a film by MARCUS VETTER and Michele Gentile
with Benjamin Ferencz, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Fatou Bensouda, Karim Khan and Joanna Fribet
Dedicated to Ben Ferencz, the youngest chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials who spent his life fighting to replace war with justice.
War and Justice is the first and only true-life verité thriller, about the International Criminal Court (ICC), enlightened by unprecedented access to Benjamin Ferencz (prosecuting attorney of the Nuremberg Trials), Luis Moreno-Ocampo (ICC’s first prosecutor), and Karim Khan (its current prosecutor).
The film opens with the ICC’s news-breaking arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the midst of the escalating Ukraine war,charging him with crimes against humanity. It rewinds to the inauguration of first Chief Prosecutor Ocampo. And it proceeds to chronicle the Court’s two decades’ journey as the emerging global authority to punish aggressors and help prevent war.
Through unprecedented access, fllm directors Marcus Vetter and Michele Gentile follow Luis Moreno-Ocampo around the world as he enlists the support of Academy Award-winning Angelina Jolie, as he partners with Benjamin Ferencz, as they together fight uphill battles against wars in the Congo, Libya, Syria and Ukraine, always with special concern for any atrocities against children.
With the three largest world powers — China, Russia and the United States — still unwilling to sign the ICC treaty, will wars of aggression ever be brought to justice?
Sadly, just as the film is about to debut, Ben Ferencz’s lifelong fight has ended. In April 2023, Ben Ferencz died in the age of 103. But Ocampo and Khan fight on in his honor, more determined than ever to put an end to all wars of aggression, along with the inevitable human atrocities they cause.
“Without dreamers, we cannot overcome the evil reality. What we are doing in the International Criminal Court is a continuation of what was started in Nuremberg about 65 Years ago.”
Ben Ferencz, the former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Nazi trials
To help people understand what is at stake, Ocampo stresses that films are necessary to reach global audiences. A 1961 film, “The Nuremberg Verdict,” promoted the concept of the “Holocaust”; new generations are learning the difference between democracy and dictatorship through the film “Argentina 1985,” which shows how the prosecution of the military junta ended the commission of massive atrocities. In the course of the film, which depicts the court over a period of 15 years from the perspective of the chief prosecutor, a complex legal process is given a face. Is there a way out of the vicious cycle of violence that an International Criminal Court could provide if it were recognized by all the world’s states and every head of state that waged a war of aggression was held accountable? A cab driver picking Ocampo up from the airport suddenly asks the questions that many people are asking and speaks aloud what seems to be preventing widespread acceptance of the global court at this time.
In the genre of the judicial thriller, award-winning directors Marcus Vetter and Michele Gentile, who have been filming at the ICC since 2009, tell how the first internationally legitimized criminal court investigates war criminals from the perspective of the prosecution. Among them are cases such as the suppression of the Arab Spring in Libya, possible war crimes in the Gaza war and the recruitment of child soldiers in the Congo. Actress Angelina Jolie and one of the former chief prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials, Ben Ferencz, are traveling to The Hague specifically for the first trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. They want to support this young court and its acceptance in public opinion. Angelina has directed her first feature film about war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and Ben Ferencz, who celebrated his 102nd birthday this year, has spent his life fighting for the world community to classify wars of aggression as war crimes. In his view, all wars result in atrocities against civilians, which is inevitable in today’s hybrid warfare. With the start of Russia’s war of aggression in February 2022, the ICC is suddenly riding high. The Ukraine conflict is boosting support for the ICC, but also for war. Peaceful countries like Germany and Sweden are suddenly planning for a permanent state of war.
If states are serious about ending impunity for crimes of aggression, the rules set out in the Rome Statute must be changed, and the court has also to be recognized by powerful states such as the United States, China, India and Russia. Instead of supporting war, Ocampo calls on political leaders to rethink the way we deal with conflict and replace war with a globally recognized justice system that seeks to avoid double standards.
“In this international criminal court the child soldiers will not be invisible.“
Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague
How did you get the idea to make a film about the International Criminal Court and why over such a long period?
In 2009 we finished the film “The Heart of Jenin” – a film about a Palestinian father whose son was shot by Israelis and who nevertheless decides to donate his son’s organs to Israeli children. The Chief Prosecutor of the Hague saw the film at the “Cinema for Peace Gala” in Berlin at that time. The next day he invited me to his office and asked me if we could imagine making a film about the International Criminal Court. He said something about how the ICC was currently looking into the extent to which Israel and Hamas could be prosecuted for war crimes in the Gaza war. It was an incredibly tempting offer and I told him that I could very well imagine it, but only on one condition: that he trusts us and that we can also shoot behind normally closed doors. What we cut later, we can decide later.
And what did he say?
He agreed. In fact, we were allowed to shoot a lot and to cut a lot of it into the film. Not all of it. Whenever it could endanger the safety of ICC staff, we had to refrain. Nevertheless, we got very close to the Chief Prosecutor and his team.
In 2013, the first film titled THE COURT was made, but we still kept shooting, and also worked on a fictional story. This intensified the relationship with Luis Moreno Qcampo. Now, when Amazon made a feature film about him and his work in the Argentine Junta Trial, we met again and in the process he asked me if we would be interested in shooting on the Russian war and the role of the ICC.
43 countries have submitted a request to investigate possible war crimes on the Russian side.
Exactly! Of course, this is very exciting because the current chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, can actually investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine. However, since 2017, the law requires that the aggressor, Russia in this case, also accepts the ICC intervention. Ocampo is therefore calling on the member states to change the rules allowing to investigate the most obvious crimes committed by President Putin.
So how will you connect the current shooting with the stories you’ve already shot?
Ocampo is preparing for a speech he will give in Nuremberg to key ICC officials. This speech will be about Russian aggression in Ukraine, but it will also be a look back at the work of the ICC and how he, as the first chief prosecutor, built the court. For us, this provides a wonderful opportunity to combine our material from the early years of the ICC with today’s view.
With the situation in Russia coming to a head, as a viewer you suddenly understand the challenges humanity is facing, because powerful states like Russia, China and the USA have never recognized the court. But now people want the ICC to act on Russian aggression and they suddenly have to deal with the court’s statutes and internal rules. In this context, the cases of the early years take on a whole new meaning. Ocampo’s review of his work gives us the opportunity to structure the film with it.
While we were shooting back then the revolution broke out in Libya, which was bloodily put down by Gaddafi. We were shooting when the UN Security Council referred the Libya case to the International Criminal Court, by consensus, mind you, USA, China, Russia, India, all voted for it. This is because if a country such as Gaddafi’s Libya did not recognize the court in The Hague, the ICC could only act if the UN Security Council unanimously transferred the case to the ICC. This moment in 2011 was the culmination and end of coherent diplomatic support for the ICC. The Syrian conflict divided the international community in 2012, and never again has the UN Security Council made use of this right.
What other cases have you been involved in during the shooting?
War crimes regarding child soldiers in Congo. We had exclusive access to thousands of hours of court material. It was the first ICC case to be tried in The Hague. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese warlord of the Hema ethnic group, recruited child soldiers to kill the Lendus. The film follows the case to the sentencing in 2012.
The film also features Angelina Jolie and the former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials. Why?
Luis Moreno-Ocampo was not only the first chief prosecutor of the ICC, but also a kind of showmaster. He first had to make the young institution known to the world when it was launched in 2002. And when the closing arguments were made in the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case, he had the idea of bringing Ben Ferencz, the chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, onto the team. He wanted him to bring the relevance of this first case close to the court and thus build a bridge from Nuremberg to The Hague. Angelina Jolie, on the other hand, has herself made a film about war crimes in the Yugoslav war and therefore advocated for the ICC. She made two special trips to The Hague to support the chief prosecutor. That was very important.
It is also important to mention here that Ben Ferencz, who celebrated his 102nd birthday in March of this year, has dedicated his life to the subject of war and war crimes. He says that war in itself is a war crime because there is no war by not committing war crimes against civilians. This is a very exciting topic, especially in light of the current war and how society is discussing and dealing with it. Therefore, the topic could not be more topical. Now is the right moment to release the film in its completion. And the fact that Amazon has just made the film about Qcampo, which, by the way, was chosen by Argentina to race for the Oscar, will help us a lot in the distribution of the film internationally as well.
One last question, what “message” do you want to give to the film?
This is a documentary that should not take sides. All wars lead to war crimes, as Ben Ferencz explains. That’s why Luis Moreno Ocampo is advocating to the world community to take this situation, where Putin has started a war of aggression in the most obvious way, as an opportunity, and to change the rules within the Rome Statute and to hold heads of state who start wars of aggression fundamentally accountable. The UN Charta prohibited aggressive war. But the most powerful states still use their military power to impose their will, even President Obama said in his Nobel Prize speech, that wars can be fought for humanitarian purposes. If in the film we will also show that the moral preconditions for the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arsenal, were never found, the point is not to compare one situation with another, but to show why wars have unfortunately not been replaced by justice so far. The ICC brings hopes but rules have to change.
There is a scene we shot in 2011 in which an Arab leader tells the chief prosecutor that the ICC will not receive international recognition until ‘Uncle Sam’ , the US, can also be held accountable. This scene is so important because it shows how part of the world community thinks. Only if all countries and opinions stand behind an institution like the ICC, the dream Ben talks about, to replace wars with justice, can become reality.
“Ein knallharter und streckenweise ernüchternder Film, der einem das komplexe Geflecht aus internationalen Strafgesetzen auf spannende Weise näherbringt, aber Szenen von expliziter Gewalt nicht ausspart. “
Programmkino von David Siems
“Der Internationale Strafgerichtshof ist eine der zivilisatorisch wichtigsten Einrichtungen der Welt. Jetzt hat ein Filmteam eine Dokumentation über ihn gedreht.”
Die Zeit, 29. April 2013 von Steffen Richter
“Ocampo würde niemals die Berichterstattung von Journalisten oder Filmemachern beeinflussen, es würde völlig außerhalb von ihm liegen. Allenfalls hätte er ein Veto in sicherheitsrelevanten Angelegenheiten vorbehalten, aber es gab keines.”
Stuttgarter Nachrichten, 4. Mai 2013 von Dieter Osswald
“Die Arbeit des Gerichtshofs könnte nicht entsetzlicher sein: Hier werden schreckliche Kriegsverbrechen vor Gericht gestellt. Das Filmteam begleitet den 2002 eröffneten ICC bei der Vorbereitung und Umsetzung des ersten Prozesses.”
Kultur Extra, 2. Mai 2013
“…a fascinating documentary about the pioneering work of the first world court… a heart-warming story worthy of Hollywood.”
The Economist, 24 Juni, 2013
“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…”
The Star, 12. Dezember 2013 by Tan Yi Liang
“Wir haben dieses Gericht gebeten, durch internationale Maßnahmen das Recht des Menschen auf ein Leben in Frieden und Würde zu bestätigen.”
Ben Ferencz bei den Nürnberger Nazi-Prozessen
|Year of Production||2023|
|A production of||FILMPERSPEKTIVE GmbH|
ELSANI & NEARY MEDIA GmbH
|In coproduction with||Addictivefilms|
Derek Britt Films
|Assistant Directors||Achim Johne|
|Edited by||Marcus Vetter|
|Executive Producers||Christian Beetz|
|Director of Photography||Christian Haardt|
|Sound & Sound Design||Aljoscha Haupt|
|Sound Mix||Fabian Schaller|
|Original Music||Jens Huerkamp|
|World Sales||Atlas International|