HDS alumna helps to build ‘Bridges to Justice’

2 min read

Karen Tse, M.Div. ’00, walked into a prison in the African nation of Burundi and found children: an 8-year-old boy tossed into jail for stealing a mobile phone; 12-year-old girls imprisoned for “sex crimes”; a 2-year old girl who had spent most of her short life behind bars with her mother, who was convicted of stealing two diapers and an iron.

Tse decided to have a talk with the warden.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to let [the mother] out,’ ” Tse recalls of her 2006 visit. “She’s been in prison for years. Her daughter’s growing up in prison. It’s ridiculous. He said, ‘Look at my prison. There are 3,000 people here and 80 percent are waiting for trial. There are no lawyers for them. We have no public defense. Half the people here shouldn’t be here. So what do we do for them?’ “

As founder and CEO of International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), Tse oversees programs that train hundreds of defense lawyers, persuade government officials to create fairer criminal justice systems, educate citizens about their legal rights, and set up pilot legal aid centers.

Founded in 2000, IBJ now works in more than two dozen countries and offers a platform used by more than 6,000 lawyers and human rights defenders. The group particularly focuses on enforcing due process rights and on eliminating the use of torture by law enforcement.