Welcome to the Bertha Justice (Be Just) Initiative blog! Created by Bertha Foundation to showcase and highlight the work of our Be Just Fellows and partner organisations, we will be providing regular updates and stories about the casework and experiences of the lawyers and organisations we support. We hope this will be a venue for debate and experience sharing, with opportunities to learn from comparative issues in public interest and human rights law from around the world.
The law has long been a crucial tool in the struggle for social justice. There is no shortage of law students who want to contribute to this struggle and to the protection of human rights. But unlike the well-trodden career path into corporate law firms, funded opportunities for entry-level positions with public interest law firms around the world have been limited – even non-existent. We have developed a program that provides the essential first step into public interest legal practice: the program that I would have loved to be part of when I first finished university.
It was twelve years ago I stepped off a plane in West Papua – with no idea what I was getting myself into. I got to work on cases of crimes against humanity, the persecution of political prisoners, extrajudicial killings and torture in an incredibly difficult political context and tense security situation. The experience was challenging, rewarding and formative in immediate and enduring ways. But it was the mentors I had – brave public interest lawyers and human rights defenders – that helped shape my concept of what it was to be a lawyer. At least, what it could be. And what I have since discovered it can be. Every human rights lawyer I know tells a similar story: of the defining experience or experiences that set each of them on this path.
The Be Just Initiative aims to provide opportunities to give emerging lawyers that defining experience: to expose them to public interest legal practice to show how exciting and interesting it is. Our Be Just Fellows will spend two years in the world’s leading public interest law firms being mentored by the most inspiring lawyers and be exposed to the most exciting public interest cases. We want to show emerging lawyers what is possible with their law degree. We want to inspire them – and law graduates around the world – to choose careers in this field.
To date, the Be Just Initiative is supporting more than 80 young lawyers in 14 different countries. Our Be Just Fellows have worked on some of the most exciting, cutting edge public interest legal cases of recent times, including the historic racial profiling and “stop and frisk” trial in the US that declared the practice unconstitutional, the successful challenge in Pakistan which declared US drone strikes illegal, the Marikana Commission in South Africa investigating the state’s use of lethal force against striking workers and the submission of criminal complaints to the Swiss courts and the ICC in relation to the murder of trade unionists in Colombia. These stories and more will be highlighted on the Be Just blog.
And this is just the beginning.
I have travelled the world meeting the most inspiring human rights lawyers to create opportunities for young lawyers, in turn, to be inspired and mentored by them. I hope that the program is as fun for our Fellows as it has been fun for me to develop.
Director of Legal Advocacy