Hindsight is easy. Thinking ahead is harder. While governments are consumed with investigating terrorism and genocide, one group of concerned global citizens strives to protect endangered minorities and stands against intolerance before violence occurs.
Founded in 1998, Humanity in Action trains American and European student leaders to "identify and surmount institutionalized violations in democratic societies," said the executive director, Judith S. Goldstein.
"Chronologically, it is pre-conflict resolution," she added.
The group, whose board of directors is based in the United States, has planning boards in Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and France. Its programs are funded through contributions from individuals, corporations and governments.
About 350 students have gone through the program since its inception. The fellows undergo five weeks of core training that includes lectures given by human rights leaders, politicians, diplomats, scholars, artists and philanthropists. The students are challenged to explore innovative approaches to safeguarding human rights.
Senior fellows then can proceed to international internships at several sites, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. House of Representatives, the European Parliament, Interpol and the Anne Frank Foundation.
On Tuesday night, the group announced that it was launching a core program based in the United States. "The purpose of the American program is to have European students work with American counterparts so they see our models of integration, both our failures and successes," Goldstein said at a dinner hosted by the German ambassador, Wolfgang Ischinger.
After Hurricane Katrina , the public has debated the struggles of America's underclass. Mark Goldberg, a fellow in the Netherlands, said the group hoped to keep the discussion "alive."
Interns based in the United States will be assigned to nongovernmental organizations focused on minority issues.
For the past four years, European fellows sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) have interned with members of the Human Rights Caucus, of which he is chairman.
Goldstein's inspiration for founding Humanity in Action was the historical example of how Danish citizens and their monarch intervened to save the lives of Danish Jews during World War II.
"We are interested in the resistance to people who persecute minorities, and we are basically working in democratic societies," she said yesterday.
Targeted attacks in Europe, the recent rioting in France and Katrina have raised new questions about race, ethnicity and class and institutional flaws toward vulnerable population groups, Humanity in Action fellows said.
In 2001, Goldberg explored a Moroccan neighborhood in Amsterdam that is notorious for its restive immigrant youth.
Goldberg said local leaders in the area were "heroic" in their efforts to combat the social and economic problems of their areas but lacked the resources to effectively fight gang activity and crime. One young man who fell through the cracks was Mohammed Bouyeri, who gravitated from petty crime to religious radicalism. In November 2004, Bouyeri killed controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, "in the name of Islam," Goldberg said.
After the Van Gogh killing, a debate began in the Netherlands "not unlike the one happening in France right now, about how and where did their national model of minority integration and assimilation fail; and how that has produced a generation of alienated and seemingly angry minority youth," Goldberg said
In another example, Dirk Schmalenbach, a lawyer on the group's German board, said Germany was beginning to worry about its failure to fully integrate the country's more than 3 million Muslims, most of whom are of Turkish origin.
Michael Th. Johnson, registrar at the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia in Sarajevo, said that senior trial attorneys and their support staff had come to rely on the contribution of dozens of fellows who had passed through the tribunal.
"HIA is the process of evolving our species to eventually influence those who are in positions of power," said Johnson, an American lawyer. "Our aim is to change a climate of impunity into a climate of prevention."
Next summer, 20 American fellows and a total of 20 from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and France will meet in New York. They will study historical and modern examples of institutional abuses against select populations; cultural, legal and political resources available to advocates of more inclusive societies; and U.S. participation in world human rights institutions since World War II.
"What we can do, and what we must do, is make the world smaller," said Anna R. Dolinsky, 23, a second-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center. "It will be crucial for American and European fellows to engage in the French experience with minority integration in order to identify lessons learned and needs unmet."