Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney talks being a mum, marriage to George – and her fight against ISIS
She’s the lawyer taking on ISIS and championing human rights, and she’s married to George Clooney to boot. Amal Clooney talks motherhood, marriage and calling the UN to account
SShe’s married to an A-list actor. A mum to twins. A regular on the best dressed lists. Tall, beautiful with enviable hair. And thankfully, that’s not what the world most admires about Amal Clooney. When it comes to inspiration, Amal leads the charge, with her current battle against no less than ISIS. It’s no wonder the world can’t get enough of the woman who was once a refugee, and now fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. “Amal has caught the world’s attention not just because she captured the seemingly uncatchable George Clooney,” says Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo. “And not just because of what she chooses to wear, but because underneath the clothes, we admire her intelligence, activism, globalism, and her clear confidence in her own skin.”
And as for Amal herself, she says, “I hate the idea that you somehow, as a human being, have to be put in a box. There’s no reason why lawyers can’t be fun – or actresses can’t be serious.”
The 40-year-old lawyer was catapulted into the spotlight in September 2014 when she married actor George Clooney in Venice in a dress designed by the late Oscar de la Renta with a reception attended by Hollywood’s elite. But their first meeting was low-key.
The pair met at George’s villa in Lake Como, Italy in July 2013, when the then-Amal Alamuddin was passing through on her way to Cannes with a mutual friend. George told David Letterman that “it’s the wildest thing… I got a call from my agent who said, ‘I met this woman who’s coming to your house who you’re gonna marry’.”
George’s parents were visiting at the time and the group stayed up all night talking. The pair then swapped email addresses, so Amal could send photos she’d taken of the family that night. They stayed in touch, with George writing Amal notes in the voice of his dog Einstein, who claimed to be trapped in various places and in need of legal rescue.
MEETING HER MATCH
The friendship soon turned to something more. “It felt like the most natural thing in the world,” says Amal. “Before that experience, I always hoped there could be love that was overwhelming and didn’t require any weighing or decision making.”
She adds, “It’s the one thing in life that I think is the biggest determinant of happiness, and it’s the thing you have the least control over. Are you going to meet this person? I was 35 when I met him. It
‘I HATE THE IDEA THAT YOU SOMEHOW, AS A HUMAN BEING, HAVE TO BE PUT IN A BOX. THERE’S NO REASON WHY LAWYERS CAN’T BE FUN’
wasn’t obvious that it was going to happen for me. And I wasn’t willing or excited about the idea of getting married or having a family in the absence of that.”
The pair were married just over a year after they met, and in June 2017 they welcomed twins Ella and Alexander. A statement released by the couple read, “Ella, Alexander and Amal are all healthy, happy and doing fine. George is sedated and should recover in a few days.”
These days, with the twins fast approaching their first birthday, the couple have settled into parenthood – “George was very careful to ensure that ‘Mama’ was the first word” – but it has meant some changes to their lifestyle.
Having spent their careers travelling to dangerous places, for work and humanitarian reasons, they’ve had to since rethink their plans, especially after a scare in the Maldives. Amal visited the country in 2015 to free former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges in what Amal called “a show trial”. George told The Hollywood Reporter, “As Amal was coming into town, her co-counsel [Mahfooz Saeed] was pulled off a motorcycle and stabbed in the head as a warning.”
He survived, but when Amal returned home, the couple had a long talk about how much they could put themselves on the line. “When she finally got out of there, she had another client in jail in Azerbaijan,” George added, “and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, let’s make a deal: I won’t go to South Sudan and you don’t go to Azerbaijan. How is that?’ And she said, ‘For now, fine’.”
“I don’t know that she’ll stick it out.”
THROUGH THE RANKS
But for a lawyer who’s made a name for herself fighting for human rights, it comes with the territory. Geoffrey Robertson, cofounder of London law firm Doughty Street Chambers, where Amal works, says, “She’s been a leading intellectual thinker on the concept of fairness – in a trial where you don’t have a jury and where, sometimes, you don’t have a defendant. That set her apart even before she met George.”
Amal’s start in law was nothing unusual; she studied law at Oxford University and upon graduating, she moved Stateside and clerked for Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor – then a former federal appeals court judge – before landing a job at top-tier firm Sullivan & Cromwell. There, she was part of the defence team for energy company Enron as they faced congressional hearings into fraudulent accounting practices.
But it was the pro bono cases the firm took on that turned Amal towards human rights. “I cared more about the outcome of those cases than my paid cases,” she says. “And that made me think, ‘Well, why am I not doing more of that kind of work?’”
In 2004 she applied for a year-long clerkship at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, working on the war-crimes trial of Slobodan Miloševic, the former Yugoslavian president. A litany of high-profile cases followed: a United Nations investigation in Beirut to prosecute the murderers of Lebanon’s prime minister; petitioning the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, alleging that the Ukrainian government had brought a politicallymotivated case against her; representing Julian Assange in his extradition case.
Her current career is no different. Since she joined Doughty Street Chambers in 2010, Amal has met with former Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras to discuss efforts to secure the return of the Elgin marbles – 5th century BC sculptures taken from the Parthenon – from the UK. She has represented Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights against a Turkish politician who denied the 1915 Armenian genocide. She helped secure the release of Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy from wrongful imprisonment in Egypt, and has served as senior adviser to Kofi Annan when he was the UN’s envoy to Syria. Currently, she’s part of the case representing Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been detained in Myanmar on allegations they are in possession of secret government papers. The journalists, Amal says, “are being prosecuted simply because they reported the news”.
“The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”
And while there’s no doubt this is an incredibly impressive résumé, Amal’s
‘SHE’S BEEN A LEADING THINKER ON THE
CONCEPT OF FAIRNESS.THAT SET HER APART EVEN BEFORE SHE MET GEORGE’
heart lies in what is arguably her biggest case to date: bringing ISIS to justice.
In 2016 Amal met Nadia Murad Basee Taha, the 23-year-old Yazidi student, survivor of ISIS sex trafficking and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She took on the case.
“Not many people stepped up to help as she did,” says Nadia. “I was surprised that someone like her – a successful lawyer with a strong record – would help us. We’re a very small community.”
Over the following months, Amal interviewed other survivors (“the most harrowing witness statements I’ve ever taken,” she says) and gathered evidence that would carry the case through the international justice system. In September 2016, she brought her case to the UN.
“Nadia’s mother was one of 80 older women who were executed and buried in
‘I AM ASHAMED, AS A LAWYER, THAT THERE IS NO JUSTICE BEING DONE AND BARELY A COMPLAINT BEING MADE ABOUT IT’
an unmarked grave,” she said in her speech. “Her brothers were part of a group of 600 murdered in a single day. Make no mistake: what Nadia has told us about is genocide, and genocide doesn’t happen by accident. You have to plan it.
“This is … the first time I have had a chance to address an audience in front of the UN secretary-general,” she went on. “I wish I could say that I was proud to be here. But I am not. I am ashamed, as a supporter of the UN, that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find that their own interests get in the way.
“I am ashamed, as a lawyer, that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it. I am ashamed, as a woman, that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields. I am ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help.”
After months of inaction by the UN, Amal warned at a lecture on accountability for crimes in Syria and Iraq that “all of this evidence is going to be lost if it’s not collected soon”.
“Mass graves are being contaminated as relatives dig for remains of their loved ones. Documents are not being gathered. Witnesses are being dispersed around the world. They are increasingly reluctant to speak about these cases.
“I believe that the crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq are some of the worst in our generation,” she said. “This is a test not just for the Iraqi government, but for the United Nations and international law.”
She returned to the UN in March the next year, where she spoke against their lack of action (“if the [International Criminal Court] can’t prosecute the world’s most evil terror group, what is it there for?” she says). Following that presentation, the UN Security Council resolved to establish an investigative team to collect evidence about ISIS’ actions in Iraq. “It tells victims that they may finally have their day in court,” Amal wrote in an opinion piece following the decision. “Justice is now, finally, within reach.”
While arguably, the case would have gained international attention anyway, Amal is finding life in the spotlight does have an upside. “There’s a lot of my work that takes place behind closed doors that is not ever seen,” she says. “I think if
there are more people who now understand what’s happening about the Yazidis and ISIS, and if there can be some action that results from that then it’s a really good thing.”
But it’s not just her work that’s getting attention in the spotlight – the Clooneys are becoming known for their philanthropy. The couple reportedly donated all the money paid for their wedding photos to several human rights charities, and most recently they donated half a million dollars to the March for Our Lives to fight for tighter gun control.
And in in 2016, the couple took a big step into the charity scene, launching the Clooney Foundation for Justice. So far, the foundation has partnered with Unicef to support eight Lebanese schools serving 3000 Syrian refugee children.
“We don’t want to lose an entire generation because they had the bad luck of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the couple said in a statement. “Thousands of young Syrian refugees are at risk – the risk of never being a productive part of society. Formal education can help change that.”
Amal is a big advocate for accessing education. In 2015 she partnered with nonprofit organisation 100 Lives to establish a scholarship for Lebanese women. Each year the ‘Amal Clooney Scholarship’ will see one young woman awarded a place at UWC Dilijan College, a co-ed boarding school in Armenia, to study a two-year international baccalaureate programme.
“As a leading human rights barrister and campaigner, Amal Clooney is an inspirational role model for young women around the world,” said 100 Lives cofounder Ruben Vardanyan in a statement. “She exemplifies integrity, compassion and dedication – and typifies what it means to be a global citizen across all cultures.”
“This scholarship will give young women from Lebanon the opportunity of a lifetime,” Amal said in the same statement. “Cross-cultural learning and studying abroad can be a transformative.”
It’s an opportunity she’s still keen to give to others today; George and Amal have recently sponsored a Yazidi refugee, Hazim Avdal, to attend university in the
‘GOVERNMENTS CAN GET AWAY FAIRLY EASILY WITH USING THE COURT SYSTEM
TO THROW SOMEONE IN PRISON’
States. The couple met 23-year-old Hazim in New York in 2016 where he spoke about his aspirations for studying in the US, and the couple decided to help.
“When I met him,” Amal says, “I remember being so struck by his courage but also his amazing spirit and how, even after everything he lost, he spoke about his desire for justice, not revenge.”
Hazim is now a computer studies major at the University of Chicago and lives in the Clooneys’ home in Kentucky.
“[My family] also ran away from a war and were lucky enough to be accepted by a European country in 1982 when the violence was really bad,” says Amal.
Amal’s life began in a tumultuous time. She was born in Lebanon to mother Baria – a well-known political journalist – and father Ramzi, the vice-president of the Universal Federation of Travel. While the family moved around a lot for Ramzi’s job, they had returned to Beirut by the time Amal was born, during a lull in Lebanon’s civil war. Because of the potential for peace, her father named her Amal, which is Arabic for ‘hope’. Unfortunately peace was short-lived, and the family fled to London when Amal was two.
Today, Amal – who recently taught a course at New York’s Columbia Law School on human rights law – is helping mentor young women who approach unconventional paths in law.
“I remember all the stages in my career where I almost didn’t have enough confidence to do something, almost didn’t have the guts to follow something I was excited about doing, because I didn’t know anyone else who’d done it or other people made me question it.”
She’s optimistic about the future, crediting the Me Too movement for making the future workplace a safer place for her daughter. “We’re in a situation where a predator feels less safe and a professional woman feels more safe, and that’s where we should be.” But she’s aware, too, that when it comes to international justice, there’s much more work to be done. The Clooney Foundation is working on a global trial-monitoring programme, TrialWatch – similar to election monitoring but for the court system. “Governments can’t get away as easily with taking someone out into the street and shooting them,” she says. “But they can get away fairly easily with using the court system to throw someone in prison.”
She adds, “The same things keep happening again, and that’s the tragedy. We had genocide in Bosnia and then again in Rwanda. Somehow, the system has not evolved to a place where these atrocities are being prevented, nor are they even being properly addressed afterward.”
And until such a day as the guilty are brought to justice, Amal is going to continue doing the work.
‘SHE EXEMPLIFIES INTEGRITY, COMPASSION AND DEDICATION – AND TYPIFIES WHAT
IT MEANS TO BE A GLOBAL CITIZEN’
Clockwise from left: Amal out and about in New York City; with Nadia at the UN’s headquarters in New York in 2017; Amal makes the keynote speech at The Texas Conference for Women.
Clockwise from left: Amal and George at the Cesar Film Awards in Paris; Villa Oleandre, George’s holiday home at Lake Como; Amal speaks at the UN for a second time in 2017.