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PROFILE: WAR CRIMES AND INTERVENTION 

December 1, 1999

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Type your name in the box and listen to the report on war crimes. Select the word for each blank from the menu. Then, answer some questions. Finally, click the Submit button at the bottom. 

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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NOAH ADAMS, host: And I'm Noah Adams. More than a half a century after the Holocaust of the Second World War, the world is still witnessing genocide and widespread war crimes. The use of slaughter as a 1)  of war persists from Bosnia to Rwanda, from Sierra Leone to Kosovo. It poses difficult, perhaps unanswerable questions about of the nature of conflicts and the use of force to prevent crimes against humanity. Today, National Public Radio begins a series of reports on war crimes around the world. NPR's Mike Shuster looks at some of the reasons for the ethnic killings of the 1990s.

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MIKE SHUSTER reporting: When the first shots were fired in 1991 in Yugoslavia, no one expected the breakup of what seemed to be Eastern Europe's most liberal, prosperous and placid state to generate scenes of concentration camps, emaciated bodies, 2)  and cities under siege; but that is what happened, the decade starting with Croatia and Bosnia and ending this year with scenes like these in Kosovo.

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Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) They took us to the village cemetery. They separated the men 3) --the men they thought could fight. Then they started burning houses and shooting at people's feet to scare them. They divided us men into three groups and took us away. There were 11 men in my group. They took us inside a neighbor's house and lined us against 4) .

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Unidentified Man #2: (Through Translator) The soldier come to the door and he said, `In the name of Serbia, you will all be killed.' Then he 5) . All was killed, except one.

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SHUSTER: Throughout the decade, scenes like this were repeated in many places: in Rwanda, where the killing was much more intense and on a nearly unimaginable scale, in Sierra Leone and Liberia, in several of the states of former Soviet Union, and even today with the bombardment of civilians in Chechnya.

The 6)  in warfare seems to have become commonplace in the 1990s, evolving into what in some cases be called genocide. And with all of this, the hard questions remain: Why do people do this to each other? What is ethnic hatred, really? Can anything be done about these conflicts?

Often these conflicts have been explained as immutable hatreds that 7)  that cannot be alleviated and that inevitably cause cycles of astounding violence to return to places like the Balkans and Central Africa. Ken Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, does not find this an adequate explanation of what is happening in the world now.

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Mr. KEN ROTH (Director, Human Rights Watch): I, in no sense, subscribe to the view that war crimes or crimes against humanity or genocide are the inevitable product of 8)  . And what we've seen over and over in places like Rwanda or Bosnia or, today, Sierra Leone is that when these crimes erupt, they do so because a particular individual or political party or faction 9) which it believes can be pursued most effectively through slaughter.

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SHUSTER: Sometimes the differences are slight. The differences between the Croats and Serbs and Muslims of Bosnia have 10)  ethnic differences as Americans understand that term. They are all the same people with the same physical characteristics, the same language, but with religious and cultural differences that come from occupation in centuries past by various outside powers. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda are as similar. Kosovars and Serbs do speak different languages and are different peoples, but that does not explain why the Serbs would use 11)  against their former neighbors, nor why some Albanians use terrorism against the Serbs.

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There are other more contemporary factors that many experts believe must be present to provide the necessary conditions for ethnic cleansing and genocide. 12)  needs to be absent, which was certainly the case as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union collapsed and in the failed states of Africa. The conflicts also always come with the overt manipulation of the past, which unscrupulous leaders and political movements use to foster political paranoia among ordinary people, says Michael Ignatieff, author of several books on the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s.

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Mr. MICHAEL IGNATIEFF (Author): It does seem to me extremely important for communities to tell the truth; that is, I don't believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in 13) . By responsibility, I mean simply being responsible to tell the truth about what your people did in your name.

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SHUSTER: That is a view shared by David Scheffer, the State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes issues.

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Mr. DAVID SCHEFFER (State Department Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues): How do you approach the issue of accountability and truth-seeking in a society that has been ripped open by atrocities? At a minimum, you have to establish the truth. Unless you have at least the truth-seeking mechanism, then the very problem you've identified, which is namely this sort of amnesia about why this has been 14)  in that society, is going to be prevalent and society will continue to repeat this violence cycle.

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SHUSTER: It may even be a false distinction to talk about the emergence of these kinds of 15) just in the 1990s. In the conflicts of the Cold War, there were certainly war crimes--Cambodia, the worst example. And the Viet Cong and the United States both committed 16) during the Vietnam War. Widespread killing occurred in Guatemala, El Salvador and Afghanistan in the 1980s. With the end of the Cold War, the causes of the conflicts were no longer ideological and shifted to ethnic tensions long frozen by the Cold War. But Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch thinks there have also been changes in the way the rest of the world perceives recent conflicts.

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Mr. ROTH: I think what has changed in the '90s is our awareness of the concept of war crimes, the growing public recognition that war cannot be fought 17) , that there are legal constraints on the way in which you can wage armed conflict, and that these are standards that deserve to be enforced. We are outraged by violation of these standards.

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SHUSTER: International outrage reached a peak in 1994 when the world witnessed scenes like these that NPR correspondent Michael Skoler and a survivor described during the massacres in Rwanda.

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MICHAEL SKOLER (NPR Correspondent): (From file tape) I am standing in a field with hundreds and hundreds of people lying so close together you can barely 18) through them. Some of them have already died, their faces frozen with mouths and eyes open. Others are lying limp with their eyes closed, barely able to move.

I've just been told that between town and here, just a few miles away, a relief workers saw 800 bodies. The suffering is 19) .

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Unidentified Man #3: (Through Translator) I hid under the pews. Dead bodies were everywhere. They thought I was dead, too. I lost 10 family members and 35 friends in this church. I always feel like crying when I'm working, but I hold the tears back.

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SHUSTER: 20) in the face of the slaughter in Rwanda and indeed was paralyzed for years before NATO acted to stop the killing in Bosnia. The world still does nothing in the face of continued war crimes in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa.

The war crimes in the 1990s have certainly raised harder questions about what the United States, as a society and a nation and as the leader of the international community, can and should do in the face of violence like this. There have been international tribunals created in the hope that arrest and prosecution of those accused of war crimes might serve as a deterrent in the future. South Africa's search for justice led it to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But as Ken Roth rightly admits, increasingly, it comes down to question of military intervention.

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Mr. ROTH: There does come a time, I believe, when the international community 21) to use even military force to try to stop mass killing. For example, in the face of the genocide in Rwanda when we saw 800,000 people murdered in the course of a hundred days, that was a moment when, I believe, the international community had a clear duty to act militarily, but unfortunately it failed to live up to its duty.

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SHUSTER: But the issue of intervention became 22) in the instance of Kosovo, where the bombing of Serbia did not quickly stop the killing and, indeed, sparked the Serbs to more intense use of violence in a shorter time span against the Kosovars.

The world of experts, historians and policy-makers is deeply divided on the issue of intervention to stop genocide. Many like historian David Fromkin favor the argument that the US can't intervene everywhere.

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Mr. DAVID FROMKIN (Historian): Intervention should not become a habit with us. I don't think that there are any absolute rules in international relations. As a general rule, subject to exceptions, we ought not to intervene abroad except in defense of 23) .

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SHUSTER: And it is hard to argue that the US has vital interests in Bosnia or Kosovo, where President Clinton authorized the use of military force; not to speak of Rwanda or Sierra Leone, nations even more peripheral to American interests than those in the Balkans. Fromkin twists the puzzle even further. After all, he says, the US wouldn't even 24) against China in Tibet or against Russia in Chechnya, no matter how bad things got there.

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Mr. FROMKIN: There are a lot of cases like that where we don't even consider intervening because it involves our intervening against a very powerful force. So that means already we're not doing justice. To do justice only against the weak, but not against the strong, is not a very good 25) . Since, therefore, we cannot intervene everywhere--we cannot even intervene everywhere in terms of what is morally the most compelling--then we're back to having to use other criteria. And the criteria I would use are those of our own national interest in almost every case.

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SHUSTER: There are even hard questions that must be confronted when the international community has acted to stop the killing; in Bosnia, for instance, years after scenes like this.

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Unidentified Woman: (Through Translator) We had 10 minutes to come together on the ...(unintelligible) ground. We walked and there were six or seven bodies in front of us. We had to walk over them. It was all 26) . We didn't know who it was--what it was. We had to have our hands up with a white flag in front of us. They said, `Lay down.' There was swearing mentioning mothers. People were saying, `Don't shoot.' We were helpless standing there with our children to the hell.

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SHUSTER: The official line is that the continued presence of US and NATO troops is meant to preserve multiethnic societies in the Balkans, to prevent ethnic partition in the case of Bosnia, to defend both Serbs and Albanians in the case of Kosovo. But Michael Ignatieff points out that those policies are failing.

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Mr. IGNATIEFF: There is something phony and empty about our commitment to multiethnicity, and we do seem to be in the process of aiding and abetting the emergence of a new kind of ethnic majority tyranny. The question is whether the kind of talk we have about 27) is just inapplicable in the Balkans. Ten years on, you look across the landscape of the south Balkans and you see the emergence of ethnic majority domination almost everywhere. This is not surprising. Once people kill each other, all forms of neighborly 28) are off, so we have hard questions to ask about our ideals, because the way we've intervened may in many ways compromise those ideals and show them up top be much more hollow than we thought they were.

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SHUSTER: In the end, the most that probably can be said about the ethnic horrors of the 1990s is that their causes are still imperfectly understood and that the means of preventing or ending them have been imperfectly implemented, which leads to the altogether 29) conclusion that there will be more of conflicts like these, they will continue to shock us and that in each new instance we will continue to agonize and often be 30) about what to do. Mike Shuster, NPR News, New York.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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SIEGEL: You're listening to NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Questions--

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1. Does Ken Roth think that genocide or ethnic cleansing comes about because of old historical hatreds? If not, what does he think is the reason for it when it happens?

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2. What does Shuster say are some necessary conditions for ethnic cleansing to occur?

3. What does Ken Roth think is different in the 1990s and now?

4. What does Mr. Fromkin think is the best reason (criterion) for intervening in other countries by the United States?

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