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Update on our ICC film project

We’ve been in production since September on The Court of Last Resort (working title), our film about the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The ICC is the first permanent international judicial body capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so (for a good overview of the ICC go to the site of the Coalition for the ICC). The ICC currently has one person in custody, the Congolese militant Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who is accused of recruiting child soldiers to his militia organization. Anyone who is wondering how grave a crime it is to turn children into soldiers should read “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ismael Beah, a harrowing tale by a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, or pick up a copy of “Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War” by Jimmie Briggs, an excellent account of the experiences of child soldiers around the world interviewed by the intrepid author.

So far we’ve filmed many interviews and activities at ICC headquarters in The Hague, and at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP – the governing body of the ICC) in November, setting the stage for the global purview of the ICC and the challenges it faces in its early years.

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We’ve had the good fortune to have a fantastic crew from Holland that we’ve dubbed “The Dutch Masters” – Melle van Essen (camera), Sigrid Tijssen (lights) and Leo Franssen (sound and tomato salads). And last but not least our wonderful production assistant Mira Zeehandelaar.

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We’ve also been filming in northern Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, has been waging war against the Ugandan government for 20 years, but mostly has committed terrible atrocities on the civilian population in the north. Arrest warrants were publicly announced and unsealed by the ICC on 14 October 2005 for Kony and four other leaders of the LRA. We spent the whole month of December 2006 in Uganda in the overcrowded Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps of the north, talking to LRA victims and investigating emblematic cases like the ones described in the ICC arrest warrants.

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Men and women who barely survived LRA massacres gave us wrenching testimonials, and a formerly abducted child led us to the place where he and his fellow students were taken from their dormitory by the LRA and described how they were forced to become child soldiers and perpetrators of atrocities.

When we arrived in Uganda in December peace talks had been underway for 6 months, between the LRA leaders and the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni. Most of the people we spoke to in the IDP camps are skeptical that the peace talks will actually result in a signed agreement, as no one seems to trust Kony or Museveni. Nevertheless they desperately hope the peace will somehow hold and that the 20-year war is drawing to a close. Some we spoke to believe that the ICC warrants have scared Kony into continuing with the peace talks, while others feel that the warrants are getting in the way of peace – perhaps it is a bit of both. What’s certain is that the LRA leaders are demanding that the ICC warrants are voided in order to sign a peace deal, and that intervening in an ongoing conflict presents thorny difficulties for the ICC. The tension of the seemingly opposed interests of peace and justice has divided the international humanitarian/human rights community and turned many well-intentioned people against the ICC, which seems so bizarre considering how much support the ICC received from these same organizations during its creation.

We’re shooting on high-definition video (HD), so the footage looks spectacular, stunning images rich with color and depth – it really captures the vibrancy of life in northern Uganda now as the peace talks between the LRA and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s government move into their seventh month. In morning light the red dirt roads are filled with streams of people venturing forth from squalid IDP camps to till rich outlying land long fallow and overgrown with elephant grass, restoring a modicum of normalcy to their lives.

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We captured the courage and hope of the Acholi people hanging on to this tenuous peace, truly celebrating Christmas for the first time in 20 years (at left is a group of evangelical Christians celebrating Christmas in an IDP camp), with candlelight vigils, singing traditional songs in beautiful harmony, dressing up as best they could for the occasion, traveling to the local trading centers to congregate at the markets. How much has the ICC contributed to this peace, and how will justice be done in an ongoing conflict situation? These are questions our film will examine…

Paco de Onís
paco@skylight.is

Paco is the Executive Director at Skylight.

  • Okello Bunia

    WHY HAVE THE ICC NOT CHARGED UGANDAN GOVERNMENT MILITARY PERSONEL LIKE THEY HAVE CHARGED THE SUDAN GOVERNMENT MILITARY PERSONEL IN THE DARFUR AND NORTHERN UGANDA CRISIS?

    The Acholi people of northern Uganda, want Peace rather than ICC Justice. It is my opinion that It has been hard to lay part blame of the crisis on the Museveni Ugandan government since many who have advocated that the Uganda government also be put to task by the ICC for the Crimes in Uganda, have been accused as LRA collaborator or sympathizers.

    This is mainly due to the brain washing by numerous TV/Movie documentaries such as the

  • Paco de Onis

    Bunia, I really appreciate your comments, and we have a long way to go before we finish this documentary.  We are looking at the role of the UPDF in the northern Uganda conflict, and believe me, we want to hear from all parties.  At the same time, I wouldn’t let your anger at the UPDF and Museveni diminish the role of the LRA – many victims we spoke to in northern Uganda simply wouldn’t agree with you that they are just a rag tag bunch – they have caused a tremendous amount of suffering.  Nevertheless, I also have to wonder why the UPDF has not captured the LRA leaders, and it’s a certainly a question we are asking.  What needs to be done to try to reach at the truth is that human rights organizations working with the Acholi people have to document all the atrocities that have happened in the 20-year war, on all sides.  this is a basic step in defending human rights – has this been done?  Does such a document exist?

  • Okello Bunia

    Dear Paco de Onis – Thank you for your response to my comments. I am sincerely curious as to when the final production of your documentary/Movie. on “The ICC – Last resort” will be out.

    However I am very disappointed with your response in particularly this statement;

    ““I wouldn’t let your anger at the UPDF and Museveni diminish the role of the LRA””

    First of all, as an Acholi, whose mother and two cousins were killed, 3 nephews kidnapped into child soldiery, unmentionable numbers of nieces and aunts defiled and others raped and brought into servitude all by the LRA. It would be presumptuous, arrogant and offensive of you to think that my anger is simply focused on “Museveni and the UPDF”.  You are assuming that I am not angry at the LRA. My anger if any would be towards anyone or group that would commit crimes against the Acholi or any other group of people.

    In your careless remarks, you have effectively insulted me and many other non Acholi

  • Paco

    Hello Okello Bunia – you are making many accusations against me that are completely unfounded.  We have been making documentaries about human rights and justice, independently and with integrity, for 25 years.  I think the best would be for you to look at our latest work and then judge for yourself – send me your address and I will send you a DVD of our last film “State of Fear”.  I am truly sorry to hear about your family losses, and I absolutely agree that all parties should be investigated in the Uganda crisis, and all other humanitarian crises that are occurring in the world.  See our last film and then let me know what you think.  Best, Paco