TrialWatch is the first initiative in the world that monitors criminal trials globally and defends the rights of individuals who are unfairly imprisoned. We are active in more than 40 countries and focus on trials against those who are most vulnerable to abusive legal systems – journalists, women, democracy-defenders, LGBTQ+ people, and minorities.
We train people using our TrialWatch training and app, and then place them inside courtrooms across the globe. Then, some of the world’s leading legal experts use the data they gather to grade the trials and expose those that are a sham. But our work doesn’t stop there – we also provide free legal support and work with local lawyers to free people who are unjustly imprisoned. And we file cases before national and international courts and bodies to overturn or reform unjust laws. We are also building a Global Justice Rankings to expose countries’ performance and advocate for systemic change.
Through my experience, I think that TrialWatch is important because it documented all events and exposed human rights violations, and this is important for political detainees who are released from prison with nothing BUT their dignity.Moroccan Journalist Hajar Raissouni
The world is becoming increasingly authoritarian, and authoritarian leaders increasingly use courts to consolidate their power. The judiciary is supposed to protect against abuses of power, but corrupt or compliant judges can be complicit in silencing dissent, undermining democracy and oppressing minorities. Yet little is known about the human rights abuses occurring in courts. While most trials are open, many proceedings are long, complex and involve a foreign language, which means that abuses take place in the dark.
TrialWatch is changing that through systematic trial monitoring in over 40 countries – and that number is growing!
TrialWatch’s work involves three stages:
Monitoring – Our monitors observe and document what happens in court – acting as the eyes and ears of the world. TrialWatch monitors are not only lawyers – they are retired judges, law students, journalists and interested members of the public. In fact, anyone who completes our training can qualify to be a monitor.
In a number of our cases, we have seen how a monitor’s presence can in itself have a direct impact. For instance, in the Abelino Chub case in Guatemala, local partners told us that the monitor’s presence in the courtroom affected the outcome of the case – an acquittal.
Evaluation – As soon as the monitor hands over their data, we turn to our TrialWatch Legal Experts who provide a detailed assessment of the fairness of the proceedings and assign a grade – A, B, C, D, or F – indicating how fair the proceedings were according to international fair-trial standards that apply across the world. In numerous cases, convictions have been reduced or thrown out based on what our monitors and experts were able to reveal.
Advocacy – We know our job does not stop with the publication of a statement or report. We owe it to the people whose rights have been violated help them challenge unfair sentences and reform unfair laws. In numerous cases, TrialWatch has intervened in cases before regional human rights courts such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights; filed cases before the United Nations, and supported domestic appeals through amicus curiae briefs. Through these cases we have not only helped to free innocent people; we’re also working to overturn unfair laws that can be used to stifle speech, undermine democracy and persecute minorities across the globe.
We focus our advocacy not only on individual cases or laws but regional or global trends that are particularly damaging to human rights. For instance, we are monitoring and conducting advocacy on the laws most frequently used to crackdown on journalism and digital speech including the increased use of sedition laws to prosecute journalists and protesters. We also focus on laws and practices that are used to prosecute women and girls, in conjunction with our Waging Justice for Women team.
Read more about some of our deep-dive projects here: