Tech that makes the world a witness to courtroom injustices across the globe

Screenshot of TrialWatch app
The TrialWatch app.

In 1948, as the world recovered from the atrocities of the Second World War, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led much of the work to craft the declaration, called it a “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The  world’s governments recognized in the declaration the fundamental right to a fair trial, including a “public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

Sadly, more than seven decades later, there are too many days when this right remains elusive for people whose freedom and lives are at stake. In some parts of the world, trials function as instruments of oppression to silence government critics, jail journalists or target minority populations. This injustice is a global cause that Amal and George Clooney, co-founders of the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), have set out to confront.

Today in New York City, Microsoft announced a partnership with CFJ to help advance human rights through TrialWatch, a program that trains and equips trial monitors to document and determine whether trials are conducted in a fair way. CFJ’s strategy, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association, is to expose injustices, rally global support, and create pressure on nations to change. The foundation’s program will make the world a witness in courtrooms across the globe.

From the moment I first sat down with the Clooneys, I was impressed by their vision and struck by the similarity between their strategy and the successful work of election monitors in the 1980s. Just as election monitoring has boosted the fairness of elections around the world, CFJ’s TrialWatch project can promote fairer trials. But it’s difficult to pay equal attention to the critical daily proceedings that unfold in courtrooms in every corner of the globe. That’s why cutting-edge technology in the hands of human rights experts and volunteers can be a game changer by helping CFJ’s efforts scale.

As our developers have rolled up their sleeves to work arm-in-arm with CFJ’s team, they’ve incorporated artificial intelligence that will make human monitors and judicial experts more effective. AI-powered text to speech and language-translation capabilities will speed the input of data and enable experts around the world to help assess a trial’s fairness even if they don’t speak a local language. With this information, and backed by data science capabilities, CFJ can build quantitative and qualitative reports that will be reviewed and evaluated by its legal experts.

Our partnership with CFJ is a new cornerstone of the AI for Humanitarian Action program we launched last September at the United Nations General Assembly meetings. It builds on our ongoing partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office, which is using new technology to better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations around the world.

Already, the new TrialWatch technology has been deployed on a pilot basis in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America with work underway to rapidly expand further. It’s a showcase of how technology can make human beings more powerful, productive and effective.

By better protecting human rights in courtrooms, digital technology and CFJ’s volunteers and experts can help humanity curb oppression that’s as old as civilization itself. It’s a partnership the world needs to create a brighter future.


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