An accomplished, international human rights lawyer delivered a potent call for action at the United Nations on Thursday, urging the organization to back an investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq.
“I am speaking to you, the Iraqi government, and to you, U.N. member states, when I ask: Why? Why has nothing been done?” Amal Clooney, the British-Lebanese barrister who represents victims of Islamic State rapes and kidnappings, said.
She implored Iraq and the world’s nations, using another name for the Islamic State: “Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”
It was a day after International Women’s Day, and a renowned female lawyer was giving a powerful speech addressing one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian threats.
But a number of headlines seemed to focus elsewhere: her baby bump. And her daffodil-yellow dress and matching coat. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, she’s married to Hollywood movie star George Clooney.
The tabloid Mirror published the headline, “Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress.” Entertainment Tonight went with, “Amal Clooney Stuns in Yellow While Delivering Passionate Speech at the United Nations.”
The day before the speech, Motto, Time Inc.’s website aimed at younger women, displayed the headline “Amal Clooney Shows Off Her Baby Bump at the United Nations,” publishing an article written by People magazine, which began:
Amal Clooney was all business on International Women’s Day. The mom-to-be (who also happens to be married to George Clooney) stepped out outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Wednesday, showing off her baby bump in a dark gray pencil skirt and matching cropped blazer.
Then there was E! News: “Amal Clooney Shows Baby Bump in What Could be the Ultimate International Women’s Day Poster.”
And how about “Amal Clooney Puts Her Growing Baby Bump on Display In Chic Yellow Dress for U.N. Speech” in Hollywood Life.
Some of the baby-bump hoopla made it seem as though the lawyer was gallivanting on a beach in a bathing suit, “showing off” her pregnant belly, or posing for a photographer in a Beyoncé-esque, flower-adorned pregnancy announcement, resting her hand on her bare stomach.
Those watching her speech would have hardly noticed her barely visible bump, unless, of course, they were specifically looking for it. Most were more focused on her impassioned address, which she attended with her client, Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State militants.
Even some of the mainstream press made sure to include references to Clooney’s husband. The second sentence of the Associated Press’s article noted the lawyer is “the wife of actor George Clooney.”
On Tuesday, one question in an interview with BBC News spurred angry, eye-rolling tweets.
“The fact that you are now not just a human rights lawyer but you are known, obviously because of your marriage to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, does that help in terms of giving you a bigger platform and getting more people to listen to you?” the reporter asked.
The barrister gave no reaction to the subtle reference to her marriage, and responded by saying a great deal of her work “takes place behind closed doors” and is never seen. If more people now understand what is happening regarding the Islamic State and the Yazidis, and some action can result from the extra publicity, she said, then it is a “really good thing.”
Clooney is a barrister for Doughty Street Chambers in London and represents clients before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights as well other domestic courts in Britain and the United States. She served as a senior adviser to Kofi Annan when he was the United Nations’ envoy to Syria, and was counsel to the British inquiry on the use of armed drones, in addition to serving on the country’s team of experts on preventing sexual violence in conflict zones.
She studied at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, and later received a Masters of Law degree from New York University School of Law, where she earned the Jack J. Katz Memorial Award for excellence in entertainment law. Before the lawyer, whose maiden name is Alamuddin, married Clooney, she had represented clients such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings in Britain and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko before the European Court of Human Rights.
Of course, she’s not just any accomplished barrister. She became a celebrity with her marriage to George Clooney, making headlines for her red carpet gowns at awards shows and Hollywood premieres. But at many of these public outings, as one writer put it, the “consummate feminist superhero” appears unimpressed.
“As George leads Amal through the crowd in his baggy jeans looking docile and outclassed, Amal pulls all the focus,” wrote Heather Havrilesky in a May 2015 piece in New York Magazine’s the Cut. “She doesn’t have time for this foolishness.”
“In other words, if we want to hear Amal talk, she’ll be talking about human rights,” Havrilesky continued. “She won’t be talking about love and marriage and babies. That’s George’s job. He’s the man behind the woman. Which is a pretty unfamiliar, teachable moment for George and for America.”
In Wednesday’s speech, which prompted Twitter praise from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Clooney urged Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send a letter to the U.N. Security Council so it can vote to begin investigating crimes by Islamic State militants in Iraq. Britain is drafting a Security Council resolution to establish the U.N. investigation, but Clooney said the Iraqi government needs to send the letter formally requesting it.
Clooney came to the United Nations six months ago seeking accountability for victims of the militant group, but she said nothing has happened in the time since.
“Instead, mass graves in Iraq still lie unprotected and unexhumed,” Clooney said. “Witnesses are fleeing. And there is still not one ISIS militant who has faced trial for international crimes anywhere in the world.”
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