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Supporters of anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela salute during a mass rally of African National Congress (ANC), a few days after his release from jail, February 25, 1990, in the conservative Afrikaaner town of Bloemfontein, where ANC was formed.

- AFP/Getty Images

WESTERVILLE, Ohio —This week marks the twentieth anniversary of a rare achievement in the uncertain world of political struggle: the election of Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa and the birth of a new democratic nation.

In the outpouring of tributes to Mandela’s life and leadership upon his death several months ago, many people remembered this triumphant election and Mandela’s transcendent wisdom in negotiating the stormy transition from apartheid to democracy. What most people did not recall, however, was the remarkable set of events that followed.

In 1995, guided by President Mandela and mandated by an act of parliament, South Africa created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a massive, temporary institution whose mission was to reveal the specifics of widespread human rights abuses and to begin repairing the damage from nearly half a century of brutal repression known as apartheid.

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Shadows of Bangladeshi police officials are seen as they stand guard at the International Crimes Tribunal court premises in Dhaka on January 21, 2013. Bangladesh's controversial war crimes court sentenced to death a top Islamic televangelists for genocide and other atrocities during the country's 1971 liberation struggle against Pakistan, a prosecutor said.

- AFP/Getty Images

HOUSTON, Texas — Himmler. Heydrich. Hoess.

The very mention of these reviled names conjures up indelible images associated with the deliberate and coordinated murder of millions of innocent civilians by National-Socialist Germany during the Second World War.

The Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin used the term “genocide” to describe what had transpired in the German concentration camps — an organized and planned destruction of Jews, the Romani, the disabled, homosexuals and other groups targeted by Adolf Hitler and his regime.

After the end of that conflict and within a few years of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, civilized nations vowed never again to allow perpetrators of such horrors to escape justice with impunity by adopting a Genocide Convention through the United Nations Organization.

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MANAMA, Bahrain — In February of 2011, when the Bahraini government violently cracked down on peaceful pro-reform protesters in Pearl Roundabout, I immediately knew what I had to do.

As a nurse who had spent 18 years training and working in the United States, I decided to go and assist in the emergency room at Salmaniya Medical Complex, the main public hospital, which was flooded by injured protesters hurt by government forces during the demonstrations. Although, at the time, I was an assistant professor and head of an emergency nursing program, president of the Bahrain Nursing Society and not a staff member at Salmaniya, I saw that the doctors needed all the help they could get.

Many of my colleagues and I could not have known that our decision to uphold our medical duty would place us in danger. Several weeks later, I was blindfolded and handcuffed upon entering a government building. During the nightmare days of my five months of detention I was beaten, shocked with stun guns, sexually harassed and threatened with rape.

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NEW YORK — On this Mother’s Day, the 276 girls ferociously abducted from their boarding school in Nigeria are heavy on my mind.

The question has gripped me: what would it be like if someone at this exact moment stormed in, kidnapped me, burned down my house and threatened to sell me into slavery? This for the so-called crime of being a female who is working or reading or using a computer.

It’s not lost on me, it could have been me. I attended an all-girls boarding high school my sophomore year in Northern Nigeria, not far from Chibok where the girls were taken. I know those girls figuratively. They probably look a lot like the mixed ethnicities of my classmates from all over the country. When I went to school we fully expected to make it home that evening, which is exactly my experience today when I put my daughter on the bus every morning to a New York City suburban elementary school.

What’s happened in Nigeria is outrageously incomprehensible. Simply shocking. Even for someone like me who spent years as a journalist covering monstrosities all over the world.

I try to stop myself from imagining the horrors they have experienced. I have no idea what has or has not happened. But I do know it is catastrophic for them, their families, their mothers and the nation. I alternate among terror for their safety, sheer rage it happened, and tremendous sadness. And on this Mother’s Day, which is celebrated Sunday in the United States and in many other countries around the world, I think we all need to stop for a moment and reflect on this atrocity and join in a global expression of outrage and a commitment to justice that is coming together through the Twitter feed #BringBackOurGirls.

This is not the Nigeria I know.

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Iraqi demonstrators, some victims of violent attacks, and other family members who lost loved ones, gather in Baghdad's Firdos Square, on April 8, 2014, asking for the government to recognize their rights and to compensate for their loss. The latest violence in Iraq is part of a protracted surge in nationwide bloodshed that has left more than 2,400 people dead since the start of the year and sparked fears Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian conflict that plagued it in 2006-07.

- AFP/Getty Images

OWL’S HEAD, Maine — President Obama's key foreign policy focus these days is the Ukraine, where military confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian activists increases daily. Whether the next step will involve undisguised Russian troops moving across Ukraine's eastern border or further devolution into civil war, the only certainty is that the crisis will worsen.

US and Russia on opposite sides of a civil war in a European country of nearly 50 million people? Russian troops marching into a sovereign nation in the center of Europe? Nightmares no one could have imagined in the early 1990s when more than four decades of a nuclear-rattling Cold War suddenly evaporated. Or even just a few months back when Russian President Putin rightly reveled in the Sochi glow.

The Ukraine is not the most dangerous place in today's messy world. Nor is it the place where Obama most needs to be pro-active.

That place is Syria, which Obama or someone must move to control before it drags its far bigger neighbor Iraq into the maelstrom. Dexter Filkins, a correspondent for The New Yorker, with long experience in the Middle East, just returned from a month in Iraq, where, he writes, "the sectarian violence has returned, with terrifying intensity."

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WASHINGTON DC — Democracy, in its essence, is assigning to the people the ability to have a voice in their future. It is a living political system which reflects changing realities and preferences over time, embodied in new institutional laws, structures and elected representatives that reflect the desires and aspirations of those people at any given time. From this perspective, giving voice is not the outlier; it is the norm and the foundation — and a healthy one at that — in modern democracy.

The voice that Catalans are asking to have heard is one that demands they be able to decide on their political future. Catalans want to exercise their right to vote.

Catalonia's President, Artur Mas, has announced a November 9 non-binding referendum, which asks the Catalonian people, "Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?"

But the Spanish government insists that a referendum would be illegal and unconstitutional, ignoring that a Catalan government advisory body — led by a former member of Spain’s Constitutional Court — has detailed a series of mechanisms to organize a referendum which are both legal and constitutional.

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Japanese State Minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Akira Amari (C) speaks to reporters before his meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his office in Tokyo on April 25, 2014. Amari said Japan had not reached a basic accord with US over a Tarns Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal despite intense talks after a bilateral summit. There had been hopes that Tokyo and Washington might break an impasse in the stalled talks during US President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo.

- AFP/Getty Images

OWL’S HEAD, Maine — Judging the success of presidential trips is a tricky process. Even if the results aren't immediately obvious — or if they seem less than positive — an opportunity to spend serious face-to-face time with key world leaders is inherently valuable.

Nevertheless, President Obama’s trip to the Far East certainly wasn't a triumph, whether with him in Tokyo or looking from afar to Ukraine or the Middle East. As the The New York Times headlined it, "Obama Suffers Setbacks in Japan and the Mideast."

The setback in the Mideast was hardly a surprise and hardly Obama's fault: it's been nothing but a series of failures there, for whoever has been in charge.

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People lay flowers at the Chernobyl victims' memorial in the Crimean capital Simferopol, on April 25, 2014. The world marks tomorrow the 28th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl nuclear pant in Ukraine.

- AFP/Getty Images

NEW DELHI — In response to the US missile defense system in Poland, Russia is reported to be planning to field a tactical nuclear weapon, called the Iskander, in the region of Kalingrad, in westernmost Russia.

Many view Iskander missiles, with a range of 400 km, as a weapon that could have military and political influence.

Historically, Kalingrad was German territory until World War II and was known as Konigsberg. Germany lost the territory to the Soviet Union in 1945; at the Potsdam Conference, it became a part of the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, Kalingrad was heavily militarized, forming a “strategic outpost” designed to avert attack from West, check on the Baltic States and exert influence over the Baltic Sea.

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Mourners place National League for Democracy (NLD) flags besides Win Tin's body during his funeral in Yay Way cemetery on April 23, 2014 in Yangon, Burma. The Burmese journalist who helped Aung San Suu Kyi launch a pro-democracy movement against the junta military regime, died April 21 in Rangoon.

- Getty Images

CHICAGO — The touching funeral in Rangoon for Win Tin, the intrepid journalist who spent 19 years in prison for refusing to kowtow to his military captors, revealed the quiet undertow in Myanmar/Burma. The threat to a free press is real.

As up to 100,000 people, including senior dissidents, international dignitaries, and ordinary citizens passed the cortege or stood vigil at headquarters of the NLD, the opposition party Win Tin helped found, two ominous realities filled the air: since December, five journalists had been arrested; and in March, Parliament passed a law authorizing the Ministry of Information to ban reporting it believes could “incite unrest,” “insult religion” or “violate the Constitution.”

These actions confirmed what Win Tin shared with me in an interview last March: freedom is not something that can be metered out in controlled bits by a reluctantly retreating military.

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An Afghan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif April 5, 2014.

- Reuters


See no evil. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

We may never know exactly what happened in Afghanistan on April 5, when voters went to the polls to elect a new president. We may not be able to assess with any degree of certainty the true level of violence, the incidence of fraud, or the voter turnout.

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