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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Launch of TrialWatch with the Clooney Foundation

25 April 2019

Video statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

25 April 2019

Greetings from the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva. We’re delighted to be partnering with the Clooney Foundation for Justice in TrialWatch, which will help deliver justice to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.  I send my congratulations to everyone involved in this project, and I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person.

I know how it feels to be unjustly detained, and to not know how or when it will end. 

All detainees are vulnerable to human rights violations. Many have no certainty that they are protected by the rule of law, or whether they will have meaningful access to justice.

Even if brought before a court, they may face charges that are false, or are based on laws that breach their human rights. They may face coordinated lies from law enforcement officials; lack of access to lawyers; courts that are vulnerable to bribery; and arbitrary or politically-led decisions.

TrialWatch is a significant and practical response. Its central mission – to shine a light on these injustices in order to prevent and reverse them – goes to the heart of human rights. It revolves around the simple but critical idea that state institutions, including courts, must work for the people and be accountable to them.

By training monitors, assessing trials and developing a justice index, it will help speak for those who have no voice. This is human rights advocacy in its purest form.

The right to a fair trial is part of the architecture of human rights. Five of the 30 articles that make up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relate directly to it, and it’s enshrined in other legally binding conventions.

Fair trials mean due process, accountability and adequate remedies for victims. Unfair trials mean injustice, excessive punishment and even the death penalty.

Observing courts helps them to work better and deliver justice. My Office already has long experience in this – seeking to ensure due process for the guilty as well as the innocent, to challenge impunity, as well as injustice. The perpetrators of international crimes must be brought to justice: even people accused of committing the most heinous crimes are entitled to due process.

Our focus today is the people at the heart of TrialWatch’s quest for justice:  those who are unjustly accused, charged with vague offences, or tried for actions that should not be considered crimes. Human rights defenders and political opponents; journalists and lawyers; members of religious minorities and people prosecuted for same-sex relations.

I believe the benefits will flow beyond the courtroom. Our experience shows that monitoring trials also highlights weaknesses in judicial systems, combats bias and stereotyping, fosters transparency, strengthens the legal profession, and can trigger constructive engagement with State authorities.

I have no doubt that TrialWatch monitors will meet the high standards expected of them: to be impartial, professional, discreet and knowledgeable.

I am pleased that my Office has been able to work with the Clooney Foundation to ensure that its online tools and materials adequately reflect international human rights norms and standards.

The Foundation can count on our continued support and assistance as it implements the project. I wish you all great success.