Accessibility links

Filmmaker Examines Human Rights Abuses of Saddam's Regime - 2004-05-13

For decades, the Saddam Hussein regime killed what are believed to be hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people and buried them in mass graves throughout the country. A new documentary film gives voice to relatives, survivors and witnesses, many of whom were too afraid to speak out before. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports.

The lone Iraqi woman in one scene makes a sound of profound despair. Her whole family has been wiped out by the Saddam Hussein regime. "I have no one left," she cries.

The first several minutes of the new documentary Saddam's Mass Graves, depicts similar stories of ordinary Iraqis who lost many or all of their family members to the former regime's brutality. The documentary is the work of Kurdish-Iraqi director Jano Rosebiani. ?When they were crying, they were genuinely crying, but their eyes were dry,? he recalled. ?And we decided that they have no tears left.?

Mr. Rosebiani's family fled to the United States in the 1990s, but he returned home just before the outbreak of last year's Iraq war that ousted Saddam Hussein. He said at first, in the 1970s, the former Iraqi regime tried to keep the mass killings a secret.

?But then it came a time, they were not only not secretive, but they were using it as an instrument of fear, aside from the mass graves,? he said. ?For instance, they would be killing groups of people for an audience and force the audience to applaud. Or they would pile up bodies on the highway or sidewalks, just for people to pass by and see, and so to create that state of fear, republic of fear.?

In the film, one man who actually saw mass killings taking place says he remembers hearing the victims, young and old, crying.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rosebiani said it was not hard finding Iraqis to tell him stories about loved ones being killed.

?It wasn't hard finding people. You just knock on any door and if they're not victims, then they will point to the door to the household that is a victim,? he added.

Putting the film together, though, was more of a challenge for him and his crew.

?It took close to four months and then another couple of months editing,? he noted. ?So, we lived with it for almost half a year, almost kind of like living in a nightmare, ourselves.?

International experts have so far uncovered more than 200 mass graves around Iraq, with a body count estimated to be at least 300,000 victims. The film cautions that the painstaking work of identifying the bodies will be slow, though, pointing to Bosnia, where only 8000 bodies out of 30,000 missing people have been identified nearly a decade after the war there.

The film's director, Mr. Rosebiani, added that the country's new leaders are preoccupied with the pressing issues that come with setting up a new government.

?They're so busy trying to get the new administration and the new constitution ready,? he said. ?And, of course, in these situations, there's always the push and pull between various politicians, let's say, and factions.?

He said that another immediate concern is helping the living in Iraq first, before dealing with the dead.

?Now the main issue is security in Iraq,? he noted. ?The other main issue is electricity and power and water to every household in Iraq. The main issue is employment. I think they're too busy in these areas, in these fields.?

In the film, Tom Parker, a British special adviser for the Regime Crimes Investigations unit, said in the long-term, the issue involves more than just exhuming mass graves and prosecuting the villains.

?It's a social process as much as it is a legal process,? he said. ?I don't think scars ever really heal in a lifetime. You know, the Holocaust still echoes down the history, down the decades. The same will be true of the events that occurred here.?

Mr. Parker said for post-Saddam Iraqi society, adequately dealing with the mass graves is an important step on the road toward healing.

VOA will be broadcasting Saddam's Mass Graves this weekend.