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

NEXT (New Zealand) - - Contents - BY JU­LIA BRAYBROOK

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.


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


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.”


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



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


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



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.



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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.