Dear friends and supporters of CFJ,
The first few months of 2023 came with a flurry of good news that has given us hope and demonstrated the impact of CFJ’s work to wage justice for victims of human rights abuses around the world.
Amal’s client, Nobel Laureate and award-winning journalist Maria Ressa, was acquitted of baseless tax charges in the Philippines in January. Those charges carried a potential sentence of over 30 years. In Maria’s words: “Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins.” As Amal warned, there is more work to do as Maria faces an ongoing campaign of state-sponsored legal harassment. Nevertheless, this was significant win in the Philippine courts.
TrialWatch’s work continues to create waves, with positive news coming from several cases we have worked on. We are delighted to report that in Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions were portrayed in the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, had his 25-year prison sentence commuted and was reunited with his family. Our TrialWatch team had worked tirelessly monitoring this trial, with our expert Geoffrey Robertson KC ultimately giving it a D grade. Our report was key in the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s finding that Rusesabagina was being arbitrarily detained. Our findings were also used in pivotal calls for his release by both the EU and the US authorities.
Elsewhere, Kazakh activist Askhat Zheksebaev, who had fled Kazakhstan after repeated arrests and convictions for his peaceful support of an opposition party, was detained while trying to seek asylum in Kyrgyzstan. He was released by the Kyrgyz authorities after TrialWatch published its report urging authorities to do so and giving his trial a D grade. Also in Kyrgyzstan, after TrialWatch monitored his trial through its partner, the USC Gould International Human Rights Clinic, and advocated on his behalf, a court acquitted human rights lawyer Kamil Ruziev. He was targeted by the authorities in retaliation for his work as a human rights defender, according to TrialWatch Expert on the case Hannah Garry. He had previously filed 14 torture-related complaints against government officials on behalf of clients. We will publish a report on this case soon. And after TrialWatch published two reports on the cases against journalist Omar Radi in Morocco, the European Parliament, passed a resolution urging Morocco to guarantee a fair trial to him and other imprisoned journalists.
On International Women’s Day, we launched our Waging Justice for Women Legal Fellowship program, which will support the next generation of women lawyers in Africa and empower them to advance rights for women and girls in their communities. Amal also co-authored an op-ed alongside Michelle Obama and Melinda French Gates in TIME magazine emphasizing the urgency of combatting child marriage.
At the Docket, our team of lawyers is representing victims of sexual and gender-based violence from the Democratic Republic of Congo. These victims have testified––at great personal risk––against former Congolese warlord Roger Lumbala, who is under pretrial detention in France. Lumbala is under investigation for his role in atrocities committed during the Second Congo War (1998 – 2003). The Docket team identified the survivors with its local partner, facilitated their journey to France, and secured for them the opportunity to testify before a French investigative judge. The Docket also filed legal submissions to the judge to expand the torture charges in the case to include rape, in a bid to ensure that gender-based violence is at the heart of justice delivered for survivors in this case.
We also launched our groundbreaking Justice Beyond Borders online mapping tool that tracks the criminalization of the most serious international crimes––war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression––across all 193 UN member states. We developed this database when our own investigation of war crimes in Ukraine demonstrated the urgent need for a global tool to pinpoint where we could actively pursue perpetrators through the courts. The JBB project provides a critical pathway to justice for survivors of war crimes. Click here to visit the JBB website, which has won the 2023 Australian Web Awards in the category of Innovation.
Lastly, we’re so pleased to see our partnerships going from strength to strength. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a major investment in our work with a $4 million general support grant and the Ford Foundation increased its investment in CFJ with a $1 million grant. We are so grateful for the pro bono support of law firms such as Cleary Gottlieb, Covington & Burling, Debevoise & Plimpton, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Morrison & Foerster, Kirkland & Ellis, and Withers, and for our collaboration with Microsoft. It is simply not possible for us to work on such a scale without the support of our donors, pro bono law firms, and corporate partners. We are so grateful to our allies for joining this fight, and for believing in our ability to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
– Amal and George Clooney
Our three initiatives are continuing their work waging justice around the world.
Waging Justice for Women
In the face of the injustice and inequality that women and girls are subjected to world-wide, the next generation of women lawyers must be equipped with the tools and resources they need to fight for their rights. To that end, our Waging Justice for Women initiative launched a legal justice fellowship for early-career women lawyers in Africa. The program is set to start in July 2023 and will offer fellows an annual salary as well as an opportunity to work for one year with CFJ and 10 leading human rights organizations across Africa. Waging Justice for Women is honored to be partnering with talented women lawyers and dynamic African organizations who are on the frontlines of the fight for justice.
Just weeks after the release of a TrialWatch statement on Cameroonian mother Antoinette Kongsa’s plight, she and her baby were freed from prison. They had been jailed for more than a year and a half, languishing in detention even after a court in Cameroon ordered Kongsa’s release on bail. TrialWatch had been monitoring proceedings against Kongsa since late 2021 in partnership with the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. It will be releasing a report on her case in the coming months.
In Russia, TrialWatch condemned the latest conviction against human rights lawyer Mikhail Benyash. TrialWatch has been advocating for Mikhail Benyash’s rights for almost four years, amid a mounting crackdown on his work. Since 2022, Russian authorities have deployed a range of tactics against Benyash to stop him from representing anti-war protesters and soldiers refusing to fight in Ukraine. Benyash was convicted on March 6, even though an appeal process—during which the defense used the TrialWatch Fairness Report—had successfully overturned a previous conviction on the same charges in 2019.
In Thailand, TrialWatch continues to monitor the trial of 22 protest leaders who are being prosecuted for insulting the monarchy (lèse-majesté), sedition, and public order offenses for speeches they gave at a protest. The defendants include university students as young as 22-years-old at the time of arrest and some face up to 15 years in prison. TrialWatch has been monitoring the proceedings since 2020, and recently submitted an amicus brief to the court. The brief is crucial not only for this case, but for other lèse-majesté cases where similar issues arise. The TrialWatch Expert on the case, Australian judge Hon. Kevin Bell AM KC, wrote an op-ed for The Diplomat in which he decried that in Thailand “young women have gone on hunger strike, children are being prosecuted, and a group of protesters is staring down 15 years behind bars– all because of an archaic law criminalizing criticism of the monarchy”.
Launch of our Justice Beyond Borders Project by the Docket
Earlier this year, we launched our Justice Beyond Borders Project at an event in The Hague. In her opening remarks, our Co-Founder Amal Clooney recognized the ‘real opportunity for justice through the principle of universal jurisdiction’ and encouraged those watching to fight for a world where ‘accountability is the norm and impunity the exception’.
The Financial Times’ European Diplomatic Correspondent, Henry Foy, moderated a panel discussion featuring Former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp; Senior Legal Adviser at the Global Justice Center, Angela Mudukuti; and the Legal Director of the Docket, Anya Neistat.
Legal Program Manager of our Docket initiative, Antonia David, also presented a demonstration of the JBB mapping tool.
“The historical record shows that the fuel for violence is impunity; and that we’re destined to repeat crimes against humanity if we do not punish them. So, I hope that we will not squander the opportunity for justice, that we can enter an era in which the perpetrators of the most brutal violence have reason to believe that they won’t get away with it. That we can enter a new age where accountability is the norm and impunity the exception, and enter a time in which by punishing persecution, we finally have a chance to end it.”
– Amal Clooney, speaking at the launch of Justice Beyond Borders
We have selected this year’s winners of our Albie Awards and are excited to share their names with you in the next few days. At the inaugural Albies in September last year, we shone a protective light on five courageous justice defenders who have each, at great personal risk, devoted their lives to justice. Keep an eye on our website and social media accounts in the lead-up to this September to remain up to date about this year’s Albies.
In addition to the Waging Justice for Women Fellowships, we’re excited to announce that we are recruiting our next cohort of postgraduate fellows. Fellows work full-time for a 12-month period, during which they are fully integrated into one of CFJ’s three program initiatives. If you or someone you know are interested in applying, write to us at [email protected]. Fellowships usually begin in September.
We are also busy expanding our WJW team and will be announcing our new staff members soon—keep an eye on our website and our social media accounts, mentioned below, to know more.