Saving Face, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law

Saving Face, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law

When the documentary "Saving Face" won this year's Academy Award for best short documentary, it was the first Oscar earned by a Pakistani film. The documentary is now available for viewing on HBO.

Yet some Pakistanis criticize the film because it has caused the country to "lose face" in the international community. Why? Saving Face puts the spotlight on the acid attacks that regularly occur in Pakistan. Most of the victims are women, and their attackers are typically an angry husband or a spurned suitor.

As a documentary, Saving Face profiles the ordeals of two women who were horribly disfigured by acid attacks and the London-based Pakistani doctor who helps repair some of the physical damage inflicted.

The custom of acid attacks appears to be an accepted practice within Pakistan. More than 100 cases are reported each year. Given who the victims are, their likely reluctance to come forward and report such attacks, and the fact that wearing the burqah will permit the victims to hide the shame that these vicious attacks imply toward the victims, it's likely the number of actual attacks is far greater than that.

Critics who complain that the film portrays Pakistan in a poor light would be better off doing something to prevent such attacks from happening and punishing those who commit such atrocities. Blaming the victims for alleged misconduct, pretending the attacks don't happen, or preposterously asserting that the women disfigured themselves with acid does more to damage Pakistan's public image than a film that brings the abuse to light. 

Kudos to those who had the bravery to produce and participate in the making of this film. To do so, places them in danger of retaliation by radical Islamists.

As we have seen repeatedly in Islamic theocracies, women are treated as chattel rather than as human beings and equals. The rule of law in such regimes punishes women for their gender rather than protecting them from grave human rights abuses. 

One can hope that the Academy's recognition of Saving Face is a tipping point on this issue. If Pakistan wants to be treated as an equal in the international community, it is time for its government to institute a system of educational and legal reforms, with the help of international NGOs, to deter acid attacks, punish the culpable, and provide prompt medical assistance to the victims.

Recommended Reading

Saving Face Movie Review, RogerEbert.com (Mar. 7, 2012)

'Saving Face' puts focus on plight of Pakistani women, LA Times (Mar. 8, 2012)

Oscar-winning film sheds light on vicious acid attacks against women, Pub. Radio Int'l (Mar. 13, 2012)

Pakistan's first Oscar, Al Arabiya News (Mar. 12, 2012)

Saving Face: A conversation with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Forbes (Mar. 9, 2012)