Amal Alamuddin Clooney stands tall in French court without George

Amal Alamuddin Clooney in Strasbourg, France to represent Armenia in a case regarding hate speech and the Armenian genocide

Amal Alamuddin Clooney goes to Strasbourg, France to represent Armenia in a case regarding hate speech and the Armenian genocide

By: Tanya Talaga,  Staff Reporter
If you thought Amal Alamuddin Clooney had given up the law in order to become a celebrity wife, think again.

Clooney, 36, an established human rights lawyer, doesn’t really need her husband George Clooney’s fame but her newfound status as the woman who stole the once-confirmed bachelor’s heart has helped shine a spotlight on the important work she does.

Clooney, who last made headlines for wearing silky elbow high white gloves to the Golden Globes, has traded those in for the black robes of the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

She is acting for the government of Armenia in the case of Dogu Perincek, a Turkish politician, versus Switzerland. The case centres on Perincek, who was convicted in Switzerland for challenging the Armenian genocide. He called the genocide an “international lie.” He denies the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago amounted to genocide.

Perincek appealed the conviction, arguing his right to free speech was denied. The government of Turkey is a third-party intervener for Perincek. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the number of dead has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

McGill University international law professor Payam Akhavan has known Clooney for many years, since she was a student completing her studies.

“I have known Amal for a decade, since our student days and she is clearly a very intelligent, thoughtful and capable person. And she deserves to be seen as something more than Mrs. Clooney,” Akhavan said in an interview from Montreal.

“Unfortunately the media is much more interested in the celebrity story rather than the reality of human rights, which is about the suffering of victims and not the fame of the saviours,” he added.

They have been on opposite sides of the argument before. A few years ago, Akhavan acted for the interests of the Libyan government, which argued before the International Criminal Court in The Hague that Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi be prosecuted for mass atrocities at home in Libya. Clooney argued Gadhafi should stand trial at The Hague.

In this case before the European Court’s Grand Chamber, they are both acting for clients on the same side of the issue. Akhavan is the lawyer for The International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, a division of Toronto’s Zoryan Institute that is working jointly with the Human Rights Association of Turkey and the Turkish Truth Justice Memory Centre.

They argue that debates about the historical truth or legal classification of atrocities as genocide or some other label are not the real issue here, said Greg Sarkissian, after the Strasbourg day-long hearing.

The main issue is if Perincek’s statements, when considered in their proper context, constitute incitement to discrimination and hatred, said Sarkissian, president of the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, part of the Zoryan Institute.

Clooney, in her opening statement Wednesday, said she seeks to correct the record in the case and that the most important error in the court’s judgment is that it has cast doubt on the fact there was a genocide against the Armenian people 100 years ago.

She argued that a finding on genocide was, firstly, not necessary in this case, and secondly, that it was reached without a proper forensic process, and thirdly, that it was wrong, Sarkissian said in an email.

In court, Clooney referred to news photographs that showed death marches, concentration camps and railway cars packed with Armenians, Sarkissian said.

Clooney, who was born in Lebanon and speaks fluent Arabic and French, does not shy away from tough human rights cases.

She was educated at Oxford University and at the New York University School of Law. She clerked at the International Court of Justice. She is now with London’s Doughty Street Chambers.

Her last high profile case involved the return of the Elgin Marbles from Great Britain to Greece. She married Clooney, 53, last year.

The European court will now take up to six months to make a judgment.

The Star With files from Associated Press