: Law Of The Jungle

Law Of The Jungle

Kate Galloway

law of the jungle michael christoffersenA film by Michael Christoffersen; Radiator Films; Human Rights Arts and Film Festival 2013

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival 2013 is showing across Australia during May and June. One of the films on offer is Law of the Jungle.

This film charts the progress of a trial of Indigenous Peruvians who have protested against environmental degradation of their land, committed by global oil corporation Pluspetrol. During the peaceful protest on the company’s air strip, the special forces police open fire and in the fracas a police officer is killed. Fifty protesters are arrested, tortured and incarcerated for eight months before being approached by human rights lawyer Jorge Tacuri who has been informed of their plight.

Using a blend of footage taken at the protest by both police and observers, footage taken during Tacuri’s meetings with clients and the trial as well as interviews and voiceovers by Tacuri and the accused, the film becomes a moving account of the work of the lawyer as much as an account of the struggle of Indigenous peoples in the face of state-sponsored corporate interests and a legal system foreign to the accused.

The narrative in this film plays out beautifully, with the lawyer standing alongside the leaders of the protest, Jose Fachin Ruiz and Marco Polo, as heroic figures against the ‘octopus’ multinational corporation, the violent police and the uncertainty of the justice system. The struggle of the accused to be away from their families for so long, their grief at the human toll of the petrochemical pollution in their communities and their disbelief at the charges for exercising their right to protest, is beautifully and sensitively portrayed. Tension in the film builds as the key witness is uncontactable and it seems that Tacuri will cease to represent the accused.

Law of the Jungle highlights the complexity of the legal standing of Indigenous peoples globally. Tacuri for example, points out that the charges represent an attempt by the State to resolve social conflicts through criminal law: as a human rights case, this trial crosses criminal law and constitutional law, sovereign power and the state, corporate greed, environment and culture. For the marginalised, the use of the law and its institutions as a tool of oppression is a common experience and it would be foolish to consider human rights without considering the broadest of legal circumstances and social and cultural contexts.

That the accused are acquitted comes as a great relief, following Ruiz’ dignified closing address to the court. It is however, only the start of the battle to achieve long-term justice in the Amazonian jungle.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University, and is our newly-appointed Law&Culture editor.

(2013) 38(2) AltLJ 135
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