This is Benedict (Dr. Orbinski's mentor)'s response to him when he thought that 'justice is an illusion' when he returned from Rwanda and Zaire in 1996, during the genocide:
''Not when you know what injustice is,'' Benedict replied immediately. ''The victim is someone quite concrete. Justice only fails when we fail to imagine that it is possible. But like so many things, it depends not only on imaginings but on what we do.''
What a good read, 'An Imperfect Offering' by James Orbinski.
I wish I was starting the book again from the beginning, instead of finishing it off, with less the 1/4 of the book left. I'm currently reading the chapter called ''The Politics of being Apolitical: Humanitarian Action in North Korea, Kosovo and the Sudan''. I'm still at the beginning of the chapter, where the author, the amazing Dr. Orbinski is struggling with just how cruel and obscene humans can be, and what atrocities we are capable of. This is such a powerful book, with personal accounts of what happened in Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Zaire/Congo.
On a side note, during my volunteer shift today, Bob, a patient I was visiting was telling me his life story (in the span of 45 minutes, it was pretty amazing. I wanted to sit longer but then his son's family dropped by, and my shift was over before I knew it.) and he mentioned how his family was caught in the war in Yugoslavia when he was 12, 13. Then without going into too much details, but enough to make my heart skip a beat and tears well up in my eyes, he told me how he had evacuated the former Yugoslavia with his brother and mother. They basically had to board a ship, which was getting fuller by the minute, to seek refuge in Egypt. Then when it was his turn to go, one of the guard onboard refused to take his mother. 12 year-old Bob then stay put and insisted that unless his mother gets onboard, he won't. Another guard who saw this, couldn't bear the sight of a family being separated, pulled his mother in and managed to get his entire family out of the war-torn country.
My guess is the second guard was empathetic to the situation, and wondered what he himself would do if it was his family standing on the other side of the dock, and if he had to choose survival over family. And at the end of the day, isn't it just all that simple? Injustice, violence, rape, theft, genocide, state-imposed starvation, and all the undesirable terrors of the entire war package -- if the same crime, pain, suffering were to be inflicted on our own mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers... how would each and everyone of us act in the face of the same plight?
Human rights have a chance to be protected when we think clearly, calmly and empathetically.