Rape as a War Crime: New Documentary on Landmark Human Rights Case

In mid-August 2012, Michele Mitchell decided her next project would be investigating rape as a war crime. The filmmaker had been driving on Interstate 405 in Southern California and just heard Todd Akin, a former Missouri congressman, say on the radio a statement that immediately shocked her. Akin described how he believed women who are victims of "legitimate rape" rarely end up pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

"I was so infuriated by forced pregnancy and the thought of a sex crime act of torture," Mitchell told AlterNet. "I knew I wanted to tell the story about the first time rape had been prosecuted in war because there's no ambiguity for what it is: an act of deadly intent."

Shortly after hearing Akin's remarks, Mitchell met with friend and human rights lawyer Nicole Phillips, who asked the filmmaker about her next move. When Mitchell pitched the idea, Phillips clued her in to the landmark 1997 case that would become the subject of Mitchell's 2016 documentary, The Uncondemned.

Mitchell and co-director Nick Louvel traveled to Rwanda to speak with the women who testified during the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the first person ever to be convicted of using rape as a weapon of war during the 1994 genocide.

"I was very nervous to meet them because of their history, and as a woman covering this story, it's impossible not to project. That's how I ended up with PTSD; realizing it could be me," the filmmaker explained.

The documentary also includes courtroom footage and exclusive interviews with the prosecutors.

"When you see some of the remnants of the genocide you start to realize the terrible things people can do to each other... it's so beyond comprehension," Mitchell said.

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Before its release, the film was widely supported around the world.

"We had crowdfunded the film and had 7,000 donors," Mitchell told AlterNet, adding that "most were individuals, just about a 50/50 male-female split."

Last week, The Uncondemned premiered at the United Nations. "This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Mitchell said.

Watch an exclusive clip:

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