Last week, Monday 27th of June, the President and Interns of the World Youth Alliance (WYA) New York attended the film screening “Resolution” hosted by the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, with Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict.
The most insidious of crimes. One which stigmatizes the victim as much as it does the culprit. One which has deep and enduring physical, social and emotional repercussions, with permanent effects on both the victim and the victim’s family. This is the crime of sexual violence and more specifically the crime of sexual violence within conflict.
The proliferating body of data has exposed extremely worrying realities. For example in 1993 approximately 40000 cases of war related rape were documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1999 a sample of Rwandan women surveyed revealed that 39% had been raped during the genocide, likewise 23,200 to 45,600 Kosovar Albanian women are estimated to have been raped during the height of the war with Serbia (between August 1998 and August 1999). The list dishearteningly goes on.
In light of the seriousness of the issue the somewhat global silence on the matter may instinctively lead one to sneer with critical disappointment at the global institutions lack of action. More profoundly, one may instead see the lack of global action on this matter hitherto as unveiling how heart-wrenching, delicate and complex the issue of sexual violence is. After all, criminal matters are usually dealt with when the victim cries out. In issues of rape however, where for instance the woman has to choose between exposing the evil done to her or being permanently excommunicated from her community and her family, (and precedent also testifying that any hope of justice is a mere fantasy) crying out may not be such an obvious option. One thing is clear – action is needed. That’s why the screening of Resolution in New York last Monday as a means to promote awareness of sexual violence is welcomed by WYA.
Very eminent guests…not least – the Secretary General
Amongst the eminent guests at the screening was Marika Griehsel, the film director of Resolution, Margot Wallström the newly appointed UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, and a special guest Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese expert gynecologist specializing on the repair of internal damage caused by gang rape. These eminent individuals also formed the panel which, after the screening, was fired upon with questions from an audience moved by a powerful, emotive and compelling film that had brought some to tears, and no doubt all to compassion. The crucial nature of the subject of the event was underlined by the presence of the newly re-appointed Secretary General, who introduced the event by making a measured speech highlighting the efforts of the UN under his leadership in tackling the matter, and giving his full support to Margot Wallström and her recent appointment.
Very compelling film…
The film began by demonstrating the hope brought by the appointment of Margot Wallström as the new Special Representative, yet unveiled the inner struggle she faced in trying to find the right words to convince the Security Council regarding the seriousness of the matter at hand, for which concerted international support was necessary for there to be any hope of success. Leaving her speech before the Security Council on a cliff hanger, the film then took the audience on a captivating yet painful journey with Wallström and her team as they met with rape survivors and front-line activists in conflict areas across the globe. A German survivor of rape (at the hand of Russian soldiers during WW2) recalled vividly her experience from several decades past. She told her story without emotion as if fully accepting the torturous reality of the ever-present pain and the impossibility of seeing justice being done for her. This was effectively juxtaposed to a passionate Congolese woman speaking, yelling and screaming at Margot Wallström, “You are the mother of the nations”, she said fervently, and then with trembling desperation she yelled “Help us!”, then she impetuously broke out into tears – soon followed by Wallström – and indeed members of the audience.
WYA we were there…
Central to WYA’s ethos is the fact that we all possess inherent dignity. This, inter alia, means that each person is an end in his or herself and should not be used as a mere means to an end. The sexual aggression that has become pervasive practice during conflict contradicts this universal principle head on. The film industry is a relevant and dynamic medium; excellent for effective communication. Films such as Resolution aiming to educate the global society about the inherent violation of women’s dignity caused through sexual violence are therefore strongly encouraged and in line with WYA’s aims.
Careful now…delicate care, extreme focus, no distractions
However some aspects of the film were slightly worrying.
To illustrate let us imagine a situation where a notorious serial killer has finally been cornered, police cars all around him, a helicopter above and the national media watching closely. The serial killer has a hostage strangled in his arms with a gun to her head and the threat that he will kill her. His past killings vouch that this is not a mere threat. The well prepared police force has well trained snipers at hand. The established consensus is for them to shoot the killer before he shoots the innocent hostage – but given the proximity of the innocent victim and the criminal this action must be done with delicate care, with extreme focus and without distraction.
WYA noticed a similar scenario at the screening on Monday. A part of the film had Congolese women liaise with Bosnian women. The former eagerly questioning the latter in their quest for empathetic wisdom from women from a country who in the past suffered what they were presently suffering. The Bosnian ladies ‘empathized’ with the Congolese, stating that, ‘at least in Bosnia when we suffered rape we didn’t have to keep the unborn child’, the Congolese women looked on in amazement, “That’s why you must fight for your rights!” she continued. Then in what appeared to be a skilful piece of editorial and directorial work that scene faded away… as if it were to be taken for granted that the Bosnian woman was right in this remark, as if the “right to abortion” is not still an internationally contested idea, and as if there are no alternatives to terminating the unborn child which respects the equal dignity of both the mother and the child, despite the extremely regretful circumstances surrounding his or her conception. In light of the noble goal of Resolution in fighting against sexual violence it is paramount that the delicacy of the issue is not forgotten. The subject matter of sexual violence is too vital and real an issue for its impact to be dangerously mixed (and therefore diminished) with a highly contested subject such as abortion.
The panel could perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt since there were numerous questions thrown at them. Nevertheless WYA heard loudly the silence of the panel to a lady in the audience who exhorted the film for promoting the normalization of abortion. Also when the President of WYA addressed the director at the drinks reception concerning this issue she denied that the film had sought to side track the main issue by purposely promoting abortion. All that can be said then is like the sniper, the international community, including Ms Wallström and the Director of Resolution, should in the future deal with this matter more unswervingly – without distraction, with extreme focus and with delicate care.
The film ended with Wallström’s speech persuading the Security Council unanimously to adopt a Security Council resolution aimed at strengthening the international artillery for combating this issue specifically. Let’s hope this major step does not end up being directed in the wrong direction…
–Gbemiro Gunnubole, 22