First there was Nuremberg
. That famous tribunal after WWII set a historical precedent for prosecuting war crimes. Then came the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). When age-old hatreds in the Balkans ended in genocide, the world watched, helpless, hoping that justice would be served. The ICTY, however, stalled, unable to live up to Nuremberg’s legacy. It seemed that political and military leaders and their henchmen would go unpunished, while grieving parents, wives and husbands had neither legal recourse nor closure.
The ICTY and its parent the United Nations were derided as a lame duck—that is, until the arrival of Louise Arbour (WENDY CREWSON). Hunt for Justice is a fictionalized account of Arbour’s dramatic struggle to indict, arrest and convict war criminals, culminating in the imprisonment of Milosevic. While Arbour’s three-year struggle was very real, the film combines conflated characters with historical events to simplify the narrative.
Hunt for Justice begins in the spring of 1996, when an idealistic 47-year-old Canadian judge by the name of Louise Arbour is appointed Chief Prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Her appointment isn’t popular. Louise Arbour has made bold but controversial decisions as a judge. Furthermore, she has neither experience nor status in the world of international politics. The bureaucrats at The Hague fear she is out of her league.
Once at The Hague, Arbour is handed the daunting task of prosecuting the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, where racial and religious hatreds finally erupted into a savage 10-year war in the Balkans and Kosovo. It is Arbour’s job to investigate rape camps, ethnic cleansing and the displacement of two million citizens. She is assigned a translator, Pasko (STIPE ERCEG), a Bosnian Muslim whose wife is missing, and a legal team including Odon (NEVILLE EDWARDS), the initially reluctant Keller (HEINO FERCH), and her assistant Tina (CLAUDIA FERRI). With their help, Arbour hits the ground running, keen to go to trial.
But why aren’t the indicted war criminals already apprehended? She is appalled to learn that high-level war criminals have been charged for their crimes, but not arrested! Her every question is mired in bureaucracy, her every action thwarted by the three generals who command the region’s NATO-controlled zones. British General Mortimer (WILLIAM HURT) explains that the war criminals remain at large in his NATO-controlled zone to keep peace with Milosevic. American General Salinski (MICHAEL MURPHY) doesn’t want a repeat of Mogadishu, where U.S. soldiers returned to the States in body bags. For his part, French NATO General Léveillé (JACQUES GODIN) does not want to upset China or Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin, the “big brother” of Milosevic.
Arbour finds herself isolated—a prosecutor without a police force, her indictments meaningless without arrests. Arbour’s only ally in the field is Captain John Tanner (JOHN CORBETT) of the British Special Forces, an American-born renegade with connections that exceed his rank. Flying below the radar, he helps Arbour navigate the thorny politics of peacekeeping so that she can uphold the legal and moral difference between soldiers and war criminals.
Over the course of the next three years, Arbour makes an emotional journey in pursuit of her ultimate goal: to transform an ineffective tribunal into a force that cannot be ignored. Visiting mass gravesites, she witnesses the results of unspeakable atrocities described in her legal files. Arbour meets grieving mothers, whose tears fill Arbour with righteous indignation and resolve. She especially wants to help Pasko, her translator, as he grapples with news about his wife’s possible fate. Meanwhile, Arbour’s mother, Rose (LYNNE DERAGON), and her teenaged daughter Melanie, (GABRIELLE BONI), grow increasingly concerned about her nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic and, of course, the death threats.
Working with coroner Camille Gilbert (LESLIE HOPE), Arbour painstakingly starts amassing the evidence she needs to indict. Her first targets are major Serbian ringleaders: Milan Kovacevic, responsible for the establishment of concentration camps in Bosnia where thousands of non-Serb civilians were raped, tortured and murdered; and Slavko Dokmanovic, the man behind the tragic Vukovar hospital slaughter. She decides to issue secret indictments, and sidesteps NATO commanders in carrying out these strategic arrests. Circumstances intervene, however, and both evade conviction. All seems lost.
In 1999, Arbour is in her darkest hour when an unexpected ally appears, providing information about a new, unspeakable massacre in Kosovo at the hands of Milosevic. Finally, determined to dismantle the tradition of impunity for war crimes and the violations of international law, Arbour announces that a warrant has been issued for the unprecedented arrest of an active head of state. Thanks to Arbour’s tireless efforts, President Slobodan Milosevic would be held accountable for crimes against humanity —
specifically murder, deportation and persecutions, and with violations of the laws and customs of war.
Hunt for Justice is the story of an extraordinary woman’s courage and determination in the face of unexpected and unspeakable obstacles.