January 25, 2009 / 4:04 AM / 10 years ago

Sundance films shine spotlight on global struggles

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - A charismatic U.N. diplomat and a determined international prosecutor were profiled at the Sundance Film Festival this week in films highlighting their struggles for justice and nation building.

People gather under a television monitor at the United Nations in New York to watch news reports about the bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, August 19, 2003. REUTERS/Peter Morgan

“Sergio” tells of U.N. official Sergio Vieira de Mello, who helped create an independent East Timor before he was killed in Iraq. “The Reckoning” follows International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team as they fight to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Both films, which are in the U.S. documentary competition of the independent film festival, also show their protagonists fighting international bureaucracy.

“The best advocates for human rights have to be congenital optimists,” said Pamela Yates, who directed “The Reckoning.”

“They have to be willing to take the blows and get up the next day to go to work — (Moreno-Ocampo) is definitely one of those people.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 and Moreno-Ocampo was elected chief prosecutor the following year. The court now has 108 member states.

“I thought, isn’t it amazing that we have an International Criminal Court that can try a sitting head of state for genocide,” Yates said in an interview. “That’s the extreme, but actually in the course of making the film the extreme came to pass.”

In July 2008 the court indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing his state apparatus of killing at least 35,000 people in the Darfur region and being responsible for the deaths of another 100,000 through hunger and disease.


However, the ICC cannot arrest people even after they are indicted, Yates said. “The ICC has no police force so they have to rely on the member states to effect the arrests.”

Sudan is not a member state, and Al-Bashir has said he will not cooperate with the court, which has also targeted rebel leaders in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Yates began filming three years ago and said she aimed to encourage a global debate about international justice while also boosting the court.

Greg Barker, director of “Sergio,” said that Vieira de Mello, a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, was an extraordinary man who recognized the U.N.’s flaws but still believed it represented the best hope for people in distress around the world.

“Something about Sergio and his nuanced approach to seeing the world and dealing with complicated problems in a very sophisticated way just appealed to me,” Barker said of the Brazilian, who died in Iraq in a truck bomb attack in 2003 aged 55. Had he lived, he might have been a future U.N. Secretary-General.

“On just pure story level it was too good to pass up, just the drama of the day (he died) plus this guy as the main character — he’s just so compelling, he’s like a natural movie star, he jumps off the screen,” Barker said.

Barker mixes an account of Vieira de Mello’s death with scenes from his career, which included working in countries such as Mozambique, Cyprus, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and the former Yugoslavia.

Editing by Alan Elsner and Bob Tourtellotte

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