Tonight, PBS will premiere The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court. This documentary film was produced by Skylight Pictures, an outstanding team of filmmakers who collaborated with AIUSA on our 2007 documentary Justice Without Borders. Click here for local listings, as times vary.
The broadcast date is significant, in that it marks the week eleven years ago that more than 160 governments came together to negotiate the treaty creating the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Reckoning follows the ICC’s Prosecutor as he and his team confront the most challenging of armed conflict situations, compiling evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in order to build cases against leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, militia leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the President of Sudan.
I’ve had the privilege of viewing and commenting on various stages of the film as it was being developed. It’s a great piece of work. With each viewing, something new strikes me. I wanted to share with you some of the themes in the film that resonate with me today.
First, The Reckoning builds to what feels like a “Law and Order: War Crimes”- style finale, with the Prosecutor and his team closing in on a target — a sitting head of state — considered by many to be out of reach. The crime thriller analogy is actually very appropriate, because some of the footage we see in the film is, when you think about it, crime scene footage. It’s easy to forget that. Mass rapes, murders, mutilations and starvation are often treated as the tragic and inevitable consequences of war, instead of as crimes which are planned — which actually require planning to implement on a mass scale — and for which specific individuals are responsible and can be held accountable.
Secondly, The Reckoning is very much a “David and Goliath” story. Critics of the ICC’s work try to portray the Court as a big, Western-dominated bully out to get Africa. I think you will come away from The Reckoning struck by how small the Prosecutor’s team really is in comparison with the massive crimes they are confronting. I think you will also be struck by how relentless they are in pursuing justice for the victims, who they stress are the millions of Africans subjected to human rights abuses, instead of the few who try to obscure their culpability by hiding behind the mantle of nationalism.
Finally, The Reckoning tells the story of what is essentially an unfinished revolution. The film explores both the breakthroughs in the advancement of human rights and the rule of law that made the ICC possible, as well as the lack of political to make enforcement a reality. Former Nuremberg prosecutor (and one of my heroes) Benjamin Ferencz recalls how the entire body of human rights law that we take for granted today came to be in his lifetime, demonstrating how much is possible in what is essentially a blink of the eye in historical time. Yet most of the world’s governments — some of whose representatives we see celebrating the ICC treaty at the start of the film — continue to fail to give any meaningful support the ICC in apprehending indicted war criminals. We may still have a long way to go, but it’s possible to get there.
I encourage you to tune into PBS tonight, and if you’re as moved as I was, please take action. Write to Secretary of State Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Rice and urge them to support the ICC’s work on Darfur.