INTERVIEW HONORARY DOCTORATE
'Amal Clooney inspires me to remember that our work can be directly relevant to social change’
A week ago, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney received an honorary doctorate from KU Leuven. Professor Gleider Hernández, promoter of the honorary doctorate, explains why he proposed Amal Clooney: 'I have always been thoroughly impressed by how intelligent and sharp Amal Clooney is.'
On Thursday 23 March, renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney received an honorary doctorate from KU Leuven. The honorary doctorate did not only honour her work as a lawyer, but also as an academic and human rights activist.
Amal Clooney was born in 1978 in the Libanses capital Beirut. She emigrated to the United Kingdom as a child and went on to study law.
She has worked for the International Court of Justice, the public prosecutor's office at the Lebanon Tribunal and the Yugoslavia Tribunal, among others.
She campaigned for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and is committed to the Yazidis in Iraq.
Young years in The Hague
It was KU Leuven Professor of Public International Law Gleider Hernández who nominated her to the Faculty Board, after which the Academic Council ratified the proposal. He looks back on the ceremony with great fondness: ‘A magnificent team at KULAK and in Leuven worked hard to make this a success. In those moments, I feel privileged to have been offered a place in the KU Leuven community.’
Professor Hernández knows Amal Clooney from when they both worked in The Hague. They had met through mutual friends in the circles of young lawyers in international law. ‘I have always been deeply impressed by how intelligent and sharp she was,’ Hernández says. ‘Now that her work has flourished, I see the same person with the same clarity of purpose, dedication and values making a huge difference.’ For those reasons, the professor wished to nominate her.
An inspiration for students and professors alike
Hernández also sees her as a role model for students who don't fit the traditional profile of prominent academics. ‘Several female students from non-traditional backgrounds have already told me that her nomination inspires them enormously.’
Clooney is also an inspiration for Hernández himself: ‘As a professor, you have to make difficult choices between the research you are passionate about and education that also gives you great satisfaction. Ms. Clooney – now Doctor Clooney! – inspires me to remember that higher education is a public good in itself and that our work can be directly relevant to social change.’ For Hernández, that is on a global level, ‘but it can also be on a local, national or regional level: all make a difference.'
'She has drawn attention to the collective aspects of genocide and shed light on how war crimes can disproportionately affect women'
Gleider Hernández, promotor of the honorary doctorate for Amal Clooney
‘Besides,’ adds Hernández, ‘I don't know anyone who works as hard as she does.’ After putting his children to bed, he thinks about the fact that she does too. ‘And then I think about what she gets done in one day and I try to continue working.’
When asked what he considers to be Clooney's greatest achievements, Hernández gives several answers. ‘She has done excellent academic work on the right to a fair trial and the right to a fair trial. The book she wrote about it together with professor Philippa Webb immediately emerged as the leading reference work in the field.’
In addition, she has already made a difference with her pleadings before international courts: ‘She has drawn attention to the collective aspects of genocide and shed light on how war crimes can disproportionately affect women.’ In particular, her representation of the Yazidi minority in the Kurdistan region has made an impact. According to Hernández, Amal Clooney chooses her legal practices carefully. ‘She picks cases in which important principles can be decided and then argues brilliantly.’ In this way, she makes a difference.