POV: Reckoning

Tue, 07/14/2009 - 10:00pm
Pictured: Professor Philo Inspecting a skull in the Congo
Credit: Susan Mei Selas/ Magnum Photos
POV presents an epic, nail-biting account of the new International Criminal Court’s struggle to prosecute perpetrators — however powerful or concealed they may be — of crimes against humanity as the Court fights to establish its own credibility on the world stage. The Reckoning of the Battle for the International Court airs Tuesday, July 14 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/ cable 1011/ cable 11).
The film shows the lead-up to the court’s most recent and sensational action, the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on March 4, 2009, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Established by treaty in 2002 in response to the mass atrocities that stained the late 20th century, the International Criminal Court (known as the ICC) is the first permanent international criminal court created to seek justice for victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the Court, given a historic mandate by its founding 100-plus nations, was not given a police force or other enforcement arm. Moreover, the ICC faces major obstacles in pursuing its mission from nations that did not join the treaty.
The history of the ICC’s founding will be as valuable to those familiar with the story as to those new to it. But the film’s central drama concerns events that occurred after 2002. For three years, the filmmakers followed chief ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team of investigators and prosecutors across four continents as they issued arrest warrants for Lord’s Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, put an infamous Congolese warlord on trial, shook up the Colombian justice system and charged Sudan’s al-Bashir with crimes against humanity. At every turn, Moreno-Ocampo and crew faced danger, hostility and resistance. The larger drama in The Reckoning is the fate of the ICC itself.
The Reckoning shows that the idea for the Court goes back further, to the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leaders following World War II, which the U.S. was the leader in establishing. Ben Ferencz, who, as a 27-year-old lawyer, prosecuted 22 German officers at Nuremberg for murdering over a million people, uniquely expresses this connection in the film; all were convicted and 13 were sentenced to death. Ferencz never forgot the horror of the Nazi death camps and became a writer on world peace and a tireless campaigner for a permanent tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity. He recalls the significance of Nuremberg: that the Allies sought justice through rule of law, establishing that no one was above the law and that not only was the killing of civilians a war crime, but the murder of people on the basis of their race, creed or class — genocide — was a crime of the greatest magnitude. Ferencz was there at The Hague on June 16, 2003, when Moreno-Ocampo was sworn in as the first Prosecutor of the new International Criminal Court.