Tag Archives: Human Rights Watch

Making peace in times of war – the heroes of Vietnam

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Crisis? What crisis? Yeah, right.

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlantas meets his audience
Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Yannis Youlountas talks about ‎Greece‬, the meaning of ‪‎crisis‬, ‪‎fascism‬ and people’s coping responses after a recent screening of “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” (Rough translation: ‘Let’s no longer live like slaves’).

The rights-free documentary is due for internet release on September 25th via http://nevivonspluscommedesesclaves.net/

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And the winner isn’t…

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Development reporting suffers exactly the same sort of problems as does  journalism that purports to cover conventional politics and economics – probably worse even. Too much focus on official sources and too little questioning of mainstream Western ideas about what countries and their citizens must do to “develop”. All the arguments of Fraudcast News with bells on when it comes to journalists failing to examine the realities of power, where true power lies and what ordinary people can do about it.

I thought it worthwhile spending a few days working up a grant proposal for the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme run by the European Journalism Centre.

If it worked, I would get paid to do the journalism I attempt to champion in Fraudcast News while also leaving behind some of the same techniques for others who might do the same.

The idea, simple enough, was to produce a series of smartphone video reports from Mali’s  Inner Niger Delta asking the question: “Whose development for Mali?” Rather than just present another foreign perspective on resource grabbing, the idea had been to conduct a mobile phone video report training for Malians, leaving behind the means for local people to then tell their stories as they wished rather than relying on outsiders.

Had the proposal succeeded, I would have been part of a visionOntv training team working together with local and international NGOs working on the ground in Mali. It didn’t, the judges deciding instead to award grants to a variety of ideas shared across a number of media outlets from across Western Europe.

I wasn’t blown away by the winners. None strikes me as addressing the underlying assumptions of “aid” and “development” set against the effects of global trade, banking, financial markets and the rest as they benefit rich countries and global corporations. Shame – it would have been good to have had an opportunity put the ideas into effect with some sort of budget in hand.

Sour grapes? I hope not.

This was the failed proposal:

Development dilemmas in Mali – whose tale to tell?

Malians will go to the polls this July with two military coups and a French-led assault on Tuareg separatist and Islamist rebel groups fresh in their memories. Yet what difference will elections make, however “free and fair”, to the lives of ordinary citizens?

Even before Mali’s recent upheavals in government, subsistence farmers and fishers in the Inner Niger Delta faced ever-lower water levels during annual monsoon floods. While climate change might play some part, far more pressing threats come from hydroelectric dams and river diversions for massive, often foreign-owned irrigation projects.

Locals complain of national politicians who ignore their plight. Bamako leaders, their ears bent towards external creditors, donors and their advisers, promote impossible development models. While chosen policies might boost abstract measures of economic health, they also ruin local livelihoods and the natural environment.

No news there – Mali faces the same economic binds as poor and not-so-poor countries the world over. All struggle with questions of how to meet their populations’ basic needs without paupering citizens and their environments. Only the strongest dare question Western development orthodoxies. Most of them, saddled with debt, fall prey to strings-attached foreign investments, debt-led growth models or demands for privatisations and deregulation. The evident damages of such policies is ignored in the rush to “develop”.

Mali’s various versions of the problem play out in domestic cotton production, gold mining and livestock rearing. None illustrates it better than water, lifeline to communities dotted along riverbanks and seasonal islands across the Inner Niger Delta. Their river’s annual rise and fall follows a cycle quite unlike the ever-upwards demands of compound growth charts. Projects promising fat returns for distant investors, and payback for historic creditors, spell devastation and displacement for locals. Abstract policy becomes practical reality at the sluice gates, where operators decide who gets what water when, the weaker and voiceless invariably losing out.

The global crisis of capitalism, now an open debate in rich countries, has been clear to the world’s poor during decades of Western development policies. Their voice has gradually grown stronger and more authoritative, thwarting biased agendas in world trade and climate talks and driving business at the UN’s General Assembly. As yet they lack the power to counterweight the agenda of rich-country governments, corporations and financial markets. With conventional institutions deadlocked and bereft of fresh ideas, civil societies around the world are among the few offering hopes of alternatives.

This assignment will amplify those grassroots voices and foster civil society dialogue in Mali and beyond. It will bypass gatekeepers in governments and conventional media by publishing mainly direct to the internet. Three highly experienced reporter-trainers will use smartphones to make multiple video reports in the Delta and teach local stakeholder groups to do the same. Their reporting techniques, perfected by London-based NGO visionOntv, cut out the costly time-dumps of video capture, editing and encoding. Reporters’ bi-lingual output, combined with that of workshop participants, will offer multiple perspectives on Mali’s water dilemmas, opening a wider window on development questions themselves.

 

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What role for government in changing our behaviour?

Very little, I say, as I explained in a video recorded for a GlobalNet21 debate held in London on Tuesday, July 31.

Not least of the problems is the gathering, multiple crises in government legitimacy, at every level from the local to global.

There was an interesting array of opinions expressed on the night, judging from the visionOntv smartphone interviews posted afterwards. You can view them all via this link.

My contribution was purely by pre-recorded video interview, having left England for my usual home in SW France the day before.

This GlobalNet21 blog post gives more details on the evening’s discussions.

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No holiday in Cambodia but rather catharsis

I watched the extraordinarily moving documentary Brother Number One last night, one I’d meant to catch when covering the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

It tells the story of a New Zealander who was captured, tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. The film’s great success is to use one person’s tale, a foreigner’s what’s more, to guide the audience into the bigger picture of how the Cambodian regime’s survivors and their families are trying to heal their traumas.

The Khmer Rouge and its followers killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 according to the Human Rights Watch publicity accompanying the film. In 1978, Kerry Hamill and two friends disappeared without trace while sailing from Australia to Southeast Asia. Via Kerry’s youngest brother Rob we learn how a Khmer Rouge cell attacked their boat, killing the Canadian Stuart Glass and arresting Kerry and the Englishman John Dewhirst.

Film-maker Annie Goldson skilfully skirts the potential trap of giving too Western a slant on what is Cambodia’s story. The risk she took paid off thanks to Rob’s resplendent qualities as a human being, ones that transcend all country and ethnicity.

In Rob’s agonised journey to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal he shows great sensitivity towards the Cambodians who survived the dictators’ reign or lost countless family members to their crazed ideology. In court testimony he addresses directly the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp interogator – Kang Kek Iew or Duch – who oversaw his brother’s killing. We hear many Cambodian victims’ stories along the way.

Rob is brutally honest in showing his own grief as he retraces his brother’s last days, collecting snippets of memory from those who’d seen him in prison. He deciphers on camera the impish coded messages Kerry left to his family in the final “confession” preceding his certain execution.

I have wondered before about the true worth of international trials processes for murderous tyrants and the balance to be struck between revenge and justice. This film left me with a deeper understanding of how trials are vital not just as attempts to right wrongs but also as vehicles for victims to explore, express and honour their grief for slain and tortured family members.

The many victims of the 2003 Iraq invasion deserve just such a process though I fear they’ll never get one. Nor will the families of Cambodian civilians killed by the US war-making that helped the Khmer Rouge rise to power.

War crimes tribunals are as yet limited only to the captured tyrants of geopolitical minnows such as Cambodia. Potential candidates from the world’s more powerful states, such as US ex-president George W. Bush and British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have only their own consciences to wrestle with for now. More’s the pity.

Thankfully this film was not about such men but rather a rare moment for the victims. It is a fantastic piece of work I highly recommend you find time to watch. Bring tissues.

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What’s the point of documentary film festivals?

I’ve spent some of the past few days working with Glenn McMahon on covering the  Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London for visionOntv.

We ended our interview series by asking HRW’s Andrea Holley on her organisation’s thinking about the hows and whys of these video fests. Are they preaching to the choir, reaching out to new audiences or bringing real stories to the often-dry and abstract facts and figures?

As well as answering that question, Andrea explains how HRW selects the documentaries it screens and how film makers can pitch their finished stories.

The no-edit interview was shot using a Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone with an audio splitter and a basic microphone following visionOntv’s mobile reporting template. The reason I like the approach so much, and recommend it in the conclusions of my book Fraudcast News as a basic tool for citizen journalists, is because it cuts out so many of the hurdles to getting video news out there quickly.

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Industrial agriculture meets peasant farmers – who wins?

I’m due to interview Bettina Borgfeld for visionOntv later today to talk about Raising Resistance, a film she co-directed with David Bernet about
the fight of the small farmers of South America against industrial agriculture.

The subject is one close to my heart, I covered a version of it over many years while working for Reuters as EU environment correspondent in Brussels and then again as an independent journalist following the trials of French farmers fighting against genetically modified maize produced by Monsanto and others.

Today’s film depicts this conflict as it plays out in Paraguay, describing the global impact of most of today’s genetic engineering on people and on nature. The film makers describe their documentary as a parable on the suppression of life, the diversity of plants and cultures, and how resistance arises both in people and in nature.

I will be working again with fellow independent journalist Glenn McMahon as part of visionOntv’s coverage of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London. He will be using an iPhone and iRig mic to shoot a no-edit video interview based on the visionOntv mobile phone interview template.

Before that happens, I need to watch the preview. Below you can see a trailer for the film, which is due out in May this year.

If you’re in London, you can catch it at the Curzon Soho at 6.40 pm or tomorrow at the Ritzy Cinema at 8.40 pm.

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