Carla's List

Went along to a documentary at the Human Rights Film Festival last night, Carla’s List. It is a behind the scenes look at a year in the life of the prosecutor going after war criminals in the former Yugoslavia under the ambit of the International Criminal Tribunal, the first of its kind since Nuremberg with the power to try international leaders for war crimes. interesting in that it attempts to hold leaders responsible.

The great theme of the film is the way politics gets in the way of pursuit of justice. Lacking a police force or the ability to arrest their targets directly, the ICT can only apply political pressure on governments to find and arrest the targets. That political pressure is a complicated dance on a shifting dancefloor. They encounter a lack of cooperation, information sharing, and suggestions of political deals being cut in the background.

Further confusing things, one man’s war criminal is another’s national hero, and it is the support of that nation which will determine whether or not they are handed over. The large popular following many of these war criminals have makes it hard to get them when they are actively sheltered by populations.

The lessons from the film are that even with the benefit of tonnes of money, profile, and resources, getting anything done is really hard. In the Yugoslavian case, after a ten year process the primary targets responsible for the Sebrendica genocide are still at large.

However, justice is pursued vastly differently depending on the profile of the case, and frankly whether the victims are poor and colored or not. The situation with prosecuting war crimes everywhere else in much more chaotic settings with less funding and media profile (eg Rwanda or Timor-leste) is bleak. The likelihood of getting anything done whatsoever and the odds to get a conviction are much worse.

A couple of telling notes the doco struck. First, the Hague provides truth not justice. It is good at establishing what happened but powerless to do anything about it without goodwill from other countries. Second, in terms of cooperation and interference, “successful operations do not involve the CIA or MI6”.

All in all, fascinating but a huge downer. The panel discussion was interesting, too. The above is a sort of potted summary of impressions from the film and the panel.

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