Critics' Pick

The Uncondemned (NR)

Documentary 81 min. October 21, 2016
By Daphne Howland
Rape was deemed a war crime in 1919, but for most of the 20th century the international tribunals that punish war criminals never pursued charges of sexual assault. Even women's rights groups traditionally put international justice low on their list of concerns, and global authorities prioritized death and torture, bypassing rape despite the toll it long has taken on its victims and their communities.

In their documentary The Uncondemned, Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel focus on the 1997 case before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that changed this. The attorneys prosecuting Hutu officials -- who perpetrated mass killings and rape against minority Tutsis during the Rwandan Civil War -- were young and underfunded, scrambling for paper, pens and time. Their work was pivotal, as this was the first-ever international genocide trial. Activists were pushing to include rape in their indictment of Hutu mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu, but, while they knew rape happened in his town, they couldn't tie it to him. Had they tried and failed, they could have compromised future genocide cases. At the last minute, thanks to stubborn work by activists and researchers, they did add the unprecedented charge, and they won their case.

The film is riveting, a master feat of editing considering the grueling material, legalistic conundrums and profusion of detail. Footage from that time is mixed with current interviews with lawyers, activists and witnesses, who recall the case with clarity and feeling. The Uncondemned unfolds like a courtroom drama, but it's also a master class in demonstrating how people can change the world -- in this case, how the world defines and prosecutes genocide, which now, indisputably, includes sexual assault.
Nick Louvel, Michele Mitchell Pierre-Richard Prosper, Sara Darehshori, Patricia Sellers Michele Mitchell Abramorama

Watch the Trailer

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