To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Film screening brings human rights discussion to Brandeis

On Oct. 4, the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life hosted a film screening of “Never Again: Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity.” The 40 minute documentary paints a stark picture of an international criminal legal system unable to fully deliver justice to war-torn areas around the world.

The film opens by providing context on those war-torn areas, including situations in Chad, Iraq, Colombia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and North Korea, with particular emphasis on the latter four.

It proceeds to give background information on the history of international justice and its foundations in the post-World War II military tribunals, most notably the Nuremberg trials of Nazi officials and soldiers. For the first time, the charter that provided foundation for the Nuremberg tribunals defined crimes against humanity in its attempt to put a halt to horrendous atrocities and to end impunity for those who commit them.

As the film continues, it discusses how crimes against humanity have not been as solidified and punishable as have other agreed-upon conventions, such as the 1948 Genocide Conventions. It reported tens of millions of deaths and the perpetration of tens of millions of other crimes against humanity, such as sexual crimes, forced relocation, torture, disappearances and others. As it stands, however, only some of those crimes have been codified by international convention and in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they continue to occur with impunity.

The film features comments from the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who explained how the bringing about of justice and the associated stemming of impunity can serve to cool trends in the commission of crimes against humanity.

The documentary’s primary aim is to express its support for the enactment of a new international convention on crimes against humanity, akin to the one created in 1948 to address crimes of genocide. Critics, the film explains, pass such an initiative off as redundant, but ignore that crimes against humanity still occur.

In this vein, it delves into its brief case studies in discussing North Korea’s state violence against its civilians, ISIS’ (a non-state actor) continuing unpunished crimes in Iraq and continued disappearances occurring in Colombia’s Buenaventura city.

In its final segment, the film discusses a group of experts in international law, crimes against humanity and diplomats who organized into a steering committee at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis to finally move forward in drafting an international convention for crimes against humanity. The committee’s goal was to put together a workable draft of such a convention with tenets of international cooperation that could be given to the United Nations (UN). Indeed, as the documentary notes, the draft ended up in the hands of the UN’s International Law Commission in 2013, and in 2014, it was added to a UN program of work.

The film ends on a high note with hope for the future, with one of the experts expressing optimism for the submission of the conventions to the UN General Assembly around 2020, although it did conclude with caution that, while it is possible, getting it passed will take time.

The event continued with a discussion that explored initial reactions to the film. The conversation moved into viewers’ thoughts on the U.S.’s role in crimes against humanity, alternative means of achieving justice and possible early warning systems to further reinforce efforts to truly make “never again” a reality.

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