Thursday 23 September 2010

War Don Don

War Don Don, a film about the trial of Issa Sesay before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, will be broadcast at 8PM ET/PT on 29 September 2010 on HBO2 in the United States and on an associated network in Canada. This fascinating study of the trial, and of the Court, includes interviews with prosecutors and defence counsel, and we even see the accused himself. I’ve watched it twice, in The Hague in June with students at Leiden University and more recently at Chautauqua in late August in the presence of several prosecutors, including David Crane, formerly Prosecutor of the Special Court. Several of the prosecutors said it was the best film they had seen dealing with international criminal tribunals.
This still, from the film, shows defence counsel Wayne Jordash, left, and Prosecutor Steve Rapp doing an interview on UN Radio after the judgment was issued.

I wouldn’t take the praise of the prosecutors as an indication that it is one-sided, however. Sesay’s British lead counsel, Wayne Jordash, is presented in a very sympathetic light, as is Sesay’s own case for consideration of his role in the peace process as a mitigating factor in sentencing. My impression is that despite their praise, several of the prosecutors were a bit uneasy with the film. They weren’t confident that it didn’t tip too far in the direction of the defence.
That’s the beauty of the film, of course. It presents both sides in a fair manner without being judgmental, and that means that different individuals may react differently to what it shows.
Last week while visiting New York City I had a beer with the filmmaker, Rebecca Richman Cohen. She is a trained lawyer and actually worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone as an intern some years ago, a fact that certainly contributed to her interest in the subject. I don’t know how good a lawyer she is, but I sure hope she stays in cinema because she is a very fine artist. She told me she is now working on a film on the use of medical marijuana in Montana, a wonderfully alliterative idea.
Personally, I remain troubled by the sentences that were imposed by the judgment (and upheld on appeal), and I had the impression that Rebecca does too. Sesay really got nothing in mitigation, receiving several concurrent sentences of which the highest is 52 years. The reasoning is not adequately explained in the sentencing judgment, which was upheld on appeal. The judgment condemns him to 35 years of extermination, 40 years for murder, 45 years for rape and 50 years for recruitment of child soldiers. Does that make any sense? I would have thought extermination was worse than murder, given that it involves multiple murders, and that both are more important than recruiting child soldiers. Nothing in the reasons helps to understand this. One might have thought that this was because of particular brutality or horror in specific acts perpetrated by Sesay. But he is convicted, essentially, as a leader and not a direct perpetrator, so that cannot provide an explanation.
The film will become available for public and institutional screenings later in the year, and will be released for purchase in DVD at the end of 2010. It has already won some awards, and was shown in the Human Rights Watch film festival.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Issa Sesay recently testified in the Hague for Taylor. His testimony has undone many of the fallacies captured in the WDD film. I would urge that WDD be viewed in tandem with Sesay's recent testimony, which contradicts quite materially his case in Freetown, and hence the sympathetique profile WDD shows him in. I saw this film being screened here in Sierra Leone and am not so sure what is the purpose of this film really atleast being screened here,I understand its being screened all over the country to assist reconciliation, I am of the opinion, if at all, the converse would be the case.