Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ready for that Close-Up: The International Criminal Court's Recent Representations on Film

            By David Benger

Filmmakers have recently revived their interest in the International Criminal Court. A film called “The Court” has just been completed and released in Germany. The Economist’s blog summarizes the film as a “fascinating documentary about the pioneering work of the [ICC].” The summary is wrong in calling the ICC the “first world court” and is incorrect about the reach of the ICC’s jurisdiction, but gives an excellent overview of the film itself. 
[An image from the promotional materials for "The Court"]          

The documentary follows the former ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, through his early years in The Hague. With an A-list supporting cast, including film actress and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie and robust nonagenarian former Nuremberg prosecutor, Benjamin Ferencz, the film moves with the rhythmic pulse of a thriller supplemented by the special emotional drive of a real-life narrative.

Two other feature length films about the ICC have been released in recent years.  One, dramatically titled, “The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court,” focuses on the early years of the Court and Moreno-Ocampo’s quest to marshal political will to comply with the Court’s warrants and directives. The second film, “The Prosecutor” similarly focuses on Moreno-Ocampo, as it seeks to create a more three dimensional picture of the dynamic man with the gravelly voice, who led the International Criminal Court out of the starting gate. If “The Reckoning” shows us the birth pangs of the Court, then “The Prosecutor” treats us to the growing pains. In both films, Moreno-Ocampo features prominently as the virtuous voice of justice in the post-impunity era.

      [The Trailer for "The Reckoning." For the film itself, click here]
Today, the Court is in a new stage of its development with a new prosecutor. Growing pains have evolved into the trials of maturation and the calm, methodical, serenely assertive Fatou Bensouda has taken the reins. She may not be as flamboyant as her Argentine predecessor, but her legal acumen and her deep commitment to justice are extraordinary and effective. Moreno-Ocampo loved the camera and heavily influenced public awareness spreading the Court’s image, including through the three films just described. Fatou Bensouda’s personality is more subtle, and she is precisely the deliberate and dedicated person that will lead the Court out of the era of uncertainty and into one of solid and impressive performance.
A must mention among screen presentation of the ICC is the brand new NBC procedural, “Crossing Lines.” This television drama portrays an elite squad of detectives, drawn from the most famed police precincts in the world (i.e. Scotland Yard, the NYPD, etc.). These detectives are brought together to form the investigative wing of the International Criminal Court. They track down criminals who have committed crimes in different countries and are tasked with bringing them before the Court. The show has not had trials yet; episodes have ended with perpetrators either dying or simply being arrested.

[The official NBC trailer for "Crossing Lines."] 

The ICC in this television show totally departs from reality. Television usually shows law enforcement as frequently over-dramatized and sped up, but is ultimately true to the institutions. For example, the New York Police Department may not be as efficient and principled as the detectives on Law & Order, but viewers can assume that there is some truth to the way the show presents the investigations and trials. This is not so for “Crossing Lines.” The ICC jurisdiction and crimes it presents are completely wrong.

One particularly absurd example of this came within the first ten minutes of the pilot episode. A serial killer’s murder of three women is called a crime of aggression: “It is a crime of aggression that is ongoing, systematic, and cross border. This is exactly what the ICC does.” This misrepresentation is profound. The crime of aggression is about aggressive warfare and armed invasion of sovereign territory, not one individual acting aggressively toward another person. 

For starters, the misrepresentation of the definition of “a crime of aggression” is bizarre. Such a crime, though not yet officially prosecutable under the Rome Statute, deals specifically with aggressive warfare and armed invasion of sovereign territory. It certainly does not entail one aggressive act amongst persons, irrespective of how despicable an individual’s actions may be. Furthermore, the word “systematic” which is used in Article 7 and Article 8 of the Rome Statute similarly refers to armed groups “systematically” carrying out atrocities against a civilian population. Lastly, the mention of “cross border” is also erroneous, as the Rome Statute allows the Court to prosecute crimes that did not cross any borders at all.

As long as a viewer has no expectation of authenticity from “Crossing Lines,” the show has the potential to be decidedly entertaining. The main character, Detective Carl Hickman, played by the versatile performer William Fichtner, is a volatile figure who combines the unquestionable hunch-based leadership of “NCIS’s” Jethro Gibbs, the leathery wise-cracking of “Law & Order’s” Lenny Briscoe, and the dark, tortured drug addiction of the eponymous Dr. Gregory House. In short, Detective Hickman is an amalgam of the worst qualities of NBC’s greatest leading men, a complex character, indeed. His supporting cast also does not disappoint. The characters all seem to have clear identities and well-defined back stories. Recognizing that there is no connection between the show and the actual goals or capabilities of the ICC, “Crossing Lines” may, nonetheless, be an entertaining way to spend a Sunday evening.

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