On June 26 2012, The Peace Palace Library held a screening of the award-winning Documentary Film Justice For Sale about the criminal justice system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by Dutch Documentary filmmakers Ilse & Femke van Velzen . The documentary was introduced by Dr. Janine Ubink, an expert on African legal issues from the Vollenhoven Institute of Leiden University. After the screening finished, the Question & Answer took place and audience members interacted with Ilse & Femke van Velzen. Read more about the commentary of Dr. Ubink as well as some thoughts and reactions from audience members.
In the documentary Justice for Sale we follow Claudine, a human rights attorney, who took on the case of Masamba Masamba, a man convicted of rape and sentenced to ten years in prison despite a lack of credible evidence in his case. The film follows all the obstacles Claudine faces on getting a fair trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In her commentary, Dr. Janine Ubink addressed the two explanatory factors for the flawed justice the film suggests. The first factor sees to corruption and political interference in criminal court cases in the DRC. The second factor the films suggests is the international attention that is given to the large numbers of rape cases in the DRC and the impunity of most of these crimes. This has resulted in a renewed interest by local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) to combat the impunity with international donor money. This enables NGO’s to bring rape cases to court almost exclusively supporting the victims by providing them with legal representation. The NGO’s fail to provide the defendant with counsel, which however understandable, in a country such as the DRC means that due process of law for the defendant is not guaranteed. Dr. Ubink then emphasized the various forms and manifestations of judicial corruption and gave a brief overview of donor involvement in legal reform. The following trends were then discussed: the law and development movement of the 1970s, later critiqued for its ‘legal imperialism’ and for its attempts to transplant laws to different cultural contexts; the search for good governance, including the necessity of a sound legal system at least as far as needed for a well-functioning market. Dr. Ubink then continued to discuss rule of law orthodoxy, emphasizing formal institutions, such as the judiciary, legislators, the police and prisons, criticized both for conceptual vagueness and for failure to bring development to the poor. Lastly, bottom-up approaches were addressed such as access to justice and legal empowerment with a focus on the obstacles the poor have when engaging with the legal systems as well as an increased interest in non-state justice systems. Dr. Ubink concluded by emphasizing the rule of law building in post-conflict reconstruction settings.
The screening was attended by a little over 80 guests. Many audience members whom we asked to share their thoughts and views on the film were mostly struck by the lack of due process of law. In attendance was a group of students from Central Michigan University accompanied by their Professor Hope Elizabeth May. They kindly sent us their remarks on the film.
Here are some of their thoughts:
Professor Hope Elizabeth May:
The wonderful (and free!) audio tour at the new Visitor's Center at the Peace Palace includes some remarks about the connection between education and peace. The free tour also include a short film. At the end of the film, a professor at the Hague Academy states that the understanding of alternative and opposing views is necessary to "advance towards an ideal". As a student of Socrates and John Stuart Mill, I see a developmental connection amongst peace, education and the understanding of alternative views. Each member of this series is a prerequisite for the former: the understanding of alternative views is necessary for education, and education is necessary for peace. The necessary implication of this syllogism is that the understanding of alternative views is necessary for peace.
Ilse and Femke van Velzen, the artists and social entrepreneurs behind IF Productions have created a film, Justice for Sale, which indeed provides a much needed alternative and opposing view of some of the NGO funded mobile courts operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many people believe that if an organization is branded with the imprimatur of "UN NGO", then it is a force for good. Justice for Sale challenges this belief by focusing on the work of Claudine, a human rights lawyer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Masamba, one of her clients who has been convicted by an NGO funded mobile court, but who insists on his innocence. The film offers a compelling narrative that leaves the viewer with the worry that even if well intentioned, these mobile courts may not fully respect the due process rights of the accused. Section 1 of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights restates the often quipped "innocent until proven guilty" maxim that is a cornerstone of Liberal Criminal Law:
Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
The clear message of Justice for Sale is that some of the cases handled by NGO funded mobile courts (specifically RADHF or Réseau des Activistes des Droits Humains de Fizi) fail to respect Article 11. In providing this alternative view of UN NGOs, the film summons the viewer to inquire more deeply and to educate herself. This rich educational experience is, in my view, essential to the peace that we all seek. IF Production's film indeed helps us to advance towards that most worthy ideal.
I should also mention that I found the Q&A session with the filmmakers afterwards extremely valuable as it gave the audience a chance to learn more from the van Velzens, who clearly have much to teach. The creative work of these twin sisters profoundly contributes to the project of International Justice in a way that is beyond law - indeed beyond education. I was struck by the personal story about the origins of this film and how, as Ilse said, it came about as a result of "chance" and "coincidence" when working on an earlier, different project. Put simply, the van Velzens learned about Masamba's story "accidentally". Most important, though, was the van Velzen's response to this "accidentally acquired" story. The response was quite deliberate as Ilse and Femke decided to learn more about Masamba's story. This compelled them to put together a small 20 minute film, and share it with lawyers in an attempt to learn more about the extent to which the maxim in Article 11 is truly respected by NGO funded mobile courts. These very decisions of Ilse and Femke connected Claudine, a dedicated human rights lawyer, to Masamba, who is now her client. Through Ilse's and Femke's diligence, creativity and entrepreneurship, a powerful human connection was forged between Masamba and a lawyer who is truly committed to justice. The forging of this human connection is what I mean when I say that the van Velzen's work is beyond law and education. The simple fact is that the van Velzen's diligence, creativity and entrepreneurship not only gave Masamba a champion, but it also gave Claudine, his lawyer, the means by which to realize her calling of "giving a voice to the voiceless." By forging powerful human connections within the context of justice, the van Velzen's work, (and by "work," I mean their labor - their actions and decisions - not their "oeuvre" or "body of work") contributes to the "delicate mosaic" of harmony and ordered liberty.
I applaud the staff at the Peace Palace Library for providing such an enriching evening, and for free, to the public. Indeed, the event is clearly within the legacy of Andrew Carnegie. As the Carnegie Foundation manages the Peace Palace, and as I am an American, I feel obliged to remark on how tonight's event connects to the legacy of Andrew Carnegie. As is pointed out in the new (again, free) audio tour at the Peace Palace Visitor's Center, the ability to access free books played a crucial role in Carnegie's "rags to riches" stories - known as the "American Dream". But also just as crucial was Carnegie's connection to Thomas Scott, Carnegie's mentor who become a father figure who referred to the young Carnegie as "my boy Andy." Education and deep human connection were behind Carnegie's success. Both are crucial to the project of International Justice and peace. Because the van Velzen's work yields both fruits, I am convinced that Carnegie would be most pleased with the decision of the Peace Palace Library to expose the public to the valuable work of these young Dutch artists. As I reflect on the event, and the work of these young women […], I am struck with a sense of faith and optimism in Carnegie's vision and the great project on which humanity has embarked.
‘The film “Justice For Sale” has effectively shown the other side of the tribunal system. While watching, I found myself questioning everything that I believed defined justice. As an outsider, I push for justice for victims and hope that the guilty are apprehended and convicted. But, what this film has shown me is that I have skipped over one fundamental step- defining a ‘victim’ and more importantly, defining ‘justice’. These seemingly simple definitions change everything. By experiencing Claudine’s journey through her investigation, it becomes quite clear that a vast majority have also overlooked these steps.[...] What makes justice applicable is the fact that all parties are equally represented, both the accused and the victim; justice is not one sided. Sadly, this documentary shows that this can in fact be the case and is setting the precedent for future laws in the Congo. It begs me to ask the question: If the rights of the accused are no longer present, can justice be served? By watching “Justice For Sale”, it is quite evident that the answer is no’.
[...] It made my heart sink hearing his story. However, what was uplifting to see is that there were these two women filming Masamba’s trial, thought something suspicious was going on since he was found guilty, and despite not being African they are making a huge difference in this man’s life.[...] It is refreshing that the Peace Palace Library, the place housing the best collection of international law, hosted a public viewing of this movie, lecture, and panel to educate those interested. We unfortunately cannot always count on the judicial system to be just. People working with Masamba and the Peace Palace Library are great instigators and educators of justice. It is what we need.
[...] ‘The film itself was an eye-opening venture into a world seldom thought of by most, the world of justice for defendants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in this case, defendants of rape cases. Stigmatized as criminals and perpetrators before convicted, one may never wonder the trials and tribulations one may go through when "innocent until proven guilty" is not upheld. [...] I would recommend this experience to anyone I know; I only hope that before time expires, I may journey back to the Peace Palace to see another screening put on by these wonderful employees and outstanding people’.
Kiel John Martin
[...]The film was emotional for me; I felt quite angry at the blatant false testimony of the two accusers and the guilty conviction that was handed down although no incriminating evidence was provided. Additionally, it is easy to feel sympathy for Masamba [...]It is an extraordinary achievement that the Velzen sisters captured the footage from his original trial by coincidence, came into contact with Claudine, a lawyer who was willing to look at his case, and made an informative and emotional film capturing her investigation. Justice For Sale is a potent reminder that there is good reason to consider the accused is innocent until proven guilty and that judicial corruption is cancerous to society.
[...] ‘It is disturbing and thought-provoking to realize this injustice happens to many, many people. One can only hope that the film, Justice for Sale, will cause a greater reflection on the justice system as a whole for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and bring about change that is greater than the overturning of one false conviction’.
‘My immediate reaction after watching this movie is shock. Shock at the overall picture the movie painted and shock at individual events that happened in the course of the movie. Some of the individual events included: the actual court proceedings involving very little evidence, the lack of evidence needed for a conviction of a decade, the involvement of NGOs in supporting the court and the prosecution, and how difficult it is to obtain a re-trial or a pardon in the Congolese legal system.[...] Overall I thought the movie touched on points that need to be considered in any system that claims legal integrity and I thought that the film-makers did so in such a way as to make it as real as possible for the viewer. I really enjoyed watching this film.’
Listen to the Q & A, after the movie was shown:
Watch the YouTube-Video of the Introduction of the lecture by Dr. Janine Ubink