PHOTO COURTESY MICHELE MITCHELL
“Mankind better stand back up on that issue if we are going to survive as a species,” a rape psychologist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo told filmmaker Michele Mitchell in an interview about her new documentary, The Uncondemned, which explores the successful prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) of rape as a war crime for the first time in history.
The defendant in question was Jean-Paul Akayesu, a former teacher who served as the mayor of Taba, Rwanda during the 1994 genocide in that country. On his watch, and with his direct involvement, Tutsi men, women and children there were systematically hounded and murdered by the Interahamwe Hutu militias. Akayesu was arrested in Zambia in 1995 and extradited to stand trial before the ICTR for crimes ranging from genocide to violations of the Geneva Convention. And, on June 17, 1997, the indictment against him was amended to include the unprecedented charge of rape as a crime of genocide and as a crime against humanity. In celebration of that historic moment, filmmakers Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel will be holding a filmmakers’ screening exactly 16 years later in Rwanda.
The tenacious team of prosecutors, activists and scholars who joined forces to win the case—Akayesuwas sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998—had help from pivotal witnesses who took the stand to recount their rapes during the genocide. After being identified with codenames during the trial, these women reveal their names in the film for the first time. The screening will be held for everyone who was a part of the ICTR: Rwandan government officials, the U.S. ambassador, and many others from the diplomatic community. Women In the World spoke with co-director Michele Mitchell about The Uncondemned, rape as a war crime, and the use of terror by Boko Haram and ISIS.
WITW: What made you want to focus on rape as a weapon of war?
Michele Mitchell: There is no ambiguity about rape as a weapon of war. It is an act of deadly intent. The victims are women and men, children and elderly. So it’s not about “sex.” It’s about power, humiliation and torture. We wanted to tell a story of what to do about it.
WITW: Can you talk about Boko Haram and ISIS using rape as a weapon of war today?
MM: Both groups have openly bragged that they are using it as a weapon of terror. And those are the two examples that we know of. We need to take rape as seriously as we do other war crimes, and we — as a society, our government — aren’t doing that.
Read the article at Women In The World.