Synopsis by Nathan Southern
Though atrocious human-rights violations in Third World countries grew heartbreakingly intense and commonplace in the late 20th century, the barbarities that transpired in Burma during the mid to late '90s almost certainly transcended all others in terms of shocking cruelty and extreme sadism. In a series of incidents that later gained infamy in the international press, the (now-defunct) California-based corporation known as Unocal sought to build its Yadana pipeline through the heart of the Burmese jungle -- and ignorantly hired Burma's military to act as security personnel. Rapes, murders, pillaging, forced labor, and other assorted incivilities occurred at the hands of the soldiers, all involving the victimization of local villagers; mercifully, 12 afflicted Burmese residents filed a class-action suit against Unocal and won a massive settlement in California courts -- receiving some vindication even though it could do little to compensate for the long-term humiliation suffered and endured. But that only represents half of the equation. At the other end stood a local hero, Ka Hsaw Wa -- a social activist crusader who vouched for the dozen or so plaintiffs to protect them from reprisals, and thus personified the crusade for justice. Milena Kaneva's documentary Total Denial tells both sides of this heart-wrenching story with a careful attention to detail; Ka Hsaw Wa appears on camera, guiding Kaneva through the jungles as the two systematically attempt to avoid the military and directly interview the victims. Kaneva cuts between this footage and revealing conversations with Unocal, whose attorneys grossly and ignorantly denied accusations made by the villagers, while the embarrassed Bush administration unsuccessfully attempts to silence and shut down the case.
activism, Burma, environmental-hazard, evidence, forced-labor, human-rights violations, lawsuit, oil-pipeline, precedent, secret-police, Thailand