Interning Abroad from Home - The Letter

Hello and welcome to my third (and likely final) blog entry for the summer. For this post, I would like to describe what, for me, was the most meaningful of the projects I undertook for International Bridges to Justice’s Geneva headquarters this summer. In my earlier entries, I described the ‘guidelines’, assembled by fellow intern Wesley Clayton and myself. Those resources, designed to be used as a quick reference guide to practicing defenders, relied almost entirely on research into each nation’s respective legislation and coordination with IBJ’s offices in the field. Although events occurring in places like Sri Lanka, DR Congo, and others as governments responded to the COVID-19 pandemic gave us an idea of the sorts of legislation we would consider including in these guidelines, they were not necessarily front and center. The complete opposite would be true when we were asked to ghost-write a letter seeking funding from the World Bank in response to a request it had made for information about organizations’ activities during the pandemic. 

The letter we wrote, which was happily received by those in the main office, required a deep dive into the issues that are plaguing the justice and penitentiary systems of nations around the world. Although, in many instances, food shortages and inadequate housing were already issues prior to COVID-19’s arrival. For instance, before the swell in cases that would occur in March 2020, Cambodia’s largest prison一Prey Sar’s Correctional Facility 1 (CC1)一was recorded at housing prisoners at 463% of its intended capacity. Needless to say, maintaining an overcrowded prison population during the spread of highly-contagious disease not only presents a danger to those who are detained, many of whom die without sufficient access to healthcare, but it also represents a risk to the wider community, with whom some essential links cannot be severed. Moreover, food has become an issue in many cases, for while officially mandated (though frequently inadequate) prison meals may continue to be served, family visits have been cut off, and for many such are an essential source of nutrition.

Another effect of the COVID-19 epidemic has been to aggravate historical fault lines in society. In a country like India, this manifested itself as increased Islamophobic activity as Muslim Indians came to be blamed for a number of outbreaks within the nation. In a pandemic, the results of this hostility can be fatal, as they were for two infant children, who passed away when their Muslim Indian mothers were turned away from Indian hospitals. It is important to note that these problems are not limited to the Global South. If the George Floyd protests were not doing enough to highlight racial injustice and persistent systemic racism in the United States, then COVID-19 statistics, which show communities of color being disproportionately affected by the disease, will. Moreover, in the US and in Europe, anti-Asian racial animus has been on the rise. Related to the George Floyd protests, police brutality has also been an unfortunately recurring theme in state responses to peaceful demonstrations over the course of the pandemic. Not only have protesters been wrongfully tear gassed in Washington, D.C., but nations like India have also seen a notable uptick in police violence. 

For the purposes of the letter, we illustrated these problems before outlining the steps IBJ was taking to meet the challenges they pose. This consisted of activities from training defenders in the use of teleconferencing technology, reaching out to judges and others to come up with ways to keep the wheels of justice turning, and providing legal assistance to those wrongfully detained by police. Doing the research for the letter really put into perspective not only the work the organization does, but just how much still needs to be done here and elsewhere to ensure that the systems we rely on to deliver impartial justice are held to appropriate standards. This assignment was one that occurred relatively early on in the ten-week internship, but it left a lasting impression on me. In a remote internship, it can be difficult for the work one does to feel truly tangible, but working on the letter, on top of hearing first-hand accounts of related matters from IBJ associates during weekly global Zoom meetings, has done much to make the work seem valuable. I am extremely thankful to have worked with my supervisors at IBJ一Sanjeewa Liyanage, Andrew Ozanian, Karen Tse, and others一who were all not only exceedingly knowledgeable and competent in their work, but also overwhelmingly pleasant people. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to William & Mary (particularly Professor Warren) for making this all possible, and it has certainly made me more inclined to look to similar organizations for work opportunities when my time at the law school ends.