Justice can't wait

The journey to a world without torture is a long one, but Karen Tse from International Bridges of Justice tells BeAnIdea why we must walk on.

Her idea is among the top 18 groundbreaking ideas worth spreading that will shape the world this year, according to TED and The Huffington Post. It is not about the latest tech invention or green innovation, but a long-standing fire commitment to put an end to torture.

Meet Karen Tse, who founded the International Bridges of Justice (IBJ) 12 years ago to achieve this aim. The focus of the Geneva, Switzerland-based organization lies largely on non-political prisoners in developing countries with paralyzed legal systems, where cruel techniques are often employed in order to obtain confessions and information.

After four years working as a public defender in the United States, Tse went to Cambodia under the auspices of the United Nations to train its first group of public defenders and discovered that she could do much more. "Just by walking into prisons all the time, I realized that these were people I could actually help."

"It is something very real," she said in a recent talk at The Hub in Singapore on September 26. Working within each country's legal framework, Tse and her team take on the role of crusaders who try to seek fair treatment and improve the rights of detainees and the accused.

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She recounted the plight of a 12-year-old boy in Cambodia who was tortured by authorities for stealing a bicycle, as well as other detainees who were imprisoned without trial for years. "We must share the responsibility and opportunity of ending torture as an investigative tool in our lifetime," she stressed.

"Unfortunately, the human rights field hasn't given enough attention and resources to deal with this issue," according to Tse.

Indeed the subject of torture seems like a remote issue in Singapore much off the radar and something only seen in movies. But IBJ is working to spread awareness of and to inspire more of us to be part of a global movement to eradicate such inhumane acts.

Two years ago, IBJ opened an office in Singapore, which serves as a base for training public defenders in the region, thanks to seed funding from the Lien Center for Social Innovation.

"I think Singaporeans should go beyond issues that affect home," said Sivakumari Ramachandran, a recent graduate who volunteers at IBJ Singapore. "Torture is unacceptable at any level and no matter how distant it might be from our thoughts and reality it is important to learn about global issues that affect the lives of millions every day."

Tse said: "People always think the work we do seems so depressing but I see so much resilience and hope. We have what it takes to transform lives and change history, just like what we did with slavery."

It is this optimism and faith that is at the heart of IBJ's efforts for the past 12 years. In challenging environments like Zimbabwe, Cambodia, China, India and Burundi, the team has planted the seeds of justice through local volunteers and staff who work within individual communities to bring about change.

The IBJ has set out a goal to end torture by 2024 by ensuring detainees have the right to competent legal representation and a fair trial.

"We created torture as human beings so we can definitely 'un-create' it," said Tse.