Archive for UN Declaration of Human Rights

The Reckoning-Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Posted in film with tags , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Last night I saw the New York premier of The Reckoning. The crowd was quite astonishing. There were two prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, Christine Chung and Fatou Bensouda, both are also featured in the film. The top brass from Human Rights Watch were also present along with one of the prosecutors from the Nuremberg trials. When Pamela Yates, the director, introduced him he got a standing ovation.

The film was stark and penetrating. It discussed the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity of our time, but did so in a rational, rights based justice context. The main character in The Reckoning is the International Criminal Court itself. Founded in 2002, its mandate is to try the perpetrators of crimes that have been committed since the court’s inception. A stipulation exists that the court may only make cases against member states, unless the UN Security Council has referred them to mount an investigation.

In other words, the ICC is based on a treaty, when a country signs on to the treaty, it then formalizes its stand against impunity, and it makes its citizens eligible for possible investigation. However, the process requires the court to be a last resort only applied if a country proves unable or unwilling to try its own perpetrators. Over 100 countries have signed on to the treaty, but the United States, China, Russia, and Iraq have all refused to do so.

Since its founding the ICC has made cases against the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, war lords in the Congo and the people with the most responsibility for the Darfur genocide, including Al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. They have also built a preliminary case in Columbia against paramilitary leaders and the corrupt members of government who support them.

Like any other court the way the ICC operates is by gathering evidence and using to to try criminals. By insisting upon rule of law in the international arena they are able to combat atrocities in areas of the world where there has been no justice and powerful leaders remain punished for their crimes.

This is an extremely important aim. The film shows the victims of abduction, child soldiers who were forced to be killers or sex slaves, women who were raped and babies that were beaten to the point of brain damage. Distressingly the restriction that the court faces is its lack of an enforcement arm. As the ICC has not been granted a military or police force it must rely on the national forces of each member state or wait for the UN Security Council to agree to send UN forces.

Right now an ICC arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir stands, but his forces will not turn him in, and as Sudan is a sovereign state no other country’s military can enter and arrest him, without it being seen as an act of war. The Security Council could go in and enforce the warrant, but they have yet to do so. As China and the US hold sway on the council its unlikely that this result will occur.

A beacon of hope in the world, the ICC stands as a glass giant in the Hague, but the question the film poses is will its halls be filled with prosecuted criminals, or will it be rendered ineffective as little more than a symbol.

Battlestar Gallactica at the UN with Woopi Goldberg

Posted in People of Color, politics, tv with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

A Battlestar Galactica discussion, held at the United Nations Economic and Social Council Chamber, moderated by Whoopi Goldberg? It sounds like the premise of a fevered dream or a bad trip. It may well be the first time that the UN’s diligent sign makers had to dedicate their skills to crafting signs with the names of extra-terrestrial places like “Virgon” and “Sagittarion” for the assembled delegates.  It was definitely the first time The Brooklyn Socialite made a dent in the United Nation’s amazing seafood buffet, looking out over the Hudson while chugging industrial-sized whiskeys and thinking about the strangeness of being in a building which, as the wise Whoopi G put it, “is as much an idea as a place”. Which we agree with – especially as it’s an idea that incorporates waiters in tuxes and brings together diplomats, high school students and geeks in a building decorated with tapestry portraits of Secretary Generals past and present.

A team-effort between the UN Department of Public Information and the Sci Fi Channel, the evening was less trippy and more substantial than it sounds. Tying in themes from the science fiction series with the UN’s work, actors Mary McDonnell (who plays President Laura Roslin), Edward James Olmos (the battle-scarred Admiral Adama), producers Ronald Moore and David Eick were joined on the podium by a variety of UN representatives, touching on subjects such as human rights, children in armed conflict, terrorism and religious reconciliation.

Helping the non-Sci Fi geeks in the audience, each segment was introduced by a clip from the series. It quickly became clear that Whoopi hadn’t only done her homework by watching the show, but that she’s a genuine Sci Fi fan (she admitted to using the Battlestar Galactica curse word “fraq” on The View – she works with Elizabeth Hasselbeck, so innovative, non-censored swear words are clearly called for). Deputy director of the NY office of the high commissioner for human rights Craig Mokhiber’s gave an impassioned and witty description of the continued importance of the UN declaration of Human Rights, saying that it is not a quaint idea only held by the liberal softies at the UN, but  what stands between humanity and the slippery slope of moral relativism , which de-humanizes the “other”. Ron Moore seemed to agree, though throughout the evening he hesitated to take a clear stance on any of the moral issues in the show.  Instead, he’d emphasize the complexity of the characters – answers which may have disappointed the avid fan who, delighted to have avoided paying the entrance fee for a Comic Con, wanted the definitive definition of the difference between Cylons and Humans in the show.

No fan’s passion for Battlestar Galactica could match that of Olmos, who seemed to be slipping in to his Adama character throughout the evening. His voice is pretty mesmerizing (he seemed to think so too), so he might be forgiven for some of his more extraordinary statements – at one stage he seemed to be supporting Cheney’s policies on national security, which we all know is more ridiculous than thinking you’re a commander at a floating space colony.  Though to be fair to Adama (Olmos?) he did have some interesting ideas about how fans blogging about the show had caused it to take on a life of its own, to become a cultural phenomenon intelligently addressing current affairs.

The only downer of the evening, actually, was the disinterested girl who, during Radhika Coomaraswamy’s touching presentation about children and armed conflict, sat next to The Brooklyn Socialite playing Brick Breaker on her BlackBerry. Not cool.

By Ella Fitzsimmons