Karen Tse is a remarkable advocate for human rights and a staunch opponent of torture. Her journey into this realm began in 1986 while working as a lawyer for the United Nations. During a visit to a prison in Kandal Province, Cambodia, she encountered a twelve-year-old boy who had been detained and mistreated by the authorities. This encounter left a lasting impact on Tse, igniting her passion for reforming criminal justice systems worldwide.

In 2000, Tse founded International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), a non-profit organization with a mission to eradicate torture in the 21st century and safeguard due process rights for individuals globally. What sets IBJ apart is its innovative approach, blending bottom-up and top-down strategies. Drawing from her dual roles as a minister and a lawyer, Tse understands the importance of engaging with all stakeholders involved in the justice system.

IBJ works closely with defense lawyers on the ground, empowering them to provide effective representation for their clients. Simultaneously, the organization fosters dialogue and collaboration with law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges. Rather than vilifying these entities, IBJ recognizes the need to work collaboratively to address systemic issues and promote fair and humane treatment within the legal framework.

Tse’s experience in Cambodia, where she trained the country’s first core group of public defenders and served as a United Nations Judicial Mentor, deeply influenced her approach. Witnessing countless individuals held without trials and subjected to torture-induced confessions fueled her determination to create meaningful change. IBJ operates on a system change model, striving to establish a “new normal in justice” where access to justice is universal, and torture is not tolerated as an investigative tactic.

One of Tse’s pivotal moments was encountering the young boy in Cambodia, deprived of legal representation and basic rights. This encounter symbolizes the larger systemic issues that IBJ seeks to address – the lack of legal safeguards, arbitrary detention, and the prevalence of torture in interrogations.

Karen Tse’s tireless advocacy and strategic vision have propelled IBJ to the forefront of human rights and justice reform efforts. Her dedication to ensuring that every individual receives fair treatment under the law serves as a beacon of hope for marginalized communities worldwide. Through IBJ’s initiatives and partnerships, Tse continues to pave the way towards a more just and compassionate world.

Image credit: Sliyanage1967 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons