Friday, July 13, 2012

Spectacles of justice: human rights and film

(My thanks to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this introductory post, along with the Look On! post below) 

THE HAGUE – The media, the moving image and international criminal justice are increasingly entangled. 
Moving images are frequently employed prior to atrocities as forms of propaganda, dehumanising ‘the Other’ in preparation for future atrocity.  
During conflict, war reporters transmit images of war crimes onto our screens. 
These images, along with those captured by civilians, are later used as evidence leading to investigations and indictments. At the trial stage, courtrooms full of television screens play footage of atrocities, and proceedings are streamed to virtual audiences. Eventually, the conflict and the trials themselves become transformed into documentary or feature films with varying degrees of accuracy. From a theoretical perspective, war crimes trials and motion pictures are linked through their production of spectacles.
Since the 1930s, it has been argued that the camera and film have altered our ‘ways of seeing’. It has even been argued, most prominently by the French theorist Guy Debord, that cinema has created “spectacle societies” accustomed to consuming and learning through visual imagery and entertainment. In legal and other academic disciplines, war crimes trials have long been considered by critics to be ‘show trials’ (as argued by Hannah Arendt in the context of the Eichmann trial). International prosecutions of those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide have functions beyond findings of guilt and innocence, encompassing the goals of making a historical record, ‘truth telling’, memorializing and other outreach objectives. 
It is due to these purposes that the ‘affinities between the didactic aims of law and documentary film’ have been recognised in scholarship on war crimes trials. 
In his book The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust (2001), Amherst Professor Lawrence Douglas has illustrated the role ‘film plays in transforming historic trials into historic events’. Douglas argues that documentaries, such as those on the Eichmann trial in Israel, serve to legitimise the trials through reinforcing of collective memory of mass atrocity. However, in other instances, motion pictures challenge or criticise legal proceedings, or even, the lack thereof. Cinema can draw attention to narratives and discourses which have been silenced or marginalised by official legal proceedings. This is especially true with regard to gendered harms in conflict which have been subject to a ‘monumental oversight’ in legal proceedings but which appear in a number of films. Movies therefore not only reinforce the dominant discourse of the law, but also provide forms of ‘outsider jurisprudence’, allowing audiences to judge fictional or real legal cases and systems. 
My research aims to explore the interaction and interrelation of international criminal justice and cinema in greater detail.
I first became interested in this relationship during my time as a staff attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide, a nongovernmental organisation with offices in Madrid and Bogotá. I was tasked with co-authoring a manual on gender crimes in Argentina, later launched in Buenos Aires by Luis Moreno Ocampo, at that time the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. By way of background and in order to familiarize myself with the context in which crimes against humanity were perpetrated in Argentina, I turned to mediums of popular culture, including cinema. La Historia Oficial (1985) (well known to English-speaking audiences as The Official Story), La Noche de los Lápices (1986) (English title Night of the Pencils), Un muro de silencio (1993) (A Wall of Silence or Black Flowers) and Garage Olimpo (1999) (Olympic Garage), are just some of the movies which have been made since the end of the ‘Dirty War’ that deal with gender crimes perpetrated by the military junta. 
I found that cinema is a great didactic tool for students of human rights law, as recognized by initiatives such as Movies that Matter and Cinema for Peace
As part of my data collation for my research, I recently began a blog called Human Rights Film Diary, to keep a record of the movies that I’ve watched and will watch over the course of the next three years. I am using the next three months as an intern of the ICC to review films in my own personal collection and the ICC film library. 
The ICC has an extensive film collection, with over 120 movies and documentaries related to human rights abuses and international criminal justice. Some of these documentaries are made by international tribunals as part of their outreach function and strategy. Others are Hollywood cinema classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Inherit the Wind (1960), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Many of the films would be considered as ‘world cinema’, set in different countries, made in different locations and with a huge in the budget.
The ICC also has an informal cinema club, the ‘Ark film club’, where staff members and interns can gather to watch movies. The initiative first started in 2005 in the Office of the Prosecutor and has since expanded to include the whole Court.
It is my aim to watch and review the 120 movies over the next 90 days as part of my research here at the ICC. All my reviews will appear at my blog, which is now listed in the "connections" column at right. Beginning with the Look On! post below, many of my reviews will be cross-posted here at IntLawGrrls. I am delighted to present them to you, and welcome any comments you may have on the reviews or more generally on movies and human rights law. 
In light of the historic conviction earlier this month of Jorge Rafael Videla for the systematic kidnapping of children in Argentina, I invite you to read the post below, which I wrote just before delivery of this verdict. It reviews La Historia Oficial/The Official History, the movie which first made me aware of the crime of which Videla was found guilty.

1 comment:

Lucia Noyce said...

Hi Keina. Your research sounds fantastic. I used to work at Amnesty International USA for a program called Artists for Amnesty. We created public awareness, education and advocacy campaigns with films such as Hotel Rwanda, the Constant Gardner, and Rendition. Unfortunately the resources we created are no longer on AIUSA's website, but here is a story featuring our work with Blood Diamond:
Good luck with the dissertation. Lucia Noyce