Dance or Die: A Story of Dance over War

By Nolwenn Guibert

“I dance to be free, to be strong, to look for a perfect world”

Dance or Die is a story of exile and survival. It is the story of Ahmad Joudeh, a Palestinian –born Syrian dancer who grew up in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus and who defied the odds of war and repression as well as a hostile father to train as a dancer. Having been sponsored by the Dutch National Ballet to train and perform in Amsterdam, Ahmad is quickly becoming a household name in the world of ballet and on social media.

The tatoo inked in Sanskrit in the nape of his neck–“Dance or Die”–takes centre stage throughout the documentary. Film director Roozbeh Kaboly shot a lot of the scenes from the back with the tatoo in full view in the foreground as a reminder that for Joudeh, dance equals life and that a life without dance is not worth living. Joudeh explains that his tatoo was an act of defiance to ISIS rule back in Syria and to ISIS’ favored mode of execution; beheading. Under ISIS rule, ballet was equated to homosexuality, which put Joudeh’s life at risk.

The documentary contains a number of powerful artistic moments, from Joudeh dancing in the rubbles of the Yarmouk camp near Damascus and the ruins of Palmyra before his departure to The Netherlands to the Esplanade du Trocadero in Paris to a duo on Italian TV with Roberto Bolle–one of the world’s most acclaimed ballet dancers–danced to the live performance of Sting’s Inshallah, another story of exile.


One can only be drawn to Joudeh’s inate sense of movement and artistry and the total passion he puts into his dancing.

On a more personal level, the documentary portrays Joudeh as a dedicated, fun and hard working young man but also as an individual struggling with the traumas of war and exile and having a father who never supported his son’s passion. At times, the melancholy in Joudeh’s eyes takes over the light that shines through when he dances.

Joudeh’s reunion with his father at a German refugee center is an intimate moment shared before the camera. It marks a moment of anticipation and hope, which comes back later in the film when Joudeh’s father watches him perform, probably for the first time, and one can see the sheer pride in a father’s teary eyes as well as regret for the years lost.

Joudeh is a gifted dancer and a wonderufl advocate of peace through art. He will undoubtedly go on to touch many audiences throughout the world. I hope he also finds his peace.

For those reading the blog in The Hague, Ahmad Joudeh will be performing on Sunday 15 April at 16h at the Universal Sufi Center for an event entitled “The Music of Life: Dance for Peace”.

The documentary “Dance or Die” premiered on 18 March in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as advertised here on Creating Rights.



“The Vast Mystery Of Who You Are (Part One)” by Kim Yaged, a conversation on identity and otherness

By Manon Beury

Last year, Nicola Popovic interviewed award-winning writer Kim Yaged for Creating Rights in a rousing portrait where the artist explained how her involvement in social justice is reflected in her work. Kim’s new play, “The Vast Mystery of Who You Are (Part One)”, will be performed at the New York Live Arts on Friday 13 April 2018 at 7pm as part of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival. An opportunity to discuss her new projects and elaborate on the concept of building your empathy muscle that she developed.

“The Vast Mystery of Who You Are” is a two-act play, directed by Rebecca Cunningham and featuring 4 actors. Only the first act will be showed on Friday (“Part One”). The premise of the first part rests on a woman who identifies as queer. She meets someone at a sex party in Berlin and discovers that this person considers herself third gender. Kim Yaged lived in Berlin for two years and a half and wrote “The Vast Mystery of Who You Are” during that period. In a lot of ways, it is about the community that she met there but the European location is also useful to distance the play from a critique of US politics.

Act One and Act Two feature the same actors playing different characters in two completely different stories. The audience sees the same bodies playing people who don’t seem connected, reinforcing the idea that “we are all in each other.” A common trend in Kim’s work is identity and otherness, which refer to her idea of building the empathy muscle that was developed in her portrait on Creating Rights. “All of us can relate to the feeling of being other or outside, ultimately we are just people.” She shows people that others in the world don’t have much access to, people whose lives and behaviours might seem fun and far to us, but aren’t.

Working with diverse mediums such as theatre, dance or animation, Kim looks for the best way to tell a story and the best way to invite people to reflect upon difficult or heavy topics. She sees her work as a way to getting across cultural understanding, an invitation to a conversation.

While the project “Let’s be one Hand” continues to live online, Kim’s attention is now focused on a new play: “The Suicide Blog,” a thriller about a Pakistani American who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The character starts a blog where she writes incendiary political opinions and discusses her plan to commit suicide before she dies of this illness. And then she is kidnapped. The play deals with issues such as terrorism, gun control, obsession with social media, multiculturalism and how Muslim communities are read in the media. “It’s a play about now.”


“The Vast Mystery Of Who You Are (Part One)”, New York Live Arts, NYC, on Friday 13 April 2018 at 7 PM.

Movies that Matter 2018 – Creating Rights’ selection

By Manon Beury

Every year at the end of March, the festival Movies that Matter comes to The Hague, The Netherlands, and reminds us that camera is a powerful weapon against social indifference. During this year’s edition, more than 70 movies about human rights will be screened between March 23 and March 31, 2018. As the explicit goal of the festival is to stir debate and promote human rights education, the festival offers also a forum for discussions, debates and diverse occasions to meet with human rights defenders, filmmakers, experts, politicians, journalists and representatives of the civil society.

Camera Justitia

Camera Justitia is a programme of Movies that Matter specifically focusing on the worldwide fight for justice. Sofia Stolk, coordinator of the programme for the second consecutive year, described it for Creating Rights in this post last year. In 2018, four documentaries and four fictions will reflect on legal dilemmas, truth-finding, international law and the fight against impunity.

As part of the Camera Justitia programme, a Masterclass will be delivered by Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

The ICMP has been active in some 40 countries. It provides technical assistance to governments in locating, recovering and identifying missing persons and supports institutional capacity building, public involvement and addressing the needs of justice. Kathryne Bomberger has led the development of the organisation since 1998. She will talk about the work of the ICMP using excerpts from the films Truth Detectives and Armed to the Teeth, both nominated for the Camera Justitia Award.

The full documentary Truth Detectives will be screened at 13:30 on Thursday 29th March, before the Masterclass taking place at 16:00 in Theater an het Spui, The Hague. Built on reports from Ukraine, Colombia, Israel, Syria and Mali, the film explores how the latest technologies are combined with the findings of citizen journalists and investigators, to combat impunity and injustice. Tickets are available at the festival’s box office. The Masterclass is organised by Movies that Matter in cooperation with the T.M.C. Asser Institute. It will take place on Thursday 29th March at 16:00 in Theater an het Spui, The Hague. The event is free of charge.

Creating Rights’ selection

Our team has selected six movies related to human rights and justice in their relationship with art.

  • The Congo Tribunal, Milo Rau (Documentary): Swiss theatre director Milo Rau stages a fictitious court to search for truth and justice in the deadly conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Involving actual protagonists, it becomes clear that the country is trapped in a complex web of exploitation, corruption and violence that is very hard to escape.
  • Naila and the Uprising, Julia Bacha (Animation): The story of the first Palestinian intifada, and the key role women played in it. Central to the story is activist and feminist Naila Ayesh, who was imprisoned twice for her resistance to the Israeli rule of the occupied Palestinian territories. The women’s struggle to be free from occupation paralleled their fight against male domination.
  • The Poetess, Stefanie Brockhaus/Andreas Wolff (Documentary): Hissa Hilal, a 43-year-old woman from Saudi Arabia, achieved international fame when she was one of the few women to compete in a televised talent search for Arabic poets. Her poetry is controversial: she criticizes extremist fatwas and is an advocate of women’s rights.
  • Truth Detectives, Anja Reiss (Documentary): All over the world, people are combining the latest technologies with the findings of citizen journalists and investigators, to combat impunity and injustice. They have one goal above all: denying perpetrators the chance to deny. Fascinating reports from Ukraine, Colombia, Israel, Syria and Mali.
  • Delicate Balance, Guillermo García López (Documentary): Three stories from different continents about the present and future of mankind, including an interview with the former president of Uruguay, José Mujica, as a common thread. His ideas about modern society, in which economic interests prevail over human values, are the unifying factor.
  • Tehran Taboo, Ali Soozandeh (Animation): Animated film in which the lives of three women and a young man intersect in the schizophrenic society of Teheran, the capital city of Iran. Everything prohibited and taboo – sex, drugs, adultery and corruption – lurks behind the illusory façade of the strict Islamic country.


“Dance or Die” with Ahmad Joudeh

By Nolwenn Guibert

The 15th edition of the Cinedans festival is taking place in Amsterdam this week between 14 and 18 March. Cinedans is a “Dance on Screen” festival that showcases carefully selected dance films and documentaries about internationally renowned dancers and choreographers.

On Sunday, 18th March, as part of the festival and the “De Wolf Danst” project, the movie “Dance or Die” will premiere. Dance or Die follows the journey of Ahmad Joudeh, an inspiring and inspirational young dancing talent from Syria, who was given the opportunity to train in The Netherlands, leaving behind his war-torn country and family. This story is one of resilience and commitment to one’s passion for the arts in the face of adversity and continuing struggles. Never has ballet been more current.

Post I : The Protection of Cultural Heritage : An Obligation

By Audrey Weiss and Fiana Gantheret

Looting and destruction of one people’s cultural identity has been the norm in wars since the dawn of civilisation. For all that, the development of the international legal framework, in close collaboration with regional organisations – see the adoption in 2017 of the European Council Convention on Offenses relating to Cultural Properties -, as well as of international justice up until the Al-Mahdi case at the International Criminal Court (ICC), reminds us of the increased importance given to the protection of cultural artefacts over the past century, for they constitute the heritage of humanity.

As a sign of this increasing emergency in protecting cultural heritage from attacks in times of conflict, Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the ICC, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed, on November 6, 2017, a Letter of Intent, formalizing and further strengthening their collaboration in this matter. Cultural heritage is highlighted in the Letter as a “celebration of our commonality and the richness of our diversity”, and Prosecutor Bensouda noticed that destruction of cultural property has devastating impacts on dignity and further human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to education and even economic rights and she therefore underlined the necessity to address these crimes through the law. A Letter of Intent solidifying the existing relationship between UNESCO and the ICC and responding to a “humanitarian and security imperative”, stated Ms Bokova.

Creating Rights will offer a series of blogposts over the next few weeks with the aim to give an overview of the international legal framework ensuring the protection of cultural artefacts and sites through States obligations (post I), a reflexion on the protection of cultural heritage as a cultural right (post II), and a description of the stakes at play within the criminalisation of the destruction of cultural properties, as envisioned by the international justice system. In this last post, an overview of the Al-Mahdi case at the ICC as well as the reparation system of the Court applied in the particular contexts where a conviction has been issued in relation to attacks against buildings dedicated to art and historic monuments will also be given (post III). Finally, the question of the reconstruction and its importance for the conflict-affected communities will be studied in a final post (post IV).

Post I : The Protection of Cultural Heritage : An Obligation

In this first blog post on cultural heritage, Creating Rights will set out the important work that has been done over the years by the international community, through several conventions drafted with the purpose to respond to the destruction of cultural heritage. They thereby developped the nature and dimension of the notion of cultural heritage to include in its definition intangible artefacts, as well as the strong link existing between the cultural productions of men and their right to enjoy it.

The destructions caused by World War II led not only to the creation of UNESCO, on November 16, 1945, but also to cooperation within the international community and a will to elaborate multilateral treaties in order to preserve cultural properties, for the benefit of present as well as future generations. By doing so, the international community expanded on the possibilities contained in this seemingly simple word, « heritage » : something which is passed down.

According to the UNESCO, cultural heritage isthe legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural heritage includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity).”

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, adopted in The Hague in 1954 (the 1954 Hague Convention), is the first international treaty formulating rules to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. It regulates the conduct of nations during war and military occupation in order to guarantee the protection of cultural sites, monuments and repositories, including museums, libraries and archives. This Convention is the oldest international agreement to address exclusively cultural heritage preservation. It is interesting to note the references made in the Preamble of the Convention to “people” and not “States”, as a way to underline the interconnection between all human beings through cultural heritage :

Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world”.

As analysed by Francesco Francioni in the European Journal of International Law, these statements justify the general obligation of the States to respect – namely to abstain from « acts of willful destruction and damage » – cultural heritage of significant importance in the event of armed conflict. Each individual being the carrier of the cultural heritage of humanity, attacks on cultural sites in one country is made equivalent to destroying the cultural heritage of humanity as a whole.

A First Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention has been drafted and opened to ratification the same year. It provides specific guidelines for the import and export of cultural property from an occupied territory during armed conflict, and the return of such objects when held in protective custody abroad. In 1999, the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention was adopted, and entered into force in March 2004. The Second Protocol supplements the 1954 Hague Convention by taking into account developments in warfare since the post-World War II period, especially the type of ethnic conflict that erupted in the former Yugoslavia. As noted by Tonka Kostadinova, “(b)elligerents in the Yugoslav wars sought to justify their own existence and to (re)define territories by demolishing or suppressing the identity of ‘the other’”. The Second Protocol was designed to address the intentional destruction of cultural heritage. It strengthens several provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention concerning the safeguarding of and the respect for cultural property and conduct during hostilities. The Second Protocol also creates a differentiation in gravity for offences against cultural property by referring to two types of offences. Those committed against property under enhanced protection entail more serious consequences.

The UNESCO General Conference also adopted a Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage, later on, in 2003. This time, the Declaration applies in the context of armed conflict, occupation and in time of peace, but does not create legal obligations upon States.

Another important convention in favour of cultural heritage protection, and the valorization of its relationship to the human life, is the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted in Paris on November 16, 1972. It contains the innovative concept of “world heritage”, dedicated to cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value.

A last example of a treaty framing the protection of cultural heritage (a comprehensive list of treaties can be found here, as well as on the Peace Palace Library website, which offers a very interesting research guide to the topic of cultural heritage), is the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, signed in 2003 in Paris, concerning peacetime. The safeguarding of “living cultures” has emerged in the past decade as one of the new dimensions of cultural heritage law, since the notion of “cultural heritage of all mankind” has been criticized for being conceived only under its intangible aspect (buildings, monuments, paintings etc), in accordance with the western conception of cultural heritage. Therefore, claims, coming especially from Latin America, have emerged from ethnic minorities and indigenous people for international law to conceive cultural heritage also in its immaterial expression (i.e. traditional cultures, folklores) that involves the heritage of communities unrepresented by a State. The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage is the first binding instrument to extend the scope of international protection from intangible cultural property to oral and immaterial heritage. The Convention highlights the link between protection of cultural heritage and human rights, in particular with the collective dimension of the right to access, perform and maintain a group’s culture and the right to choose a cultural identity.

Through the development of the international legal framework, the link between cultural heritage and human identities, traditions, and history, became stronger. Cultural artefacts represent the expressions of human creativity and skills. The destruction of items forming our cultural heritage hence infringes upon several rights universally recognized, such as “the right to freedom of thought and religion, the right to freedom of expression, including the right to learning about your history and the history of others”, as underscored by Karima Bennoune, the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, in a discussion organised in October 2016 by the United Nations and gathering experts with a view to explore the relationship between cultural heritage and human rights. This question will be the topic of the next blog post of the series concerning cultural heritage on Creating Rights‘ website.

Featured image visible here and here. Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II. The provision in the 1954 Hague Convention to have trained military personnel within a nation’s armed forces was inspired by the successful example of the MFAA. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).

“Consciousness: Past and Present” – The oppression of women, by artist Shqipe Kamberi

By Njomza Miftari

We sat down to speak to Artist Shqipe Kamberi in Pristina, Kosovo regarding her recent personal art exhibition titled “Consciousness: Past and Present” displayed at the National Museum of Kosovo. Shqipe began actively pursuing the arts upon graduating from the Academy of Arts at the University of Pristina in Kosovo in 1998. She showed dedication to her career through painting whilst also working as a TV set designer.

Her recent work is particularly interesting as we are in the midst of 16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, where violence is also pervasive in silent forms, in ways that are not as easily visible to the public eye. These particular pieces, as shown in the photographs above and below, are a classic example of silent violence which reflect the treatment of Albanian women, specifically brides, during the era of Kanuni (code of customary rules dating back to the 15th century or before, editor’s note). Kanuni is a set of written laws that were heavily practiced especially in rural areas of Albania and Kosovo.

Can you tell us what these pieces mean to you?
I have been inspired mostly from the Kanuni, which a number of articles refer to the rights of women, specifically during a marriage. The women displayed in my art pieces are brides, and through these brides, I have tried to express the situation of these women living in a patriarchal society, which for me represent someone who does not have an identity. I have referred a lot to the Kanuni as it specifically has articles which indicate that women have absolutely no rights. She has to obey to the family, serve them, and is not allowed to express her own opinion. In addition, she has no right to form any decisions, neither regarding her home or her children. This was sufficient enough for me to transfer it through art. This is why I have closed their eyes in different ways, to show that something is wrong with them as beings.

Article 33, Duties of Wife to Husband, Code of Leke Dukagjini:

The duties of the Wife are:

  1. a) To preserve the honor of her husband;
  2. b) To serve her husband in an unblemished manner;
  3. c) To submit to his domination;
  4. d) To fulfill her conjugal duties;
  5. e) To raise and nurture her children with honor;
  6. f) To keep clothes and shoes in good order
  7. g) Not to interfere in the betrothals of her sons and daughters.


Do you think such patriarchal practices are still present in Kosovo today?

Yes, but in different forms. Today women are more educated and more independent, however, there are still cases, especially in rural areas where men dominate in the family. Maybe not as severe as before but it is still evident. Also, I don’t think this only happens in Kosovo as patriarchal families and oppressed women still exist in all societies. In my artwork you can see that the face of the woman remains the same. What I have tried to portray is that this problem is evident throughout many cultures but I have tailored it with traditional Albanian clothes as I am living in that society. As an artist, we have an obligation to reflect these manifestations.

What message do you hope the public will gain from viewing these pieces?

My main objective is to touch the individuals that still maintain a patriarchal view in society, and for me, it is enough to raise awareness to those people.  

Do you think art has the power to bring social change?

Art has the power to cater information, and it can also bring change to those that are open minded, however through my artwork I doubt that I can change the opinion of men that are patriarchal. For example, just because he is patriarchal, he will oppose me and will not accept my idea. Nonetheless, art as information is a very powerful and an important tool. We are very aware that through art we intake information about different events in the world. For example, during the Rwandan genocide, I was completely uninformed, I only knew that there was a conflict going on. However, when I saw the movie “Hotel Rwanda” that is where I really understood what was going on. So, through an art project, we were given the opportunity to understand the story as it was, and that is more powerful than politics.

What message would you like to send to other women and girls?
To encourage young girls to become educated as much as possible and to have a purpose for their own lives. They need to be firmer about their ambitions and not wait for society to do it for them but learn to take their own lead. That is how society changes through education.



“As long as my ballets are danced I will live”: 25 years after death, production about ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev not allowed to go ahead at Bolshoi

By Nolwenn Guibert*

On 8 July 2017, the General Director of the Bolshoi Theater, Vladimir Urin, cancelled, three days before its scheduled premiere, the production of a much anticipated new ballet about the life of former Soviet Union’s renowned artist, Rudolf Nureyev. Urin stated that he had cancelled the scheduled performances because rehearsals showed the production was not ready. For him, “the ballet was not good”. With a renowned choreographer, composer, a cast full of the leading stars of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Company, one of the top ballet companies in the world, having worked on the project for months, this is hard to believe. A ballet staged for the Bolshoi and about to premiere is never simply “not good”. For people who attended the general rehearsal, the performance was ready to go ahead and was even in better shape than many other premieres.

In fact, soon after the news broke out, a Russian news agency, Tass, cited a source from the Ministry of Culture according to which the cancellation originated from pressure by Vladimir Medinsky, the Minister of Culture, because he was outraged by the ballet and feared it would be in contravention of the 2013 Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors (which would mean a hefty fine for the Bolshoi). The management of the Bolshoi Ballet and the Ministry of Culture have since denied that, although there had been a discussion between Urin and the Ministry, a government ban was not issued on the production.

As background, it is useful to recall that in 2013, Russia introduced a federal law which bans “the promoting of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors, expressed in the dissemination of information aimed at creating in minors a non-traditional sexual orientation, promoting the attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relationships, creating a distorted image of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships, or imposing information about non-traditional sexual relationships, arousing interest in such relationships, if these activities do not contain acts punishable under criminal law.” As a side note, just a few weeks ago, in a landmark six to one decision in the case of Bayev and Others v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law violated Articles 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression and prohibition of discrimination). The Court found that: “Above all, by adopting such laws the authorities reinforce stigma and prejudice and encourage homophobia, which is incompatible with the notions of equality, pluralism and tolerance inherent in a democratic society.”

Known by all even outside the ballet world, Rudolf Nureyev was openly gay and was one of the first Soviet dancers to defect from the USSR in 1961. He, and the great artists who followed like Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Alexander Godunov, to name a few, fled out of the Soviet Union in search of artistic freedom and to express their art free from censorship. At Le Bourget airport, near Paris, Nureyev delared: “I want to stay and be free”. Like all Soviet art, ballet in the Soviet Union was supposed to embody the principles of narodnost (nationality), ideinost (ideological content), and partiinost (party spirit), as explained in Christina Ezrahi’s book, Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia

In Paris, London, and New York, Nureyev went on to have as much of a profilic and acclaimed artistic career as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director as he led a much talked about and scandalous personal life. In that sense, a true artistic depiction of Nureyev’s life would necessarily include some representation of his relationships and as such may very well have fallen under the scope of the 2013 law.

The Bolshoi production director, and Director of the Gogol Center for the Arts, Kirill Serebrennikov, made this sole comment on the performance’s cancellation: “While authorities and rules change, art is permanent.” Without Serebrennikov’s “Nureyev”, and until the 2013 law is repealed or there is a shift in the treatment of gay rights and freedom of expression in Russia, we are in any event left with the master’s many masterpieces. Incidentally, as this post is being written, Serebrennikov has been arrested in relation to a large fraud case and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years. The art world has been quick to react to this arrest and offer their support to Serebrennikov (see here and here), a man known for his talent and as an advocate of gay rights and a Putin opponent.


* The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The importance of volunteering

At Creating Rights, we want to take the opportunity of having participated to two great volunteering events lately to express how nice it feels to be part of the big non-profit community. And to meet and potentially collaborate with individuals driven by the will to give a bit – or a lot – of their free time and get some experience while volunteering for non-profit organizations.

The first event on 14 June was organized by Volunteer The Hague, a fantastic volunteer organization that builds a bridge between non-Dutch speaking individuals in The Hague who want to get volunteer experience and non-profit organizations who need this kind of people to reach their goals. The Volunteer The Hague Mix and Match Networking Event saw 12 non-profit organizations meet over 150 people. This event is organized several times a year, see here and here for more information.

Volunteer The Hague also intervenes in events when needed, to give presentations on what it means to volunteer and how it can help regarding career evolution. They did so at the second event Creating Rights participated in, on 30 June at the Institute for Social Studies in The Hague, organized by The Umbrella of Hope Uganda. There we met with African students completing their Master program in development studies. It was a great opportunity for us to meet with motivated young and brilliant individuals who already work on human rights, transitional justice, gender, and conflict issues.

Creating Rights, like numerous organizations, is made of a team of volunteers who share an interest in the interdisciplinary field of art and human rights, or want to help a new organization to grow. If you feel you could benefit from a volunteering experience with us, and want to help us achieve our vision and mission, please visit our Get Involved page, regularly updated with volunteer profiles, or contact us!

“Ararat” by Atom Egoyan, or the current influence of the Armenian Genocide

By Nolwenn Guibert*

On 8 June, Humanity House and the Abovian Cultural Association with their representative, Mr Mato Hakhverdian, in attendance, co-organized in The Hague an evening event which looked into the current influence of the Armenian Genocide. The evening started with opening remarks from the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the Netherlands, H.E. Dziunik Aghajanian, and Mr. Alexis Demirdjian, an international criminal lawyer and recently the editor and co-author of an inter-disciplinary book entitled “The Armenian Genocide Legacy”. Her Excellency Aghajanian remarked that war trauma and wounds cannot be healed if victims do not face the truth. Such was the underlying theme of the evening.

The screening of Atom Egoyan’s 2002 “Ararat” followed. A movie within a movie, the Canadian-French film focuses on family and film crew members all directly or indirectly working in Toronto on a film depicting the 1915 events. The film explores the lasting human impact of the 1915 Armenian Genocide a century later and examines the representation of the truth through art.

The movie is a complex weaving of various stories, relationships, and characters all linked together by their own representation of what they allow themselves to consider as being the truth. The quest for remembrance is at the heart of the movie when the mother of Armenian painter Arshile Gorky, then a boy, tells him: “If you survive, it will be to tell this story”. Yet, when the young protagonist Raffi travel to Turkey to shoot footage so that he can construct his own memories of what he has heard happened to his ancestors, he comes back from that trip with the realisation that it is not just the land or the lives the Armenians lost but also any way to remember it with.

For me, one of the most powerful scenes of the film is when Gorky, then living in New York City in 1934, erases the hands of his mother from his famous painting based on the last photograph that was taken of him together with this his mother in 1912. Egoyan shoots Gorky as looking at his mother’s eyes in the painting while erasing her hands as if to finally say goodbye to her and let go of her motherly touch.

More paintings by Arshile Gorky can be viewed here.

The screening was followed by presentations from two scholars, Marie-Aude Baronian, Associate Professor in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Amsterdam, and Aysenur Korkmaz, PhD Researcher at the University of Amsterdam in Regional, Transnational, and European Studies.

As Baronian explained after the screening, Ararat is not a historical drama about the Armenian Genocide and has no documentary value. Rather, it explores transgenerational trauma and the impossibility of mourning. Ararat is not about the past –the past is dealt with by the “movie within the movie” which gives an historical insight, albeit distorted, into the 1915 events; but rather about the present. As such, it is replete with mnemonic anchors tying the past to the present, such as Armenian emblems, photographs, Gorky’s paintings, and appearances by the emblematic Armenian French entertainer Charles Aznavour.

Baronian explained that there are subtle traces of the Armenian Genocide in all of Egoyan’s work. I left the evening with a strong desire to review Egoyan’s other films through that lens.

* Nolwenn Guibert is an international criminal lawyer working in The Hague who has a keen interest in matters relating to the Armenian Genocide.

CAMERA JUSTITIA: Law and Justice at the Movies that Matter Festival – The Hague

by Sofia Stolk (coordinator Camera Justitia program)

Cyberwar, illegal adoption, the death penalty, solitary confinement, child soldiers, resistance, war crimes, and a final verdict. In this wide variety of topics, one important common theme stands out: a call for justice. From March 24 until April 1, the Movies that Matter Festival once again takes over The Hague. For 9 days, the ‘International City of Peace and Justice’ will host a plethora of films, debates and exhibitions about human rights and social justice.

Film opens eyes. That is what Movies that Matter believes in. That is why we show films, and talk about them. Let’s meet, is the slogan of this year’s festival. That is exactly one of the biggest contributions a festival like Movies that Matter has to offer: to create a space to encounter ‘the other’. A space where artists can meet politicians, where filmmakers can meet lawyers, where activists can meet academics, where students can meet judges. The Camera Justitia programme specifically focuses on the worldwide fight for justice. Four documentaries, four fiction films, and over thirty experts and filmmakers show and discuss judicial dilemmas and the challenges of (international) legal systems. Camera Justitia reveals the bright and but also the darker sides of law, justice and human rights; it sheds light on the tensions, and asks uncomfortable questions. Because securing human rights is not easy, because law is not straightforward, and because justice can mean different things to different people.

The four Camera Justitia documentaries question the capacity of the law to effectively and humanely deal with personal traumas as well as global threats. They dig where one is not allowed to dig, they ask the painful questions, they show how big dilemmas and societal changes are more than grand theories or political slogans, but affect the lives of actual people.

Can you secure your identity through a trial? Algo Mio – Argentia’s Stolen Children shows two different perspectives on the legal and psychological dimensions of illegal adoption. Can you hold prisoners in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, indefinitely? Solitary offers a disturbing look inside a US maximum security prison. Do we really know what threatens us? Zero Days unravels the highly secretive and intrusive cyber operations that increasingly dominate the world’s international relations. What does ‘civilian life’ mean when you spent 16 years fighting in the bush? No Place for a Rebel follows the struggles of former child soldier Opono Opondo.

Like documentary, fiction is a very powerful tool to get us to think about the world, to explore the grey zones, the struggles and the other perspective. Because fiction can sometimes be more real than reality itself. The four Camera Justitia fiction films incisively uncover the impact of law and legal systems on the daily lives of individuals all over the world.

In The Verdict, the audience decides on the fate of an air force pilot who saved but also ended many lives by shooting down a hijacked passenger aircraft that was heading towards a packed stadium. Are his action morally justifiable? And legally? After the film, we ask the audience to vote: guilty or not guilty? That yesterday’s decisions affect today’s struggles is also experienced by prison guard Aiman who becomes the Apprentice of a death penalty executioner. In A Good Wife, Serbian housewife Milena is haunted by the ghosts of the past too, when she discovers a dark secret that disrupts here peaceful family life. Finally, the brave defense of Nelson Mandela in the historical drama Bram Fischer provides food for thought about resistance, sacrifice and just, but also unjust law.

Nine days, over seventy films, six talk shows, Masterclasses by Judge Julia Sebutinde (International Court of Justice) and Anna Neistat (Amnesty International), numerous Q&As with directors, experts, lawyers and other international guests… LET’S MEET at the Movies that Matter festival 2017.