Witnesses to Genocide

A journalist covering the war in Bosnia learns what it means to bear witness.

For the better part of the past year, I have been interviewing people who found themselves witnessing history that made them scream bloody murder. They were trying to focus the world’s attention on the world’s most heinous crime — genocide — only to be shunned, ignored, or told it was someone else’s problem.

I wanted to know what made them do what they did. Some were idealists. Others were pragmatists. All were stubborn. And none considered themselves heroes.

Even though the international community was indifferent when they tried to stop the killing, their moral courage gives us hope. For what they witnessed on their watch was genocide, unchecked evil that they would not let pass without a fight.

I confess: there’s much here I do not fully understand. As a young correspondent covering the war in Bosnia, my day often began with a trip to the Sarajevo morgue to count bodies. How else would a journalist know how many Muslim children were cut down by Bosnian Serb snipers? How else could we put names to civilians left faceless by mortar shells from the surrounding hills? I learned what it means to bear witness.

In the 1990’s in the heart of Europe, “never again” was happening again for the first time since WWII. The Bosnia war pitted Orthodox Christian Serbs against the Muslim population, in a quest to achieve an ethnically pure Greater Serbia as Yugoslavia exploded. Hundreds of thousands were killed, millions were forced to flee as refugees.

But to this day, I ask myself what would have happened if roles had been reversed. If the principal aggressors were Muslim and their victims were Christian, would the West have intervened sooner to stop the slaughter of innocents?

In Rwanda, in 1994 Roman Catholic Hutus turned with a vengeance against their Tutsi compatriots, often chasing them into churches and butchering them there. Yet today a strong Christian faith sustains many who find themselves on the path to national reconciliation. In Rwanda I watched as Iphegenia, a Tutsi woman who had lost her husband and five children, served lunch to Jean Bosco, the Hutu neighbor who had killed them. When I asked her how she found it in her heart to forgive, she responded “I am a Christian and I like to pray to forgive. In my heart the dead are dead and they cannot come back.”

I often wonder, when I’ve come back from a place like Rwanda or Bosnia, why people ask me: Is it really that bad? I guess they do not want to believe such evil can exist. Or perhaps they just do not want to be pushed into that moral space where they would have to take a stand and do something. The heroes we profile stood up to confront and speak out against the evil they saw. Their governments thought they too were exaggerating. They, too, were not believed.

We’re always told that evil happens when good men, and women, do nothing. Well these heroes did something, and the question — my question as a reporter and as a witness to history is: Will we ever learn? Or will I or my children or my successors be reporting on this same kind of atrocity and inhumanity for years and years to come?

Dec. 9 marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. Its commitment to prevent and punish this awful crime are inspiring words.

Christiane Amanpour is CNN Chief International Correspondent. Her special report, Scream Bloody Murder, can be seen here.


Image by Flickr

Written by

  • dchido

    Christiane Amanpour has been one of my favorite journalists since her work in Bosnia. As a researcher on one of the foremost books on that period, I became fascinated with ethnic conflict. Two years ago I completed an MS in intelligence studies with a thesis on predicting genocide through the propaganda that precedes it. The language used in the four major 20th century ethnic conflicts was nearly identical and focused on cultivation language, such as “pull the weeds from our garden” and “kill the parasites.” This hearkens back to a sense of politicized nationalism tied to land. Thank heaven for people like Raphael Lemke, Susan Power, and the unsung heroes Ms. Amanpour recognizes in her program, who saw what was happening and tried to stop it. With an understanding of how demagogues prepare both the victim and perpetrator populations for genocide, we need to devote resources to identifying the language and acts that nearly ALWAYS precede violence so these heroes will have nothing to report in the future.

  • aztecterp

    Are you kidding? Where did you get those numbers from about the war in Bosnia? Hundreds of thousands? You are buying into the propaganda. As far as I know, the total death count in Bosnia was about 100,000. Further, the majority of those deaths were military on both sides. Some journalist!

  • thierryka2002

    This video presents what should all Chritians do: “Forgiveness” as Christ had said “Lord, forgive them for they do no know what they are doing.” However, it doesn’t mean to turn curtain blind to further genocide like the one going now in the Eastern Congo under Nkunda’s so called rebellion and which is backed up by the central government of the DRC, the Rwanda’s government of this Kagame, and the eyeswitness of the UN under MONUC, the USA consulate in Goma and the Britsh official representatives (Consult). Although as we, people learn to live together we ask for the right to be protected. When this protection is missing, especially in the situation in the Congo, we ask for the international media to rise up the concern of the voiceless population in the Eastern Congo to stop the current genocide and to bring the perpertor tu justice. Thanks for your mediatic role in rising up the genocide concern currently going on in the Congo.

  • kjohnson3

    aztecterp–“As far as [you] know”? Were you there counting the civilian dead, as was Amanpour? Did you bear witness, as she did?The answer to Amanpour’s question — “Will we ever learn? Or will I or my children or my successors be reporting on this same kind of atrocity and inhumanity for years and years to come?” — is, sadly, no. We won’t ever learn. Not as long as people like you continue to deny the worst atrocities in human history.

  • rb-freedom-for-all

    I think the media needs to do a better job of shining a light on these actrocities when they occur.When I read about what was happening in Bosnia or Rwanda, I could not make any sense out of it and therefore did not know what to do about it. If the media did a better job of explaining the conflict, who the parties are, why it is happening, etc., people would be more inclined to pressure their governments to do something about it.I am not criticizing Ms. Amanpour, who has been courageous in covering news all around the world. It is the network executives and news producers that I criticize for not choosing to put the stories in front of us, except in the most cursory of ways. If everyone were told in depth what the conflicts were about they would be far less apathetic in responding to them (IMHO).

  • Judy-in-TX

    First, I remember the day Ted Turner turned on CNN and his channel has been a staple source of news and commentary in our home ever since.

  • jpphilippe23

    There is scarcely any journalist in current media circles whose integrity and objectivism I admire as much as C. Amampour’s. This article is yet again another example of her dedication to so often cover the stories on “the roads less travelled”. While so many would go to Alaska to talk to the Sara Palins of this world, Ms. Amampour would probably go to Pakistan to cover an earthquake or China to cover milk related death or female genital mutilations in Africa.I look forward to watching her report tonight.

  • Mickey2

    Nowadays, the killers do not have to see their victims eye to eye. Flying a UAV and firing a missile from it by remote control is just like playing the video games they grew up with. Never mind they hit the wrong house and kill innocent civilians. They can always go back to the beginning and start over, right? Oh wait, are we talking about reality or the game?

  • mharwick

    Saddam Hussein was committing genocide against the Kurds and his own people. He invaded Kuwait and committed genocidal acts there. He was massing his troops on the Saudi Arabia border and then Desert Storm removed him on parole. Over the next 12 years Saddam and sons continued with their rape, murder torture against innocent men, women and children. The U.N. did nothing but pass resolutions finally with 1441 setting it all out and we removed Saddam and 28 million people are now free. We will be withdrawing leaving them to deal with the radicals.

  • mpetrovic018

    Amanpour and CNN have been lying for years about the events in Bosnia and they keep lying hoping that they will not be caught in their lies and exaggeration. I saw with my own eyes CNN footage that contradicted what the commentator was saying. Like in this page, where Amanpour is writing about Muslim kids killed by Bosnian Serbs, and in the picture behind her is a Christian graveyard with graves marked by crosses. These cannot be Muslim graves.

  • sparrow4

    mharwick- and what is our excuse for not taking down every genocidal dictator or government? What hypocrisy- as if darfur is any less of a horror show than Hussein’s Iraq?So we killed Hussein and took down his government at a huge cost to the Iraqis, who are still paying the price, and to our military. In addition we destabilized the Middle east even more, have not gotten Osama bin laden- which was supposed to be our objective, we are bleeding- no- hemorrhaging money that we need here at home, our economy is in shambles, we have thousands of wounded soldiers who are not getting the help they need- that’s why Obama was elected. Because he had the guts to stand up and say going into Iraq was wrong. And he was exactly right.

  • jenraeb

    mpetrovic018: As far as I see, that photo does not say where it was taken. That photo may not be from Bosnia; it’s likely that it’s from Rwanda or Sudan.


    Thanks so very much, Ms. Amanpour.What you witnessed in Bosnia and Rwanda, I, a non-Iranian, non-Arab, non-Pakistani Sunni Muslim who was then barely 30, witnessed in the country of your birth, Iran. I lived the 12 months from August 1978 to August 1979 in Tehran and, every day I walked among the hundreds of soldiers and tens of armored tanks that had been deployed in my neighbourhood of Tehran having visited Jaleh Square where, one week before my arrival in Tehran, scores of unarmed demonstrators had been killed, and a couple of weeks or so later, when I was in Tehran and the mothers and sisters of those who had fallen under the bullets marched again to put flowers in the barrels of the guns of the soldiers who had fired on their loved ones, I was too much of a coward to go and join the demonstration.I was in the streets, however, that day of February 1979, again with heavily armed people and armored tanks all around me, but this time they were not soldiers, they were the common people who had stormed the barracks. That was the day when Ayatolah Ruhollah Khomeini flew in by Air France from Neuphle Le Chateau, where he ahd been in exile. It was an elating moment for me, one of the best of mylife — the day a people had won their freedom with chants of Allahu-Akbar rising to the skies from every rooftop.Yes, I understand that your piece is about genocide, not just any kind of mass killing and oppression. Nonetheless, what the Iranian people suffered, not only during the years when the Shah’s Secret service, the SAVAK, jailed hundreds of youg men, three of four of whom I subsequently met personaly, in his Evin prison, which I visited after the fall of the Shah, but also during the 8-year Iran-Iraq war which Saddam Hussein waged against a fellow-Muslim country under leveraging by the CIA, and some of whose victims I had seen in Mecca when I went for Haj in December 1986 and can still see vividly as I type these words even without closing my eyes, is carved out in my soul, I who am not even an Iranain. yes, these people have also suffered as much as the victims of genocide — and they have forgiven.Over the years, I watched the valiant televised journalism reports you filed, interviewing Presidents Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami among others, and I blessed you. Continue the good work, Ms. Amanpour, and join me in a prayer that, even without the prejudices that other westerners have against Ahmadinejad, I make for Khatami to satnd for Presidential elections gain next year and be elected. The good people of the country of your birth deserve that.

  • sparrow4

    fuzzytruthseeker- that was so beautifully said. We do indeed forget the Iranians suffered so much. We also foget that many many muslims have died as a result of terrorism- its not just westerners who suffer.

  • goddessreturns

    There are times when I am so ashamed of my response to images of genocide. The images are so soul rending that I feel my faith in the goodness of mankind is so very diminished. When I send a contribution, it feels I am buying off my horror in the face of such evil. Civilization is at a true crossroad and we all will be counted on to bring voice and action to insure that the justice and good in mankind will indure. People like Ms. Amanpour look evil in the face and know it for what it is and speak to all of us to leave our comfort and cry in the streets for our brothers and sisters.

  • wpc09

    Fuzzytruthseeker: Revolutions can carry within themselves the seeds of other genocides. Those who felt liberated by the Islamic Revolution in Iran should look at the treatment of the Baha’is under successive shahs and now more systematically under their own vaunted Islamic Republic. Why has your revolution killed over 200 Baha’is in extra-judicial killings? Why has it deprived all Baha’is of government jobs and demanded they repay their salaries? Why has it confiscated all Baha’i holy places and buildings, destroying many of them, including the holiest Baha’i sites in Tehran and Shiraz? Why did the government expropriate the life savings of tens of thousands of Baha’is from the Baha’i savings bank? Why are government inspired thugs bulldozing Baha’i cemeteries on regular basis? Why are Baha’is now forbidden to hold such jobs as teachers, photographers, cinematographers, and a host of others? Why has the Baha’i leadership in Iran been arrested? Why were Baha’i and Muslim youth who were carrying out humanitarian work with other young people arrested (the Muslims were released but the Baha’is were sentenced to anything from re-education to five years in prison)? Why did the authorities close down the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education – a method of providing higher education to Baha’is who were denied it by their own government? Why do Iran’s government newspapers publish daily scurrilous and false articles attacking the Baha’i community in the foulest of terms? Why are Baha’i elementary school students vilified in front of their classmates because of their faith?I will wait until hell freezes over for your answer.

  • sparrow4

    WPC- why rake fuzzytruthseeker over the coals? Is he personally responsible? Does that take away from the legitimacy of his experience? The leadership does these things- for the most part, people just want to live their lives in peace. This tit for tat is what’s killing us all.

  • mpetrovic018

    jenraeb : You are right, the graveyard can be from a place other than the Muslim part of Sarajevo. It can be from the Serbian part of Sarajevo. Many journalists, Amanpour including, were never willing to inform their readers that Sarajevo was a divided city during the war, and that Bosnian Muslim snipers were killing Serbian children during the war in Bosnia.

  • jpmaher

    Ms Amanpour is a fraud. She never filed any report on a “Srebrenica Massacre”. You will find NO report by her or any other “journalist” in WP or elsewhere of any “Srebrenica massacre of 7000-8000 Muslim men and boys” until weeks after the purported event. See the Lexis-Nexis search engine for “Amanpour AND Srebrenica” between 1 July 1995 and 31 October 1995. Why the delay? The book “Witness to Genocide”, attributed to Pulitzer laureate Roy Gutman, has dozens of passages, the language of which was never written by an English-speaker. Remember Tonkin Gulf!

  • observer12

    FuzzytruthseekerMost informative and moving posts. Thank you. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the many blogs of blogger Farnaz who has repeatedly posted on the plight of the Bahai, trying to get people interested.She directed us to the UN, which as she endlessly pointed out has taken “notice” of the problem but does nothing. Farnaz is an Iranian Jew who witnessed horror there during the Islamic Revolution when she was a child. As you may know the majority of Iranian Jews, along with many Christians and Muslims have left. The persecution of Jews, the limitations placed on them, people who like Farnaz came from families that had been there since the middle ages was mind-boggling. Her history lessons on Iran and our involvement with it have been extraordinary. Oddly, I recall her saying she currently had little use for Unfortunately, Farnaz took a hiatus from this blog a few days ago. I hope she sees Amanpour’s essay and blogs on this thread.

  • jfst

    Rwanda should send missionaries of peace and

  • asizk

    Christiane,1// U said:” But to this day, I ask myself what would have happened if roles had been reversed. If the principal aggressors were Muslim and their victims were Christian, would the West have intervened sooner to stop the slaughter of innocents?.” This is a profound question to pause and the answer is:European Bosinian Muslims were subjected to Genocide in the heart of “civilized Europe” just for asking for self-detremination peaefully;so the answer to the question is obvious:the whole of Europe would have been up in arms against “fundamntalst terrorist Muslims” who were bent on “destroying our great european civilization.”2// The same Europe that holocausted the jews did the same to Spanish Muslims during the infamous and horrendous Inquisition which lasted for three centuries. Europe of the holocaust is the same one that created another slow and tormenting holocaust by throwing the jews out of europe to Arab historic PAlestine,and also as a compensation for the holocaust and condoning the the never ending attrocities of the racist apartheid militarstic occupying jewish ethno-theorcay in Palestine. 3// What “international” community is that?? Is it that of GW and Condi Rice that teamed up with neocons to invade,destroy and occupy Iraq and murder over one million Iraqis on flase pretense ?? Is it the same “international community” that is looking on Gaza while its straved to submission and collective punishment nazi style and where 1.5 million Palestinians live in a Gaza tunred into Aushwitz #2 ??………..there is really no international community….

  • asizk

    mharwick,U must be living on Mars: 28 million iraqis are now free!!!!!!No-actually less:over one million iraqis were murdered by GW war of chioce, four million turned into homeless refugees, and the rest endure a brutal occupation,secterian war,dirty water and live in consatnt fear.Trust me irqqi long to the days of Saddam-and I wish he took out the two pieces of personal real estate for the tribes of Sababh and Sauld in Kuwait and “saudi” arabia.GW went to IRaq only for two reasons:to appease the jews and AIAPC and for oil.Regan and the republicans whole heartdly supported Saddam and supplied him with weapons and intelligence…remember Dony Rumsfeld…

  • asizk

    ckcuboba, There is nothing left to debate with you-do you then think that the 250,000 Bosnian Muslim men,women,chlidren persheid while on a picinic…or when they were taking a pleasent walk in the spring…near Srebrenicha….


    wpc09,at 4:32 p.m. on Dec 4Sorry to be somewhat late in replying.You ask ” Why has it deprived all Baha’is of government jobs and demanded they repay their salaries?”That is simply not true, NOT TRUE at all.I could, immediately, and just offhand, give you the name of a prominent Bahai who not only heads one of the most prestigious institutes in Tehran, but also, in part thanks to support from the Islamic Republic’s authorities, holds a very prestigious University Chair at Gerogetown University where prominent Iranian Muslim academic Trita Parsi also occupies a very prestigious Chair. There are many, many others.Allow me to take this opportunity to say that, when Israel recently tried to lure Iranain Jews with pecuniary incentives to resettle in Israel, most of the 38,000 Iranain Jews rejected the offer — they like Israel, the would die for their religion just as Muslims would, but they won’t countenance oppression and occupation any more than Muslims will (Oh, yes the extremists are misguided, but, in their reckoning, they are fighting opression, not countenancing it — I, of course disagree with extremist methods).


    obsever12, at 7:06 p.m. on Dec 12,Please see my response to wpc09.Again, I could give you names of Jews who refuse to move to Israel, but that is unethical without their permission.However, if you provoke me by replying back, I shal give you one name at least and you can check.

  • observer12

    Fuzzytruthseeker:Allow me to take this opportunity to say that, when Israel recently tried to lure Iranain Jews with pecuniary incentives to resettle in Israel, most of the 38,000 Iranain Jews rejected the offer — they like Israel, the would die for their religion just as Muslims would, but they won’t countenance oppression and occupation any more than Muslims will (Oh, yes the extremists are misguided, but, in their reckoning, they are fighting opression, not countenancing it — I, of course disagree with extremist methods).Fuzzy:Huh? What? I don’t see anything about Israel in my post. However, if you want to bring up that nonsense about the 25,000 Iranian Jews, then 30,000, now, evidently, 38,000, I suggest you go to the archives and dig up Farnaz’s brilliant expose replete with documentation.Anything the christians and muslims won’t do for oil, and exploitation of their own people and anyone else?If you provoke me, I shall post looking for Farnaz on every thread here to get the names of murdered Iranians, murdered Jews in Israel, murdered Muslims murdered by Muslims by Palestinian justice, the Bahai, which I can actually get info on by myself, the Iranian economy, etc., etc., etc.Fuzzy. Don’t start. I’m nobody and nothing compared to Farnaz.

  • the1joncook

    I wonder how I would respond if found in a similar situation? Hatred and fear seem to come too easily.

  • sparrow4

    azizk- Jews in this country don’t need appeasement. Bush and his cronies (not to mention old family friends- the Saudi Royal family) want oil. You, like so many of your otherwise intelligent fellow Muslims fall for the same rightwing punditry that the conservative Republican right does. You don’t think beyond the slogans. And like many of your fellows (mumbojumbo of “the US policy makers did 9-11” fame) you see the world simplistically and take no responsibility for what Muslim terrorists have done in your name. Perhaps if your fellow Arab states weren’t having so much fun funding Palestinian guns,bombs and bullets, not schools, homes and hospitals,or offering money to families if they let their sons blow themselves up, the Israeli-Palestinian question would have been resolved.And trust me on this- Gaza was destroyed by Hamas and the Palestinians own stupidity. Israel pulled out and turned it over to them- they destroyed the infrastructure, used it as a platform to lob missiles into Israel and now they complain that Israel cut them off? Even the Egyptians shut down their border. Why do you think?One last thing- Auschwitz makes Gaza look like a paradise. When your people are being gassed, their gold fillings pulled out, their skin turned into soap and lampshades, and being used as the subject of bizarre medical experiments (there’s a lot more too long to list), then you can whine to a Jew about Gaza.You are also woefully ignorant of the entire history of the establishment of the State of Israel- I’m sure our course in regional history gave you the official arab version- heavily editied for jingoism, but I’d be surprised it it had been otherwise.And then you post hear whining about how Muslims have been victimized and misunderstood?

  • sparrow4

    observer- fuzzytruthseeker is actually replying to WPC09’s Bahai post, but he put a note to you in the same post.

  • mpetrovic018

    asizk : Even the most biased Western journalists don’t use the number of 250,000 Bosnian Muslim victims. A Bosnian commission, lead by a Muslim, came up with less than 100,000 victims on all sides.It was not difficult for the Bosnian Muslim government to come up with any imaginary atrocity to accuse Bosnian Serbs of during the latest war. They just had to read from their WWII brethren’s script. During WWII Bosnian Muslims committed despicable crimes, the most brutal massacres one can think of, against the Serbs.

  • ckcuboba

    Christiane Amanpour asks: “What can we learn from people who were shunned or ignored when they screamed bloody murder about genocide?”There was no genocide committed by the Serbs in Bosnia ever!! Nazi state of Croatia has committed genocide against the Serbs helped by Handzar Muslim (Nazi) units when they slaughtered some 700.000 Serbs during World War II. Serbs have screamed “GENOCIDE” since, but Amanpour doesn’t hear.Serbs have screamed “INJUSTICE” and “WAR CRIMES” when Clinton’s Administration, of which Christiane Amanpour was the embedded reporter, armed and trained mujahedeens from Bosnia to kill Serbs in the war of 1990’s. Serbs screamed “ETHNIC-CLEANSING” and “SLAUGHTER” was committed by foreign mercenaries and Muslim units of Naser Oric in and around Srebrenica in 1992-93 (when 142 Serbian villages were burnt and Serbs either killed or expelled), yet Christiana Amanpour decided to ignore these facts and continue with her selective and biased reporting against the Serbs.To answer the Amanpour’s question – We can lean that Christiana Amanpour is neither morally nor professionally fit to report about such a grave matter.Boba

  • jkozarcanin

    Dear Christiane,Thank you for writing this article. I am so happy that these questions appear because they show to the world that we do care. You are clearly a very intelligent person but also brave one since you ask these difficult questions. What can we learn? and Will we ever learn? I do not know the answer. But certainly it will be difficult if one genocide is used to justify another crime committed in the history as Boba ‘intelligently’ argued in the first comment. There are two interesting things to spot in his comment. The first one is denial or refusal to accept that the genocide did take place in Bosnia and that it was done by Bosnian Serbs (and this despite the fact that this was the verdict of the international war tribunal when it comes to Srebrenica massacre). The second is that he suddenly starts talking about another crime that was committed long time ago, i.e. under the WW2, which no one denied nor mentioned. Nevertheless, I believe that we should get our voices heard and thank you for taking leadership in that.Best regards,

  • RobertSoprano

    How many Bosnian Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs in this apparent ‘genocide’? Richard Holbrooke throws up the ‘300 000’ number, Christiane on the other hand prefers the ‘hundreds of thousands’ approach.It is interesting however that a Bosnian Muslim researcher based out of Sarajevo, MIRSAD TOKACA, who has along with his team compiled a comprehensive list of the war dead – with the eventual figure peaking at 100 000 – 60% of which were soldiers, 30% of which were ethnic SERBS. Even CNN sources cited his findings when they became official (Google his name for further reference, that’s MIRSAD TOKACA – ‘BOSNIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD’)A great number of people were killed, there is no denying that fact but the perversion of the war toll continues to this day. The Bosnian war was a brutal war that raged for four years, people were killed on all sides as MIRSAD TOKACA’s work shows. The same American foreign policy that insists on genocide in Bosnia is the same one that fails to recognise the Armenian genocide. But I understand – Turkey is a big, strong country, we don’t want to upset them. Serbs on the other hand have been successfully weakened; they are ripe for another beat down.It is such a shame that the concept of genocide has been perverted for political reasons and aspiration – but I’m sure it looks good on the resume, for shame Christiane, for shame.

  • wpc09

    I note Fuzzytruthseeker’s reply to my first post about abysmal treatment of Baha’is in Iran. You question the accuracy of my statement that all Baha’is have been dismissed from government civil service and educational posts. You wrote in response that “a prominent Bahai… heads one of the most prestigious institutes in Tehran… and there are many, many others.”I note respectfully that your statements simply cannot be supported by any facts, reality, or test of accuracy because what you have stated is not the case. You also left every other question unanswered. See the reports published by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.