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Hanna Ingber Win

Hanna Ingber Win

Posted: December 4, 2008 12:44 PM

Exclusive: Christiane Amanpour On Her Genocide Documentary, International Reporting and New Media


CNN's Christiane Amanpour has spent much of the last 20 years covering conflicts in every corner of the world. Her new documentary, Scream Bloody Murder, looks at genocide and tells the personal stories of those who tried to stop mass killings. The documentary airs on CNN on December 4 at 9 pm Eastern/Pacific. See the online special report here.

The Huffington Post talked to Ms. Amanpour about her documentary, international news coverage and new media.

Why did you choose genocide as the subject of the documentary?

Genocide is the most serious violation of international law. And we're doing it at a time which marks the 60th Anniversary of the U.N. convention to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators. In addition, as you know, genocide is really resonating, I think, with the American people right now. It was a mainstay of the campaign speeches of Barack Obama during the campaign. And when he nominated Susan Rice to be the UN ambassador, she ticked off a list of priorities and challenges, including ending genocide. It is very, very important...Across the board people are realizing that this is something that must be tackled and that really should never happen again, as everybody said after the Holocaust.

Christiane Amanpour

The documentary looks at people throughout history who tried to interfere and stop genocide. Why did you take that approach to the story?

I have covered this throughout my career and I was taken by so many of the people who showed true moral courage and also physical courage. Also they were willing to risk their professional status, sometimes their standing within their own professional or even personal communities, to stand up and be counted and to talk against conventional wisdom, and to urge governments and people who were reluctant to intervene. These heroes stood up and urged them to get up and stop the genocide.

This is the kind of topic that I have been covering for the last nearly 20 years as a foreign correspondent so it really dovetails with all the work that I have done as well. I wanted to put it into a broader picture and see if there were any patterns.

Have you found any patterns?

Yes, I strongly, strongly believe that early intervention and the will to intervene would have stopped these genocides...You can recognize the warning signs. With political will, governments can intervene to stop it. Military intervention is the last resort, but there are many ways including diplomatic and other types of interventions. As long as it is done early enough and seriously enough, I believe it can halt genocide.

Looking at the history of genocide, is there more political will now to stop it?

I think there are steps that are being made in the right direction but it's still not enough. I think governments are more willing to acknowledge and use the word "genocide." ... The United States government called what's happening in Darfur genocide, but during Rwanda they didn't and during Bosnia they didn't. ... At least that is progress because the terminology is very, very important. ... But it has to be matched with action.

Do you think that what is happening in Darfur now still constitutes genocide?

As you know, genocide does not have to mean mass killing, it means the killing of any one or group based on the desire to eliminate based on their ethnic, racial or religious makeup. People are still being killed. Obviously it's slowed down, but that doesn't mean the violations of human rights have slowed down. Often in a genocide - this is why early intervention is vital - most of the mass killing happens early on.

You have mentioned that Americans have recently shown an openness to international news. Do you think this will last?

I hope so. It's based on a lot of optimism. Also based on [the fact that] most Americans said that one of their goals and wishes for the new administration here was to restore America's standing in the world. I think at the very least America is aware of its position in the world and wants to recover its good name in the world. ... The United States is involved in two hot wars and the hot pursuit of terrorists. This is a time when Americans, I think, are much more attuned to what's going on in the rest of the world.

Why do you think some international stories like the Mumbai attacks get tremendous attention from the press, but other global stories that are just as significant, like conflict in the Congo, get neglected?

Part of it is because Congo is black and African and over there. And there is a big prejudice about Africa and about telling news from Africa, which is one reason why Rwanda didn't get enough attention and 800,000 to one million people where killed, as we point out in our documentary. ... [Plus, in the United States,] there is a large Indian American population, India is the focus of a lot of attention; it is the world's largest democracy. It is a rising economic power and cultural power, certainly in the region. And it's terrorism. Of course Americans are gripped by the fear and the threat of terrorism. ... But I agree with you, there are many stories that should get as much attention.

What do you think will be the big international news stories of 2009?

Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, climate change, food scarcity, water scarcity, and somewhere down the line, the Middle East peace process. And the ongoing fight against terrorism. Plus, of course, the challenge of tackling genocide, and trying to alleviate institutional poverty. And that huge, huge social injustice -- the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.

Bloggers and citizen journalists have been playing an active role in reporting on international news events like the attacks in Mumbai and last year's protests in Burma. What is your view on citizen journalists and bloggers, and do you use them in your reporting?

Sometimes it is incredibly useful, for instance, in closed societies such as Burma. Some of the images, some of the stories that have come out have been by the Internet and by citizen journalists. And that has been indispensable in terms of knowing what is going on when journalists like myself and others cannot get visas to get in there and cannot operate. ... In that regard I think the bloggers or the citizen journalists are very brave and very useful.

I think that in the West sometimes blogging is an excuse for sitting back and just commenting on life as it passes by and putting out your opinions on what is happening. Sometimes those are interesting, but not always. And the truth of the matter is I do not believe, no matter how sophisticated the delivery platform, I don't think there is a substitute or should there be a substitute for professional journalism, which comes with training, with experience, with credibility, with developing trust based on the accuracy of your record in the field. I think that is an absolute must. That must stay with us so that people have an accurate and objective reference point for their information.


Watch Christiane Amanpour on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.