Event highlight

Film discussion: The struggles of prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence

Following a preview of “The Prosecutors”, film director Leslie Thomas, legal advisor Alexandra Lily Kather of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Hertie School postdoctoral researcher Alexandre Skander Galand of the Centre for Fundamental Rights discussed the struggles of prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence. The event took place on 25 September at the Hertie School and launched the Centre’s new event series “Fundamental Rights in Practice”.

The feature-length documentary follows three dedicated lawyers who fight to ensure that rape in war is not met with impunity. Filmed over five years on three continents, it takes viewers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bosnia and Herzegovina to Colombia on the long journey towards justice.

“The Prosecutors was inspired by the lawyers who work for justice in service of those who have experienced war in and on their bodies. We wanted to share the incredible sacrifices that victims, communities, social workers, health care providers, advocates, and prosecutors make as they shine a light on these too-often unacknowledged crimes,” says Thomas, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker and founder of ART WORKS Projects. “In five years of filming in Bosnia, Colombia, and Congo we had the privilege of meeting people at the front lines of justice on the hardest cases in the world. The absolute bravery of those who came forward to tell their stories and those who represented them is beyond measure. It is through their heroic efforts that we will end the expectation of impunity for perpetrators.”

Alexandra Lily Kather, legal advisor on international crimes cases with a particular focus on sexual and gender-based violence at the ECCHR, outlined the legal struggle to recognize rape and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of war crimes, which have the objective of destroying a community.

In a lively exchange, students and panel members discussed, for example, the Third Geneva Convention’s approach to sexual violance within the framework of offences against honour. This has been criticized by many in the field of human rights who say the characterization must be done away with in order to define conflict-related sexual violence as a violent crime. They also debated the legal and social implications of using the term “survivors” versus “victims”, among other topics.