Rev. Dr. Karen I. Tse

Karen Tse is an international human rights lawyer and former San Francisco public defender. But many European Unitarian Universalists, especially those in Paris, know her as a UU minister. Less well known perhaps is that she is a social entrepreneur, having won the support of the Skoll, Echoing Green and Ashoka foundations.

You may notice that the name of the organization she founded, International Bridges of Justice (IBJ), dovetails with the bridges we built at EUT-2017 and the Reverend William Schulz’s keynote address there. IBJ is human rights organization that works to make changes to criminal justice systems to promote the legal rights of individuals.

Rev. Karen Tse

“I believe it is possible to end torture in my lifetime.”

Karen I. Tse, a former public defender, developed an interest in the intersection of criminal law and human rights after observing Southeast Asian refugees held in a local prison without trial, often tortured to obtain “confessions.” In 1994, she moved to Cambodia to train the country’s first core group of public defenders. Under the auspices of the UN, she trained judges and prosecutors and established the first arraignment court in Cambodia.

International Bridges to Justice

In 2000, Tse founded International Bridges to Justice to help create systemic change in criminal justice and promote basic rights of legal representation for defendants on the ground. Her foundation complements the work of witness groups, who do the equally vital work of advocacy, reports, photographs. Tse’s group helps governments build new systems that respect individual rights. In IBJ’s first years, she negotiated groundbreaking measures in judicial reform with the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian governments. It now works in sixteen countries, including Rwanda, Burundi and India.

Karen is a graduate of UCLA Law School and Harvard Divinity School. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the 2008 Harvard Divinity School’s First Decade Award, the 2008 American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award and the 2009 Gleitsman International Award at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Most recently she won the 2018 Gomes Award for ministering to prisoners and building bridges around the world.

Karen will be giving Saturday’s theme talk and co-leading Sunday’s service with the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) co-president Inga Brandes. She is coordinating with the Organising Committee and Inga from various places around the world. You can catch her passion at Davos last year:

Karen is based in Geneva.We are most pleased that her family will also be attending and look forward to welcoming them. You can follow Karen on Twitter @KarenTseIBJ and Facebook @KarenITse.

Look to the next Unifier for a feature on our second keynote speaker, Wies Houweling, General Secretary of Vrijzinnigen Nederland.