Burden of Peace: HRW Film Festival Review

Burden of Peace: HRW Film Festival Review

Connie Fisher attended the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on behalf of Development in Action to see ‘Burden of Peace’, the story of Claudia Paz y Paz, the Attorney General who shook the foundations of the Guatemalan justice system. By the closing credits, the viewer has been challenged to ask for themselves what justice and law really mean, and who has the right to define them

©US Embassy Guatemala/Creative Commons License
©US Embassy Guatemala/Creative Commons License

An impassioned supporter of human rights, Claudia Paz y Paz was selected as Guatemala’s Attorney General in 2010. In a country suffering rocketing crime rates and approaching global highs for homicides, Paz y Paz launched on the mammoth task of revolutionising the country’s justice system and tackling impunity. In her first six months in office alone, more drug traffickers were arrested than in the entirety of the previous decade. She led a campaign which caught five of the country’s ten most wanted criminals, and the overall crime rate dropped by nine per cent during her tenure. In 2012 Forbes named her one of the five most powerful women changing the world.

Paz y Paz was trying to make a clear break from the country’s long history of unpunished crime, which was partly due to the fact that the perpetrators of the injustices suffered during the country’s thirty-six year civil war were never brought to justice. Paz y Paz embarked upon a mission to put these men, many of whom were still serving in government positions, on trial for their crimes. During the country’s extended civil war up to 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, and between 1982 and 1983, under the rule of President and Dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (who was backed by the USA), the campaign of massacre, rape and torture against the indigenous peoples reached its peak. Over 600 villages were destroyed and the Ixil people were wiped out entirely. When she put Montt on trial for human rights abuses in 2012, Paz y Paz initiated the first ever genocide trial of a former head of state in his home country.

Burden of Peace follows Paz y Paz from her first day in office. The film shows her not as the domineering woman that might be expected but as a calm and collected official, quietly determined to pursue her duty at all costs. On several occasions, the film shows her climb into her car after a long day, shut the door on the world and turn to the cameramen to admit what a hard day she has had; to divulge ‘I am so worried’. The viewers are given a privileged insight into her world, allowed to see this incredibly driven and powerful woman as an ordinary human with fears and concerns; as human in the way that Ríos Montt and his associates perhaps are not.

Shot by a film director from the Netherlands, and screened in a cinema in the UK, the film is watched through eyes which do not question that Ríos Montt and the other ex-military officials deserve punishment. However, as Ríos Montt, supported by many Guatemalans, tries to forestall the trial, to justify his acts as necessary, and to deny the charges against him, the viewers see a whole country where the definition of just and unjust determined by authorities is far from black and white.

©coolloud/Creative Commons License
©coolloud/Creative Commons License

The most moving sequence in the film is the trail of witnesses brought before the Ríos Montt court. Voice after voice cries out their suffering: ‘I would like the pain to go away. Why did they do this to us?’ Despite attempting to declare the trial illegal, showing no respect for the judging body, and even physically walking out on the court, Ríos Montt was sentenced to eighty years in prison. He served only one night, before the constitutional court overturned the sentence.

Paz y Paz is portrayed as having done everything in her power to revolutionise the Guatemalan justice system, in a country where the even the ruling bodies and the institutions which decide the law are not yet ready for justice. She met with resistance at every turn, divided completely in viewpoint from even those with whom she needed to work closest.

In the aftermath of this trial, Paz y Paz was declared to have abused her power and she was removed from the position of Attorney General. After an emotional farewell to her department she fled with her family to Spain for security reasons, where she remains today. This film recognises how ground-breaking her work in Guatemala was, acknowledges the massive improvements in impunity and crime to which her time in office lead, and declares that, although Paz y Paz has left Guatemala, the mission to stop impunity and to bring war criminals to justice must not end.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 18th to 27th March, 2015

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 18th to 27th March, 2015

After last years rave reviews, we are once again encouraging you to take the opportunity to attend Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2015 in London. This year, it brings a host of new and powerful films capturing both individual and community wide injustices.

In keeping with this focus of Development in Action, one of the main themes running through this year’s collection is the importance of young people in advocating and contributing to positive change:

Nearly every film in this year’s festival celebrates the power of individuals and communities to challenge and interrupt the status quo, whether societal taboos or family truths. Particularly heartening is how young people from all around the world are demanding change and transparency whether its through the democratic process or, on a more personal level, by knowing and challenging difficult family truths and taboos.”   John Biaggi, Festival Director

See the timetable and apply for tickets here

Last year, our series of reviews was well received and we urge any of you lucky enough to attend a screening and the subsequent Q&A to write in with a review or your thoughts. Email Joe Corry-Roake at j.corry-roake@developmentinaction.org


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014 | Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014 | Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus

Every March, the Human Rights watch Film Festival showcases a selection of independent films and documentaries that deal with today’s pressing social issues. We sent DiA Communications and Marketing Manager, Tal Gurevich, to the 2014 London premiere.

 

DA_3_795_600_85
Image courtesy of Dogwoof

In the year that marks the 20th anniversary in power of ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ – Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus – it is only fitting that Madeleine Sackler’s moving documentary about the resolute struggle of an underground theatre movement against his oppressive regime opened London’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

The documentary centres on Belarus’s latest presidential elections in 2010 and their violent aftermath. Hope for change was shattered when Lukashenko was re-elected in a rigged election with close to 80% of the vote. A vicious crackdown followed and thousands of protestors were beaten, arrested, imprisoned and disappeared. Opposition candidates were subjected to torture and sentenced to years in prison, often in solitary confinement. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Unveiling female realities in south India: An interview with Tamil poet, Rajathi Salma

Salma
Photo courtesy of OR Books.

Like every other woman in her village in Tamil Nadu, at the first sign of puberty Rajathi Salma was confined within the four walls of her family home. Deprived of any further education or social contacts, she began to write. After 25 years of isolation, a twist of political fate saw her elected to lead her local panchayat (village council). This was followed by four years as the head of the state’s Social Welfare Board. Today she is considered one of the most outspoken women poets in India.

Following on from our review of Kim Longinotto’s documentary, Salma, at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Blog Editor Louisa Jones talked to this inspirational woman about the challenges of talking openly in a conservative society.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Jai Bhim Comrade

In the third of our series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Richard Moran reviews Jai Bhim Comrade, a film which explores the caste system in India.

 

In a year where inequality has been pushed to the front of the global agenda, Anand Patwardhans’ documentary Jai Bhim Comrade shines a light on the Indian caste system. This social structure has, for hundreds of years, sustained conditions of social exclusion, bonded labour and limited opportunity for millions of Indians born as Dalits (or “Untouchables”) –  the lowest of India’s scheduled castes. Following the lives of this diverse group of people over 14 years, the film explores the idea of identification and identity, how these have been used to maintain the caste system and how they are being used to challenge it today. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Salma

In the second of the DiA Blog’s series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013, Louisa Jones reflects on Salma, the story of a Muslim Tamil woman in India who is marginalised for striving for success.

 

Salma becomes a role model for women in her community. Photo: mckaysavage/ Creative Commons
Salma becomes a role model for women in her community. Photo: mckaysavage/ Creative Commons

From a young age, we are taught to make sense of our world through facts, figures and trends. British schoolchildren will forever remember the haunting mantra, “point, quote, explanation”, encouraging fastidious analysis of fact over feeling. It was therefore with an initial sense of unease that I watched the UK premiere of Kim Longinotto’s Salma at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London last Thursday. This unassuming documentary tells the bittersweet story of thirty-something-year-old Salma, a fearless Tamil Muslim who has escaped her community’s harsh customs of female seclusion, yet despite her success as a poet and politician, continues to face daily prejudice from her closest relatives.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival: The Patience Stone

In the first of a series of reviews from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013, blog editor Emily Wight finds a moving account of one woman’s story in Afghanistan.

About a month ago Shinkai Karokhil, a member of parliament in Afghanistan, claimed: “The woman of Afghanistan today is absolutely different from the woman of Afghanistan from yesterday.”

Women in Afghanistan have faced turbulent times for decades. Photo: isafmedia
Women in Afghanistan have faced turbulent times for decades. Photo: isafmedia

It is this conviction, that women in Afghanistan are on the cusp of a new dawn, which influences Atiq Rahimi’s film The Patience Stone, based on his novel of the same name. Our protagonist is an unnamed woman – the significance of which is ambivalent: it indicates a lack of identity but also, conversely, a blank canvas on which she can start her life afresh – in an unnamed country where the sound of gunfire and the sight of tanks on residential streets are routine.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.