Human Rights

Clooney Foundation works with ABA on program to monitor trials for human rights violations

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Photo courtesy of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

The ABA announced on Wednesday that is partnering with the Clooney Foundation for Justice and Columbia Law School to “monitor trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations.”

The program, set to launch next year, is known as TrialWatch, according to an ABA press release and the Clooney Foundation for Justice website.

Amal Clooney.Amal Clooney speaks at the United Nations headquarters in September at a press freedom event. Photo from

“Today, courts all over the world are used as tools of oppression,” international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is president of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, commented in the press release. “Governments get away too easily with imprisoning opposition figures, silencing critics and persecuting vulnerable groups through the courts.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice was created in late 2016 by Amal Clooney and her husband, actor George Clooney.

“Trial monitoring will shine a light on these abuses and enable us to fight injustice when we see it,” she said. “We are proud to partner with Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association as we work to advance justice around the world.”

The TrialWatch program will use trained trial monitors and specialized technology. Legal experts will analyze the information to grade the trials according to international fair trial standards. Trial monitors don’t have to be lawyers.

Trials selected will include those that could oppress vulnerable groups, silence speech or target political opponents.

TrialWatch also will gather support and awareness for defendants whose rights are violated, and it will develop a “Justice Index” that documents and ranks “national courts’ adherence to human rights and fair-trial standards.”

The ABA has a great deal of experience with international trial monitoring and observation. The Center for Human Rights will be the ABA entity working most closely with TrialWatch. Through its Justice Defenders Program, CHR has provided pro bono assistance to more than 1,000 human rights advocates in 50 countries, which can include serving as trial monitors.

In one recent instance, the ABA observed the trial of Ny Chakrya, the former head of the human rights and legal aid section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association. Chakrya was charged with defamation, slander and interference with the independence of the judiciary after holding press conferences to request investigations into procedural irregularities on behlaf of his clients. The report found that Chakrya’s trial was “marred by significant irregularities in violation of the right to a fair trial.”

Amal and George Clooney.Amal Clooney and her husband, actor George Clooney, founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016. Photo from

In another, the ABA produced a trial observation report for Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, who had been charged with defamation and slander towards Angolan government and military officials after publishing Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola. Marques de Morais, a journalist and anti-corruption activist, has faced multiple prosecutions. In July, an Angolan court issued an acquittal for Marques de Morais in a case that could be a landmark free press decision for the country, Human Rights Watch reported.

But although the ABA and some other groups already conduct trial monitoring, particularly in higher profile cases, “there is no comprehensive global program scrutinizing the courts of the world,” according to the Clooney Foundation for Justice. TrialWatch will give the ABA an opportunity to expand the number of trials it observes, and the types of people it can assist.

ABA President Bob Carlson praised the involvement of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. “A fair legal process is essential for court systems to deliver justice,” Carlson said in the press release. The ABA is proud to collaborate “to help institutionalize trial monitoring and bring more watchful eyes to the world’s courtrooms,” he said.

Amal Clooney joined Columbia Law School in 2015 as a visiting professor and a senior fellow at its Human Rights Institute. With support from Microsoft, the law school is also hosting a TrialWatch legal fellow to help strengthen the group of trial monitors and study how to leverage the trial monitoring data.

“We are honored to partner with the Clooney Foundation on a bold initiative designed to foster fairness and transparency around the world—and ultimately to reform the administration of justice,” said Gillian Lester, dean of Columbia Law School, in a press release.

Updated on Dec. 6 to add quotes from Amal Clooney and Gillian Lester, and information about the ABA Center for Human Rights’ Justice Defenders Program.

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