“Love despite difference,
Or rather because of difference.”
ABOUT THE FILM
WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.
With his provocative question, “why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?” Raphael Lemkin changed the course of history. An extraordinary testament to one man’s perseverance, the Sundance award-winning film Watchers of the Sky examines the life and legacy of the Polish-Jewish lawyer and linguist who coined the term genocide. Before Lemkin, the notion of accountability for war crimes was virtually non-existent. After experiencing the barbarity of theHolocaust firsthand, he devoted his life to convincing the international community that there must be legal retribution for mass atrocities targeted at minorities. An impassioned visionary, Lemkin confronted world apathy in a tireless battle for justice, setting the stage for the Nuremberg trails and the creation of the International Criminal Court. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell, this multi-faceted documentary interweaves Raphael Lemkin’s struggle with the courageous efforts of four individuals keeping his legacy alive: Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC; Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Ben Ferencz, a former Nuremberg prosecutor still tenaciously lobbying the UN for peace, and Rwandan Emmanuel Uwurukundo, UN Refugee Agency Field Director in Chad. Alternating live interviews with rare archival footage and striking animation, Watchers of the Sky illuminates the compassion and bravery of these humanitarians and powerfully demonstrates the ability of global activism to give a voice to the silent victims of genocide.(C) Music Box
REVIEW BY TORONTO’S NOW MAGAZINE
Rating: N N N N N (5 stars)
“A bracing and heart-wrenching look at genocide over the past century, Edet Belzberg’s documentary could become a vital instrument of change.
Bouncing back and forth between the story of Raphael Lemkin, who in the 1940s tirelessly tried to get the UN to amend its definition of war crimes, to first-hand witnesses to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, Argentina, Germany and Darfur, Belzberg paints a comprehensive picture of history depressingly repeating itself due to a lack of proper legal deterrents to these atrocities.
Belzberg’s thesis is solidly backed up and needs no dramatic embellishment. It stands alongside The Act Of Killing as one of the best films made on such a delicate subject.”
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“As I surveyed the major genocides of the twentieth century, a few stood out. In addition to the Bosnian Serbs’ eradication of non-Serbs, I examined the Ottoman slaughter of the Armenians, the Nazi Holocaust, Pol Pot’s terror in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein’s destruction of Kurds in northern Iraq, and the Rwandan Hutus’ systematic extermination of the Tutsi minority. Although the cases varied in scope and not all involved the intent to exterminate every last member of a group, each met the terms of the 1948 genocide convention and presented the United States with options for meaningful diplomatic, economic, legal, or military intervention. The crimes occurred in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The victims covered a spectrum of races and religions – they were Asian, African, Caucasian, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim.
The perpetrators operated at different stages of American might: The Armenian genocide (1915-1916) was committed during World War I, before the United States had become a world leader. The Holocaust (1939-1945) took place just as the United States was moving into that role.The Cambodian (1975-1979) and Iraqi (1987-1988) genocides were perpetrated after the Holocaust but during the Cold War and after Vietnam. Bosnia (1992-1995) and Rwanda (1994) happened after the Cold War and while American supremacy and awareness of the “lessons” of the Holocaust were at their height. U.S. decisionmakers also brought a wide variety of backgrounds and foreign policy ideologies to the table. Every American president in office in the last three decades of the twentieth century – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton – made decisions related to the prevention and suppression of genocide. Yet notwithstanding all the variety among cases and within U.S. administrations, the U.S. policy responses to genocide were astonishingly similar across time, geography, ideology, and geopolitical balance…
A grant from the Open Society Institute enabled me to travel to Bosnia, Cambodia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, where I spoke with victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. I also visited the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague in the Netherlands, as well the UN court for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania.
People have explained U.S. failures to respond to specific genocides by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew, there was nothing useful to be done. I have found that in fact U.S. policymakers knew a great deal about the crimes being perpetrated. Some Americans cared and fought for action, making considerable personal and professional sacrifices. And the United States did have countless opportunities to mitigate and prevent slaughter. But time and again, decent men and women chose to look away. We have all been bystanders to genocide. The crucial question is why.
In exploring a century of U.S. reactions to genocide, I asked: Were there early warnings that mass killing was set to commence? How seriously were the warnings taken? By whom?
In 1915 Henry Morgenthau Sr., the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, responded to Turkey’s deportation and slaughter of its Armenian minority by urging Washington to condemn Turkey and pressure its wartime ally Germany. Morgenthau also defied diplomatic convention by personally protesting the atrocities, denouncing the regime, and raising money for humanitarian relief. He was joined by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who went a step further, calling on the administration of Woodrow Wilson to enter World War I and forcibly stop the slaughter. But the United States clung to its neutrality and insisted that Turkey’s internal affairs were not its business. An estimated 1 million Armenians were murdered or died of disease and starvation during the genocide.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and international lawyer, warned about Hitler’s designs in the 1930s but was scoffed at. After finding refuge in the United States in 1941, he failed to win support for any measure to protect imperiled Jews. The Allies resisted denouncing Hitler’s atrocities, granting refuge to Europe’s Jewry, and bombing the railroad tracks to the Nazi concentration camps. Undaunted, Lemkin invented the word “genocide” and secured the passage of the first-ever United Nations human rights treaty, which was devoted to banning the new crime. Sadly, he lived to see the genocide convention rebuffed by the U.S. Senate. William Proxmire, the quixotic U.S. senator from Wisconsin, picked up where Lemkin left off and delivered 3,211 speeches on the Senate floor urging ratification of the UN treaty. After nineteen years of daily soliloquies, Proxmire did manage to get the Senate to accept the genocide convention, but the U.S. ratification was so laden with caveats that it carried next to no force.
A handful of U.S. diplomats and journalists in Cambodia warned of the depravity of a sinister band of Communist rebels known as the Khmer Rouge. They were derided by the American left for falling for antiCommunist propaganda, and they failed to influence a U.S. policy that could not contemplate engagement of any kind in Southeast Asia after Vietnam. Pol Pot’s four-year reign left some 2 million Cambodians dead, but the massacres elicited barely a whimper from Washington, which maintained diplomatic recognition of the genocidal regime even after it had been overthrown.
Peter Galbraith, a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drafted punishing legislation for his boss, Senator Claiborne Pell, that would have cut off U.S. agricultural and manufacturing credits to Saddam Hussein in retaliation for his 1987-1988 attempt to wipe out Iraq’s rural Kurds. The sanctions package was defeated by a determined White House, State Department, and U.S. farm lobby, which were eager to maintain friendly ties and sell rice and wheat to Iraq. And so Hussein’s regime received generous American financial support while it gassed and executed some 100,000 Kurds.
Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian major general who commanded UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994, appealed for permission to disarm militias and to prevent the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsi three months before the genocide began. Denied this by his political masters at the United Nations, he watched corpses pile up around him as Washington led a successful effort to remove most of the peacekeepers under his command and then aggressively worked to block authorization of UN reinforcements.The United States refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, the issue never became a priority for senior U.S. officials. Some 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days.
No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on…”
SAMANTHA POWER – A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
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