A review of ‘War and Justice’: An explosive & combative documentary for peace

A documentary about one international litigator’s war on war and his fight for global justice.

Jun 12, 2024 - 14:47
Jun 12, 2024 - 14:57
A review of ‘War and Justice’: An explosive & combative documentary for peace

‘War and Justice’: An explosive & combative documentary for peace

Cast: Luis Moreno Ocampo, Benjamin Ferencz, Angelina Jolie, Joanna Frivet, Karim Khan, Florence Olara, Emmanuel Jal, Fatou Bensouda, Julian Assange (archive), Volodymyr Zelensky (archive), Thomas Lubango Dyilo (archive), Muammar Gaddafi (archive), Ursula von der Leyen (archive), George W. Bush (archive), Tony Blair, (archive), Barack Obama (archive), Benjamin Netanyahu (archive), Hermann Goering (archive), Robert H. Jackson (archive)

Critic’s Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Director: Michelle Gentile, Marcus Vetter

Duration: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Genre: Documentary, War

Language: English

Release: 2023

What’s it about: 

A documentary about one international litigator’s war on war and his fight for global justice. 

Review: 

Perhaps the most relevant documentary at the present time, War and Justice examines the phenomenon of armed conflict and the necessity for law to confront, tackle and suppress it. This trenchant documentary shows that even with international organisations involved in the quest for peace and accountability, as well as, with the most capable personnel at the helm of affairs, there is still much work to be done. Bringing some of the guilty to book is not effective enough action when others are able to get off scot-free.

This film is aptly narrated from the perspective of veteran litigant and the First Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – Luis Moreno Ocampo. We join this Argentine national in his movements across the past two decades and especially during his tenure at the Hague between 2003 and 2011. These activities include Ocampo's mooting at the Court, attendance of conferences and building cases and writing speeches with the aid of his legal advisor Joanna Frivet. What’s more, the film also displays him interacting with a cab driver who poses interesting questions and makes valid observations.

Ocampo, in turn, introduces us to Benjamin Ferencz – the youngest prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials of 1948. Mr. Ferencz provides insightful inputs about War like the blurring of the distinction between soldier and civilian, especially where the inflicting and suffering of crimes are concerned. Ocampo proceeds to mark the Rome Statute of 1998 as a watershed moment towards keeping war in check, at least between the 120-odd signatory countries. Ocampo elaborates that this document of rules is the basis for the ICC to try and sentence those found guilty of pursuing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and most serious of all – initiating a war of unprovoked aggression. 

However, because of the complexities of conflicts in some countries and the power and impunity enjoyed by other nations, objective rules don’t always hold. On this issue, Ferencz observes that “wrong decisions” by the ICC is “the price we have to pay for moving towards civilised behaviour”. Nevertheless, the Hague has been setting its sights on leaders of militia and terror groups like Thomas Lubango Dyilo of the Union of Congolese Patriots, who had been forcibly recruiting children as soldiers. Ocampo proceeds to expound on unique situations in places like Palestine and the Muammar Gaddafi-controlled Libya, which placed these countries out of the ICC’s jurisdiction.  

While this film’s directors - Michelle Gentile and Marcus Vetter – help to elucidate pertinent situations and raise appropriate questions, they don’t completely investigate the role of money behind war. However, War and Justice does show that from the Nazis to Putin, such authorities conveniently use a falsely-perceived imminent attack from their neighbours as the pretext to initiate war. Also included in the film are incisive interludes of - Julian Assange (of the Wikileaks notoriety) mentioning the incriminating videos of U.S. soldiers humiliating their captured Iraqi counterparts; a belatedly apologetic former UK Premier Tony Blair; ex-American Prez Barack Obama’s take on what justifies force; Hollwood darling Angelina Jolie’s plug for peace; and a combative Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu deriding the UN Security Council.

There is even a moment of levity when former U.S President George Bush commits yet another faux pas while he publicly denounces Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion... of the wrong country. Then, Ocampo’s successor at the ICC – Karim Khan – articulately explains how most UN members liken International Law to an "al a carte menu". Though there’s enough of thought-provoking material in this documentary, the filmmakers could have incorporated some statistics and graphics to substantiate the deluge of sound-bytes. Still, there is adequate substance here to initiate debate and action. Plus, the cinematography is professional, usage of archive footage appropriate, and the editing tight and effective. Ocampo’s honest and true phrase - “Justice is the only hope for peace” - is sure to ring on in one’s ears. One only hopes now that it does the same for the errant powers-that-are.

Ronak Kotecha Senior Journalist and seasoned content creator with 18-years-experience at channels like Times Now, NewsX, Zoom and Radio City. Now, Rotten Tomatoes accredited global critic for the Times of India and BBC India Correspondent in Dubai. Talk show host at Talk100.3, tune in weekdays at 11 am on talk1003.ae