Columbia law students are set to help monitor trials around the globe with an eye to human rights violations, thanks some Hollywood backing.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice—established by noted human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her movie star spouse George—is partnering with Columbia Law’s Human Rights Clinic and the American Bar Association to launch an initiative in 2019 dubbed TrialWatch.
The project aims to monitor trials across the globe that pose a high risk of running afoul of human rights protections, gather information about compliance with fair trial standards, and advocate for adoption of those standards. Eventually, the project will create a global justice index, rating countries on the fairness of their trial system.
“Today, courts all over the world are used as tools of oppression,” said Amal Clooney in a statement announcing the initiative Wednesday. “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.”
TrialWatch will train a cadre of lawyers and non-lawyers to monitor trials, recording their observations with special technology. Then legal experts will analyze that data and grade trails based on their compliance with human rights standards. Finally, TrialWatch will raise awareness and generate support for defendants whose rights have been violated, according to the announcement of the project.
Monitors will focus their efforts on trials dealing with vulnerable populations, attempts to silence speech or political opponents.
“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 Columbia Law Dean Gillian Lester.
The foundation’s partnership with Columbia is a natural one. Amal Clooney has taught as a visiting professor and fellow in the school’s Human Rights Institute since 2015. The law school’s Human Rights Clinic will help train and mobilize trial monitors and research how to put the data collected by trial monitors to its best use. It will also help develop the global justice index.
The American Bar Association will help recruit volunteer attorneys to serve as trial monitors.
“A fair legal process is essential to court systems that deliver justice,” said ABA President Bob Carlson. “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.”