The International Bridges to Justice's Declaration on Access to Justice to Prevent Torture. PHOTOS: Lindiz van Zilla/ANA
The International Bridges to Justice's Declaration on Access to Justice to Prevent Torture. PHOTOS: Lindiz van Zilla/ANA

#WEF2017: Davos place for NGOs

By Lindiz van Zilla Time of article published Jan 20, 2017

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Davos - The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland is a platform for leaders in politics and business to debate and chart the way forward on global matters, but it also offers a crucial window for the NGO sector to interact and get buy-in for their initiatives.
The Geneva-based International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) is one of a number of organisations that can be found in Davos-Klosters during the week of the WEF, and the forum plays a key role in the portrayal of its core messaging and obtaining support for various programmes. 
Founded by former public defender Karen Tse, the IBJ focuses on ending torture around the world by "guaranteeing all citizens the right to competent legal representation, the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a fair trial". 
Much of the organisation's current focus is on the abuse of prisoners, with Tse listing arbitrary detention and torture and "voiceless" people as a huge problem worldwide.
And something which does not get the attention it deserves, unless it explodes into the open, as has happened with the deadly prison riots in Brazil recently.
Tse said that an IBJ study had found that 113 countries around the world still had cases of systematic torture, but that of this number, 93 nations had passed legislation declaring torture to be illegal.
Describing this a a "huge window of opportunity", she also lamented the fact that people cared so little about the plight of prisoners that no one had ever even bothered to check or question their research. "It is extremely hard to get people to care," Tse said.
But society needed to care, she argued, because "at the end of the day, the rule of law is the bedrock of a stable society". "People need to go into depth, into the bowels of society, because that is how you measure or judge the progress of a society." 
She cited several case studies, including a mother of four in Sri Lanka who was arrested for drugs and forced into a confession and ended up spending 10 years in prison, having appeared in court a total of 53 times without ever having a lawyer present. Tse said the mistreatment of prisoners or awaiting-trial prisoners was an issue which ultimately would affect everyone and that society could not just wish it away because it involved those who had gone against societal norms.
"Everyone has the right to a lawyer at an early stage," she said. "When you speak up for the lowest member of society, you protect everyone." The IBJ was founded 16 years ago and had been attending Davos for a number of years at the invitation of the WEF. 
Part of her mission in WEF this year was to get influential global leaders to sign a declaration on "Access to Justice to Prevent Torture". Tse had managed to get a number of signatories, among them the King of Cambodia, as well as the CEO of Airbus Dirk Hoke, and Sekunjalo Group Investments executive chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, to sign the declaration. 
Survé, who has been appointed to the IBJ advisory board, wrote: "Dignity is the right of every person, including prisoners. Today's prisoner could be tomorrow's President or scientist or leader. Let's come together to make the world a better place". 
Tse said Davos offered organisations such as hers the opportunity to get buy-in from leaders of influence, especially around the WEF theme this year of Responsible Leadership.
AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY

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