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Our Mission

20190826_Nepal_Lalitpur District Court,

The ILF was founded to address the global crisis in access to justice.


Every day, millions of men, women, and children are held in jails around the world because they cannot afford a lawyer to defend them. Without legal representation, many face torture or other abuses, languish behind bars for years awaiting trial, or are wrongfully convicted.  

The denial of access to legal aid, and a lack of qualified criminal defense lawyers, particularly impacts poor and otherwise marginalized communities. These vulnerable populations are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. 

We make justice a reality for poor people by fighting to guarantee high-quality legal representation for everyone arrested or detained. Around the world, we provide criminal defense services and build sustainable, effective legal aid institutions. 

Over the past two decades, the ILF has established a practical and effective approach to meet the urgent need for quality criminal defense in diverse legal systems.


From the ground up, we train and empower lawyers to be proactive advocates capable of providing high-quality criminal defense. Case by case, our lawyers transform the criminal justice system and strengthen the rule of law. To ensure large-scale and sustainable reform, we share expertise and build government support for the right to legal aid.

The Global Crisis in Access to Justice

The vast majority of people around the world are too poor to afford a lawyer. Despite the existence of laws and global consensus that legal aid is a fundamental right, most people arrested or detained will not get a lawyer. Even if they do, not all lawyers are effective, due to lack of training, resources, capacity or other barriers within the justice system. 

Poverty should not be a barrier to justice. Our mission is grounded in the belief that access to quality legal representation is a basic human right, and indispensable to the fair administration of justice. It affects a person’s ability to assert any other rights they may have. 

Criminal defense lawyers serve to hold other branches of the justice system accountable, ensuring that laws are fully and fairly implemented and that every person is afforded due process of law. Criminal defense lawyers provide critical protection against arbitrary detention, torture, coercion and other human rights abuses.

Our Founding Story

“No one should be locked up in prison because they could not afford a lawyer.”

- Natalie Rea, Founder

 In 1996, attorney Natalie Rea served as an observer to the Rwandan genocide trials. She was shocked that only a handful of defense lawyers were available to represent the more than 150,000 accused men and women.


Over the next two years, she and a small team of lawyers took on the cases of hundreds of Rwandans. In 2001, she established the International Legal Foundation to address similar crises in other post-conflict and transitioning countries.

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