05 April 2003
A week-long film festival has just concluded (March 28-April 3) in Geneva, Switzerland, a festival of films on the theme of human rights that is timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello and British filmmaker Ken Loach were among the sponsors of the Human Rights Film Festival.
Nine documentaries, from a field of 120, were shown at the festival. Each dealt with one theme, as festival coordinator Isabelle Gattiker explains. "We have, for instance, a film about rape as a weapon of war in Bosnia-Herzogovina. Of course we have a film about Iraq," she says. "The debate will focus on the role and responsibility of the international community in the situation in Iraq. Not on the war, but on the attempts and the violation of human rights in Iraq."
After each film, the audience participates in a discussion with the filmmakers, human rights experts and, when possible, the victims whose story is portrayed.
One of the films, Against My Will, is set in Pakistan and tells the story of three women who allegedly have dishonored their families by running away from brutal marriages. The film is dedicated to a woman named Kubra, one of those whose story it tells. Kubra was forced into a marriage with a much older man who beat her. After years of abuse, she ran away to a women's shelter in the city of Lahore, which is where the director of the film, Ayfer Ergun, first met her.
Ms. Ergun says Kubra's family, her parents, sister and cousins frequently went to the shelter and pleaded with her to return home, promising she would be safe. Kubra believed the promises and returned home. Ms. Ergun says she also thought she would be safe. "I really believed the sister," she says. "I thought a sister couldn't be involved in this. So when I heard that she was killed, it was really shocking for me. I couldn't sleep too many weeks."
Ms. Ergun says three weeks after Kubra went back to her family, a male cousin came to her home in the middle of the night and fatally shot her. When brought to trial, his defense was that he acted to preserve the honor of the family. The court ruled in his favor and he was set free.
Thousands of these so-called honor killings are committed in Pakistan and other parts of the world every year. The killers, usually male, are rarely punished. Kubra's father, Ms. Ergun says, forgave her killer.