Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Whistleblower

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 ½ stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing -
Rober Ebert’s Review -

The Whistleblower (directed and co-written by Larysa Kondracki, co-written by Eilis Kirwan) is about the true-story of Kathryn Bolkovac (played by Rachel Weisz) an American policer officer who finding herself in a personal crossroads in her life (divorce, job going nowhere), decided to take lucrative job ($100,000/year tax free) working for DynCorp, a private military contractor, which had been contracted by the United Nations to do peacekeeping work in Bosnia in the years following the genocidal war there. 

She finds herself in a wild-west, almost post-apocalyptic atmosphere where in a testosterone driven haze crimes against women were simply not taken seriously.  Indeed, to her (and progressively to the audience’s horror) it becomes clear that many of the male peacekeepers had become both accomplices and even perpetrators in some of the worst of these crimes. 

Specifically, Bolkovac discovers that a sex-trafficking network had sprung-up in Bosnia, whose primary clientele proved to be the contracted UN peacekeepers themselves.  In a particularly powerful scene operator of a Sarajevo women’s shelter tells Bolkovac of absurdity of the situation: “This is a country where half its men were killed in the war, what possible reason would there be to smuggle women into Bosnia from abroad?”  The pictures on the walls of a seedy club in the hills outside Sarajevo raided by Bolkovac and her group provide an answer – the men frequenting these clubs were almost all wearing UN t-shirts and uniforms.

The rest of the film becomes a real-life de facto thriller: With some protection from the UN equivalent of “internal affairs,” Madeleine Rees (played by Vanessa Redgrave) and Peter Ward (played by David Strathaim), Bolkovac sets out to try to shut down the trafficking ring.  But again, the clients in these places are arguably Bolkovac’s own co-workers. 

This all makes for a nightmare.  However, here Bolkovac’s American “cop on the street” and British BBC  “the truth is the truth” values do come through.  Those U.N. peacekeepers all had “immunity” and could not be prosecuted for what they did while serving in Bosnia.  But at least Bolkovac could document the cases and shame everyone via the BBC (and arguably through this film ...)

The movie ends up being an indictment of the ineffectualness / impotence of the U.N.  Even more so, it's an indictment of the entire “military contractor” model for staffing “peace keeping” or other “policing” operations.  In the past, “military contractors” were called _mercenaries_, and mercenaries didn’t have a good reputation.  Why?  Because mercenaries _aren’t_ in a mission “for peace, honor, justice.”  They’re in it, bottom line,  _for the money_.

Bolkovac herself took the job of working as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia through the contractor DynCorp in good part because of the money ($100,000 tax free/year).   The U.N. _is supposed to be_ an agency of “boy scouts.”  Instead, its services were being contracted out to modern-day mercenary groups which historically have had an ethic of “the dogs of war.”  Add to that the promise of _U.N. immunity_ ... and no wonder that these “contractors” in “U.N. blues” were soon dealing with essentially the Russian mob trafficking in young women from Russia, the Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe. 

This is a tough movie to watch, but hopefully it will help us to understand the need to make sure that _everyone_ is under _some_ jurisdiction and law.


For more about this particular case and other famous whistle-blowers' stories made into film try:

BBC - Correspondent - June 14, 2002 - 'Boys will be Boys'

           Women's Hour - Aug 6, 2002 - UN Whistleblower

PRI The World - June 16, 2011 - The Whistleblower: Military contractors, human rights and sex trafficking

New York Times - July 28, 2011 - Exposing Injustices, the Real-Life Kind

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