Side Event – “Presentation of a video documentary, “The Prosecutors”

The Prosecutors - Film excerpt screening on prosecution of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo”

(co-hosted by Chile, Costa Rica, Norway, ART WORKS Projects and Open Society Foundation)

Overview by Annelou Aartsen, Research Associate PILPG NL


  • The Prosecutors” tells the story of three lawyers who fight against impunity of sexual violence in their country. 

  • The documentary has a powerful message: that justice is being done.

The event was co-hosted by Chile, Costa Rica, Norway, ART WORKS Projects and Open Society Justice Initiative. During the event the documentary “The Prosecutors”, directed by Leslie Thomas and produced by ART WORKS Projects, was showcased. This was followed by a panel discussion consisting of Leslie Thomas, legal gender expert Daniela Kravetz, and Senior Project Manager for the Open Society Justice Initiative Eric Witte. 

“The Prosecutors” tells the story of three dedicated lawyers who fight against impunity for sexual violence committed at times of war. The documentary is filmed over five years in three states, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Bosnia Herzegovina, all facing a long journey towards justice. 

The case of the DRC starts off with the testimonies of victims of sexual violence. All allegedly committed by military troops. The documentary portrays how 39 military members are accused guilty, however, only 2 are convicted with the war crime of rape. Something which seems unbelieve considering that there are 150 cases of rape recorded. 

The case of Colombia demonstrates how sexual violence was implemented as a weapon by the AUC paramilitary forces (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia). It showcases the prosecution of Marco Tulio Pérez Guzman, referred to as ‘el Oso’, who as the leader of the paramilitary forces was responsible for the systematic abduction and abuse of Colombian women. 

Related to the case of  Bosnia and Herzegovina the documentary notes that the majority of the victims of sexual violence have not come forward because too often justice has not been served. A practical issue the prosecution faces in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that the only witnesses are often the victims of rape. 

During the panel discussion following the documentary diverse issues were discussed. Amongst others, the producer was asked why she decided to make this movie. Leslie Thomas explained that she got inspired during a conference by those working and striving for justice. Additionally, she stressed some aspects of the documentary which she finds interesting. According to her, the documentary is able to demonstrate the use of sexual violence as a tactic employed by paramilitaries. In particular, the impact the use of sexual violence can have in terms of controlling a certain population. Another aspect highlighted by the producer is the powerful message the documentary sends to the victims. It is able to demonstrate that justice is being done. Something which is important for other countries who still need to find their ways to justice. According to Thomas, the movie was made for three reasons: to speak to policy makers, to stakeholders, and to the people who vote. To make them aware for their global responsibility to provide for justice. 

On a more general note, the panel addressed some lessons learned from post-conflict societies fighting for justice, which can be used for other countries that are going through similar processes. The panel highlighted the need for making sure that people understand what justice means, in addition to the need for providing for trial defense. Lastly, the judicial mechanisms which are set up need to have strong oversight to ensure the judicial process can run efficiently and continuously. 

Beyond these general lessons, the panel noted that often tradeoffs need to be made. There is for example a preference for local justice, however at times it is not possible to provide for justice locally due to security issues. Another issue which often needs to be decided on is whether to include internationals within the judicial mechanism such as judges or prosecutors. Sometimes this is necessary due to the destabilized nature of the national judiciary. Trust lacks within the national system, and therefore international actors can serve as objective actors.

The panel concluded that this “The Prosecutors” reminds us why we fight for justice and why this work is so important. The documentary is one which inspires. The trailer and the upcoming screenings of the documentary can be found here: