Spotlight falls on human rights in Geneva

The festival opened with a film about the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, played by Thomas Jouannet Keystone

Sex slaves, child labour and Iraq were among the themes at the fourth International Film Festival on Human Rights, which ends in Geneva this weekend.

This content was published on March 10, 2006 - 08:38

The festival opened with the world premiere of a film about Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross movement, and once again turned the camera on the myriad domains where human rights are violated.

Over eight days participants dissected issues such as terrorism and repression, human rights violations in China, the absence of women's rights and conflict in Africa.

This year the festival paid particular homage to international Geneva, the capital of human rights and humanitarian action.

It opened with the first film ever made about the work of Henry Dunant, which recounts the founding of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross.

The actress and activist, Vanessa Redgrave, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey attended the screening.

Human dignity

In the festival programme, Calmy-Rey underlined the importance of this tribute to Dunant: "Henry Dunant has a message for us today – that of not being afraid when we are called upon to make human dignity a more tangible reality."

Now in its fourth year, the festival continues to strengthen its role as a standard bearer for the victims of human rights abuses and those – the non-governmental organisations – that defend them.

This "platform against indifference", according to its director Léo Kaneman, is addressing the repercussions of China's economic growth (in the presence of former Swiss cabinet minister Ruth Dreifuss), the tragedy of Tibet and the war on terror.

Remaining faithful to its concept of "a film, a subject, a debate", in which each screening is accompanied by public debate, the festival also examines human trafficking, clandestine workers and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Another theme was the work of human rights defenders around the world. An evening organised by the World Organisation against Torture focused on recent attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to shackle NGOs.

And as with any film festival, there is a competition. This year 11 documentaries were competing for the Vieira de Mello prize, named after the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who was killed in Baghdad in 2003.

Fourteen films also competed for the World Organisation against Torture Award, which acknowledges the commitment of filmmakers to the defence of human dignity.

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

The fourth International Film Festival on Human Rights took place in Geneva from March 10-18.

The festival acts as a forum for non-governmental organisations during the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission.

It is supported by Louise Arbour, Barbara Hendricks, William Hurt, Ruth Dreifuss, Robert Badinter, Hubert Nyssen, Jorge Semprun and Ken Loach.

The international jury comprises Vanessa Redgrave, former French ambassador to the UN Stéphane Hessel and writer Russell Banks.

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