What do Florence Hartman’s arrest from last week and Unaoil have in common? At a first glance, nothing. Two completely unrelated subjects. But I could not help and wonder, as I was reading the news reports on both subjects, how biased we are, especially in Europe and America about what can be construed as pure justice and what is considered acceptable in the realm of journalism. What is appropriate to bring to public’s attention, what wrongdoings of the governments and the independent businesses should be available to us simple humans? Bias comes from the unknown. Their religion is different so it does not matter how violated they are. Their skin color is different so they must deserve what they are getting, living in poverty, enslavement. Both cases outline this divisive nature of our human conflict and seemingly ingrained desire for power and superiority over one another.
Florence Hartman, a former Le Monde correspondent during the Bosnian conflict, was arrested in front of the Hague tribunal headquarters (ICTY) on the day when they sentenced Radovan Karadzic for the genocide committed in Bosnia during the nineties conflict. We hear about journalists being arrested and thrown in jail in the Middle East, most recently four American journalists arrested in Bahrain. This is not something that happens in Europe and America! It is hard to believe, but then again, there goes that bias, so deeply ingrained. Who was she speaking up for? That is the question.
Florence’s crime was that in her Crime and Punishment book, published in 2007, she exposed the international tribunal for the war crimes in former Yugoslavia and its hiding of the evidence of Serbia’s involvement in the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica. She was then a spokesperson for Carla Del Ponte, head prosecutor for the tribunal. She was privy to these documents and when Florence realized that justice was about to be skirted around she decided to take the matters into her own hands. She is a hero, surely! Hague tribunal did not think so. Florence was arrested while standing with the victims of the Srebrenica genocide waiting for the verdict against the man that was responsible for these crimes.
On the other hand we have Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie, investigative reporters who published an exposé about Unioil, an obscure firm that helps big multinational corporations win contracts in areas of the world where corruption is common (Africa and Middle East mainly). This exposé threatens to uncover major corporations and their actions, such as Halliburton, who used Unaoil services. Richard and Nick are truth seekers indeed. They are heroes.
So, what makes Nick and Richard different from Florence? Florence was exposing a cover-up of an international war crime tribunal, which led to exoneration of Serbia from the Srebrenica genocide involvement, thus paving its road to the EU membership. Bosnia, however, is still waiting to be granted membership, its citizens treated as a threat, visa requirements for travel in Europe only recently lifted.
These three journalists were seeking the truth, and in their own way they were working on revealing corruption, injustice and wrongdoings of the governments and businesses against the very people who make up the fabric of our global community. Dare I mention Edward Snowden who now lives in exile after exposing his government’s spying scheme of their citizens.
Standards, which we use to distinguish right from wrong, must be universal. We cannot and should not treat Florence any differently from other investigative journalists who seek to enlighten the masses and protect them from the skewed visions of acceptable behavior we see in businesses and the governments. History teaches us that once the power is obtained through wealth or political involvement it is hard for those who posses it to resist the urge to try and increase their power and wealth, regardless of how necessary that may or may not be for their short-lived lives. We are given a short number of years on this planet, a speck of eternity really. These people are not going to take their wealth or their power with them to the ground when the time comes to turn over their bodies back to the ashes of the earth they so wished to rule.
My grandmother used to tell a story of a noble ruler in Ottoman Empire who demanded of his subordinates to leave his hands unwrapped from the constraints of the white cloth (traditionally used for wrapping the dead prior to the burial in Islamic religion). When asked why he wanted that, he said that he wanted his people to see that he did not carry anything with him to heaven. He may have been presuming too much (that God exists, that he is going to heaven), but his message rang true for me.
So, Florence exposed a genocidal government, she was jailed. Why? Because many, justice-centric governments were involved in this cover-up, their power coming from the image they project to their people. They are the governments of the people, for the people, not against. Or, perhaps, they are against those “others” only. But that’s ok. The bias stands, ugly and necessary in the minds of those with power.
Unaoil is about the businesses, their constant pursuit for profits. What if Richard and Nick find connections of the European and American governments being involved in the schemes? Would they be jailed? Would even heads of the businesses that participated in the corruptions schemes be jailed? Pessimist in me says, no.
So, Florence and Nick and Richard and Edward, and the four journalists jailed in Bahrain and many others who are out there pursuing the truth are true heroes of our age. Their actions will be scrutinized and in the near future we will not understand their contributions, but generations to come will know that they made a difference in the constant pursuit to improve our own humanity and the very image of truth and justice. We must not forget them, we have to keep telling their stories so that we can continue to appreciate and understand how important their work is to the future of the mankind.