Advancing the Rule of Law in the Face of a Dual Crisis: IBJ in Myanmar
In the office this week, I worked on a project with Keith, IBJ’s Security, Strategy, and Training Consultant for Myanmar. We are working on creating a page on our website that details the recent successes and challenges experienced by the country program. I was tasked with trimming down the 50+ page 2021 report given to us by our Myanmar office, to make it more easily digestible to the general public. In 2021, Myanmar experienced a dual crisis. While still dealing with the negative impacts of COVID-19, a military coup took control of the government on February 1. Despite these pressing issues, IBJ has continued the operation of its justice centers in five provinces throughout Myanmar. These centers have become integral in providing legal aid, both directly and through our pro bono partners, to hundreds arrested by the military regime.
Protestors engaged in peaceful protests are being charged under Section 505 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes making false statements about a government employee. Since this is a military coup, any anti-coup activities or statements are being taken as violative of this section, whose meaning has been expanded by the insurrectionists. People arrested under §505 are often considered political prisoners and are detained in military camps. Many other legal aid organizations in Myammar have avoided representing clients charged with political crimes (including §505 cases) in fear of retaliation. IBJ’s justice centers have filled this gap, providing direct representation to around 120 political cases. The Justice centers have also provided educational experiences in the last year, hosting Know Your Rights campaigns, round tables with leading justice sector actors, and providing a legal primer to local attorneys defending political cases.
Working at a NGO’s headquarters, it is not often that I get to the see the results of the practical work that IBJ is doing around the world. Reading the 2021 Myanmar report reminded me of the reason for the funding proposals, E-Learning Modules, and Defense Manuals–IBJ is seeking to provide real legal services to thousands of vulnerable individuals around the world. As always when I read our impact reports or see project statistics, I am shocked by the amount of good that can flow from these small but mighty offices located around the globe.
IBJ Interns and Their Codependancy: A Week of FUN
After work on Monday, some of IBJ’s interns went to Talia’s family home in Collex-Bossy. The cottage-style home was crafted from my dreams—secret passageways through bookshelves, reading rooms with floor-to-ceiling literature, and a garden patio lined with retro lounge chairs. And in a perfect addition to all of this, the home is backed up to a vineyard framing Mount Blanc and the rising full moon. We cooked pizza, drank wine and peach tea, and took a stroll across the French border. Dancing in the kitchen, we all joined a group effort to make enough chocolate chip cookies to feed the entire village. Around midnight, the group started to dissipate, saying our goodbyes until tomorrow.
At the office on Tuesday, we had a slew of July birthdays (my own included) to celebrate. At lunch, the office had a small party that put an end to any productivity that day. We played music, snacked on fruits and cheese, and walked down by the lake to play a game of Rougarou (werewolf), similar to the game “Mafia” played by children in the United States. With 19 IBJ staff members and interns all playing different roles, it took about an hour for the final wolf (Daniella, cunning girl) to eradicate the townsfolk. A few of us grabbed a drink along the river before parting ways for the night.
Although the weather in Geneva has gotten slightly cooler since my first weeks here, it is still quite hot. So after work on Thursday, Talia brought some blow-up floats and she, Monique, Maryam, Eoin, Seb, and I went to Jonction after work. Sharing three floats between the six of us, we bobbed down the Rhone and exited at la Point (the last stop before the river merges with the murky Arve). Holding our floats above our heads and around our waists, we’d scurry back to our spot down the river before hopping back in, leaving wet footprints in our wake. After about three or four of these trips, in addition to a foot injury I sustained while valiantly exiting the river, Monique, Eoin, Seb and I left to grab dinner.
As an entrance into a busy weekend, Kyle and I joined Monique at her flat, where she was hosting a little apéro before going out. Eoin’s roommate Arber and Monique’s friend who was visiting from Paris joined the rest of us interns as we listened to early 2000’s music and drank wine. After trying (and failing) to find a cover-free discotheque, we decided to walk to “baby plage” in Eaux Vives. Sitting in the sand and doing our own version of accrobranche in the ropes hung in the trees for children to play on, we passed a couple of hours there before finally turning in around 2am.
The late night seem to have only affected me, however. The following day, everyone met at the Carouge weekend market to buy groceries for a breakfast at Eoin’s place. I joined them at the apartment and met Eoin’s Australian friend Camilla, who also goes to Harvard Divinity School. Kedhar, Daniella, and Maryam worked on making french toast while Kyle and I cooked crepes for the first time, which for some inexplicable reason, failed miserably until I left the kitchen area. An hour later, we all sat down to a beautiful spread of brioche, fruits, crepes, french toast, and juice. Sleepy from the heat and the crashing from the sugar rush, almost everyone returned home to spend the rest of the day indoors. Kyle and I grabbed our swimsuits and met Eoin and Camilla at the river for a beer and a swim.
To finish off this IBJ intern activity-filled week, six of us (including Camilla) visited Montreux Sunday morning. We went on a tour of Chateau de Chillon, which has served as a toll both, summer home, fortress, prison, and gateway since its creation in the early 1100s. After shopping around at the weekend market and visiting a famous Freddy Mercury statue, we grabbed pizza and a couple of bottles of wine and had dinner on a stoop. We wandered around the deserted venue where the Montreux Jazz Festival had been the day prior, sitting at the abandoned tables on the turf stage overlooking the city. We hopped on a train back to Geneva, and returned home to start a new week the next day (my birthday week!).