Sydney recently played host to a screening of the film, E-Team, a documentary about Human Rights Watch’s Emergency Team, a group of fearless individuals that visit the front lines in order to document atrocities that are occurring. There was also a Q & A after the film with Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch and Brian Thomson, the international editor of SBS World News. Here are ten things The AU Review learnt from this event.
1. Human Rights Watch have been covering atrocities happening in war-torn countries for quite some time now. In 1998 they were in Kosovo and documented the ethnic-cleansing that took place there.
2. The work of Human Rights Watch can be a political game-changer. Former US president, Bill Clinton was pressured to intervene in Kosovo after seeing a photograph depicting the aftermath of a massacre (shot by an individual from Human Rights Watch) that was published on the front page of the The New York Times. The organisation also provided evidence in the trial of the late, former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević when he was tried for crimes against humanity at The Hague.
3. The E-Team were one of the first to be in Libya in 2011 to cover the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi. This ground work proved crucial in their subsequent visits to the area during the Arab Spring and the Libyan Civil War.
4. E-Team were in Syria in 2013 and they documented a single cluster bomb attack where some 200 adults and children died. One Syrian man appears in the film and it is harrowing to discover that he lost numerous family members on this one occasion.
5. E-Team were among the first to document the thousands of people who were detained and tortured after they were caught protesting against Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. The death toll of civilians continues to grow and in some cases the bodies were burned by the perpetrators and those complicit in these murders.
6. In a return visit to Libya, members of the E-Team uncovered heat-seeking missiles among the abandoned weapons. These weapons are used to shoot down aeroplanes!
7. In 2013 the E-Team helped prepare evidence about the chemical attack on Ghouta in Syria, an attack that was the deadliest one since the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Human Rights Watch alleged that hundreds of kilograms of sarin was used in the attack and that this suggested that the Syrian government was behind the assault because the opposition forces were not known to possess such significant amounts of sarin or the rockets used to unleash these poisonous gases.
8. Human Rights Watch have also been to the Philippines recently to document their drug crisis. They have also been to Australia’s off-shore processing centre in Nauru to document what is happening with the asylum seekers in detention there.
9. Former E-Team member, Anna Neistat is an inspiration. In the film she juggles pregnancy with visits to Syria as well as hosting press conferences about the group’s findings. She also has a hilarious and rather cheeky father who thought he wouldn’t make the final cut of the documentary. This was never going to be the case.
10. This event is just one of many that will be screened this year thanks to the team at Human Rights Watch. Stay tuned to The AU Review for more information about these.
E-Team is available to stream via Netflix.