CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Catch A Fire and Ruminations on Justice and International Law

"Catch A Fire," the latest movie about South Africa, resonates with clarity, authenticity and truth.

The film portrays a man convicted of a crime he did not commit, who is then radicalized and determined to join the African National Congress (ANC) as a way to "do something" to change the apartheid system.

The film's ending mixes the fictional portrayal with snippets of documentary of the real character played by Derek Luke.

Because of the oppression of apartheid, the film's hero lost everything. But in the end, he was redeemed by forgiveness -- in prison, Nelson Mandela taught him to forgive his enemies, after all he had endured, and he decided that revenge would only continue the cycle of violence.

Today the BBC reported on the death of former South African President Pieter Willem Botha. And the article from its Johannesburg correspondent details the policies used by Botha to hurt blacks and perpetuate apartheid. This included maintaining a deliberated segregrated society, making racial intermarriage unlawful, and condoning undeserved beatings.

Yet, the author concludes: "Maybe the reason our elders have advised against speaking ill of the dead, is that since they will be meeting their creator, there is no point harbouring anger against their mortal remains."

A contemporaneous news bulletin marks the end of Saddam Hussein's trial with the verdict and sentence. "International resonance of Iraq verdict" observes that although the verdict may have little effect on the war itself, the effect on victims may be therapeutic:

'Villagers were able to come face to face with Saddam Hussein and tell of the torture and retaliation employed by the interrogators who sought to establish the extent of the opposition in that region.'

Truth-telling can bring partial liberation to those still in anguish.

'The trial established that there was a chain of command to the top and that sets an important precedent for any future ruler who tries to avoid responsibility.'

There is, at the same time, controversy about the death penalty, as it may not be the mark of a civilized society. Whether law should be used to hasten Hussein's reunion with the creator marks a difficult topic. The trial does, however, help establish the rule of international law as triumphant over dictatorships.

'The trial takes its place on the growing list of tribunals that are slowly but surely establishing a new body of international law that can be used against repressive rulers.

'And looked at from this perspective, the trial perhaps assumes an international legal importance greater than its impact in Iraq itself.'

As to the chain of injury unleashed and the requisite steps to healing, that goes far beyond international law and into the law of the emotions: healing anger, grief, despair, destruction, and suffering over generations. Will 'justice' in the courtroom be sufficient, or are other tools necessary? Will the language of law be sufficient, or is there a language of healing to help survivors cope with their memories and experiences and losses? Will the dispelling of fear from one dictator toppled, and whatever comes from the satiety of avenging, quench or stoke the fires that linger once the justice of law is complete?

Further, what can this trial do to show humanity that certain actions -- crimes against humanity, as legally defined, are completely inexcusable, whatever the circumstances?

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173