From the City to IJM and then Reprieve

The last time we spoke to Tineke (in 2006), she was an unpaid volunteer working for IJM in India while on a year long sabbatical from Baker & McKenzie.  We’ve just caught up with her again to find that she moved to a paid role in Rwanda for a few years and that she is now back in London working for Reprieve, where she is the director of the Death Penalty Team. 


mtl:  Hi Tineke, please can you pick up where you left off in 2006?  


Tineke: My plan in 2006 was to spend a year in India assisting the IJM legal team there by working on child sex trafficking cases, with the option of going back to Baker & McKenzie afterwards. However, after five months in India, the IJM regional director for Africa called and asked me to go to Rwanda for a short-term paid position as IJM needed someone to go there quickly to make arrangements for opening a new office and to research potential casework projects. 


I’d just settled in India but had already realised that I loved the work, liked the organisation and as I was not in a rush to go back to the City, the opportunity for paid work appealed.  In January 2007 I set off to Rwanda by myself and stayed 5 ½ months in a paid legal liaison role.  I hired a Rwandan assistant and we were based in an office in another NGO building.


The role involved meeting with many organisations, government officials and victims in order to investigate potential areas of casework that IJM could undertake in Rwanda.  Of the three areas that I looked into, IJM went ahead with two of them as projects: 1) land rights violations i.e. unlawful property grabbing, typically against widows and orphans, many of whom are removed from their land and left destitute as land equals food; and 2) child sexual abuse.  I also made practical arrangements for setting up the office, such as looking for office space and researching employment law in Rwanda. 



Career timeline



Graduated from Durham, Law with European Legal Studies



LPC, Nottingham Law School



Training contract, Baker & McKenzie



EC/competition assistant, London



Moved to Brussels office



Joined IJM and moved to India



Moved to Rwanda with IJM



Moved back to London



Director of Death Penalty Team, Reprieve


After 5 ½ months, the legal liaison contract came to an end and I agreed to volunteer for a further six months, as I’d always planned to volunteer for a total of a year and had the funds available to support myself. In January 2008 I was made the programme manager / deputy director of the office and given a permanent, paid contract.  I supervised the legal team of four Rwandan lawyers, one Rwandan casework assistant and two to three international volunteers (including one Moretolaw reader who had read my 2006 interview). 


It was a lot of fun building up the skill set of the young African lawyers.  There were many challenges as everything took four times more energy, time and effort than you would imagine spending in the West.  I had to adjust my expectations in line with working in the developing world and to take account of the fact that people were lacking in training after the country survived nearly being destroyed in the 1994 genocide.   


The nature of the work was sometimes hard and frustrating as the clients had complex and varying needs and were often very slow to trust as a result of their experiences.   It could also be tiring and draining because of the emotional aspect of the cases and the justice system was very broken which meant that often the police weren’t interested in the victims’ complaints.  Our clients came to us through referrals and also because we reached out to a specific project area.  However, the successes were truly exhilarating: during my time in Rwanda, we ensured that over 70 victims of land grabbing and their dependants had their land returned to them, and we also secured our first conviction against a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.


I ended up staying in Rwanda for 2 ½ years and it was really amazing to see the office grow to over 20 staff and volunteers while I was there.  I was very happy there.  It is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful but there is a lot of pain and trauma and poverty and need, so the experience was bittersweet and being very far from home in a different culture is a strain and takes its toll over time. 


mtl:  Why did you move back to London and what do you do now?    


Tineke:  I got engaged in January 2009 and my husband was living and working in London.  We looked at him moving to Rwanda as he had volunteered in Rwanda before, but we thought that it was better to be a newly married couple in London where we have support from friends and family, rather than Rwanda.  It would have been difficult for my husband to find work there and we felt it wasn’t ideal to start married life in a developing country overseas.   


I moved back to London in June 2009 and got married in September 2009.  It took me a while to find a new job as I needed some time to unwind from living in the developing world and to settle in to married life, though I did some voluntary project planning for CLEAR, a small international legal charity, during this period. I wasn’t sure what to do and looked at a few different things.  I knew that I wanted to do something legal and that I didn’t want to go back to commercial law.  I enjoyed being a manager and having a leadership role – I basically wanted the job I had in Rwanda but in the UK!


I started as director of the Death Penalty Team at Reprieve in April 2010.  When I saw the role advertised I thought it was perfect and that it could be great, though I didn’t think I’d get it as employers tended to focus on which technical areas of law I’d done and I’d never done any death penalty work before.  Luckily I had a contact who put in a good word for me which enabled me to explain my application and why I thought my experience was relevant. 


I love the job and it isn’t dissimilar to my previous role as I mix managing a legal team with strategic project planning and budgeting.  I also get to do case work myself, which is great. In Rwanda, I got to supervise the casework, but I was not able to have my own caseload, because Kinyarwanda is the only language that is used in court proceedings.  While I speak French fluently, my Kinyarwanda was obviously not of a high enough standard to read legal documents, appear in court, communicate directly with clients or get substantively involved in reviewing draft pleadings. 


The death penalty work at Reprieve is a mixture of casework in different countries with the highest concentration in the USA, then Pakistan and also in SE Asia and Africa.  We primarily assist British nationals, although we are currently running a project in the US funded by the European Commission which is surveying the death row population to identify all foreign nationals and to assess what we can potentially do for them. 


We have five full time staff in London who I manage, a great bunch of volunteers and then a funded fellowship programme for people who want to work locally in the US and other death penalty countries to build up a human rights career.  Reprieve’s other teams focus on Guantanamo, secret prisons and extraordinary renditions.  As an organisation we therefore assist vulnerable prisoners facing execution or who are held beyond the rule of law. 


mtl:  Do you have any advice for our readers?    


Tineke:  It is hard to get a job as a human rights lawyer without experience.  You have to be able to demonstrate your commitment and what you are capable of and it is better to already be known to the organisation when being considered for a permanent role.  If you are interested in working for Reprieve, then we sometimes have staff positions available for experienced lawyers, but there is more chance of getting involved as a volunteer or fellow first. 


For me it paid off to take a risk and leave Baker & McKenzie for a voluntary role, but I did play it safe initially by securing a sabbatical arrangement, which firms seem to be good at allowing.   I am still in touch with my friends and former colleagues at Baker & McKenzie and they have been very supportive.  I received great training there and really enjoyed working for the firm – it was a very good start to my career.  I don’t think that you need to start as a human rights lawyer straight from university.  It is valuable to have had good training and to have built up your skills first and there is nothing wrong with getting good experience at a City firm first, even if you are not sure it’s for you forever. 


mtl:  Thank you for talking to us Tineke.


You can see the Reprieve website here and the IJM website here.


If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.





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