WACC-SIGNIS Human Rights Award: Award Ceremony for Heidi Specogna

Monday, 19 February 2018 at 17h00  in Golden Tulip Hotel Hamburg, Landgrafenstr. 4, D-10787 Berlin-Tiergarten


Friends and film-lovers,

Being here with you tonight marks for me the end and a beginning of a celebration of a very intensive and emotional film Cahier africain directed by Heidi Specogna.

And it is at moments like these that I think with enormous gratitude about the role of culture. And about film, which reflects people's fates so well; tells stories that have not yet been told; documents and compiles. The story of us, of what came before and what is to come.

Violence, racism and nationalism are tightening their grip in the world at the moment. Authoritarian leaders are stepping forward and presenting simple solutions to complex problems. Fundamental conditions for a democracy, such as respect for facts, freedom of the press and the equal value of all people, are ignored.

We are living in a multi-cultural world. The background, history, custom and culture are all different from one country to the other. Only by learning from each other, can the culture of each country can make its own advancement.

Film or movie is one aspect of a country's culture. It reflects the real life and the imagination of its peoples. It gives the enjoyment, the thrill or excitement to people. The art of making movies is also progressing every day.

The WCC and the WACC are proud of their long-standing involvement with INTERFILM and Signis and are grateful for their professionalism and dedication.

The WACC-SIGNIS Human Rights Award 2016 is in line with the work of the WCC and the special call from the assembly in Busan in 2013 to be on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.  Communication belongs at the heart of being on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. We cannot give an account of the reality around us, or articulate our hope if we are not communicating this to one another and to the world. To share is to inform, but also to bring a challenge and a motivation into different contexts.

Communication for justice and peace reveals backgrounds and contexts, listens to all sides, exposes hidden agendas and highlights peace initiatives, regardless of religion, sex and gender – no matter their origin.

In every country, gender-based violence is a tragic reality. This violence is frequently hidden, and victims are often silent, fearing stigma and further violence.

We all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to ensure that women and men, boys and girls, are safe from rape and violence in homes, schools, work, streets – in all places in our societies.

Thursdays in Black grew out of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), in which the stories of rape as a weapon of war, gender injustice, abuse, violence, and many tragedies that grow outward from such violence became all the more visible. But what also became visible was women’s resilience, agency and personal efforts to resist such violations.

Communication is also vital in confronting threats to life. It affirms life by promoting truth-telling, fairness, participation, security issues, dialogue, openness and inclusion.

The WACC-SIGNIS Human Rights Award 2016 has gone to the documentary film Cahier africain directed by Heidi Specogna

Specogna notes that, “The fate of the women and their children begotten by force is a tragedy the world turns a blind eye to. It’s estimated that, in the Central African region in recent years alone, more than 100,000 women have been violated during armed conflict. By way of comparison, after the Rwandan genocide approximately 20,000 children came into life with this background.”

Prophetic communication via culture or film opens alternative horizons not limited to the perspectives imposed by the dominant culture, and empowers individuals and communities to tell their own stories and to craft their images and gestures. Communication is also a peace-building tool.

WACC and SIGNIS believe this documentary offers a very human perspective on the horror of conflict situations that impact the lives of ordinary people, especially women and children. Its human rights perspective is exemplary.

Cahier africain begins with the discovery of a small school exercise book, containing the testimonies of 300 Central African women, girls and men. The notebook’s pages reveal how they suffered at the hands of Congolese mercenaries between October 2002 and March 2003.

Filmed from 2008 onwards, Cahier africain accompanies victims of the violence, such as Amzine who gave birth to a daughter after being raped, and Fane, who was shot in the knee and who eventually underwent successful surgery in Berlin.

As prosecution of the war crimes continues in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the women attempt to go about their daily lives. Then another civil war breaks out in the Central African Republic.

It's far too easy to lose hope in life and the world. But that's not an option. We therefore need to seek strength and protect ourselves by laughing more, crying more, exposing ourselves more to challenges. We need to let our world be turned upside down more often. Quite simply, we need more strong and prophetic films.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that many of us need to use our various positions and platforms to work to enable film. Film criticism and lively public discussion of all forms of film have an important role to play. Healthy film criticism is one of the essential conditions for developing film as an art form and an understanding of film and the role it plays in society.

With these words I would like to wish you the best of luck and let’s continue with our prophetic voice for justice and peace for all.


Marianne Ejdersten

Director of Communication

World Council of Churches

Vice President WACC Europe