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Film Revisits Abuses by U.N. Peacekeepers in Bosnia

Denis Foynes

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2011 (IPS) - “The Whistle Blower”, a feature film inspired by actual events that occurred in 1999, follows the story of Kathy Bolkovac (Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz), a U.S. police officer who takes a job working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia.

She uncovers a dangerous reality of institutional corruption, human rights abuses and intrigue amid a world of private contractors and diplomatic doubletalk. Bolkovac risks her job and her own safety to bring to light a wide-scale child sex slave and human-trafficking scandal involving U.S. military contractors and United Nations peacekeepers.

After a screening this week at the U.N. Correspondents Association, the director Larysa Kondracki and screenwriter Eilis Kirwan held a question and answer session with the press.

Asked how much of the story was true, Kondracki explained that the actual abuses in Bosnia were so shocking that she had to tone it down to make it believable and to ensure that viewers didn’t “tune it out”.

“Many people assume that the story is simply too outrageous to be a true story. When they find out that we actually underplayed it, they are shocked,” she said.

Kondracki read an e-mail she had received regarding a recent meeting between U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his senior advisors.

It stated that “a discussion regarding the film absorbed us for the remaining 40 minutes of the meeting. OHCHR’s [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] position [is] that the U.N. should be proactive and condemn unacceptable practices in Bosnia, inform on improvements of U.N. policies since then.”

But the e-mail went on to state that many advisors believed the “proposal of a public screening of the movie at the U.N., to be followed by a frank discussion, was counter-productive and would contribute to the film’s impact.”

“They preferred downplaying the film and instead preparing answers on an if-asked basis,” she said.

Kondracki added that she believed that an expectation of impunity was one major factor driving the abuses by peacekeepers.

“Due to international immunity, they sometimes behave in ways they never would at home,” she said. “They can go into a fantasy world on these missions and don’t stay grounded in reality.”

“That is not to say we should get rid of these missions or the U.N.,” she noted. “The U.N. is great and there are a lot of great people that work for them. We just need some serious reflection.”

The example of the Blackwater shooting in Baghdad, in which contractors killed 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007, indicates that this feeling of invincibility has not disappeared.

“The Whistle Blower” came up the following day at the daily briefing by the secretary-general’s spokesperson.

“We welcome the film because of the important subjects that it raises that are high on the agenda of the United Nations, including the fight against human trafficking; against organised crime, particularly in areas where there has been conflict,” said Martin Nesirky.

“It also is important because it looks at the role of women in peacekeeping operations, particularly military and police officers. These are all topics that are on the agenda of the United Nations,” he said.

“And I would anticipate that a little later in the summer, there would be a kind of discussion organised here at the United Nations to look at some of the topics that are raised in that film.”

The feature many are calling “the film the U.N. would rather you didn’t see” is set for cinematic release Aug. 5 in the United States.

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