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.

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.

Torture prevention training
Torture prevention training
Torture prevention training
Torture prevention training

First photo top left: Aurélie Roche-Mair, Director, IBA Hague Office - ICC & ICL Programme; Dr. Phillip Tahmindjis, Director - IBAHRI; Verónica Hinestroza, Senior Programme Lawyer - IBAHRI; Dr. Juan Carlos Forero, Dean School of Law - Universidad El Rosario; Dr. Lina María Céspedes, Vice-dean School of Law -Universidad El Rosario; Mark Stephens- CBE IBAHRI’s Council Member, Partner at Howard Kennedy; Enrique Prieto, Director Research Unit, School of Law - Universidad El Rosario

Second photo top-right: Dr. Juan Carlos Forero, Dean School of Law - Universidad El Rosario

First photo bottom -left: Opening session by Enrique Prieto, Director Research Unit, School of Law - Universidad El Rosario

Second photo bottom -right: Participant from El Salvador, Manuel Escalante, Human Rights Institute- Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas.

You can download the course training programme in English or Spanish.