International trial observations

The work of the IBAHRI

The IBAHRI sends impartial international observers to attend hearings to assess the independence of the legal profession. The practice of sending trial observers is well established within the international community. It aims to ensure the right to a fair and public trial through the impartial administration of justice and the proper functioning of the court. This principle is established in several international and human rights instruments, such as Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) was established in 1995. It undertook its first trial observation in 1996. So far, observations have been undertaken in 24 countries.

These are from all regions of the world and represent Common Law, Civil Law and Sharia jurisdictions. All of the countries are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which contains extensive obligations relating to fair trial procedures. While these are mainly developing countries, observations have also been undertaken in developed countries such as Poland and Russia. This indicates that trial observations are a world-wide necessity.

Latest news: Venezuela: IBAHRI publishes observation report of Judge Afiuni trial

Value added of Trial Observations

1. Fair trials are essential for justice and the rule of law. The fairness of a trial may relate to the substance of the accusations, what motivated the bringing of the accusation, the process of the trial, the independence of the judge and participating lawyers, and the independence of the court system itself. Trial observations facilitate in uncovering unfairness.

2. The presence of an observer encourages judges and all participants in the trial to follow proper procedure. This is especially important in cases brought against critics of the government. It is also important in cases of restorative justice and in situations of transitional justice where fundamental human rights are at stake.

3. A report is usually published detailing the trial observation. While the report relates to a specific case, it can give insights into the functioning of the legal system overall and can illustrate the extent to which the country where the observation took place is really committed to human rights. It can thus be used as a basis for law reform in that country.

Additional resources

The following conversations in English and Spanish provide additional information on trial observations and the work of the IBAHRI. The first of its kind in Spanish, this film was co-produced with our partner organisation in Colombia, Universidad El Rosario, in the framework of a joint training on trial observations directed at Latin American lawyers.

Training on International Trial Observations

The IBA’s Human Rights Institute has hosted activities in Bogotá, Colombia, to explore the relevance of trial observations to the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, and to implement the first course on trial observations for Latin American lawyers. In May 2018, the Institute staged a roundtable with the Faculty of Finance, Government and International Relations of Externado University. It also worked with the Faculty of Jurisprudence of Del Rosario University to offer training to lawyers.

Technical advice/Spanish

Nota técnica sobre la normativa internacional relevante para el proyecto de ley que busca establecer una doble instancia para personas condenadas por tribunales de única instancia en Colombia

This technical note reviews the international human rights standards on the right of persons convicted of a crime to have their conviction and sentence reviewed, following a bill presented on 23 July 2019 before the Senate of the Republic of Colombia.

The bill seeks to establish a right to all persons convicted in a single instance court between 23 March 1976 and 18 January 2018, including the high authorities sentenced by the Supreme Court of Colombia as a first and only instance, to appeal their sentence. If approved, the bill would give these persons a six-month term to appeal before a special chamber within the Supreme Court (to be created).