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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 is the Executive Director and Executive Producer of Skylight, a human rights media organization dedicated to advancing social justice through storytelling by creating documentary films and media tools that can applied in long-term strategies for positive social change.

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