Theodore S. Orlin

It is the eighth occasion that I have the honor to introduce the International Human Rights Film Festival Albania (IHRFFA). To be associated with this effort from its beginning to this year’s edition provides great satisfaction. To witness the Festival’s maturation as an enduring institution is truly a testament to the importance and resilience of the human rights message as well as a tribute for those whose commitment make this celebration of human rights a reality.

The efforts of all those associated with this accomplishment should take pride in this continuing achievement. Their contributions continue to make a difference in bringing the issues of human rights to the attention of the Albanian civil society as well as to the many internationals and foreign guests who attend the Festival. This annual gathering of those who appreciate film and its contribution to the promotion and understanding of human rights confirms that the message of the respect of ‘human dignity’ remains relevant for the Albanian nation and its peoples.

When the first edition began in 2006 there were few partners and just a few films; a meager beginning that has blossomed into a respected event now lasting a week with the presentation of fourty or more films.  Its reputation has grown not just in Albania, but globally. Today the IHRFFA is recognized as an important festival for filmmakers and the human rights community.

The development of the Festival has not always been smooth or easy. Unfortunately, events that saw ‘barb wire’ encircle the Marubi School and forced audiences to enter the theater via a narrow walkway, put a damper on this human rights celebration for a number of its Editions. While the wire is now gone and the garden is available for open air screenings and cultural performances issues remain that continue to place a cloud over the Festival’s future. The perseverance of the IHRFFA leadership, its supporters and the Marubi’s staff and students demonstrates a commitment to the education of future filmmakers and the continuation of the Human Rights Film Festival.

The IHRFFA’s sponsors and participants represent a broad spectrum of interests coming from different nations, and representing institutions, individuals and businesses. This week long event, sponsored jointly by the international community in Albania, (Embassies, intergovernmental organizations,…), Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), educational institutions and Albanian, as well as international businesses, has become a significant effort to teach, educate, promote and discuss the importance of human rights. The contributions of these sponsors supports the reality that the protection of human rights knows no boundaries and that the interest of protecting the individual to insure that all their rights, both civil and political and economic social and cultural rights are protected, is a paramount concern for “all peoples and all nations…every individual and every organ of society…” (Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights {UDHR} 1948).

Although the films selected represent the efforts of filmmakers from a variety of nations and cultures they all share the common theme of the importance of human rights and the respect of human dignity. The choices, carefully selected from scores of submitted films, portray the problems associated with the realization of the promise of human rights made by world community who have “pledged to take joint and separate action…” for the “promotion and observance of Human Rights…(Article 55 and 56 UN Charter {1945}). 

For those who are not familiar with this Festival they need to be aware that its activities go well beyond the showing of quality films. It has truly become a celebration of human rights in a much fuller context. Many of the films are introduced by the actual filmmakers who, in many instances, have traveled long distances to explain the filmmaking process and the issues surrounding the subject of the film. Further, many international and local human rights advocates and experts participate in discussions that follow the films and provide a more in depth understanding of the human rights issues portrayed on the screen. This contribution engages the audience in a meaningful discussion as to the problems associated with the implementation and realization of human rights. The Festival has become an annual forum for the celebration and discussion of the human rights agenda and its importance for Albania and its peoples.

An important addition to the Festival has been the inclusion of Albanian high school students who come to the Academy of Film and Multimedia MARUBI to see films, hear directly from film makers and discuss with experts the message their films portray. This activity has made the IHRFFA a human rights educator in the true sense of the UDHR’s commitment that human rights implementation is dependent on ‘teaching and education… for the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights.”

In recent years the Festival has added live performances that are held after the films in the pleasantry of Marubi’s Garden. The addition of these performances confirms the importance the performing arts plays in the enhancement of human rights. Article 27 of the UDHR states, “…Everyone has the right to freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts…”. The IHRFFA is playing an important role in including in a human rights festival an opportunity for sharing and encouraging the people of Tirana to enjoy the artistry of Albanian and foreign artists as a part of the celebration of human rights.

Simply, the Festival serves to have human rights put in an appropriate spotlight where issues, concerns and the practicalities of human rights can be considered and discussed in an appropriate venue via the stimulation of creative filmmaking, cultural performances and meaningful discussions. 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 and events will continue to stimulate interest and commitment for the respect of human rights beyond the week’s events. After all human rights are not only ‘universal’ but must be perpetually part of our lives. It is the intention of this festival that the impact of the event will influence our beliefs, policies and our behavior encouraging the further enhancement of the human rights promise to provide the respect of ‘human dignity’ to all.

This year’s Festival emphasis is especially critical, not only for Albania but for the entire world. Its major theme is the consideration of ‘domestic violence’. It is anticipated that through the prism of the human rights commitment, as seen through the eyes of the filmmaker, a greater understanding of the problems associated with this human tragedy will shape our understanding of the complexities of this ‘gross violation of human rights’. Just as human rights are to be viewed as universal, unfortunately ‘domestic violence’ is present and remains persistent throughout the globe.

The world quite correctly is concerned about the health of its people and international organization like the World Health Organization (WHO) carefully monitor the spread of disease in order to prevent a global epidemic. Whether the disease is AIDS, SARs, Small Pox, etc. as a world community, with great expense and effort, we take preventive and assertive action to protect us from epidemic. What we have ignored, until recently, is that ‘domestic violence’ has been and remains at epidemic proportions.  Unfortunately the same kind of attention that addresses physical diseases is not present when it comes to alleviating domestic violence; although recently there is trend that increasingly is attempting to address its prevalence.

WHO and other UN bodies such as CEDAW (Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) HRC (Human Rights Committee of the CPPR) and CRC (Committee on the Rights of the Child) now have put domestic violence on the global agenda and are beginning to tract and monitor the frequency of these human rights violations; attempting to have member states take active steps in addressing this denial of human dignity.

Of recent importance in fighting this ‘epidemic’ is the drafting, now open for signature and ratification, of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). This Convention, (April 12, 2011) has not yet entered in force and as such is not yet a legal reality since it requires the ratification of ten (10) States. It is to Albania’s credit that is one of the four States who have ratified the Convention.

As the title of the Convention states, it protects against both ‘violence against women’ as well as ‘domestic violence’ thus supporting this Festival theme that it is concerned with women as well as all members of the family, i.e. children, spouses, etc.

Significantly it provides a working definition of ‘domestic violence’ (Article 3):

b. “domestic violence” shall mean all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit  or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.

As a State Party to this Convention, Albania’s agenda is clear and demanding.  Albania must, as a matter of law, act to insure its government and society meets the many demands of this extensive commitment both proactively, in preventing violence, and retroactively, in bringing perpetrators to justice. It requirements are considerable and presents a challenge to the Albanian State and its people to ensure that Albania’s policies and  practice is in conformity with the Convention.

My human rights work, along with partner NGOs in the Balkans and Asia, continues to work to bring attention to the plight of women subjected to violence. From the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 I have witnessed the beginning of a change of attitude towards this problem. At first, after European regimes turned away from totalitarianism to working democracies, many human right advocates were reluctant to address the blatant practice of violence against women, arguing that this was a personal matter and the State should not intervene with the ‘sanctity of the family or home.’ Now there is a growing recognition that the security, dignity, and well-being of women and children are paramount to the interests of familial privacy and autonomy.

In an article I authored in 2003, (“No Longer at the Whim of the Sovereign.” The Banaras Law Journal, India, Vol .32 Nos. 1 and 2, 2003),   I wrote a statement that I believe retains its poignancy in facing the challenges domestic violence still poses:

Violence against women must be viewed as a violation of human rights and not an aberration of culture, morality or merely domestic law. The marginalization of women should be seen not as an accident of culture or a sociological issue, but as a legal issue that has the force of the normative standards demanded as an internationally protected human right. The denial of a woman’s safety, her fundamental right to life, her “dignity”, her health, her economic well-being should not be reliant of the will of those who possess state power. Whether the authority desirous to maintain the status quo or restore a traditional past be a tyrant, an oligarchy, a religious body or the tyrannous majority,  the appeal to protection should be based on universal law, not only the laws of the state.  The promise of the human rights theory, movement and law is to insure that all human beings are not pawns of the powerful. The promise of the human rights law needs to include the premise that all women (children and others) can seek protection and recourse to law when their being is not secure or their rights have been denied. Whether the threat to a woman’s being comes from the direct violation of the state or another individual as a result of state inaction, the government, via a human rights theory, has a duty to protect. Failure to protect women form harm to their ‘dignity’ and security must result in remedy. The consequences in not protecting women from violence have severe consequences for us all.

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 human rights, especially the right to be free from the trauma and fear of ‘domestic violence’.

This Festival, by bringing the filmmaker together with advocates and members of the international community, offers students and the general public an opportunity to discuss and consider the messages they saw on the screen. The consideration of the problems associated with ‘domestic violence’, via the art of film making hopefully will contribute to the public attitudes and response to these violations of human rights.

Let us consider these issues as we watch these films so we may seek policies, practices, new modalities of protection, so that future generations can enjoy life with the ultimate realization that the universal respect of human rights includes the protection of our children, spouses, significant others and ourselves.

September 2013

Theodore S. Orlin – IHRFFA- Honorary President
Clark Professor of Human Rights Scholarship and Advocacy (2005-2010), Utica College, New York, USA