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Sunday, October 11, 2015

THE UNCODEMNED The Mass Rape of Rwanda

  • a Rwandan boy covering his face from the stench of dead bodies

  • The Uncondemned to reveal secret witnesses in first conviction of war rape

  • It’s a long way from Rwanda to the Hamptons, in every sense. But on Friday afternoon the two will be connected when a pack of underdogs finally get their props in a tale of unlikely triumph against the odds.
    The Uncondemned, a new documentary debuting at the Hamptons international film festival, will reveal the mystery witnesses who testified from behind a curtain to bring about the world’s first-ever conviction of rape as a war crime in Rwanda.
    It will also show how young US lawyers nailed one of the trials of the century in a rare victory they hope will spur similar prosecutions.
    “The whole thing was totally nuts. It was seen as such a loser case and my only idea was to try not to screw it up completely,” Sara Darehshori, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch in New York, told the Guardian earlier this week.
    Darehshori was a 27-year-old lawyer working her first job at a law firm in September 1995 when she packed a bag for Rwanda to work as a lowly United Nations investigator. She ended up as one of two co-prosecutors putting a war criminal on trial for genocide in front of a panel of three international judges – and won.
  • Few people have heard of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the small-town Rwandan mayor who was the first person ever convicted of genocide; he was prosecuted on multiple counts for his part in the mass killings of the civil war that erupted in the small African nation in 1994. He also became the first person ever to be convicted of rape as a war crime, with his case establishing the precedent of genocidal rape.
  • Genocide as an international offense was coined in 1948 by the UN general assembly, and Akayesu became its first scalp almost 50 years later. Rape as a war crime had been on the books since 1919, but never prosecuted. “In international criminal law, the Akayesu case is as important as Brown v Board of Education,” said Patricia Sellers, a special consultant to the International Criminal Court and international tribunals expert.
    The story behind that extraordinary conviction hadn’t been told before film-makers Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel made it their project. The documentary is a courtroom thriller, crackling with suspense and with a kind-of happy ending.
    “It sounds so naive to talk about hope. But I think about the people in the Syrian refugee camps right now, or victims of Boko Haram, and this is a powerful demonstration of how international justice was brought to bear in Rwanda – at a time when things felt just as overwhelming as they do now,” Mitchell told the Guardian in the team’s cozy office in Brooklyn.
    Isis, for example, has actually written down and printed up its policy of sexual slavery – which is really stupid, by the way, because they could be indicted for that,” Mitchell added.
    The Uncondemned had a private screening in Kigali in June, principally to show it to the three Rwandan women who became the instrumental witnesses for the successful prosecution of rape. They reveal their faces and identities for the first time in the film. One was only 17 when she testified and says they sought justice and vindication for themselves and others, though not revenge.
  • Akayesu supervised killings in the town of Taba, which he controlled, and stood by in the mayoral building as Tutsis fled there and were pursued by marauding Hutu militiamen, only to be dragged to the back of his offices and gang raped in public. He is serving life behind bars in a prison in Mali.
    Another witness who testified against his role in her rape says in the film: “We were representing women everywhere. When you listen to the radio now and hear about war in other countries and rape being used as a weapon, we know that keeping quiet kills you softly, but when you talk about it, the wound gradually gets better.”
    The Uncondemned has won the festival prize for films about conflict and resolution, beating the likes of Abigail Disney, great niece of Walt, with her directorial debut about an evangelical anti-abortion campaigner’s dilemma over gun control, and Davis Guggenheim – of Inconvenient Truth fame – with his film He Named Me Malala.
    Louvel, 34, drove out to the Hamptons with the final version of the film to present it to the festival folks two weeks ago. It was the satisfying conclusion to months of around the clock editing, crowdsource funding and maxed-out credit cards.
  • He went alone and was bursting with pride, Mitchell said. But driving back to the city on a dark, narrow road at 1am, his car inexplicably left the road and was killed.
  • Mitchell went out to the crash site last week. She saw the tire marks on the road and the clutch of trees that Louvel’s old Honda had hit at speed, throwing the engine 50 yards from the car, where it ignited and attracted the attention of a passing taxi, whose driver found Louvel unconscious in the vehicle.
    He died at the hospital.

New York Filmmaker Nick Louvel Dies at 34 9/24/2015

  • Both film-makers were passionate about the film’s message that mass rape is often a pre-meditated tool, not a spontaneous prize, of war. In Rwanda, it was committed against both males and females, as sadistic sex by men using sticks, gun barrels and bottles, as well as their own bodies. Some victims were butchered while others were left, in the words of one witness, as the “living dead”, physically and psychologically decimated.
  • Rape in war has long been considered a simple but potent weapon to help control an enemy.
  • “What does it mean to destroy? It’s not just mass extermination,” said Pierre Prosper, a partner at a law firm in Los Angeles and previously the US ambassador at large for war crimes. Prosper was prosecuting gang murders as an assistant attorney in Los Angeles in 1994 before heading to Rwanda for the UN and, at the age of 31, found himself as co-counsel with Dareshori, prosecuting Akayesu.
    Darehshori and Prosper gritted their teeth through the tangle of UN and Rwandan politics and sparse resources, as many others on the case were fired, transferred or quit – until the two unexpectedly found themselves left standing together as the front line in an international genocide trial.
    At first, they were prosecuting only mass murder. Lisa Pruitt, then a 31-year-old PhD student and consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, had compiled a thick report in Rwanda on mass sexual violence during the genocide, but it had been buried at the ICTR headquarter in the Hague.
    Statements from traumatized rape victims had been dismissed by some of Pruitt’s higher-ups as “unreliable”. She had even been called a laughing stock by some colleagues in Kigali for writing a list of tips on how to interview victims.
    Pruitt had already left the country, furious that her report had been “deep sixed”, when a witness at Akayesu’s trial wrapped up their testimony about murder by mentioning systematic mass rape.
    Against all odds and at great legal risk, the tribunal was halted and, after much argument, the charge of rape as an act of genocide was added to the indictment. Some of those “unreliable” witnesses, when tracked down again and interviewed respectfully, turned into the stars on the stand – and now on screen - that helped the landmark case.
    Why did she and Louvel give their film the odd name The Uncondemned?
    “That came from Nick and I word-associating on the [New York] subway one night after we left the office,” said Mitchell.
    “We were talking about how rape was used to condemn the women in Rwanda and how the perpetrators got away with it [until] after this first conviction – I said ‘now the perpetrators are condemned’ and Nick said ‘and the women are uncondemned,” said Mitchell.
    They had laughed, she said, and agreed that was probably not even a word.
    “Then at the same time we both said ‘hey, that’s not a bad title’.”

The Uncondemned: the heartbreaking story behind the first conviction of rape as a war crime Joanna Walters  9 October 2015

German court convicts Rwandan rebel leaders over mass murder, rape in landmark trial Lisa Millar 28 Sep 2015

Documentary About Rape Banned in ‘Rape Capital of the World’ 5 SETTEMBRE 2015

12-year-old girl brutally raped by UN peacekeeper in Africa 18 AGOSTO 2015

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