What is justice? Is it merely an abstract concept or can it really be put into practice? This is a concept that I have been ruminating about all summer, considering that I have been working at an organization with the word in its very own name (International Bridges to Justice).
The Ancient Egyptians believed in a Goddess of Truth and Justice, called Maat. Confucius emphasized virtue and morality as justice. Plato thought of justice merely as doing your duty to society, ie if your duty/position includes lying, then it is just to lie. Aristotle, on the other hand, described justice as fairness, a mean between the unfairness which favors one party versus the other. It seems the Romans agreed with Aristotle, and established a legal system that influenced much of the modern legal world.
Much of IBJ's work centers around providing criminal defendants with legal counsel in countries where the right to counsel is not guaranteed. This stems from the idea that everyone deserves a fair trial, and if you lack legal counsel it is very hard, if not impossible, to have a fair trial (because it is hard defend against the charges against you). IBJ also aims to limit the number of pretrial detainees, namely, the people stuck in jail before trial, as they often don't even know what the charges against them are. Thus, IBJ's brand of justice is in line with the ancient ideal of equality before the law.
But what I find even more intriguing is IBJ's JusticeMaker program. As noted in an earlier post, this program involves people positing projects in their respective countries, and IBJ chooses around 10 winners. These winners get money, training, and a documentary filmmaker to document their projects. These winners are called JusticeMakers, and I believe they are all working towards fairness, eqaulity, and, in their own ways, justice. For example, the JusticeMaker in the Philippines is working on training women farmers in poor regions to become paralegals so that they might be able to defend against land grabbing landowners. A JusticeMaker in Pakistan is attempting to educate poor bricklayers on their rights as laborers in training camps. A JusticeMaker in Georgia is holding classes for at risk children to educate them about their rights as juveniles. For more information on these inspirational leaders, see http://justicemakers.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=205&Itemid=72&lang=en
And what about me? How can I contribute to justice? This summer I worked hard to assist the JusticeMakers in getting to their trainings, in communicating with their documentary filmakers, and starting up their projects. In this way, I hope to have indirectly made a difference in people's lives around the world. In meeting and working with people truly dedicated to justice, whatever it means, I have been inspired to continue my own quest for justice--and maybe one day become a Justice Maker of some kind, on my own.