Tune in to PBS tonight to watch a great documentary about justice

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.

Ominous message from the Iranian Supreme Leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Today, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, spoke to the crowd at the weekly Friday Prayer and made what many have interpreted as a warning to those opposing the contested election results to cease their public protests or else face possible severe reprisals. The reprisals in question have been viewed as thinly veiled references to violence by government agents and Basij, or paramilitaries. The Supreme Leader said that opposition leaders would be held responsible for any bloodshed that resulted from the banned opposition rallies.

Although the protests in the streets in the first few days after the elections were met with attacks by baton-wielding riot police on motorcycles, and on Monday by deadly indiscriminate shooting into the crowd that left up to seven people fatally wounded and many more injured, the massive street protests since Monday have been largely peaceful, although random violence carried out by vigilantes and Basij have been reported.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

The Iranian authorities have conducted their severest repressive measures in the form of mass detentions of journalists, students, opposition politicians and human rights activists. Among those arrested are human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, a close associate of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and a member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders.

However it has been an open question to what extent the Iranian authorities would be willing to unleash the full force of its military and riot police against the vast numbers of protesters in the streets. The potential for such use of violence to result in large-scale bloodshed is alarming.

Amnesty International has expressed concern that an opposition rally that is said to be planned for tomorrow may be met with the use of excessive violence. We urge the authorities to respect the right of the Iranian people to engage in the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Written by Elise Auerbach, AIUSA Iranian country specialist

Guinea-Bissau: Look Kids…Big Ben, Parliament

Just in case you think the odds are slim that two government figures would be assassinated within a 48 hour period not just once, but twice, think again. And not only that, in the same country no less. In a ghoulish re-run of events in March, the interim Army Chief (replacing the one killed in a bomb) announced that two men linked to assassinated President Vieira were killed yesterday.

“The military confirmed the killings of former Defense Minister Helder Proenca and presidential candidate Baciro Dabo, saying the men were killed because they were plotting a coup against the current government.”

The murders occurred a day before campaigning was set to begin for Presidential elections scheduled later this month. Happily, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., interim President Raimundo Pereira (replacing the one killed in a hail of bullets) and defense minister Artur Da Silva are all out of the country at the moment. Perhaps they should consider extending their travels. Being doomed to endlessly traverse a traffic circle in London sounds infinitely more appealing than being caught in the vicious cycle of slayings back home.

Shout out to SNS, who alerted me to yesterday’s events.