Bonjour! Guten Tag! Ciao! Hello!
For the past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the vibrant and beautiful country of Switzerland. As I had never been before, I came into this experience unsure of what to expect. Would there be a significant language barrier? Would I get lost constantly? Would I be able to control myself around the unbelievable chocolate I had heard so much about? However, what I have discovered about Switzerland, and Geneva in particular, is this is a place where inclusivity and diversity are celebrated, where kindness and punctuality are highly encouraged, and a place I already know I will return to as often as possible throughout my lifetime. I spent the first week here traveling with my dad; Exploring various chateaus and little country towns on the border of France. I loved driving down the long, winding, exceptionally narrow roads, that fell between the glistening lake and distant mountains on the right and an endless hillside of vineyards on the left. The breeze from the water kept us perfectly cool in the unexpectedly warm (hot) weather, and the afternoon snacks of dark chocolate ice cream or citron crepes really hit the spot. We had a few hiccups here and there, such as when driving in Geneva itself (if you ever decide to rent a car here, I would recommend looking up what all of the road signs mean); or attempting to go to dinner before 18:30 (6:30 pm) as the restaurants do not reopen until then; or even at one point trying to use my hair dryer with the plug converter and blowing a fuse. Although stressed in the moment, looking back I know these are the memories we will laugh at for years to come. We happened upon some pretty remarkable museums and sights while wandering. Just to name a few, we found an Audrey Hepburn museum inside a castle in Morges where her to-die-for closet has been displayed (the classic black satin Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress and all); an H. R. Giger art museum in Gruyeres (the artist who created the aliens for the movie Alien); and the view from the very top of Château de Chillon whose beauty can only be somewhat captured through a picture. By the end of the week, both my dad and I had already fallen in love with this surreal little country, and I was extremely sad to see him go, but I could not wait to begin work at International Bridges to Justice on Monday!
When Monday did come, I was so excited I left entirely too early for my 20 minute walk to work. This turned out to be a blessing however, as I discovered a quaint, small park in the middle of Geneva where I sat and ate a chocolate croissant and did my very best not to feed all of the brave little birds that practically sit in your hand if you offer them a crumb. As I approached the office building I felt that first-day nervous knot in my stomach, but as I walked through the doors, it immediately went away with my boss’s warm welcome and the 11 other intern faces smiling at me. Our team is rather large this summer, but so is our work load. The first day was a bit of a whirl-wind, trying to figure out how to use the espresso machine and reading through the extensive orientation materials. One thing I really love about IBJ is how hands on they expect the interns to be. They stress the fact that interns at IBJ are doing a great deal of substantial work that has the potential to change lives across the globe. I quickly discovered this to be true my second day, when they assigned each of us tasks and I found myself writing training manuals for Myanmar defense attorneys and preparing proposals for various grants for projects in developing countries.
Over the course of the summer, I will be working closely with a fellow rising William & Mary 2L, Reeana, to put together training manuals for defense attorneys in a number of countries including Myanmar, Rwanda, and potentially the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The structure of the training manuals is comparable to our first year lawyering skills book which includes various tips on areas such as client interviewing, client counseling, and oral arguments. However, these training manuals will be supplemented with the specific countries’ laws as well as international law. It has been interesting comparing and contrasting what I learned about the law in the United States throughout my first year, with what I am discovering about Myanmar laws. Many of the basic principles are similar, however, I have found that in Myanmar law the language of the laws themselves are often unclear and assumptions must be made from hypotheticals or examples in order to figure out exactly what each parties rights are and what the rule of law is. We spent much of our legal writing class this past year writing CREACs where the R stands for “rule” and you must pull from case law or statutes to determine what the exact rule of law is. I feel as though this skill in particular has served me well in the past week as I spent much of my time sifting through the Myanmar constitution, code, and criminal procedure, piecing together from the hypotheticals in each what exactly defense attorneys rights are, what their clients rights are, and how the criminal trial process works.
It is unbelievable to me how little the world appears to know about what goes on in various developing countries. We know in the back of our minds that torture exists and people do not always receive the justice they deserve. But to sit down and hear these individual’s stories, many of which are wrongfully sitting in jail awaiting their day in court that may never come, really puts into perspective how powerful and crucial the work IBJ is doing truly is. I spent much of my first few days reading such stories to better understand the circumstances attorneys and their clients are dealing with. I noticed a few trends: many individuals were simply accused of some wrongdoing they never actually committed; a few were even unsure of why they were in jail in the first place; some were tricked into actions or even “guilty by association,” but all of them had a few things in common. They had not yet been convicted of any crime, they were all living this nightmare alone without any way to reach their families, and they all needed legal aid. The problem is attorney’s often are unable to reach these clients, hear their stories, and do their job. In Myanmar in particular, the system has become quite corrupt and often the only way to get anything done is through bribery. Attorney and client protection is not explicitly written into their laws and even if it is, the culture does not respect their rights (please see “Right to Counsel: The Independence of Lawyers in Myanmar” by the International Commission of Jurists on the Burma library website for a more extensive discussion). However, there is strength in numbers and the training manuals we are working on provide the rules and rights in plain language as well as reference the Myanmar law and international law in order to unify the practice and provide defense attorneys with a manual to reference back to when explaining and demanding their own and their client’s rights be respected. IBJ has created a way to empower attorneys to represent these voices that otherwise would have been lost. Providing training, communicating with one another about what the law is and how it should be followed, and refusing (as a united force) to tolerate any form of mistreatment, bribery, or other corrupt practices changes the culture little by little and sets a sturdy foundation for progress in the future. Knowledge truly is power and, as we often said at my undergraduate institution, the half of knowledge truly is to know where to find it. I hope the world continues to discover over time that IBJ is providing a central place to find the knowledge so many are looking for in the same way I have discovered this over the past few months and the past week especially working at IBJ. I am so excited to continue this journey throughout the summer, and to play a small role in such a tremendous movement. I look forward to learning much more from the amazing staff at IBJ this summer, and to share with each of you reading this blog the incredible work the office is doing.
For now, I plan to continue to enjoy this long holiday weekend here in Geneva, and prepare for work tomorrow as I expect it will be an especially busy day packed with writing some of the grant proposals we discovered last week. Something I’ve always loved doing is sharing my highs and lows of the week with family or friends, so I plan on doing that here each week with all of you. To begin with my low: I would say I actually did discover my lack of control around the chocolate in this country, specifically the Kinder bars. If you haven’t tried one before, I would highly recommend thinking long and hard before doing so as you will likely be committing yourself to a lifetime obsession (which I suppose could also be considered a high). As for my high, I would say my favorite thing about Geneva so far, the thing that makes me smile each and every day, is the culture they have here of saying “hello.” Although there are so many different languages spoken here and so many different nationalities and cultural backgrounds, every person you see greets you with some form of hello. I think this is something we should all take away from Swiss culture and implement into our own as you never know just how much a simple, friendly hello can impact a person’s life. I hope you all continue to follow along as I delve deeper into my work with IBJ as well as experience the summer of a lifetime traveling the world!
Until next time,