On Thursday 6th October, the Amnesty International group of Strasbourg hosted a showing of the film “Section Speciale” at the Odyssee cinema, with Jean-Paul Costa, the head of the European Court of Human Rights, present to answer questions surrounding the topic of human rights violations throughout time.
The film “Section Special”, set during the beginning of the Vichy government’s rule in “la zone libre” of France. The plot goes somewhat like this:
“In France during the German occupation, a young German naval officer is killed in Paris by a group of leftist activists. The compliant Vichy government seeks to appease the Germans by locating the perpetrators and agreeing to the execution of six people, and a special section is set up for this purpose. The section consists of judges who are either too ambitious, too cowardly or too inhumane to refuse such work. Some communist militants, although innocent of this crime, are immediately imprisoned and tried by a closed court. A week after the murder of the subway, three alleged “terrorists” Communists are executed …”
The film shared the Best Director prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best foreign film. And today, it represents the universality of human rights violations, that occur all over the globe today, and not just under unstable governments and within countries with poor economies. Atrocities like those committed during the Second World War still happen today, and the difference between right as wrong has not changed.
Europe has learnt a lot from the World Wars: there is now a European Union and no Third World War has yet occurred. However, we still see the occurrence of human rights violations everyday. Why is this so? Do governments still feel the need to justify crimes committed by committing crimes themselves? This brings to light the question, “What really is justice?”
Justice is a term we use everyday without batting an eyelid. In a simple sense, to me I guess it means making something right by punishing those who have done harm. People pay the price for their bad actions, and families of victims almost always seek justice to help their grief. But sometimes this hunger for justice, and the pressure put on governments to supply it, leads to unjustified justice, the most recent being the execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. Although evidence pointed to Troy Davis as the murderer of officer MacPhail, this changed over time. Four witnesses admitted in court that they lied at trial when they implicated Troy Davis, four witnesses implicated another man as the one who killed Officer MacPhail and three original state witnesses described police coercion during questioning, including one man who was 16 years old at the time of the murder. Yet the execution took place although evidence implicating Mr Davis in the crime was no longer substantial.
In the film, the flames of totalitarianism had to be stoked, even with innocent blood, and it is especially convenient to the government if the accused are thoroughly expendable in their eyes. With Troy Davis, nobody will know the truth unless more evidence is unveiled or someone steps forward as the culprit, but in my opinion, the state of Georgia should have reconsidered the case of Mr Davis, especially as he had already served a life sentence on death row. In Europe, 92% of states have abolished the death penalty, but in the United States, the statistics are quite different. 34 out of 50 states still use the death penalty as a form of punishment, although a 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder, including life with no possibility of parole with restitution to the victim’s family (39%), life with no possibility of parole (13%), or life with the possibility of parole (9%).
The plot of the film, and the case of Troy Davis are both prime examples of how justice is technically served, but how it can be unjustified. Justice should not just be served for justice’s sake, otherwise it is not justice anymore, it is vengeance.