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 a global justice index
TrialWatch will gather data that will contribute to a justice index documenting national courts’ adherence to human rights and fair trial standards. This will rank 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 of Samuel Ogundipe in Nigeria who is being prosecuted for theft-related offenses – carrying a sentence up to seven years – in connection with reporting on confidential government documents.
Preventative detention proceedings in India regarding Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who was detained in connection with Facebook posts denouncing the ruling party.
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 two journalists who had previously worked for a disfavored news organization on espionage charges that carry a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
A trial initiated against multiple individuals under an anti-LGBTQ law.
The trial in Malawi of 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.
Women and Girls
The trial in Uganda of Stella Nyanzi, a prominent women’s rights activist who has been charged with cyber harassment and indecent communication – charges that each carry up to five years in prison – for the allegedly unpalatable content of a poem she posted about the country’s President on Facebook.
The trial in El Salvador of Marciela Emperatriz Albizuri Rodriguez for aggravated homicide after seeking urgent medical care in the wake of a home delivery and still birth.
The trial in El Salvador of Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz on charges of aggravated homicide after a still birth.
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 trial of a political opposition figure on election-law-related charges that carry up to a year in prison.
The trial of a prominent human rights lawyer facing up to two years in prison for publicly criticizing the judiciary for its lack of independence.
The mass trial in Equatorial Guinea of over a hundred individuals in relation to their alleged involvement in a coup plot. See full Fairness Report here.
The trial of an opposition figure facing up to two years in jail for insulting the government’s economic policy and human rights record on social media.
The trial of a lawyer who has defended human rights activists and is being prosecuted for attacking the police at a protest, a charge that carries up to five years in prison.
The trial in Guatemala of Abelino Chub Caal, an indigenous leader who was charged with aggravated usurpation, arson, and illicit association.
The trial in Colombia of Javier Rojas Uriana, a human rights defender who has advocated for the rights of children in the Wayuu indigenous community and who has been charged with embezzlement.
The trial of a satirical theater group charged with offenses against the armed forces on the basis of their performance who face up to 2 years in prison if convicted.
The trial in Asia of lawyers in connection with human rights advocacy.
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...