Debuting at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, The Uncondemned is a testament to the agency and critical role rape survivors played in the first conviction of rape as an act of genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), in the case against Jean Paul Akayesu.
The global precedent was made possible by the prosecution team, led by Pierre Prosper, and other advocates like Binaifer Nowrojee, but in particular the survivors who testified. Unfortunately, the successor to the ICTR, the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) now wants to silence the witnesses from the Akayesu case. They have reached out to human rights advocates and journalists, telling them not to write about The Uncondemned.
MICT recently subjected three of the witnesses featured in the film to eight hours of interrogation. In a statement provided by Arent Fox, the attorneys representing the film said “All three women, in writing and in video interviews, criticize the MICT’s strong arm tactics and bullying interrogations, and reaffirm their desire to participate in the film and publicly tell their stories. We are sharing this video and written evidence with the judge from whom the MICT sought an order to enjoin further screenings of “The Uncondemned” to reveal the impermissible and intimidating tactics used to silence the witnesses and block the film.”
Questions come to mind: why would MICT officials want to silence rape survivors? Why would they want to censor this film? How are these tactics in service to justice? Silencing victims, intimidating them, threatening them and their peers as well journalists is incomprehensible. This kind of intimidation could re-traumatize these courageous women.
The systemic use of rape paralyzed entire families, villages, and the social fabric of Rwanda during the genocide. It’s worth remembering what happened and how these three heroic survivors came to be who they are today. In the small town of Taba, Jean Paul Akayesu was a former teacher who became the Mayor. He was the person with the power to decide between civilian protection and genocide, mass systemic rape. He chose to participate in the extermination of countless lives. He was a trusted authority that betrayed his community and committed genocide. What happened in Taba was happening all across Rwanda as genocide unfolded from April 7 until mid-July in 1994.
And yet, witnesses JJ, NN, and OO stood up. They testified. They changed the world and gave hope to survivors everywhere. For every girl devastated by rape in Kavumu in the DRC, to girls held as sex slaves by ISIS/ISIL, every girl who was drugged and wakes up brutalized in a college dorm, to the women in Guatemala, or Colombia, the Akayesu case gives hope that their life, their testimony, and choice to speak out will bring peace and justice – the witnesses in the Akayesu case are beacons of light.
In the same letter from Arent Fox the women state: “We do not want the truth to be hidden. We accepted to be involved because we knew that we had done something good other people could benefit from in order to empower them with strength and be able to overcome problems they come across and continue to live.”
The Uncondemned demonstrates survivors anywhere and everywhere could see for themselves what hope, resilience, and being a partner with a prosecution team looks like. They broke the unbreakable silence. They gave clear headed perspective, testimony, and verifiable information. They were treated as equals by the ICTR prosecution team.
And in The Uncondemned, they are as well. Michele Mitchell and her late Co-Director Nick Louvel portrayed survivors with true agency, and co-equal status with prosecutors, aid workers, journalists in conflict zones, and human rights advocates.
The Uncondemned expresses an undeniable and inalienable truth: Silence ≠ Justice.