Amal Clooney urges U.N. to investigate ISIS as media wrongly focuses on bump

“Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”

That is the appeal international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney made to the United Nations Thursday after efforts to coordinate a U.N. probe into crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq seemingly stalled.

The barrister — who has advocated for the Yazidis, a Kurdish religious community in Iraq, and represents a Yazidi woman named Nadia Murad who endured sexual enslavement before becoming a U.N, Goodwill Ambassador — previously approached the U.N. six months ago to hold members of the terror group accountable.

“Since my last address, I have supported the United Kingdom’s initiative to have the Security Council set up an investigation into ISIS’ crimes in Iraq,” Clooney said. “Over the last few months, I have met with Iraqi, EU and U.N. officials and members of the Security Council, including the Russian and US Ambassadors, to discuss this initiative. All of them expressed support for the idea of a U.N. investigation to be established by the Security Council with Iraq’s cooperation.”

But while the U.K. drafted a resolution to launch the investigation and the Iraqi government has endorsed the probe, Iraq has failed to issue a formal request urging the U.N. Security Council to act.

“The Council could, of course, act without this letter,” Clooney said. “It could establish the investigation without Iraq’s consent, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. It could refer the case to the International Criminal Court. The General Assembly could establish an accountability mechanism, as it did for Syria in December. Or the secretary-general could launch an investigation. But none of this has happened yet. “

Meanwhile, Clooney said, extremists have continued their reign of terror through “killings, forced conversions, and rape.”

But equally as “shocking” as ISIS’ action is the U.N.’s inaction, Clooney said. “If we do not change course, history will judge us, and there will be no excuse for our failure to act,” she said, adding, “A lack of accountability simply leads to continuing cycles of vengeful violence. So killing ISIS on the battlefield is not enough. We must also kill the idea behind ISIS by exposing its brutality and bringing individual criminals to justice.”

“Don’t let this be another Rwanda, where you regret doing too little, too late,” she concluded. “Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”

Clooney was hailed on social media for her forthright call-to-action, though a number of outlets were more interested in her pregnancy. The Sun teased the story with the headline, "Oh baby! George Clooney's wife Amal Clooney shows off her blossoming baby bump in a chic yellow dress as she heads out to New York." Entertainment Tonight wrote, “Amal Clooney Stuns in Yellow While Delivering Passionate Speech at the United Nations.” And Time came under fire for tweeting, "Amal Clooney shows off baby bump at the United Nations" to promote a People story republished on their Motto site.

It isn't the first time the lawyer's advocacy has been overshadowed by her connection to her actor-husband, George, but the backlash on social media was swift, with users calling out the reductive approach, which exclusively hones in on women's marital or maternal status. Commenters also affirmed the need for a shift in the rhetoric used to describe women and the work they do, a timely message on the heels of International Women's Day.

Amal Clooney Legal Representative for Nadia Murad and other Yazidi survivors, speaks at "The Fight against Impunity for Atrocities: Bringing Da'esh to Justice" at the United Nations Headaquarters on March 9, 2017 in New York. (Photo: Kena Betancur , AFP/Getty Images)

A lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump.

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.”

Amal Clooney's Baby Bump and the Awkward State of the Media Brand

On Thursday, the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney made an appearance at the United Nations to participate in a meeting titled “The Fight Against Impunity for Atrocities: Bringing Da’esh to Justice.” Clooney was in attendance at the gathering specifically to deliver a speech to the international body in an attempt to persuade its member states to take legal action against the atrocities committed by Da’esh, better known to Americans as ISIS. She was, in that appearance, accompanied by one of her clients, Nadia Murad, a human rights activist, a survivor of Yazidi genocide, and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The pair, via Clooney’s urgently toned address, warned the U.N. members that “you must take the initiative to secure accountability in other ways available to you under the U.N. Charter.” The speech concluded: 

Don’t let this be another Rwanda, where you regret doing too little, too late. Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.
Clooney’s appearance at the U.N., unsurprisingly, made headlines in news outlets around the world. One of those outlets was Time, which on Thursday published an article about Clooney’s U.N. appearance to its women-oriented Motto channel, linking that appearance to International Women’s Day and effusing about the “chic pregnancy look” Clooney sported in the run-up to her speech. (Time’s article has since been updated, removing the mention of Clooney’s maternity style but keeping, in its second paragraph, the fact that she “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.”) Time tweeted its story with the text, “Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations.”

The magazine was, for all this, roundly—deservedly—mocked. “Maybe it’s ‘Time’ people started valuing brains over baby-making potential,” the New York Daily News scoffed. “No, Amal Clooney Wasn’t ‘Showing Off Her Baby Bump’ at the U.N.,” the Huffington Post put it. “A lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump,” the Washington Post reported. Mashable summed things up like so: “Time is getting dragged for this weird tweet about Amal Clooney’s baby bump during her speech on ISIS.”

Time’s tweet was, to be sure, unfortunate. So was the story it linked to, which blithely prioritized Clooney’s status as a celebrity wife and a mother-to-be and a fashion icon before her status—the status, of course, that occasioned her appearance at the U.N. in the first place—as a celebrated lawyer.

What’s striking, though, is how similar Time’s take on Clooney’s U.N. appearance was to—indeed, how nearly indistinguishable it was from—the takes of many, many other media outlets. “Amal Clooney Stuns in Yellow While Delivering Passionate Speech at the United Nations,” Entertainment Tonight had it. “Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress,” the U.K. Mirror reported. People placed its own take on the news—“Amal Clooney Steps Out at United Nations to Speak Against ISIS”—under the rubric of “Baby Bumps.” 

The difference, and the source of the public outcry against Time’s baby-bumped tweet, is that Time’s tweet came from Time. Audiences have different expectations for the storied newsmagazine than they do for Entertainment Tonight. Time is not a celebrity gossip site. It is not focused on fashion.

Or, maybe it is? The Clooney story, in this case, was part of Time’s Motto section, a platform aimed specifically at millennial women. Here’s the explanation Time provided of that section, on the occasion of its launch in February 2016:

Over the last two years, TIME’s digital audience has expanded dramatically, and close to half our readers are millennials. They are drawn not only to TIME’s coverage of the world but increasingly to TIME’s content on how to live a richer, smarter, more meaningful life—how to negotiate a raise, how to manage your inbox, how to actually unplug on vacation. It was, we discovered, millennial women who were most passionate and most engaged with that content, and they were looking for more.

So we’ve created Motto, a new platform from the editors of TIME dedicated to empowering the next generation. It’s about offering the advice and support to blaze new trails and redefine success in the fundamental aspects of our lives: how we work, play, and live (and you’ll see that we’ve organized the site around these three sections).
Which is instructive. On the one hand, the “dragging” Time is taking is a reminder of the very particular ways that media outlets organize themselves—into verticals and sections and channels, with different editorial structures and production strategies—and of the ways that those organizations are often nearly meaningless to audiences. Time may publish to Motto, and that distinction may mean something to Time; it will mean very little, however, to most of Time’s readers, particularly when they are members of that fly-by “digital audience” Time seems to be seeking. 

But the tweet and the backlash are instructive for another reason, as well: They highlight the potential pitfalls of the new kind of media convergence taking place at the moment—not just the merging of media platforms and technologies, but also the merging of topics and sensibilities within the seething stew of “information.” It used to be, in the world whose sense of itself was generally organized by newspapers and TV news segments, that “news” and “entertainment,” and indeed “politics” and “culture,” were easily demarcated. One topic here, the other there, each covered in its own way. Under that regime, Amal Clooney’s appearance at the U.N. might be covered as a politics story and/or as an entertainment one, with the former focusing on the content of her speech and the latter focusing on her Chic Baby Bump. The latter might be a little demeaning, but, hey—it’s entertainment. Style over substance is the fun of it.

But we are living, at this point, in a new regime. A reality TV star is president. Teen Vogue is covering politics and policy. The Atlantic is covering the Kardashians. It is difficult—indeed, it is pretty much impossible—to find the line that divides politics from culture. Again: Convergence. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily—life is complicated and messy, and to divide its happenings into neat, newspapery columns was never fully true to that disarray—but it means that news organizations will need to be much more intentional about the way they present their stories to the public. It’s one thing for Entertainment Tonight to effuse about Amal Clooney’s baby bump. When Time does it, though—Time, which has spent years branding itself as a fairly straight-ahead summarizer of human events—the effusion will read as an insult, to Amal Clooney and to readers. Because convergence. And because Amal Clooney may be fashionable and beautiful and the soon-to-be mother of her celebrity husband’s children; when she gives a speech to the U.N., though, the only thing that matters is that she is delivering that speech as a lawyer.

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