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.
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