded International Bridges to Justice and in 2001 we began our work to change the landscape in Cambodia.
Since then, International Bridges to Justice has been steadily and systematically changing the legal landscape in Cambodia. Although much has been achieved, there is still works to be done and therefore our success remains incomplete. We are facing a funding gap that threatens Cambodia's future.
We began with just one small office. Today, we have 9 Defender Resource Centers, which provide direct legal aid to defendants, support services to defenders, and a base for our rights-awareness and community building efforts, operating in 22 provinces. It’s not just the presence of defense lawyers that has changed the landscape in Cambodia; it’s the mentality of the entire legal profession. Today, even in a case that is not represented by IBJ a Judge will not accept tortured confessions. We have created precedent.
We anticipate that at least 5 more years are necessary to achieve our objective of permanent, sustainable change of the current justice system. The end goal has always been that the Cambodian authorities assume ownership of legal aid, ensuring sustainable systemic early access to counsel. To this end we have signed two memorandums of understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice in both 2010 and 2012 and their cooperation has been consistent and forthcoming.
The immediate funding gap of USD $77,000 needed to take us to the end of the year ensures that our program in Cambodia continues, and paves the way for future efforts.