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Clooneys, Microsoft, others join forces with ABA on human rights project

The American Bar Association officially announced its groundbreaking TrialWatch® initiative on April 25 at Columbia Law School.

TrialWatch is focused on monitoring and responding to trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations. The ABA’s Center for Human Rights (CHR) will be involved in recruiting and training trial monitors, including non-lawyers, who can observe and report on criminal trials around the world.

ABA President Bob Carlson (center) with Clooney Foundation for Justice founders Amal Clooney (left) and George Clooney (right).

ABA President Bob Carlson (center) with Clooney Foundation for Justice founders Amal Clooney (left) and George Clooney (right).

TrialWatch is a joint effort between the ABA and its partners,  the Clooney Foundation for Justice, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute , Microsoft Corporation and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The data gathered from TrialWatch will be used to expose injustice and secure justice for defendants whose rights have been violated. For each trial monitored, a legal expert will produce a Fairness Report assessing and grading the fairness of the trial against human rights standards.  These reports will usually be made public and, where necessary and possible, will be followed up with legal advocacy to assist a defendant in pursuing remedies in regional or international human rights courts. Ultimately, the data that is gathered will be used to populate a global justice index that measures states’ performance in this area.

The ABA’s Center for Human Rights has already started monitoring 11 trials during the pilot period of TrialWatch.

CFJ founders George and Amal Clooney headlined the rollout event at Columbia Law School, with ABA President Bob Carlson; Brad Smith, president of Microsoft;, Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University; and Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof led a lively panel discussion in front of more than 500 people about the importance of shining a light on abuses of the courts.

“If you send one person to jail for the wrong reason, it is the start of a tidal wave that can sweep us all away,” Carlson explained. He also emphasized that “facts matter, data matters.”

Using data to produce change will be the key to success. “The first step is to tell the world what is actually going on,” Amal Clooney said, stressing the need for involvement. “Apathy is the enemy,” she said.

George Clooney said the data might not change a ruthless dictator, but others may take notice. “You can shame good people who are complicit,” he said.

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