By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Here is a surprising news item being disclosed for the first time in this column -- Amal Ramzi Alamuddin, wife of prominent actor and human rights activist George Clooney, will be one of the attorneys representing Armenia next month at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Some readers may wonder how a woman described by Elle magazine as having “stunning looks, flirty dresses, tailored pants, colorful heels, and gorgeous hair” is involved in such a complex legal matter?
It may be astonishing to most people that Amal Alamuddin, now Mrs. Clooney, is much more than a pretty face! In fact, she is perfectly qualified for this critical assignment.
Mrs. Clooney is a highly regarded attorney specializing in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition. She has been involved in several major lawsuits such as return of the Elgin Marbles from Great Britain to Greece, and defending Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She has also worked with the Prosecutor of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.
Amal was born in Lebanon to a Druze father and Sunni Muslim mother in 1978. At the age of two, her family moved to the United Kingdom. She received her law degree from New York University School of Law and clerked at the International Court of Justice (World Court). After returning to London in 2010, she became a barrister at the Doughty Street Chambers. She served as advisor to Kofi Annan, UN Special Envoy on Syria, and as Counsel to the 2013 UN Drone Inquiry team. She is fluent in English, French and Arabic. Her marriage to George Clooney in September 2014 made worldwide headlines.
With such impeccable credentials, Mrs. Clooney will be a great asset to Armenia’s legal team in Strasbourg, in the appeal of Perincek vs. Switzerland before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on January 28.
The case involves the conviction by Swiss courts of Dogu Perincek, a minor Turkish political party leader, who had travelled to Switzerland in 2005 with the explicit intent of denying the truth of the Armenian Genocide. In 2008, Perincek appealed the Swiss ruling to the European Court of Human Rights. A majority of five out of seven ECHR judges ruled on Dec. 17, 2013 that Switzerland had violated Perincek’s right to free expression.
This ruling was an unfair and unacceptable double standard, as the court considered denial of the Jewish Holocaust a crime, but the prohibition of Armenian Genocide denial an infringement on free speech. The five judges who ruled against Switzerland made countless judgmental and factual errors, misrepresenting Perincek’s allegations, misinterpreting Switzerland’s laws and court rulings, lacking basic knowledge of the Armenian Genocide, and repeatedly contradicting themselves. Two of the seven judges disagreed with the majority’s ruling and submitted a comprehensive 19-page report on the Armenian Genocide, siding with the Swiss court.
On March 17, 2014, Switzerland decided to appeal the ruling to ECHR’s 17-judge Grand Chamber, to defend the integrity of its laws and the country’s legal system. Specifically, the Swiss government challenged the court’s decision on three grounds:
1) ECHR had never before dealt with the juridical qualification of genocide and the scope of freedom of expression;
2) The undue restriction of “the margin of appreciation” available to Switzerland under ECHR’s jurisprudence;
3) The establishment of ‘artificial distinctions’ -- in the absence of an international verdict, ECHR should have considered the Turkish Court’s 1919 guilty verdicts against the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide as evidence related to World Court’s jurisprudence.
Last year, when ECHR’s lower court was considering Perincek’s case, Armenia did not participate. Turkey, however, intervened by submitting extensive documentation questioning the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. This time around Armenia will take part with a strong legal team, which includes Geoffrey Robertson QC, a preeminent international lawyer and author of the remarkable book, “An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?” Robertson will be joined in court by his associate Amal Clooney, and two Armenian government representatives Gevorg Kostanyan and Emil Babayan.
It is imperative that on the eve of the Armenian Genocide’s Centennial in 2015, ECHR’s Grand Chamber reverse the lower court’s flawed ruling, restoring the integrity of Swiss laws and preventing Turkey and Perincek from exporting their genocide denialism to Europe and beyond!