Peace vs. Justice: Page 2 of 2
KQ: Adversaries are made to drink the bitter fluid that comes from the oput tree, and in drinking the bitter juice, they swallow the bitterness of the conflict.
In a way, I think it is a very meaningful and effective ritual: You admit guilt; you pay someone back; and you swallow the bitterness in order to live together again.
MB: That sounds nice as a ritual, but what's astounding in your film is that they're actually implementing it with people who have committed really unfathomable and incredibly violent crimes...
KQ: Yes, and the people I filmed in the camps for internally displaced persons (nearly two million Ugandans have been forced from their homes because of the war against the LRA) basically said: “We will even forgive Kony and do mato oput with him.” Of course, opinions are mixed about this, but the message I got from people there was: “Please bring back our children – that is number one – and if that means we have to forgive Kony, we will do so.”
MB: The characters you follow are really the heart of the film. Can you briefly introduce the other main interviewees?
KQ: The most important person in the film is Betty Bigombe. She risks her life by hiking into the bush to meet Joseph Kony as part of the effort to negotiate a peace. Through her journey, with its high points and frustrations, we realize that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Uganda do not want the justice that the ICC is offering. They want peace, which as you will see in the film, is not necessarily compatible.
Matthew Brubacher is a young ICC investigator who lived in The Hague when I started filming in 2007. He gathers evidence against Kony and tries to disrupt the activities of the LRA. Matthew is a young, attractive, ambitious lawyer who believes in the rule of law. During the course of filming, he ends up leaving the ICC – I think because he come to see the court’s limitations – and moves to the Congo to work for the UN peacekeeping mission there.
Lacambel is a charismatic radio host who introduces us to ex-LRA soldiers, many of whom he has singlehandedly convinced to desert Joseph Kony and come back to the community. He is the storyteller of the film, and plays an important role. I feel very ambivalent about him. On one hand, he is a warm, great guy who lured thousands of soldiers out of the bush. On the other hand, he is a bit arrogant, and in his face-to-face dealings with Kony, he once left a female member of his group behind, against her will, because Kony had asked for her. I find that shocking and unacceptable, without a valid cultural explanation.
MB: You spend time in the film with former child soldiers who have returned – many in response to Lacambel’s radio broadcasts. I found it very powerful when you linger on their faces, even when they are not speaking, letting their expressions play out…
KQ: When you don’t speak the same language, you try to communicate differently. You try to hear something from their expressions. For me as a filmmaker, the silences sometimes say more than the spoken words. With Lucy, the girl I interview who was a child soldier, her expressions were so strong – the sadness and the fear that she lives with all the time. She is constantly afraid she will encounter her torturers [who forced her into the life of a child soldier] in the village where she lives.
MB: Tell me about the title, Peace vs. Justice.
KQ: Well, it conveys the core of the film. People in Northern Uganda want to have peace, by their terms, and people in the West believe in a specific form of justice. I admit it’s an overly simplistic title; it’s never so black and white. What I have learned from following the story, from Betty Bigombe in particular, is that you first have to have peace, and then you can talk about justice. What is the purpose of indicting when there is still a violent conflict underway? Watch my film and you will hear Sam Kolo, Kony’s right-hand man, say it plainly: Kony became more aggressive, more violent, the moment the indictments were announced. Does this mean you shouldn’t indict? That’s not what I’m saying. But I question why the ICC needed to indict with a huge press conference and a lot of publicity, which seems to be about something other than justice for the people of Northern Uganda. It would have been more effective to issue a secret indictment [as they did in the former Yugoslavia] so that the one being indicted doesn’t react violently or go deeper into hiding, both of which happened in this case.
MB: I took note that your film begins not in Uganda with Kony's soldiers and his victims, but rather in the steely glass offices of the International Criminal Court. Can you explain the choice?
KQ: Globalisation brings new conflicts that have serious implications for international humanitarian law. My film shows the contrast between the ideals of the ICC and what is happening on the ground in Africa. In The Hague, well-educated, idealistic, top-rate lawyers are working to end the cycle of impunity enjoyed by people like Joseph Kony, while trying to implement a global rule of law. But what if the victims of heinous crimes don’t want the Court’s justice? What if these people view it as a colonialist imposition and want to administer their own form of justice instead? What if the ICC’s actions interfere with indigenous peace processes? In Northern Uganda, people are clamoring for the ICC to drop the indictments and leave. It is compelling to cut back and forth between these worlds.
MB: The young ICC investigator, Matthew Brubacher, at one point says: "Peace versus justice is a false question." His point is that humans should be entitled to both.
KQ: On paper he is right: It is a false question, and people have the right to both. The real world is another story.
MB: Visually in your film, the contrast in which you shoot these two worlds is striking. The ICC is shot in cold, steely light – monochrome, almost devoid of color – while the African scenes are bursting with life. Surely this is intentional...
KQ: Yes! I wanted to create a mood to emphasize the story. But it is also what I observed.
MB: Betty Bigombe calls the ICC investigation “superficial” – not related to the real suffering of the Ugandan people. Is that fair?
KQ: I think the most incredible people work at the ICC, and no, I think they do have an eye and ear for the real situation. Having said that, they have very firm and fixed views about what should happen: Justice, no matter what. And listening to Betty, I think there are more important considerations: First stop the killing, and then we can talk about justice.
MB: You've been working on your film for more than five years. What was your reaction to Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” Youtube video exploding onto the Internet?
KQ: At first, I thought, “Great! Finally someone has come along and gotten attention for a story like this. When I was looking for funding for my film, all the broadcasters told m, “Oh, no, not again – poor little African children oppressed by a horrible man.” I am not joking! This was the response I got from sophisticated European broadcasters. So with “Kony 2012,” I thought, “Good news.” But watching the film makes me angry. It is so simplistic. Please take a look at the situation. Please see what has been done over the past 20 years to try to end the conflict. Please listen to the people of Uganda. And please take a critical look at the ICC; aren’t there better ways to approach this situation? These are questions that I tried to find insight into. You start a film and you never know where it’s going to take you or how it is going to end. Most importantly, you don’t know what you will learn along the way, and to me that is the most important thing. You want to gain insight into the world beyond what you see on the surface.
MB: After all your research, do you believe there is a military solution to the threat Kony poses?
KQ: Well, up to this point, everybody who has tried has failed: the Ugandan army, then the Ugandans in conjunction with the Sudanese, the Congolese, and since 2008, the Americans assisting as well. Even with the 100 special forces President Obama sent in October, there are no signs of Kony. I am afraid that all the publicity (including Invisible Children’s attempts to turn Kony into a celebrity) doesn’t really help those who are trying to catch him. He now makes sure that no one in his party has a satellite phone. He’s drastically limited his contacts with other people. He is a very smart guy who knows the jungle better than anyone. I don't know if Obama’s new batch of special forces will really help. I hope so, of course. But how can you get a guy when you cannot fire upon the people around him? ?
MB: President Obama has said that US troops are permitted to return fire if fired upon, but will never be in a position of firing upon child soldiers. It’s hard to imagine capturing Kony without just that.
KQ: That’s right.
MB: Your film doesn't offer easy answers.
KQ: I think it is important for the viewer to form his/her own opinion. But I think we all agree: The violence and killings Kony is orchestrating have to end. The question is how?
Margaret GarciaJuly 27, 2012Hi, was just going through the google looking for good info and stumbled across your website. I am stunned at the design that you've on this site. It shows how you appreciate this subject.
Jason BrooksJune 8, 2012An insightful and sensitive film no doubt, Klaartje gets to the heart of the issue and in her conclusions, manages to embrace an ambiguity that is both viscerally personal and profoundly philosophical. I recently met a British guy who was serving in DRC with the UN, and he informed me that localised efforts against the LRA and Kony have come to a relative standstill. With Kony in the depths of Congo's North Eastern forest parks, there is little anyone can practically do but await the next phase of attacks. In his own words "Most of the one hundred US marines in DRC are chilling by the pool in their hotels". See this recent Al Jazeera piece about an isolated LRA attack in April: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/04/2012438458867710.html Plus this Telegraph piece which shows how the local political situation hampers effort to kill Kony: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/uganda/9134868/Joseph-Kony-2012-an-unwelcome-spotlight-on-the-shadowy-hunt-for-a-war-lord.html Many thanks to Klaartje for bringing us this film.
Jason BrooksJune 8, 2012Great point Sam, pushing the debate even further than the increasingly false west/rest polarity. During my time in Africa I have been constantly reminded that the internal political structures in Uganda and many other similar countries are as much temporo-spatial extensions of the colonial apparatus as they are self-sufficient entities.
anne-nivatJune 8, 2012This very important film draws out the inherent complexities in addressing impunity, particularly in the context of conflict, where the perpetrators continue to be in a position to do absolute harm. Does one apply the same standards of accountability that have been applied internationally, or does one tailor justice to suit those to whom injustice has been done? The timing of an indictment, and how and whether to take into consideration the voices of the victims, are all relevant questions. Anyone who has worked in a war zone and negotiated with individuals like Kony and his ilk has had to grapple with these kinds of questions, and understands that there are no pat and easy answers, and that even among survivors there are differences of opinion. Yet amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity is ultimately untenable. Kony’s reign of terror, which has stretched from Uganda, to the DRC, to CAR and South Sudan, has to end, and he has to be held accountable for the lives he has devastated. On another note, real support (psycho-social/reintegration) is needed for former child-soldiers who were abducted by the LRA, and who, notwithstanding the extraordinary ritual of “mato oput”, have for many reasons found reintegration into their communities very tough, not least because of the stigma generally attached to having been part of the LRA. This category of victim/perpetrator also faces many extraordinary challenges.
Katharina WartenaMay 29, 2012very interesting, amazing!
Alain de BottonMay 28, 2012The ritual of mato oput is deeply fascinating and relevant - it suggests another theme that this great film touches upon, which is the need for 'atonement'. In other words, we in the West tend to ask for justice, but deep down, what people might really want is for the wicked to atone, in other words, to realise the enormity of their crimes. The problem with the ICC is that one might get justice without atonement. Time for a version of mato oput to enter our understanding of the cycle of punishment and reintegration.
Samuel GummahMay 28, 2012CQ's film does not offer any easy answers because there are none! The situation gets even more complex with the involvement of publicity seekers offering 10 seconds soundbite to show they care for the poor children of Northern Uganda. International stabilization forces, foreign military advisors and exotic justice systems are a cynical way of providing western politicians an answer whenever they are asked about a situation!
arthur f.p.wass...May 27, 2012"ICC's crystal palace vs the mess on the ground":beyond legal narcissism. Under conditions of sheer subsistence/survival and failing states/legal disorder,a two-pronged option rests:squeezing the logic & logistics of terror by offering the suppliers (rather than perpetrators) of crime and murder credible alternative sources of living, income and (re)production.The willing executioners & lakeys of terror are equally interested in the future of their children as the victims of crime and murder.Mato oput (cleaning the past) has to be complemented by investments in robust self-defense (creating the future)