As part of the XIV Forum on Human Rights of the Jesuit University System, which this year was held at the Technological Institute and Higher Studies of the West (ITESO) and whose central theme was “Human Rights: The debts, capacities and wills of the State”, for which activists, journalists, academics and human rights defenders were summoned, a discussion was presented and opened around the documentary feature film The Prosecutors (The Prosecutors), filmed in 2018 by the American director Leslie Thomas, a work that addresses the struggle of prosecutors in defense of survivors of sexual violence in three countries in transition processes after internal armed conflicts, such as the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Colombia.
But not only that, the film work presented in the framework of the XIV Human Rights Forum highlights the struggle of the surviving victims of violence against stigmatization and re-victimization when facing judicial procedures in the search for justice and reparation of the damage. . It is a film work that feels close to the circumstances we face in Mexico. For that reason, we spoke with the director about the film.
Filming the search for justice
“I have invested the last 15 or 20 years working on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence, in all kinds of contexts: conflict, non-conflict, transitional, domestic, in short, diverse. But most of my experience is based on situations of internal conflicts or subsequent instances, in contexts of fragile governments that cause a secondary problem in which we not only see cases of sexual violence but also the lack of access to justice ”, he explains.
One of the triggers of the film, he shares, was that the survivors of sexual violence in those countries themselves worked together with rights defenders, lawyers and legislators to build legal frameworks that would prohibit sexual abuse in war or transition contexts.
The high point of the matter, Thomas shares, has been the implementation of these legal frameworks for the procurement of justice and reparation of the damage to the victims. And that problem became the central theme of the film. “We were able to find the lawyers, the prosecutors, and make a film about this process, show what they are doing, their adversities in a fight against an unstable system.”
Three contexts of transition
“What a lot of people told me is: ‘I don’t need you to make another movie wondering what happened to me.’ And I agreed, it’s not my job to explain to people what it feels like to be raped or sexually assaulted, because sexual assaults take many forms. I also didn’t want to make a movie asking people what happened to them, but rather a tape in which they tell us what they want us to do about it ”, the filmmaker shares.
He explains that he chose these three countries because they have different legal structures, as well as different processes. While the film began in Bosnia 25 years after the end of the armed conflict, and with the presence of local and national law enforcement institutions, the Congo is currently experiencing a period of conflict transition, which is why it is still The instability of the institutions is evident, but, advocates the filmmaker, it is not necessary to wait for a period of stability to defend the rights of the collateral victims of the war, although in this case it has to be done through a court military, “but there are very good judges and lawyers in the Congo who are doing very well, and I was interested in showing it.”
Finally, in Colombia, says Thomas, at the time of filming the film, the reconciliation process called De Justicia y Paz was carried out, in which process there were a large number of abusers who could simply lie, assure that they had not committed any sexual crimes during the armed conflict, and come out well off, while the victims were once again unprotected. The film’s work was to show the struggle of rights defenders and legal representatives to obtain penalties for those who must pay crimes that go beyond any type of amnesty.
Data to be told with art
Finally, questioned about the power of art to generate transformations of justice in contexts as complex as those portrayed in The Prosecutors, Leslie Thomas responds: “I believe that art has a unique way of giving us access to complex and hard stories. In other words, we need statistics, we need facts, but we also need images, things that sensitize us, and art can do that. I like data, my father was a statistician, so I am interested in reasoning the research, analyzing the data and then finding an artistic way of telling the story and being clear that when I tell a story there are many versions of it ”.
Who is Leslie Thomas?
She is the founder of Art Works Projects and winner of an Emmy Award in 2000 for the art direction of the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. His multimedia work, focused on human rights, has traveled five continents in the main political, academic and cultural settings. He has promoted exhibition and editorial projects on topics such as female genital mutilation and the impact of the war on the children of Syria. In 2016, he promoted the photographic exhibition 43: Sequels of a disappearance in Chicago, by Mexican photographer Emmanuel Guillén Lozano. It is currently in the process of pre-producing a narrative film on women’s rights and developing a film on the Irish independence movement.