I'm now halfway through my internship with IBJ, and these last few weeks have been a little hectic around the office because we are all working on multiple projects at the same time. This week, I thought I would give an update of everything I have been working on.
Jenn and I are mostly finished with the substantive portions of the manual. We have completed research for rights of the accused, defenses, rules related to questioning witnesses, and evidence. However, we have had a really hard time finding specific information detailing rights of defense lawyers (partly because this does not exist in Myanmar, which is partly why we're creating the manual). We could use international law, and it is likely that we will, but our partners in Myanmar have asked us to find where these laws exist in Myanmar.
This past week, we hit a small breakthrough when we gained access to Burmese Court Manuals and Police Manuals. Although neither of these sets of laws explicitly grants rights to defense attorneys to meet with their clients or investigate their cases, they do have rules that regulate the behavior of police officers, law officers (prosecutors), and judges. We have been using these rules to frame rights of defense attorneys.
This week, Jenn and I also met (virtually via Skype) an attorney who is an expert on Myanmar criminal law, so he is going to start helping us finish the manual. Talking with him was great because he was able to offer a keen, critical eye to our draft of the manual. He also offered us some insight and context on Myanmar law. In the next few weeks, we are going to create checklists that defense attorneys can always have on hand to reference when needed, and Jenn and I will work with our expert attorney to finish the draft of the manual, double-check our research, and fine-tune the writing of the manual to make sure it is effective and clear.
Working on the manual has been such an amazing experience. I have learned so much from researching Myanmar law and the legal context of Myanmar itself. The manual has also challenged me to check my understanding of the laws and refine my writing skills. I can't wait to see the finished product in a few weeks.
Myanmar Training Schedule & Curriculum:
The training is at the end of July, so we worked this week with Sanjee, our International Program Director, to set the tone for the training and create the hour-to-hour schedule. The training will be three days and the idea is to connect each of the participants to the material and to each other in a meaningful way. While I can't get into the specifics of how IBJ does this, I can say I am impressed. I wish I could go to the training at the end of July to see how it all turns out and to meet each of the attorneys there!
Using the schedule, we also created worksheets this week that will allow the attorneys to place themselves within the context of the entire legal system as a whole. Hopefully, after completing the worksheets, the attorneys will feel invested in IBJ's mission. The worksheets were mostly completed, but Jenn and I decided to remake a few of them to be more visually appealing and to be more interactive.
One recurring theme I've experienced while working at different nonprofit organizations over the years is that they usually have trouble keeping records of projects completed by previous interns. For the last couple of weeks, Jenn and I have been working to remedy this situation with regards to IBJ's employment contracts. IBJ had some standard legal language it wanted to use for its employment contracts, but there was no singular document containing both the legal language and different job descriptions, meaning that a new document would need to be created every time they hired someone else. Jenn and I used the standard legal language, drafted sample job descriptions for 14 positions that are the same for each country program, and added in some clauses we felt should be included. Once the drafts were completed, they were reviewed by attorneys and approved for use as templates going forward.
Then, we were assigned a slightly more challenging task of tailoring the language of the employment contracts to Myanmar law, creating 14 new contracts to be used to expand the country programs in Myanmar.
To do this, we researched Myanmar labor law and got approval to add or remove clauses based on the applicable laws. Then we had to go over the contracts and make the language much simpler and more concise. Although IBJ Myanmar has qualified translators to convert the contracts to Burmese, some of the sentence structures and complex legal language does not translate well into Burmese. So, we changed each sentence to be 20 words or fewer and replaced words we thought would not make sense if translated. Although the work was tedious, we were happy to do it to help our partners on the ground in Myanmar as they do not have access to reliable internet connections and have been running around the country to meet with various law enforcement officials.
After working on all of these projects for the Myanmar program, I now feel an attachment to the country, and I feel invested in its success. I think I know more Burmese law than I ever thought I would—I may even know more Burmese law than American law at this point! Jenn and I have become something like legal experts on Myanmar law for our IBJ Geneva coworkers who have been helping us with our projects.
For the last couple of weeks, while also working on material for Myanmar, I also finished a draft of my first proposal. Writing the proposal was a completely different experience than everything else I have worked on so far for IBJ, but I am glad I got to write it. This particular proposal is one that IBJ has been trying to submit for quite some time now; it does not have a due date, so I think the proposal was previously swept under the rug when more time-pressing projects took precedent. Now that a draft of the proposal is finished, I think we should be able to submit it soon.
If the proposal is successful, this could mean that IBJ could open country programs in eight countries in southern Africa. My favorite part of drafting this particular proposal is that I was able to research the economic impact of rule of law development, which has shown me how multiple aspects of a country's government are connected. Opening programs in eight countries could drastically change the economic landscape of southern Africa a decade, or even a few years, from now.
Sometimes, I think people have this idea that first-year summer legal interns don't serve an important purpose, or that they work on projects that don't have a meaningful impact. But one thing I am incredibly grateful to IBJ for is that each of my projects has been absolutely essential to the organization, and nearly all of them have the potential to impact their target regions.
I also started working on a second proposal this week after getting the go-ahead from Sanjee. This past week, I delegated some of my responsibilities to my coworkers to start researching information for the proposal because the Myanmar employment contracts were needed urgently. However, next week, I will resume work on the second proposal and will collaborate with my coworkers to use their research as a starting point for writing the proposal.
I am excited for this proposal because not only is there a possibility that IBJ could receive a substantial amount of money if successful, but it will also allow me to find a creative way to use IBJ's mission to meet the criteria of the grant.
This week I felt like I was being pulled in many different directions, and often times, I felt like I would not be able to get everything finished. But each day working at IBJ, I am reminded that the work is worth the effort, that even if I feel overwhelmed or stressed, the cause I am working toward is infinitely more important.