ABA joins Clooney Foundation, Columbia Law in trial monitoring initiative

The American Bar Association will join the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) and Columbia Law School to collaborate on a new initiative to monitor trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations, including those that could oppress vulnerable groups, silence speech or target political opponents.

Clooney Foundation co-founder and president Amal Clooney (Photo by Sam Hollenshead, courtesy of Columbia Law School)

Clooney Foundation co-founder and president Amal Clooney (Photo by Sam Hollenshead, courtesy of Columbia Law School)

CFJ’s TrialWatch was announced Dec. 5 and will launch in 2019. The initiative will train a global team of trial monitors to report on legal proceedings using specialized technology. A team of legal experts will then analyze the information collected and grade trials according to their compliance with international fair trial standards. TrialWatch will also conduct advocacy where appropriate, including casting an international spotlight on defendants whose rights have been violated.

In the future, the initiative will develop a ‘Justice Index’ that ranks countries’ performance.

“Today, courts all over the world are used as tools of oppression,” said Amal Clooney, co-founder and president of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. “Governments get away too easily with imprisoning opposition figures, silencing critics and persecuting vulnerable groups through the courts. Trial monitoring will shine a light on these abuses and enable us to fight injustice when we see it.”

American Bar Association President Bob Carlson stressed the importance of the program to global justice and praised CFJ for getting involved. “A fair legal process is essential for court systems to deliver justice,” Carlson said. “The American Bar Association is proud to unite with the Clooney Foundation for Justice and TrialWatch to help institutionalize trial monitoring and bring more watchful eyes to the world’s courtrooms.”

The Clooney Foundation for Justice was established in late 2016 by George and Amal Clooney to advance justice in courtrooms, communities and classrooms around the world.

The ABA is positioned to be an integral partner in the TrialWatch program. The Center for Human Rights leads the ABA’s efforts to address critical human rights issues. Through its Justice Defenders Program, CHR observes trials and other proceedings to discourage the misuse of legal processes against defendants, writes reports to detail the trials and provides technical assistance to local counsel representing defenders. The program recently has observed trials in Cambodia, Angola, Cameroon, Belarus and Venezuela.

Carlson added that the ABA is always looking for ways to partner with other groups to help promote justice around the world and the Clooney Foundation for Justice and Columbia Law School made sense. While the ABA and other groups have done trial monitoring, TrialWatch will be a more robust and comprehensive program. “The ABA will bring to the table the most prominent legal minds to help professionalize the practice of trial monitoring,” Carlson said.

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