August 17, 2009 / 1:18 PM / 8 years ago

Bosnians applaud German film on war crimes trials

SARAJEVO (Reuters Life!) - Around 3,000 Bosnians sat in silence through a screening of “Storm,” an English-language thriller about the trial of a fictional Serb war criminal which they said exposed some of the pitfalls of international justice.

Storm features New Zealand’s Kerry Fox as a determined prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague who struggles against Serb nationalists, Brussels bureaucrats and the pressures of time.

Her case is in danger of collapsing when the court rejects a new witness to rapes allegedly committed by the suspect, bowing to pressure from officials in Brussels who are lobbied by Serb nationalists.

“To me, as a Bosnian, it was extremely important to see the way the tribunal functions,” said Eldina Jasarevic, a university teacher, after the weekend screening.

“The film gave me an insight into the behind-the-scene games and made me understand for the first time how the court bargains. It shattered many illusions I had about justice.”

German director Hans-Christian Schmid said the film was fictional, but included elements of cases he had studied.

He admitted he was nervous presenting the movie at the Sarajevo Film Festival, where most in the audience had lived through the 1992-95 war at the center of the plot.

Reaction was generally positive in Muslim-dominated Sarajevo, badly shelled during the Bosnian Serb siege leaving its inhabitants short of food, electricity and water.

“I was very nervous presenting the film here,” Schmid told Reuters in an interview.

“You know that people who are going to see the film have lived through experiences, that they know more than you know.”

IMPORTANT LESSONS

Nidzara Ahmetasevic, editor of the Justice Report covering war crimes trials in The Hague and Bosnia for the Balkan Investigative Network (BIRN) media organization, said the movie underlined how politics could derail justice.

“This film has shown in a very honest way, and I think for the first time in this format, how much the Hague tribunal is a political institution,” she said.

“It sent a very important message -- that justice and law are not always on the same side, and that justice often depends on politics and many other elements.”

A screening of Storm in The Hague in July coincided with the tribunal sentencing of Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Milan Lukic, elements of whose case Schmid used in the film, to life in prison.

Lukic was convicted of killing at least 119 Bosnian Muslims -- many of them burned alive -- early in the war. But, according to Schmid, he was not charged for rapes he has been accused of.

“What happened after the shooting of the film, in Lukic’s case the prosecution wanted to come up with new witnesses about the rape and the judges said no more,” Schmid said.

“That, for us, was a kind of confirmation that we were dealing with the right issues. That meant a lot to us.”

After Lukic’s conviction Bakira Hasecic, president of support group ‘Women-Victims of War’, said she hoped Milan Lukic and his cousin Sredoje Lukic -- who were both convicted in The Hague last month -- would be tried by Bosnia’s own war crimes court for rapes and torture.

“They only concentrated on the gravest crimes but it is only five percent of all the crimes they committed,” said Hasecic, herself a rape victim during the war.

Schmid added that he would like to show the film in the Serb region of Bosnia, where reaction may be very different.

“The showing of the film in Banja Luka would be very interesting. What do they feel about what we are trying to say about Republika Srpska?”

Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato

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