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Interview :: [none]

Interview with Joshua Holst

Joshua Holst is a local filmmaker who just returned from SE Asia. He started out working for an Indonesian foundation. While he was there he taught street children how to plan and produce videos.

During his stay, a cease-fire ended, military operations restarted and Josh spent 5 months filming under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. His soon-to-be-completed film documents human rights abuses in the Indonesian province of Aceh.
How did you get involved in filming your documentary?
I was working for a foundation while I worked on the documentary. I covered my expenses for a large part of my time in Indonesia while shooting music videos used for advocacy purposes with street children. The street children have now been trained to plan and produce a video... I want to raise money to go back and teach them to edit so the foundation can have a street-children staffed video advocacy arm.

You visited several countries during the filming of your documentary. Is there a connection between them and the abuses in Indonesia?
In some cases yes, in some cases no. Most of the human rights and environmental activist in Aceh have relocated... if not hiding in terror in the jungle, they are in another country. the whole of acehnese civil society is outside Aceh right now, where they are still persecuted and live in fear.

Was your life ever in any danger while you were filming?
I like to think it wasn't, though two American activists were killed by the military in Papua. I mean I had my brushes (some unrelated to the film) ... like being trapped with the Pemuda Pancasillas party by a 6 foot tall hulking man forcing me to dance and threatening me with violence if I left or slipping around the x-ray machines to get the footage out at Batam Island.

The greatest risk for me would be to go to jail, which I’ve heard isn't pretty. One woman who, luckily was connected to the BBC, was in jail for 4 months, with fear of being charged with spying. They let her out eventually. It didn't sound pretty though ... she got punched by a military commander before she was put away, they took the feces from her latrine and spread it in front of her door and raked through it, she heard constant beatings through the interrogation room next door, and it was difficult getting fed. A German guy who took photos of a demo in Jakarta wasn't so lucky, he was in 8 months. Infinitely more stressful is the consequences for those who helped me. They could be killed very easily.

As far as I know this is a story US media is completely ignoring. Is that true for the rest of the world too?
Hard to say. CNN, for their part, aired the KKA massacre (the footage is terrifying), but no one really watches the international news here. In Malaysia they certainly don't ignore the story because of the influx of immigrants and the proximity of Indonesia, but the story is that they are all terrorists and opportunists looking for money in Malaysia. My friends in Spain report similarly biased coverage. Australia's coverage seems a bit more balanced. A bit. But you're right, this is a big deal that is getting completely ignored internationally. In part, this is because the press is completely locked out of Aceh-- they have no way to get footage. But when William Nessen, the American journalist, escaped Aceh (at the cost of 2 Acehnese lives), no one would take his footage. Footage from the Indonesian government is readily accepted, however. Doesn't sound like a neutral and objective media to me.

Are there other organizations such as Amnesty International working on the plight of the Acehnese?
Yes. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are on this one. However, extreme difficulties are presented in working in Indonesia. Extreme corruption (in NGOs as well as the government) make it hard for any support to reach the Acehnese directly. Meanwhile, Oxfam and the French Doctors without Borders (forget the translation), are pushing for access to provide humanitarian relief. The international community is completely locked out of Aceh right now. PBI was expelled from Aceh. This affects groups like Amnesty and HRW who have to balance on the edge human rights reporting with getting kicked out.

You say that Exxon has/is committing human rights violations in Aceh. Would it help at all if people boycott Exxon and write to tell them this is why?
Exxon hired security forces and those security forces then committed human rights violations, using Exxon's equipment to bury people in mass graves on Exxon's land, among other things. Exxon denies responsibility. In some cases it was clear that opponents of Exxon were targeted, in other cases it may have been a whim of the military. Even if Exxon wasn't pulling all the strings, it would be like if a school hired a security guard and the security guard started shooting the students that were out of line and the school just said "nice job, want a raise?"

A boycott of Exxon wouldn't hurt, of course their competitors aren't exactly shining stars. ChevronTexaco in the Amazon, the assassination of Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria, Unocal76 contracting the Burmese military to enslave native peoples on their pipeline... it’s not a pretty world out there. I think letters to Exxon’s investors would be particularly effective. The more expensive we make mass murder as a solution to their problems, the less likely they will be to employ that strategy in the future. It all comes down to profit margins.

We should also be writing Bush to allow Exxon to be tried in the US (using the "war on terrorism" card, the state department lobbied the Justice Department not to try a case regarding Exxon’s complicity in the mass murders in Aceh), and express an overwhelming support for the US arms embargo on Indonesia (Bush is thinking about ending it).

Other than targeting Exxon, is there anything else people here in KC can do to help raise awareness of the plight of the Acehnese?
Word of mouth is great. Especially in community groups and churches, etc. One of the most active groups in predominately Islamic Aceh is the UK catholic charity CAFOD. Lobbying NGOs would be terrific as well. Projects don't get funded because Aceh is to "controversial" or their funders won't like it. A lot of that may be that Aceh is Islamic and that's the controversy. Now more than ever, we need to establish brotherhood and sisterhood with Islamic groups in need-- we all want this violence to end. Stay tuned as information comes out via HRW or Amnesty on the Web. Yahoo had a story on the peace negotiators who were beaten and charged with treason before the peace talks in Japan. Tell your friends about it. Call your community radio station and ask them why they don't have a story on it.

Do you know where your film will eventually be shown if you're able to complete it?
With these things, it’s hard to say until it happens. My last piece on Ecuador and petroleum did very well, I targeted community groups directly and organized letter writing campaigns, and lobbied some international lawyers to take a case before the OAS, and broadcast it nationally on Free Speech TV. In the end (largely due to the heroic campaign work of the community itself and Accion Ecologica on the ground) the community won a huge settlement. Now I hope the piece can fill a much-needed niche in educating people about the damages done by petroleum companies to human life.

I expect a short on Aceh to be completed in January. Most likely (but not definitely) that will be broadcast on Free Speech TV within a year or so. I don't have a definite ETA on the longer piece, and I'm still looking at venues for it. I'm going to try to get all the exposure I can get on it. My dream is to displace the reality TV show "rich girls" on MTV and put in a human rights documentary. I can dream, can't I?

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The Films were absolutely amazing; Good luck!


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