Courts are increasingly being used as a tool of oppression. In many countries, prosecutors and judges are used to imprison government critics and minorities.
In other places, a judge’s rulings can be purchased by the highest bidder. Judges can also be complicit in grave human rights abuses when they convict for ‘crimes’ such as homosexuality or blasphemy, or when they ignore the due process rights of defendants. Yet judges and prosecutors are rarely held to account. In some countries, courtrooms are closed. And even where trials are open to the public, proceedings can be long, convoluted and hard to understand.
In response to these pressing needs, the Clooney Foundation for Justice has developed an initiative focused on monitoring and responding to trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations. As an esteemed U.S. Supreme Court Justice once noted, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” We will therefore monitor trials in which the law may be used to target a minority or silence a government critic, meaning that there is a likelihood of a politicized, unfair trial. We will work to expose injustice and rally support to secure justice for defendants whose rights have been violated.
Through the TrialWatch project, the Clooney Foundation for Justice will:
1. Recruit and train new trial monitors
TrialWatch has partnered with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop an interactive trial monitoring training based on international human rights standards. The training program and materials, are available here (and soon will be available in multiple languages). We have also partnered with the American Bar Association to recruit and train trial monitors, including non-lawyers, who can observe and report on criminal trials around the world.
2. Shed light on what is happening in courts all over the world
Trial monitors will be deployed to observe and report on criminal trials around the world. These monitors will be equipped with a specialized app we have developed with Microsoft that will facilitate their reporting in a consistent way.
3. Advocate for Justice
TrialWatch will work with legal experts to assess the fairness of trials according to international human rights standards. We will share the reports with international lawyers, journalists, diplomats and members of civil society who can advocate on behalf of the defendants and where appropriate we will conduct or fund legal advocacy to assist a defendant in pursuing remedies in regional or international human rights courts.
4. Develop the Global Justice Ranking™
TrialWatch will gather data that will contribute to the Global Justice Ranking™, an index documenting national courts’ adherence to human rights and fair trial standards. This will evaluate countries according to the fairness of their justice system based on the data that is gathered through TrialWatch monitoring.
TrialWatch is global in scope and focused on trials targeting journalists, LGBTQ persons, women and girls, religious minorities, and human rights defenders.
Click a region on the map below for cases we are monitoring around the world.
Trials we are monitoring or have monitored
The trial in Morocco of Hajjar Raissouni, an opposition journalist who has alleged that her conviction and sentence for the ‘crimes’ of abortion and sex outside of marriage were a politically-motivated effort to silence her (and who was subsequently pardoned). See CFJ statement here.
The trial in Belarus of Marina Zolotova, the chief editor of the country’s most popular online news outlet, who was prosecuted for criminal negligence due to her alleged failure to prevent employees from sharing passwords to paywalled content. See full Fairness Report here.
The trial in Turkey of Cansu Piskin, a legal reporter prosecuted under terrorism-related charges after she published the name of a prosecutor in an article about a case. See full Fairness Report here.
The trial of a journalist critical of the government, who has been charged with criminal defamation and spreading false news.
Proceedings in Nigeria against Samuel Ogundipe, who is being prosecuted for theft-related offenses – carrying a sentence up to seven years – in connection with reporting on confidential government documents.
The in absentia trial in Cambodia of two journalists, Aun Pheap and Peter Zsombor, on charges of incitement to commit a felony based on their reporting on voting patterns in a commune that the ruling party did not win in the last election.
The trial in Indonesia of journalist Muhammad Asrul, who has been charged with disseminating information that
incites hatred and purposefully causing public distress by disseminating false information, based on articles about alleged corruption by a local political figure.
The trial in Uganda of 67 individuals arrested at an LGBTQ-friendly bar and charged with public nuisance.
The trial in Nigeria of 57 men arrested in a raid on a hotel and charged with same-sex public displays of affection.
Proceedings in Malawi against Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, who have been charged with, among other things, forgery of official documents for a LGBTI and sex workers workshop.
The trial in Kyrgyzstan of a woman charged with premeditated homicide for killing her husband, where the woman claims that she acted in self-defense after her husband repeatedly subjected her to physical abuse, in the context of ongoing debate in Kyrgyzstan regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence.
Human Rights Defenders
The trial of Ahmed Manseri in Algeria, who was charged with criminal defamation in connection with his advocacy regarding human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces. See full Fairness Report here.
The trial of six activists in Zambia charged with disobeying lawful orders in connection with a planned, peaceful protest against government corruption. See full Fairness Report here.
The mass trial in Equatorial Guinea of over a hundred individuals in relation to their alleged involvement in a coup plot, in which 112 defendants were convicted, with 20 defendants receiving sentences of over 70 years in prison. See full Fairness Report here; see CFJ statement here.
The trial of Mikhail Benyash in Russia, a lawyer who has defended human rights activists and was convicted of assaulting the police, despite the fact that Benyash alleged that he was the one who was beaten and violently pushed. See CFJ statement here.
The trial in Myanmar of seven members of the satirical theater group Peacock Generation Troupe, six of whom were convicted of statements intended to cause or likely to cause mutiny or disregard of duties in the Army on the basis of their performance of a traditional Thangyat. See CFJ statement here.
The trial in Guatemala of Abelino Chub Caal, an indigenous leader who was charged with aggravated usurpation, arson, and illicit association. See full Fairness Report here.
The trial in Thailand of Wut Boonlert, an indigenous activist charged with criminal defamation for sharing an article about a Parks official.
The trial in Russia of Server Mustafayev, a Tatar human rights defender who has been charged with terrorism-related offenses. See CFJ statement here.
The trial in Zambia of Chishimba Kambwili, who has been charged with criminal defamation for comments allegedly about the President of Zambia.
The trial in Asia of lawyers in connection with human rights advocacy.
The trial in Thailand of five individuals accused of sedition, lese-majeste, and related offenses for their alleged membership with an opposition group that supports a republican form of government: specifically, the defendants were accused of distributing flyers and wearing and selling t-shirts related to this political group.
Two trials in Thailand involving claims of criminal defamation by the Thammakaset poultry company based on tweets and retweets regarding alleged labor abuses by Thammakaset.
The trial in Indonesia of Suzethe Margaret, who was charged with blasphemy for behaving disrespectfully in a mosque during a period when she may have been suffering from mental illness.
Statement by George and Amal Clooney
The world is becoming increasingly authoritarian, and authoritarian leaders are increasingly using courts to consolidate their power. Although the judiciary is often the best protection against abuses of power, compliant or corrupt judges can also be a tool to stifle dissent and oppress minorities...