The Rwandan genocide in 1994 was one of the most insidious acts of the late 20th Century. Members of the Hutu majority slaughters hundreds of thousands of the Tutsi minority in the span of 100 days. The perpetrators of this heinous act were forced to face trial before an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. Before these trials in 1997, no war criminal was ever made to face the charges related to sexual violence that occurred as part of the spoils of war. A team of young prosecutors made Jean-Paul Akayesu face charges related to rape as part of his trial for his role in the genocide, the first time rape had been charged as a war crime. The story of the investigation and trial that was to be the first sexual assault charges related to war crimes is the subject of the documentary The Uncondemned. The film by directors Nick Louvel and Michele Mitchell is fairly dry in its presentation but harrowing in the story it tells as the prosecutors and survivors give their recollection of the historic trial.
Pierre Prosper would be the lead counsel for the trial against Akayesu. The former prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office would be leading a team of young lawyers in trying to bring Akayesu, a former mayor in a war torn town, to justice for his role in the massacre and sexual assault of countless innocents. Working alongside Prosper was Sara Darehshori, who was just 27 years old at the time. Along with other investigators on the case, Prosper and Darehshori give their perspective on the trial and the difficulties they faced in attempting to bring the guilty to justice.
Among the issues that the prosecutors face are the extreme differences in the international justice system as opposed to the United States, where most of them had previously worked. That obstacle seems minor when compared to the attempts to get witness testimony, especially when prospective witnesses face violent retribution. Eventually, a number of women came forward and testified against Akayesu. Facing retribution, these brave women stepped forth and testified against their perpetrators. The interviews in the film with these victims of sexual assault are gut-wrenching as they recount the most horrific moments in their lives. When others refused to testify, they stood tall and stood for justice. With a masterstroke of cross examination by Prosper, where he used the inconsistencies in Akayesu’s own testimony against him, there would be a conviction for rape as a war crime for the first time in history.
The Uncondemned tells a story that is monumental and has been overlooked as a pivotal moment in modern history. It’s not the flashiest documentary nor is it particularly suspenseful in the way it unfolds. Directors Nick Louvel, whom the film is dedicated to following his death in a car crash, and Michele Mitchell allow the interview subjects to explain the trial and the events surrounding it from their own unique perspectives. The Uncondemned illustrates the difficulty that exists in trying to bring justice to sexual criminals at all, let alone in a crimes against humanity trial. Most of all, the film is about those who stand up against evil on every level of the legal process, with the brave witnesses standing above all. They could’ve hidden. They could’ve stayed mute. But when faced with a chance to bring a perpetrator of evil to justice, they spoke out.
The Uncondemned is currently playing in New York City and opens in Los Angeles on October 28th. For other screening dates, visit the movie’s official website.
The story of the first time rape was prosecuted as a war crime, The Uncondemned tells the story of the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, a mayor during the Rawandan genocide, and the prosecutors and witnesses who brought this man to justice for his crimes against humanity.