For The Washington Post
The advancement of human rights around the world was a cornerstone of foreign policy and U.S. leadership for decades, until the attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001.
Since then, while Americans continue to espouse freedom and democracy, our government's abusive practices have undermined struggles for freedom in many parts of the world. As the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed, the United States lost its mantle as a champion of human rights, eliminating our national ability to speak credibly on the subject, let alone restrain or gain concessions from oppressors. Tragically, a global backlash against democracy and rights activists, who are now the targets of abuse, has followed.
The advancement of human rights and democracy is necessary for global stability and can be achieved only through the local, often heroic, efforts of individuals who speak out against injustice and oppression - endeavors the United States should lead, not impede. If the early warnings of human rights activists had been heeded and tough diplomacy and timely intervention mobilized, the horrific, and in some cases ongoing, violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan's Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo might have been averted.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With a new administration and a new vision coming to the White House, we have the opportunity to move boldly to restore the moral authority behind the worldwide human rights movement. But the first steps must be taken at home.
Program Note: Christiane Amanpour introduces you to the courageous few who saw evil and tried to stop the killing. December 4, 9 p.m. ET
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/WORLD/europe/11/24/sbm.amanpour.essay/art.amanpour.jpg caption="CNN's Christiane Amanpour in a Sarajevo cemetery; she returned to Bosnia for "Scream Bloody Murder.""]
Christiane Amanpour | BIO
CNN International Correspondent
No one teaches reporters how to cover a war, much less wars that include genocide. Most of us rely on the wisdom of experienced colleagues and a lot of on-the-job training.
My first war assignment - Bosnia, in the 1990s - included visits to the Sarajevo morgue to see the bodies. How else would a journalist know exactly 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.
I found my voice and my mission in Bosnia. I learned to seek the facts, to tell the truth no matter how difficult or unpopular. I learned that objectivity meant covering all sides and giving all sides their hearing, but never to draw a false moral equivalence when none exists. I learned never to equate victims with their aggressors. I learned that there are limits to the style of journalism that goes: "On the one hand, on the other hand."
Most of all, I learned that as reporters our words and our actions have consequences and that we must use this powerful platform, television, responsibly.
But how many times have people asked me, when I've come back from a place like Bosnia or Rwanda: Is it really that bad? I have found that many people want to believe that I am exaggerating. 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.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/31/art.radovan.jpg caption="Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic during his initial appearance at the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday."]
Senior International Correspondent
Editor's Note: Nic attended the first day in the war crimes trial of former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. This is what he saw.
When he first appeared, he seemed almost like a school boy who knows he'd done wrong, diligently following the instructions of his three tribunal guards, not at all the bombastic, flamboyant Serb leader I remember from my years covering the Bosnian war.
Radovan Karadzic was looking older, thinner in the face. But whatever he was thinking, it didn’t show on his face. He sat staring straight ahead, unflinching, unemotional as the judge read the charges. Accusations of the most heinous crimes - genocide, extermination and murder.
The first flicker of something behind the stony façade was a half wry smile. Judge Alphons Orie asked if he planned to have defense lawyer, Karadzic said, “I have an invisible advisor. I don’t need a lawyer." I was instantly reminded of his more obscure moments during the Bosnian war when he would state something so obviously full of contradictions that it defied logical explanation.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/31/art.bosnianreaction.jpg caption="Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre react while listening to news about former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic during his appearance at the U.N.'s war crimes tribunal."]
Editor's note: Alessio has returned to Sarajevo more than a decade after the Balkans war to gauge the reaction to the first day in the war crimes of trial former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Here's what he found:
It's an amazing feeling to return to a city I remember ravaged by war, and realize it has transformed itself into a vibrant, even cosmopolitan center.
Sure, you don't have to look far to find the old scars of war, but the city center and much of its surrounding areas have been rebuilt.
The sad part starts when you talk to people, and realize that the cosmetic changes are, well, just a facade, a desire to hide grief, pain and a sense of anger.
Grief because there are more graveyards and cemeteries than coffee shops (and there are plenty). Pain because when a sniper kills a 2-year-old son there is no amount of forgiveness that could alleviate the suffering.
And anger for not having arrested Karadzic earlier. Anger because this trial will bring back memories people didn't want to forget but were quite pleased to store in the back of their minds. FULL POST