Alumni Spotlight

Karen I. Tse '90

Karen TseKaren Tse graduated from UCLA School of Law in 1990. During her studies she was a member of the Law Moot Court Honors Program and the Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Student Association.

Her law studies and subsequent work in the Office of the Public Defender in San Francisco, CA, grew from her interest in the cross section of criminal law and human rights as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow in 1986 from Scripps College in Claremont, CA. (The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges.)

In 1994, Karen moved to Cambodia to train the country’s first core group of public defenders and subsequently served as a United Nations Judicial Mentor. At that time, only 10 lawyers remained in a country of, at the time, over 10 million people. Under the auspices of the U.N., Karen trained judges and prosecutors and established the first arraignment court in Cambodia.

"As a lawyer working for the United Nations, I experienced a dramatic shift in my perceptions of approaches to international human rights and issues concerning the detained and imprisoned. I remember vividly peering through the bars of a cell in Cambodia and speaking with a young boy who had been detained and tortured. I wondered why his interests, those of a 'common' and 'undeserving prisoner' had not made it into my mission statement. The use of force to extract confessions was standard police operating procedures. As I looked at the face of the boy, I wondered, where had we gone wrong? In his face, I recognized the thousands like him; not only in Cambodia but in countries like China and Vietnam as well who would be the direct beneficiaries of a functioning criminal justice system with a standard of basic human rights."

This was the ultimate 'tipping point' for Karen in deciding to launch International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), a registered NGO based in Geneva in 2001. IBJ provides innovative solutions to implement UN Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. IBJ places significant emphasis on improving both access to justice and rule of law in developing countries around the world. Specifically, IBJ works to guarantee 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.

One of the programs Karen is most excited about has been the creation of IBJ's 'Lawyer2Lawyer' program. Through Lawyer2Lawyer, IBJ cooperates with firms, public defender’s offices, bar associations, law schools, and individual lawyers bringing resources to bear in countries where IBJ works, helping local lawyer with training, mentorship and support.

IBJ's experience has proven that this pro-bono program providing significant learning opportunities for young lawyers in law firms and crucial support for under-supported defense counsel in developing countries is a winning combination. For donor firms and organizations, Lawyer2Lawyer provides invaluable legal contacts in the target countries, as well as a wealth of substantive and rewarding opportunities with rich learning experiences and international connections for the individual lawyers undertaking the projects.

Karen's tread-lightly diplomacy and contagious enthusiasm coupled with a steadfast determination to give voice to those without one has made IBJ a force to be reckoned with. IBJ now has a team of grassroots JusticeMakers (another IBJ initiative that operates in over 40 countries.) As part of JusticeMakers, IBJ funds innovative projects that bring change to local criminal justice systems. Winning fellows receive $5,000 fellowships to implement their projects. Additionally, JusticeMakers Fellows enjoy IBJ’s resources that prepare them to be future project leaders ready to partner with UCLA School of Law alumni and lawyers.

Learn more about Karen's work

Learn more about IBJ's JusticeMakers program