The Court - A documentary about international justice

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 12 Dec 2013

KUALA LUMPUR: With a charismatic, hard-driving prosecutor for a lead, working to put a war criminal behind bars for recruiting child soldiers in a civil war and a plot spanning The Hague, Palestine, Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... one might think The Court is another big-buck Hollywood legal thriller with an A-list cast.

However, this film directed by Marcus Vetter and Michele Gentile is actually a documentary - starring Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) or more specifically, his role in the trial of Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) founder Thomas Lubanga Dyilo - work which led to Lubanga's 14-year jail sentence for the use of child soldiers. 

This trial acts as a backdrop to The Court, showcasing Ocampo's efforts to prosecute Lubanga while juxtaposing the relative sterility of the Lubanga trial in the Hague with the chaos taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - showing scenes of children, some under ten being taken away and beaten up by soldiers linked to Lubanga. 

The Court also shows the limitations of the ICC, with another undercurrent of the film being the repeated calls asking Ocampo to intervene and prosecute the Israelis for war crimes - and Ocampo's inability to do so due to a lack of jurisdiction - for as he explains to a journalist in one scene, he has no jurisdiction to even contemplate thinking of prosecuting Israel, as it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which gives the ICC its powers.

Only 122 nations have signed the Rome Statute - and these 122 nations are the limit to the ICC's jurisdiction, unless the United Nations Security Council refers the case to the ICC. 

These issues were highlighted by Vetter, as he does "films that have a universal language and can generate universal interest."

The 47-year old Stuttgart native told The Star Online after a screening of The Court at the Malaysian Bar Council building here on Monday that he was working to break the notion that documentaries are meant to be educational but not entertaining. 

"These issues presented in my films need a big audience," said Vetter, whose other feature-length works includes The Heart of Jenin, a documentary on a Palestinian who donated his late son's organs to Israeli children even though the child was killed by the Israeli military. 

In fact, Vetter said the opportunity to make The Court came about through a screening of The Heart of Jenin in Berlin. 

"Ocampo approached me; he is interested in what filmmakers do and when he saw the film, we discussed making a film about the International Criminal Court. I was very honoured," said Vetter.

He said that the timing of the filming of The Court managed to capture some unique moments of Ocampo's term as the Prosecutor of the ICC which ran from June 16 2013 to June 15 2012. 

"We were filming the documentary at about the same time he was thinking of opening a case against Israel for war crimes - but he could not as Palestine is not recognised as a country by the ICC, and that is needed before the ICC can be asked to check that case. The Court shows how he can have no power," said Vetter. 

He spoke of the challenges facing Ocampo and his staff. 

"The ICC did not know what to do, whether to recognise Palestine as a country or not. At the same time, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) had recognised Palestine as a country and they suffered a lot for that because the United States cancelled their funding for recognising Palestine as a country," said Ocampo.

Asked how long it took to make The Court, Vetter said it took three years as he was helping to rebuild a cinema in the Palestine while filming The Court, which is his tenth feature film. 

Vetter added the filming of The Court had its own unique challenges - such as when it came to choosing what to include from the 100 hours of footage he had obtained. 

"We didn't want to be too voyeuristic in the scenes we included, but we wanted to show what can still be accepted by an audience. There was footage that was too cruel to be included in The Court," said Vetter.

Meanwhile, the moderator for the screening, lawyer K. Shanmuga said there was an attempt to get the Malaysian government to ratify the Rome Statute when Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan was Malaysian Bar Council president.

"Two years ago, the former Minister of Law said Malaysia would ratify the Statute, but two months ago, the current Law Minister came to the Bar Council and said it is still being looked into. The reason for this is because the ICC can take action against heads of state, including the commander of the nation's army which is notionally the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in Malaysia's case," said Shanmuga.
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