Office of Public Engagement

Looking Through the Lens of History at Challenges in International Justice

DC-area law students, legal experts, professors and historians will gather at the White House on Wednesday, March 21, for a screening of I Came to Testify, from PBS’s acclaimed Women, War and Peace series, and a panel discussion about how this story continues to shape international law. Tomorrow’s event is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Bridging Cultures through Law” film series, which encourages conversation between law students, legal experts, and the people who lived the history.

NEH is proud to have funded I Came to Testify, which looks back to the violent conflict that erupted among various ethnic groups including Bosnians and Serbs following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The film tells the story of 16 women who testified to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) about their imprisonment and sexual assault at the hands of Serbian forces. This film marks the first time since the trial that the women have agreed to speak publicly about their experience. The episode explores not only this harrowing story, but also the chasms between the legal changes and the justice experienced by surviving Bosnian women. The film premiered nationally on PBS on October 11th and continues to air on local PBS stations.

The film screening in the South Court Auditorium will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Pamela Hogan; Bosnian human rights advocate Refik Hodzic; professor and co-director of Washington College of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Diane Orentlicher; and Judge Patricia Wald, who served on the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague. Moderating the discussion will be Kelly Askin, senior legal officer for International Justice in the Open Society Justice Initiative. The panelists will share their perspectives on the testimony the film showcases and engage the students in a discussion regarding international law, with emphasis on the roles of the ICTY and the International Criminal Court. The panel discussion will be streamed live on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET at WhiteHouse.gov/Live.

Recently, the International Criminal Court convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga for using child soldiers in a war that took ten thousand lives. Like the story of the women from the former Yugoslavia, this lengthy investigation of the atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrates the new reaches of international law on humanitarian subjects. The legal precedents highlighted in the NEH’s “Bridging Cultures through Law” film series are thus designed to make accessible to the American public and the next generation of lawyers programs that use history to inform the present.

Jim Leach is the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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