It is the seventh occasion that I have the honor to introduce the International Human Rights Film Festival Albania (IHRFFA). It would have been difficult to have predicted when the first modest Festival began in 2006 that seven years later not only would the tradition continue, but it would have grown into such a respected event. Tirana is now rightly seen by the human rights film making community as an important site for the celebration of human rights via the art of film making. Due to this event, human rights filmmakers, educators as well as advocates from a variety of countries, associate Albania’s capital with the celebration of the protection of human dignity via the creative art of film. The creation and support of the IHRFFA now allows the Albanian people to have the opportunity to reconfirm their hard earned human rights by participating in an annual event that brings visitors worldwide to Tirana. For a week, the people of Tirana, along with the international community and foreign guests join in and consider the important and complex issues that surround the human condition as well as the promotion and protection of universal rights. Human rights is properly put in an appropriate spotlight where issues, concerns and the practicalities of human rights can be considered and discussed in an appropriate venue through the stimulation of fine film making. If this year’s events reflect the successes of previous editions, then we can be assured that the ideas, impressions and impact of these films will continue to stimulate interest and commitment for the respect of human rights long after this Film Festival.
This year’s Festival is especially timely; its major theme is the consideration of environmental issues through the prism of the human rights commitment. In a year where there have been major droughts, floods of historical dimensions, violent storms rarely seen with such regularity, extreme temperatures, all threatening the lives and well-being of people in every continent, the choice of this theme could not be more appropriate. Where the growing reality of climate change is causing the melting of ice caps, the destruction of our islands and coastal regions and causing the cost of food to reach record prices, it is now abundantly clear that the rights enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) must be considered in light of the protection of our environment.
The two concerns are intimately linked and cannot be considered independently, but must be discussed with the clear understanding that the human condition is dependent on the consideration of both. It is a fundamental truth, that the rights found within the thirty articles of the UDHR are possible to realize only with an environment that can sustain a quality physical condition permitting the realization of the human rights agenda. It is telling that when the world agreed to begin to define human rights in order to give meaning to the UN Charter’s Article 55 and 56 commitment, (that state members are charged to “respect and promote human rights”) they did not include a reference to the environment. The terms the ‘right to a quality environment’, the ‘right to water’ or ‘clean air’ cannot be found within the UDHR. Tragically, what the world now considers the seminal instrument that allowed for the development of human rights in the last and now this century makes no direct mention of a quality environment.
This 1948 instrument was exceedingly progressive in foreseeing a need not only to protect the classical civil and political rights, but economic, social and cultural rights. There was a realization and consensus among the drafters, inspired by President Roosevelt’s clarion call that the world must respect not just the freedoms of speech and religion, but ‘freedom from want’; that a Universal Declaration must include economic rights such as housing, health and education. The UDHR makes clear that the right to vote, to participate in one’s government, the freedom of expression,… is clearly dependent on such rights as the right to ‘favourable remuneration’ for one’s work, social security, availability of health care, housing, rest and leisure, etc. Certainly the UDHR placing the ‘right to life’ as a core right reflected the interdependence of the category of rights enumerated in the Declaration.
Yet the drafters despite their incredible insight and understanding of the human condition, along with their recognition of the long history and tragic events of human rights abuse, (epitomized and made critical by the experience of the Holocaust) failed to include mention of a right that would secure an environment favorable for the protection of the body of rights it describes. In fact to this day, despite the dire and impeding environmental crisis that are seen and anticipated by experts, there are few international human rights instruments that reference the protection of the environment. One rare exception is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but there is little in the African system that can actually insure the enactment and respect for that commitment. The other human rights instruments such as the European Convention of Human Rights, its accompanying protocols and the Inter-American instruments have at times been interpreted to protect environmental concerns. However, there remains a lacuna where the environmental issues have not yet been seen as a central part of the theory of the protection of fundamental rights.
It can of course be argued that logic demands that the environment must be protected if we are to protect the ‘right to life’ and the other core rights referenced in the UDHR and elsewhere. Can we secure the universal right to health in an atmosphere that is polluted? Where the air we breathe causes human illness? Where the sun’s rays are increasingly threatening the population with an onslaught of cancer? Can we protect the rights of children and mothers, a concern that the UDHR says deserves our ‘special care’, where the water is not safe to drink? Can we produce the food we need where water is not available to support our agriculture? Can we have conditions where we are secure from natural disasters that are the direct result of the violations of our environment? The answer to these questions necessitates a simple answer. Without a quality environment, the pursuit and protection of human dignity and well-being envisioned by human rights instruments is not possible.
Despite the simplicity of the answer, the environmental conditions that negatively impact our environment continue to proliferate. Part of the reason, albeit there are many other complex factors, is that in the pursuit of ‘development’, another important human right, we regularly sacrifice the well-being of our land and water for production and the accumulation of wealth. Production and commerce are a prerequisite and a necessity for the realization of the promise of human rights, but, we must ask, at what expense? Are we shortsighted in the pursuit of profit to the extent that we are condemning the destruction of our future for immediate needs? For now we have been willing, all too often, to sacrifice the protection of our natural resources for immediate gain. We rightly reason that with development our peoples can prosper and pursue the rights that are promised. The problem though, is that we may be damaging beyond repair the very natural resources we need to bring prosperity and well-being to future generations, as well as causing immediate harm to those victimized by environmental abuse.
These and other issues are not easy to resolve. Do we fish to the extent where our Oceans will ultimately be depleted of fish stock? Do we harness our rivers to provide electricity, so necessary for a quality life in this era, at the expense of destroying the environment dependent on the free flow of those rivers? What about the traditional cultures which are reliant on those rivers for their existence and the continuation of their culture? Does development mean the cost of our cultural heritage? Do we mine the land to the extent that the surroundings are severely polluted and cannot support life or agriculture for eons to come? Do we clog our roads and pollute our air in order to allow for the transportation of goods and trade?
The films we are about to see will explore some of these issues, as well as others, that strike at the very root of the human rights doctrine. We should be challenged to consider how the peoples of the world are to find the means to protect and promote all the human rights, while at the same time, insure that our environment can protect ‘life’ and fundamental human rights for future generations.
Over the years the IHFFA has become more than the showing of films. It has become an event where those committed to human rights can come together, express again their commitment to the rights found in the human rights instruments and a place where we can introduce an understanding to the new generations of Albanians and internationals, who have never or rarely considered these important issues before. This year the attention will be directed on environmental issues with the promotion and protection of the human rights agenda; a most important concern for our time.
Accordingly, the Festival not only brings the filmmakers together with advocates and members of the international community, but offers students and the general public an opportunity to discuss and consider the messages they saw on the screen. The consideration of a quality environment seen, via the art of film making, as a precondition for the protection of human rights, is a most appropriate topic for student consideration and important discussion.
This Seventh Edition of the IHRFFA, supported via the committed efforts of the Academy of Film & Multimedia, MARUBI, joined with the support of the international community, businesses, colleges and universities, along with Albanian and international NGOs and organizations, is a telling statement on how human rights can continue to be brought forth as a contemporary issue to the public in a meaningful way. The decision to make environmental issues and its importance for human right realization is important for not only Albania’s future but for the very future of all the peoples of the world. Quite frankly the realization of universal respect of human dignity is dependent on our protection of our environment. Without a favorable environment, the realization of human rights is impossible.
Let us consider these issues as we watch these films so we may seek policies, practices, and new modalities of protection, in order that future generations can enjoy life with the ultimate realization of the universal respect of human rights.
Theodore S. Orlin – IHRFFA- Honorary President
Clark Professor of Human Rights Scholarship and Advocacy (2005-2010), Utica College, New York, USA