Moderator: Florence Graves, director, Brandeis Institute for Investigative Journalism

Panelist Presentations:
The Perpetrator Narrative: West African Mercenaries
Corinne Dufka, reporter/photojournalist, Human Rights Watch

Some of the Challenges that Journalists Confront
Maria Cristina Caballero, journalist, Harvard University

Transparency and Truth at What Cost: Unveiling the Rape of Girls in Darfur
Maryam Elahi, director, Human Right Program, Trinity College

Discussant Responses:
Susannah Sirkin, deputy director, Physicians for Human Rights

Maria Green, assistant professor, Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Audience Q&A


What are the most important challenges faced in initially investigating and exposing human rights violations? How are primary narrative accounts produced by the victims, the journalists, and investigators? What power do these early accounts, and early narrators wield in shaping subsequent public and institutional perceptions of the events under investigation?

Corinne Dufka is a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. She's based in Dakar, Senegal, and she's in charge of HRW work in West Africa. In 2004, she was named a MacArthur fellow – sometimes called the "Genius Award" – for her work in human rights.

Maria Cristina Caballero is a distinguished journalist who is now at the Center for Public Leadership in the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. She was an investigative reporter for 20 years in her native Colombia, a war-torn country where two factions have been fighting for over 40 years.

Maryam Elahi is an attorney and the founding director of the Human Rights Program at Trinity College, the first undergraduate human rights program in a U.S. college. She was an advocacy director on the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe for Amnesty International.

Panelist Presentations

The Perpetrator Narrative: The Stories of West African Mercenaries

Corinne Dufka describes interviews she conducted with 60 West African mercenaries – some of whom were responsible for grave human rights violations – and discusses the complexity of looking at the issue of human rights violations from the side of the perpetrators.

I was based in Sierra Leone from 1999 through 2003. In the course of that work, I interviewed hundreds if not thousands of victims of some of the most atrocious violations that we've seen on the African continent: massacres; amputation, primarily of limbs, the signature atrocity of the rebel; widespread and systematic rape; the abduction of child soldiers; burning people inside their houses. It pretty much touched on every single category and specific violation in war crimes as outlined in the Geneva Convention. I spent several years interviewing victims of these atrocities and writing reports.

Then I worked for a year at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and there I had the unique experience of interviewing informants who are, of course, a key part of any criminal case, war crime tribunals as well. It was fascinating to hear. I remember quite clearly one of the first, most horrific incidents that I documented at Human Rights Watch was the double-arm amputation of about seven or eight young men and women in one particular incident in Sierra Leone. I remember walking into the hospital and it was quite dark. Their arms were wrapped in white, and my eyes had to adjust. I saw that there was one double amputee sitting in a bed, and then as my eyes adjusted I looked around the room and there were seven double arm amputees. Three years later, I interviewed a perpetrator who was in fact the commander of this particular incident. It was absolutely fascinating to understand what he was thinking, his particular circumstances – socioeconomic circumstances, and a number of other factors that went into his trajectory as a rebel commander.

Photo by Corinne Dufka

So I started thinking about this, and when I went back to HRW after taking the year off, I decided to look at the phenomenon of mercenaries in West Africa, young men who migrate from conflict to conflict to conflict. Part of me, after interviewing all of these victims, wanted to understand what is at the basis of this continuing destructive cycle of brutality and war crimes in West Africa that's been going on for over 15 years now, to get a look at some of the issues that give rise to the war. Because of course, you can have peace negotiations that bring war to an end, but it doesn't mean that is going to lead to a rule of law, and accountability, and peace within a given country. We see that in Sierra Leone right now, where you have had a peace process and yet the issues that gave rise to the war remain: the crushing poverty, the inequitable distribution of resources, the lack of rule of law, the abuses by state institutions meant to protect and represent the people. Instead, the judicial system, the police, the army, they have a very predatory relationship with the people they're entrusted to serve and protect. Some of the other issues which gave rise to war in Africa are the proliferation of small arms and the willingness of countries – state and non-state actors – within West Africa to ferment insecurity and war within the regions, primarily for the purpose of resource exploitation – diamonds, coffee, cocoa, and timber.

So, I set about this work. It was kind of controversial work, even within Human Rights Watch because our classic modus operandi is going out and interviewing victims and then coming up with reports and recommendations on holding people accountable, stopping the abuses, getting countries involved who can impact policy. People at HRW kept saying, "Well, what recommendations are you going to come up with?" And I said, "Well, I'm not quite sure." But, they gave me the go-ahead for this research project. I identified a number of ex-confidents with whom I'd been working in West Africa, and I told them my requirement for interviewing people who had participated in at least two conflicts. I thought I'd only be able to find 15 or 20, but these fixers helped me to identify 60 young men who had fought in two or more conflicts. And then I set about interviewing them.

The interviews were quite intimate. They were just the two of us, because I speak Sierra Leone and Creole and could understand and communicate enough in Liberian English. I think they saw me as somewhat of a mother figure. They were all young men. They were very brutally honest with me about the atrocities they had committed, the reasons they went into fighting. The world that they presented was a world as full of brutality as it was devoid of hope. Their primary motivation for going to fight in another man's war, or another country's war, was that of economic desperation. They were absolutely obsessed with the struggle for survival. And they talked about the possibility for looting as the most promising economic opportunity, which of course speaks to the level of failure in their own country to provide for them.

Photo by Corinne Dufka

They were inaugurated into this world of brutality. Most of them – nearly all of them – had been child combatants, had for their first war either been forcefully abducted at a relatively young age, usually 10 to 14, or felt as though they had no other choice but to join a rebel movement for the purpose of protecting their families. But the second war, and all subsequent wars that they had fought in, were clearly voluntarily. It was born out of this sense of economic desperation. And what they obtained through looting was primarily for the benefit of their family. That kind of surprised me, because I had the vision of them buying nice sneakers, buying drugs, and so on. But primarily it was to pay school fees, to pay medical fees for their immediate and extended family.

I started out all the interviews by having them describe their childhood and the man that they dreamed of being when they became an adult. They wanted to be people who would be respected. Not necessarily in terms of a profession, which is kind of our view of what would be respected, but someone who people came to for advice. Someone who people came to to help them pay school fees for their own children. Worth is measured by the number of people who can be dependent on you. It was heartbreaking, looking at the disparity and the disappointment they had about the way their own lives had become.

So I tried, through the report, to humanize a population that had been dehumanized as being the perpetrators. It was a way of looking at accountability not just based on the individual accountability of the commander who had ordered X, Y, or Z massacre, but instead looking at the various different levels of accountability – their own governments for betraying them; the international community.

The point there is bringing to light, trying to look at an issue that in some ways can be so clear – you have your victims, you have your perpetrators, the good guys, the bad guys – and looking at this grey line where the process goes into turning a victim into a perpetrator. It's a very complex and dynamic process. There certainly is a fair amount of sympathy for child combatants. But once they become 17, once they become 18, there's a complete lack of empathy, when in fact those people are the result of this long trajectory.

Some of the Challenges that Journalists Confront

Maria Cristina Caballero discusses an eight-month series of articles she wrote defending Bruce Olson, a Christian missionary kidnapped and condemned to die by a Colombian guerilla group for exploiting the Motilones, an indigenous group in Colombia. For her stories, Caballero ventured into the jungles to interview indigenous leaders, who testified to Olson's 30-year history of service to them and in some cases volunteered to die in his place.

Bruce Olson is Norwegian, but he grew up in Minneapolis, in a very religious and well-off family. He wanted to do something for people in need, and he began to read about indigenous communities. He decided to go to Colombia – initially he went to Venezuela, but his goal was to go help the Motilones, an indigenous people in Colombia. He went there to establish contact, and eventually lived with them for practically 30 years, trying to help them.

Bruce Olson and one of the Motilone indians who befriended him in the jungles of Colombia.
Photo by Bruce Olson

In October 1988, I was in the newsroom at El Tiempo, the main daily paper of Colombia. I was their director of investigations at the time. The guerrilla groups and all the factions in the country liked to send press releases on their decisions and activities to all the media in Colombia, to point out the importance of their activities. One of the press releases was about Bruce Olson; the National Liberation Army, commonly known as the ELN, had kidnapped him, judged him in the revolutionary justice system, and found him guilty of exploiting the Motilones. He was condemned to die, and he was going to die soon. They were planning his execution. At that point, I didn't know anything about him. That's how I began researching who he was.

He began working with indigenous people at age 19, as a missionary. He received money from people and churches in Minneapolis who wanted to support him, because he had a lot of idealistic goals. He learned the Motilones’ language, their traditions. Going deep into the jungles of Colombia, it's like going into history. It's amazing, the communities there and how they live. They have very interesting traditions.

Photo by Bruce Olson

Bruce Olson decided to help them, to educate them, to give them the opportunity to go to school, to give them health centers. He progressively made a lot of contacts in the international community and the religious communities, and got money to finance a lot of these activities. He also created a program for the indigenous people who were more interested in learning about law. Many of them went to law school and to business administration schools. The Motilones began to see Olson as their main support in Colombia. When the guerilla factions were trying to get their territory, the Motilone lawyers and the more educated people began to defend their communities.

I went to the jungles. I interviewed the leaders. They showed me how, in some cases, they had survived epidemics thanks to Olson, because he brought in health officials and doctors. As I was progressively publishing these articles in El Tiempo, a lot of human rights organizations – initially from Colombia, then from abroad – began to say, "Why do they want to kill Bruce Olson?" These indigenous people that allegedly had been exploited by Bruce Olson were defending him strongly. The leaders said they would die for him, he was so important for the community. He was the only white man that had been helping them for decades. They were not going to allow the guerrillas to kill Olson; they were going to fight, they were practically declaring a war against the guerrillas if they killed Bruce Olson.

Photo by Bruce Olson

Finally, and for the first time, the ELN decided to release a prisoner they had condemned to die. They released him because the situation got so tense for them among these indigenous communities and the international human rights organizations. Amnesty International was very important for the ELN at the time, because the ELN was allegedly the defender of the poor people and the peasants of Colombia. They released Olson, and he came to the paper I was working for and said, "Thank you for the articles. You saved my life."

They found in Olson a way to get the education that many of communities had not had access to. And they made their voices heard against the business of the guerrillas, how they were mistreating some of these communities. There were street protests against the guerrillas. They were a force, the leaders of these indigenous communities, organizing themselves, going to different places to talk about how Bruce Olson had helped them much more than the guerrillas. At that time, the president of Colombia said, “This is the first white man to be defended by the indigenous communities in our country, in Latin America.” To me, that's an example of the power of public opinion, and an example of how, through these articles, we were able at least to save one life.

Transparency and Truth at What Cost: Unveiling the Rape of Girls in Darfur

Maryam Elahi discussed the boundaries that human rights documenters can sometimes cross, inadvertently worsening a situation they are trying to improve.

I'm going to take on a role that I rarely have an opportunity to do, and that is to give a critique of the humanitarian human rights movement and the journalist in a particular context. I'm going to show you a video that was done by a group called the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

The Women's Commission was created in the late 1980's, and it has an organic relationship with the international rescue committee, one of the largest humanitarian groups, which does fantastic work around the world in getting all sorts of aid to refugees and internally displaced people. The Women's Commission was created by a group of women who felt very strongly about the needs of women that often are not addressed. They wanted to make sure there is a focus there. The group does excellent work in providing technical expertise, and it does a lot of advocacy work and sets policies. And, obviously, it has worked on gender-based violence issues as well.

[Elahi showed a brief video filmed during a trip that members of the Women’s Commission took to Darfur, Sudan, to assess the needs in a refugee camp. Underage girls who had been raped were asked to speak about their experiences, on camera, while surrounded by other residents of the camp.]

I'm using this opportunity as a board member of the Women's Commission to raise what I think is a very serious question about what you just saw. You saw on film the faces and names of two underage girls who talked about having been raped. And the big questions before us are, "Is that irresponsible? Is that reckless? Is that exploitative?"

The way that, unfortunately, we in the Western world respond to tragedies – whether in our own countries or around the world – is by seeing the face of a victim. This is really problematic. All of us need to think about more creative approaches to be able to do our advocacy work, to mobilize the public, legislators, etc., in countries where they're going to respond to crises like this without necessarily putting the face of the victim forward. Especially an underage rape victim.

The other issue that was really problematic to me was that they had a male translator involved in this whole thing. Again, it's a lack of sensitivity. In most societies where we come across such incidents, you're dealing with patriarchal societies, where the minute a woman is raped, people raise questions of guilt at the victim. It is a stigma in many societies. The woman becomes marked. Whereas, if a man is arrested and beaten, his family's not going to desert him, his support group is going to be there. Women very often face desertion, and so there are secondary traumas that come into play.

The questions that is raised is, "Are underage women – girls, I would say children – in a position where they can give informed consent to having their names and photos used for publicity purposes?" I would say "Never." Even in circumstances where you have very courageous women come forward, approach journalists and say, "We want you to get the word out," they don’t know what they’re consenting to. They have no clue what is going to happen, how this will transform their lives forevermore. There should be a line drawn where you have children who are exploited. We should be a lot more careful in maintaining confidentiality.

The other question that we need to ask is, "What are the motivations of a journalist, human rights worker, or humanitarian worker in getting this story out?" We need to see the face of a victim, or hear the name of a victim. But at the same time, there are circumstances where one should not be seeing the names, the faces, etc. And I do think it's both reckless and exploitative for us to do this.

In the context of Bosnia, a lot of the women who were raped actually decided that they would go and speak before the tribunal as witnesses. They were protected witnesses, and they went and gave their testimony. I remember talking to a few of them at some point, and they all said they felt secondary trauma. They didn't feel an immediate reaction by the world community, they didn't feel an immediate response by the tribunal, and so the sense of having been yet again exploited. In a number of cases, they had mentioned that their families had turned their backs on them, that they were suffering even more as a result of this. Remember that whenever a foreigner walks into a tent in a refugee camp, or a small village; you're noticed by everyone. You're an outsider walking in. So already there is a tension focused on who you are, who you talk to, etc. As you noted from the video, there was no opportunity to talk one-on-one with the victim. Whatever transpires is pretty public. In one instance, the Women's Commission had a delegation in the Thai-Cambodian area, and they were interviewing some victims. One young woman talked about having been raped in some detail to the delegation. At the end, the delegation said, "Well, do you ever run into the perpetrator?" and she said, "Yes. He is in that tent." Clearly, the perpetrator had seen people coming and interviewing this woman.

I really feel that this sense of incredible responsibility should be on the shoulders of all us who are involved, whether it's as a journalist or human rights worker. The intent is obviously noble. It's to go out there, get information, come out, and mobilize some kind of action to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to end the human rights violations. But does anyone look back and see what happened to the particular victim? That's the big question here. One human rights group that has traditionally done very good follow-up is Amnesty International, by again focusing on victims and trying to get relief for particular victims. And I think more and more groups are doing this.

Another issue that is really important for us to be cognizant of is the incredible power relations that exist. In a lot of cases, you are a member of a humanitarian organization. A young girl talking to you is thinking, "If I tell this story, it might result in more food, more water for my family, for my tribe. They will bring us help, and food, and therefore I should talk." We need to be very cognizant not to exploit this.

So what is to be done, and how do we approach this in a way that is much more respectful to the particular victims whose stories we use to mobilize action for the greater good? Something that I would recommend is that we all work toward developing recessive guidelines that NGO's, humanitarian groups, and journalists respect. But first I would say there should be absolute confidentiality with all sex crimes. They need to ask victims if they're willing to talk to tribunals, human rights documenters, NGO's, etc. And only when the victim concedes, then they can create that relationship. This is not to say that we're going to be silent. Clearly, you can talk about what's happening in the field, and the dilemma is going to be not being able to give names. We need to be much more creative about the approach. I think in all cases, we just need to not accept informed consent for underage victims. They are children whose lives have been traumatized and stigmatized, and they will be forever ruined if their names and faces are out there and people all over know about what's happened. Clearly, within their community they've talked to people, and folks know about this. But as the international community that comes into contact with them, we need to be a lot more sensitive to how we approach them. We need to work with local NGO's, agencies, women's groups, etc. There are many courageous workers who go to these refugee camps and work on education issues, work on providing some sort of sexual and reproductive rights information to women and girls. We need to be much more supportive of that.

Amnesty International is developing a whole framework within its work on sexual and reproductive rights on how to approach victims on all of these issues. And a lot of this is coming out in the context of the SVAW campaign, the campaign that is now going on against sexual violence against women. So we'll be seeing and hearing much more about this. I think we need to get the word out that these victims, in particular underage women, are incredibly vulnerable. There is a power relation between them and us that we need to be much more cognizant and respectful of, and we need to be much more creative in thinking of ways that we can create that kind of empathy in our societies without once again putting the faces and names out there.

Discussant Responses

Florence Graves

Each of the presenters discussed "bringing to light" in terms of human rights violations on many different levels. Maryam talked about the responsibility you have in bringing these violations to light, especially when it involves children, and especially in the cases of sexual assault. Maria Cristina talked about the role of a journalist and the ability of creating public opinion in bringing to light a human rights violation. And especially, potentially, of the death of someone who had actually been helping the indigenous people. And Corinne talked about the challenges in bringing to light by understanding the perpetrators and their motivations and really getting to the core of what's creating this kind of violence that is creating the human rights violations.

Susannah Sirkin

Corinne was really very eloquent in talking about the perpetrators. One of the issues that we can take from that and discuss further is how we look at our responsibility and how we stereotype or categorize groups in any intercommunal conflict. Maria Cristina picked up on this, because in both cases we're talking about people who are sometimes perceived as perpetrators or victims, and very often are both or are caught in the crossfire. In many of the wars in South America for instance, in Central America, we tend to say, "This is rebel community, and that is a government community. This is a military, that is a non-governmental entity." And in fact, probably the vast majority of the populations in the countries we're talking about mostly want food, resources, jobs, and peace. This is not to absolve perpetrators from guilt, think that's something we should really be clear about. And yet, empathy does not mean absolution. But it does mean that perhaps we might want to look a little deeper as to responsibility and as to how we deal in the aftermath with holding those responsible.

All speakers spoke very powerfully about looking beyond the intensity of the immediate conflict to a much more international responsibility for fueling some of the root causes, whether it be inequitable resources, or the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia, or the drug war trade that goes between the North and the South and the East and the West globally. How do we respond to that? Human rights organizations are notoriously pragmatic, so we tend to shy away from going to the root causes in our deep recommendations. As Corinne said, "Human Rights Watch isn't going to talk about structural violence." In fact, numerous human rights organizations are starting to talk about structural violence, and I hope Human Rights Watch will engage in that sometime in the next decade. I know there's a lot of discussion internally about that, and we had a very interesting debate between my boss and Corinne's boss in the Human Rights Quarterly about economic and social rights and whether we can do “shame and blame” tactics when it comes to those sorts of larger economic issues.

I want to respond a little more in depth to Maryam's really important presentation, because Physicians for Human Rights has dealt a lot with these dilemmas. As a medical organization, we look very carefully at the issue of informed consent, probably more than most other human rights organizations, because that's part of medical responsibility. Any documentation we do as a medical organization that we want to get published in a professional journal has to undergo peer review. Usually you have to have an internal review board look at the ethics of your review. In that context, in the last few years, we as an independent nongovernmental organization not academically based have had to struggle with, "What should our internal review board look like?" This includes, "How do we assess what is informed and what is consent?" How do you get that in the middle of the pictures that Maryam showed, at the same time that you have people begging you to tell their story? It is not an easy answer.

I agree totally with Maryam about children. Many times, in many of our investigations in Afghanistan, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, we have wanted to document and interview children, including in population-based studies. We have for the most part decided not to, because we just cannot deal with the difficulty and the responsibility. That does not mean we don't report on abuses against children. We do. We certainly would not use names, and we do blur their images. Even for adults, getting informed consent for photographs is a very challenging thing. I think all human rights organizations should actually get releases if they're going to show an image. You know, your picture may go on the internet; in Sudan, they might not know what the internet is. Their picture might be seen in a newspaper. They might appear on Sudanese TV. Who might look at that? It's not that farfetched. We have had people who we've interviewed in the past who have been killed within weeks of our having interviewed them. I'm sure that's true of every major human rights organization. This is not an easy dilemma.

The flip side, though, is that we should not also be overly paternalistic about it. We have to figure out how to give the survivors the maximum amount of agency to determine what should be done with their story at the same time that we do everything we can to protect. I know that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and others now have programs to follow up, to stay in contact literally day by day with people they've interviewed to make sure that they're OK and to raise alarms and alerts if anything should happen as a result of their having been exposed. How to get a private interview in a refugee camp is a very, very challenging thing, but deep interviews should be done in private. And we know that in Chad and Darfur there are informants in the camps. This is true of many other conflicts as well. This issue of the power relationship is really important. The first thing we say to people who we talk to is, “We cannot offer you anything as a result of you talking to us. We are not giving you money, or food, or better healthcare, or anything. The only thing we can promise to do is to tell your story to the world or to political leaders.” We try as much as we can – you can't do it completely – to break down this power relationship.

Maria Green

What I'd like to do for these few minutes is to pause for a moment on the simple question of what makes a story a human rights story as opposed to a story of tragedy. Because that's an edge that we're often on, and I think that's very much to the point of what we're dealing with.

"A man dies" is probably a tragedy. We all die. But it's not necessarily a human rights story. "A man is killed" very likely is a human rights story. "A man is killed by his government because of his political beliefs" is definitely a human rights story.

The distinction in those examples is agency and accountability. This bad thing happened, and it happened because someone else did something they were not supposed to do, or someone failed to do something they had an obligation to do. We've got a human rights issue. A woman has a bruise because her spouse hit her: is the human rights responsibility entirely on the spouse, is it perhaps on the legal system that doesn't prosecute spousal abuse? That's where the human rights questions begin to come in.

As I listened to the panel just now, I kept listening to see how agency and accountability came into the discussions. In Corinne Dufka's presentation, we saw the lens being pulled back. We saw the agency of the perpetrators themselves, and then we stepped back and looked at the choreographers of the violence. Very often, in what looks like casual spontaneous violence, communal violence, usually there's an organizer. We know that now. It looks spontaneous, but it's not.

Then we saw the lens pulling back further, to national policies that put people in positions of desperation. Then the lens came back even one step more, to the international community and to international financial actions that might have led to the national policies that led to the individual decisions. So we saw this train of accountability coming far back. That's a crucial element. When we think about a human rights story, how are we phrasing the accountability?

In our second presentation by Maria Cristina Caballero, we heard an interesting story. We heard accountability and agency coming in on two different parts. One was the accountability of this man who had been kidnapped. The other was the accountability of the people who had done the kidnapping. What struck me particularly was when she mentioned how much it mattered that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch got involved because the the thing that the group needed to respond to was the fact that they were being accused of human rights abuses when they wanted to be the good guys. So the fact that it got framed as a human rights issue, which inherently carries with it the agency question, had an impact.

The final presentation raises many, many different issues. I want to pick up on one almost passing remark that I think speaks very much to the agency question again. And it was the mention that victims of rape more often are seen as guilty, as somehow contributing to what's done to them. The implication was that other victims often aren't seen as guilty; in many cases, that's true. 

But what about when a child dies of malnutrition? Very often that's maybe bad luck; the child had the bad luck to be born in a poor country. Maybe it's the parents’ fault. If they'd been better providers they would have been able to make sure that child stayed alive. If you're looking at it in human rights terms, you're starting to think back, "What led to this situation? Is there an outside agency that led to this situation? Is the responsibility of the government to ensure that systems are in place so that everyone has access to basic nutrition, and that doesn't happen? Is there a human rights violation?" If there's an actual policy that led to there being no food in that region, if there was a policy of blocking food shipments, if there was a policy of making the land unarable to extract oil, then it's not just bad luck, it's not just the parents’ fault. We've got a whole realm of responsibility. If the story telling doesn't include that question of accountability, then it's seen as the victim’s fault – if the victim's even called a human rights victim at all.

That leads me to another core question in all of this, which is "Why are we telling the story?" Which again speaks to the question of, "How do we relate to the victims?" Are we telling the story simply so that people are aware of a tragedy? Are we telling the story to mobilize the listeners of the story, the audience, to deal with the tragedy? Or are we telling the story to identify agency so that we can really speak to exactly why this tragedy is happening and how we can stop it? If we think of our human rights storytelling in terms of agency, that will affect how we look at that last question.

Questions, Comments, and Responses

Josh Rubenstein, Regional Director of Amnesty International: I wanted to respond to a couple of points Maryam raised. First, of course, the incident you cited was regrettable. There's no defending the use of these underage victims. But in general, keep in mind it was regarded as a great victory in the 1990s when rape was finally recognized as an international crime. Sixty years ago at Nuremburg, it was not. And many people to this day don't realize that rape was very widespread by the Nazis, particularly on the eastern front where they were far more brutal than they were in the west, in France and elsewhere. One reason was because at Nuremburg, very few survivors testified. I think there were only three in February of '46, all presented by the Soviet prosecution, interestingly enough. Neither the French, the Americans, nor the British presented any survivors to be witnesses either at the IMT or at the 12 subsequent proceedings. I think we have to keep that in mind. This incident shouldn't color, say, the bravery of the Bosnian women who made an enormous difference in the '90s by their willingness to come forward and speak quite frankly about what happened to them.

Secondly, how do you tell the story of torture in South Africa without mentioning Steve Biko? How do you tell the story of disappearances in Argentina without telling the stories we've been able to document in dealing with the madres and the abuelas and all that? You can't. And so it's not just some kind of selfish act on the part of activists. It is also a legitimate mobilizing tool. We're not just there to make ourselves feel good, and our research look compelling, but to get people to act. And you can't get people to act when you have anonymous victims. You have to put a face on the struggle, and on the suffering, and on the misery. And that's why there was a very pragmatic decision 40 years ago to focus on individual prisoners of conscience, a term we invented after all. That's why there's tension within the Amnesty International movement today, over the fact that there are fewer individual prisons being assigned to members, and to groups, and to chapters. Then how do you organize those chapters to be active? What are they supposed to do? This discussion kind of reminds me of the famous Charlie Brown slogan where he said, "You know, I love humanity, but it's people I can't stand." Well, the counterpoint to that is, speaking for myself, I mistrust people who say they want to save humanity. I do believe in trying to rescue individuals.

Maryam Elahi: Very good points. Of course, I agree with my friend Josh. I do think I wanted to sort of dramatize the situation of children. Very often, because we are so moved as human rights workers by the atrocities that are happening, and we so much want to come back and mobilize action and bring about change that we might not be sensitive to the kind of place where we're putting our feet in. For me, it's actually been a big struggle after I saw this video at a board meeting last year. It came out after July. I was just stunned. I kept thinking, "These are 12- and 14-year-olds, and they have no clue of the ramifications of what's going to happen to them." Not to be patronizing, but don't we have more of a responsibility? And so I was delighted when I heard about the conference and started thinking that we can start thinking together about a way of being more protective of underage girls in particular.

Louise Lopman, Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center, Brandeis University: As a sociologist who has conducted research in the sweatshops in El Salvador, I would say that many of the issues you raised applies to researchers. I would contrast some of your thinking with that of some media people who got 10- and 12-year-old girls to give Hard Copy a way to sneak into sweatshops with video cameras. They went on national television with their story, with no idea of the consequences for those young women, the threats of violence. They got the story out, but those children were blacklisted, there were threats to their families.

That you emphasize mobilization I think is so important. Typically we don't think of that in North America as an active means for effective social change; in fact, we are seeing cross-border mobilization making change. Students at Brandeis are very involved in working conditions in sweatshops having to do with food as well as economic industry. And I would add to what you have talked about the notion of solidarity. Although you did not use the word, that is really the way that we can begin to think together – researchers, journalists, human rights activists – about what solidarity means and how that works towards bringing social change, especially for women.

Florence Graves: That's a very important contribution, Louise. I actually would like to ask Corinne a question: as a photographer, you were talking about all the photos you took and that sometimes you tried to interview the people. Did you get a permission form to take their pictures? What are the differences that you see from those two perspectives of journalism and as a human rights activist?

Corinne Dufka: I would probably add another layer to that question, which would be, "Are there different standards for both in the first and the third world?" With Reuters, in the first world we had to get consent forms for taking pictures of people within public institutions. But in Africa – even in Sarajevo in the middle of the crisis there – those things were seen as a very low priority to the importance of getting that story out. So you had people in very vulnerable positions, practically between life and death, and the most important activity was to get the word out about the type of immediate suffering that these people were being subjected to. But I think there was an additional layer of consideration. When given the potential for retribution from an authority like the government, for example in El Salvador, we had to be very careful about photographing people who are involved in the in popular movement, and certainly the rebels. So I think there's a sense of self-regulation on the part of conscientious journalists, especially those who spend longer in a country and care more about it and are subject to the knowledge of the consequences of that lack of care. It's quite informal, really, at least in my own experience in the journalism world – even more so in a time of crisis. Whereas as a human rights researcher, you take very in-depth testimonies from people, and a great deal of consideration is given to confidentiality. The first report I did after I went to Human Rights Watch was reconstructing this devastating offensive in Freetown. The January 6 offensive. After I spent the better part of three to four months documenting, taking in-depth testimonies from people about what had happened, we did the report, I wrote it up. It was in the editing process, and now my bosses said, "OK, so now can you send us the pictures?" And I said, "Pictures?" I realized I hadn't taken one picture, partly because, personally, it was too intimate to actually ask to take a picture of someone who had just told me about such profound losses. But I had to go out and then look for pictures. The picture that I sent was this line of amputees, just their stumps and a little girl who was amputated. We took quite a lot of slack from people in the humanitarian community for having sent a picture of a child who was amputated. She was about five. We won't get into all of the issues there, but the point is that there’s a lot more consideration when you're working with a human rights group about those issues than as a journalist.

Nina Kammerer, Lecturer in Anthropology, Brandeis University: I wanted to pick up on something that Professor Green mentioned when she was talking about the lens going back and back and back, and agency at every level from the individual fighter to the choreographer of these atrocities to the national government to the international community. In current academic discourse for the last 10 or 15 years, across many disciplines, agency and structure are contrasted, typically with agency residing in the individual and structure residing in institutions.

I wanted to then turn that back on something Ms. Dufka said, that connected with some of the conversation yesterday about the power of the words that we use. Sometimes, that power is something that we are not necessarily self-conscious of when we choose those words. There were two words that Corinne Dufka used that I wanted to underscore: one was "choice," and the other was "voluntary." The notion that when these fighters moved into their first conflict, that was not choice – that was force. And then they chose. It was voluntary. I find the use of those words problematic. Flip those words to a woman who is forced into prostitution, and then someone says she chose it. I think we should only use the word "choice," we should use it self-consciously, when there truly is choice. Those words are very individually based and carry for our audience – not necessarily for the speaker – the notion that it is this individual's personal responsibility.

Susannah Sirkin: The rape issue, and in particular Josh's comments, made me think more about this. That, and thinking about our work in Sudan, because we're very engaged with the issue of widespread rape there and how to document it and how to help women at every level. I agree very much with Josh; no one is saying that it isn't incredibly important that rape be prosecuted and that women be enabled, empowered, if they choose to testify and want to go that route. It's our job to help that happen if that's what they want. At the same time, every country is so different, and we know that the tribunal did not protect witnesses very well initially in Rwanda. A lot of terrible things happened. In Sudan, I've been working very closely with Sudanese women who are trying to prosecute rape cases in Darfur proper right now, as well as in Khartoum. A woman there who is raped – or a girl – essentially becomes unmarriageable for the most part. We have to understand that. You could go in as a journalist, you could go in as a human rights worker and not know this. So there's a huge responsibility to know the laws and the culture. In Sudan, rape is basically not a legally prosecutable crime. You have to have, under Sudanese law, four male witnesses to a rape, or eight female eyewitnesses. Obviously, this has never really happened, and certainly in Darfur you're not going to have that. Instead, a woman is accused of adultery. So women who come forward under this legal system run the risk of being labeled – or even worse, prosecuted for adultery. You know, we parachute in. We may not know this. I myself have been working on rape in Sudan for quite a few months, and I didn't understand this fully until I talked to these women. Cultural understanding is really important anytime we go and do this work. 

Maryam Elahi: I couldn't agree more. When you're found guilty of adultery, you'll be stoned to death. That's the huge risk that a rape victim could undertake in the Sudan.

Joshua Rubenstein: I think in this discussion it would have been useful to speak about how the human rights movement dealt with and continues to deal with the issue of female genital mutilation. We recognize it as a human rights violation, but we decided not to pursue it, not to pursue our work against it in the same way we work against outright torture, because we recognized there was a cultural dimension. We had to work with the groups in those societies both in terms of suppressing it and educating people not to look for it. And that applies also to this issue of gender-based violence and rape. 

Maryam Elahi: Yes and no. I think that the difference is, again, going back to the scenario we saw in Darfur. You do want to publicize it, you do want to mobilize action, you do want to condemn it, and you want to be right in the face of it – except you don't want to show the faces and names of the girls. Whereas with female genital mutilation, you know you're walking on eggs and you want to be a lot more careful in working with the groups and not being as out there in your condemnation. 

Max Perlitsh, Class of 1952, Brandeis University: My concern is, as you would look at Darfur, for example, our failure to really halt those human rights violations. Are we doing all we can as human rights activists to expose the perpetrators and those hiding as bystanders who might be permitting those kinds of terrible offenses? We speak for the victims beautifully, I heard that yesterday, and we are certainly doing a beautiful job in telling the story of the victim. But are we doing all we can to really learn from prior mistakes to now get movement by the perpetrators and international institutions like the United Nations, who are failing terribly to do what they should be doing? And what's your proper role in effecting that kind of response?

Florence Graves: We are going to be speaking to that a little bit later, but we are out of time. We all have a lot of questions, I know, that we would like to have addressed. Mark Auslander says they're going to talk a little bit more this afternoon about your very question. It's extremely important to address. So thank you for bringing that up right now. Maybe those who are going to be speaking this afternoon can make sure that they address that because it is, obviously, crucial. Thank you to the panel.