An Open Letter to Human Rights Colleagues Concerned About Darfur…and Iraq

by Peter Erlinder Commondreams 9/10/08
To my dear and well-meaning Human Rights colleagues,

The story of displacement and death in the Darfur region of Sudan is indeed horrific. And, since Sudan is one of the few countries in Africa which has been off-limits to US oil deals and capital penetration, the crimes of the Sudanese government have a special resonance in U.S policy-making circles. Although it is rare that the Darfur tragedy is put into context, please permit me to try.

Actually, over the past two years 1.1 million Somalis have been displaced by the Ethiopian army1 with the assistance of Rwandan army (both of which have been funded by our own government with the assistance of US military advisors and equipment)2and Somalia has displaced Sudan’s Darfur, as the world’s most dangerous region, awful as the Darfur crimes might be3. We must also note that the attacks on Muslim Somalis by “Christian” Ethiopians/Rwandans have not been characterized as a “genocide” by US leaders, despite its larger-than-Darfur scale, although others have…..4

The awful number of civilian deaths in Darfur — some 400,000 we are told — has been eclipsed by the 6.4 million deaths in the Eastern Congo as a result of the invasion of the Eastern Congo by US/UK-supported armies of Uganda and Rwanda beginning in 19965 which are continuing at the rate of 45,000 a month, today.

An October 2003 UN experts report describes how the economy and resources of the Congo have been stolen by Ugandan and Rwandan militaries, and their surrogates, during the ongoing, decades-long war in Central Africa6 with not so much as “peep” from western HR advocates. And the killing is continuing as I write and you read these words. But no regular reporting has appeared in the US press. There has been no condemnation of any kind from USG and no human rights “movement” has materialized to condemn the invasion or the killing in the Congo, much less Somalia.

And, European Union Reports from 2003 make clear that the recent electoral debacle in Zimbabwe in 2008 was merely a repeat of similar tactics, such as physical attacks, arrests and deportation of the political opposition that occurred in Rwanda, when President Kagame was “elected” with 95% of the vote in 2003.7 Interestingly, Zimbabwe has been almost completely cut-off from “western” economic aid — with the predictable results in the African context.

By contrast, Uganda is Africa’s largest recipient of UK military and economic aid, and Rwanda has a similar relationship with the U.S. Both countries have become centers for trading gold, diamonds and coltan (the rare mineral that makes cell phones possible). Although none of these resources exist in any quantities in either country, they DO exist in great plentitude in the Congo. US military aid to Rwanda has ballooned the Rwandan army from 7,000 (before Kagame’s war 1990-1994 to seize power) to 70,000-100,000 to today.8 Rwandan troops are now being “farmed-out” to the U.N. and U.S. allies for cash, not unlike the mercenaries, called military “contractors,” being used in Iraq and elsewhere.

And, when we begin considering who the criminals are in Africa, it is worth noting that Zimbabwe’s Mugabe had the poor judgement to send troops to the Congo to oppose the completely illegal Ugandan/Rwandan invasions that began in 1996 and are continuing today.

This is not to say that Darfur does not deserve our concern and attention, but when the U.S. State Department starts throwing around the “genocide” label, you can be pretty sure that the targeted African leaders are NOT favorites of U.S policy-makers. On the other hand, no matter WHAT crimes are committed by local despots that great-powers outside Africa support, much, much greater crimes (such as wars of aggression for economic gain) never get even a mention.

Because I am Lead Defense Counsel at the UN Tribunal for Rwanda, I have had access to original UN and U.S. Government documents that have been suppressed since mid-1994 but which are now in the record at the ICTR, and many of which are posted on the website of original source materials I have been creating to permit researchers to draw their own conclusions rather than accepting my or our Government’s “spin” on the politics of Africa. Please check out

Also, please note that the Pentagon established AFRICOM, the first military command structure for Africa, just last year, a clear signal that the struggle for the vast resources and undersupplied markets in Africa is just beginning. AFRICOM joins PACOM (war planning for Asia, including the Vietnam War); EUCOM (European war planning…the US segment of NATO); the Southern Command (military planning for interventions in Latin America) and CENTCOM (responsible for military strategy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and…Iran).

The establishment of AFRICOM in 2007 is undisputable evidence that U.S. policy-makers see Africa as an area of military contention for the foreseeable future. Africa is the last continent, with almost unlimited nature riches, over which all major economies must seek influence to fuel their industrial production.

Before we swallow wholesale the accepted story of “good and evil” among African leaders, a careful study of the politics, history and big-power aims in Africa is probably warranted — although it is very painful to face up to the machinations of our own military-industrial complex because to do so will require fundamental change within our own society, rather than to look elsewhere for “the problem.”

However, as responsible citizens of the most dangerous Empire the world has ever seen…we must.

The future of humanity hangs in the balance, not because of violence committed by local despots, which is, of course, despicable, but because of the political, economic and military manipulations of the post-WWII American Empire which benefits from fueling local conflicts to ensure that its allies (and influence) prevail in every corner of the globe.

However, there has been one good recent development on the International Human Rights “front”.

The President of Sudan was indicted for “genocide” and war-crimes by the International Criminal Court even though Sudan has not signed the treaty, which is exactly the same legal position in which the U.S. finds itself because of Bush’s rejection of the Clinton’s signature on the Treaty of Rome that set up the Court.

When Bush of other American leaders are similarly indicted by the ICC, too, we will be sure that “international justice” is being meted out evenly and the “Rule of the Powerful” will have been replaced by the Rule of Law.

But, as it is now, the powerful decide who among the less-powerful will feel the lash of retribution…or reap the rewards of co-operation

I realize that the above may be shocking — and may call my sanity into question in some circles — but facts are facts, and can re-order our perceptions, if we have the courage to examine them.

best regards to all,

Prof. Peter Erlinder
Wm. Mitchell College of Law
St. Paul, MN
Lead Defence Counsel-UN/ICTR, Arusha, TZ
past-President, National Lawyers Guild, NY,NY

1 CIA World Factbook, Updated September 4, 2008
2 USA Today, January 8, 2007: “A Christian-led nation…Ethiopia has received nearly $20 million in U.S. military aid since late 2002. That’s more than any country in the region except Djibouti…the U.S. and Ethiopian militaries have “a close working relationship,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said…[a]dvisers from the Guam national guard have been training Ethiopians in basic infantry skills at two camps in Ethiopia, said Maj. Kelley Thibodeau, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Djibouti…There are about 100 U.S. military personnel currently working in Ethiopia, Carpenter said.”
3 “Humanitarian crisis in Somalia is worse than Darfur”, International Herald Tribune, Nov. 20, 2007. Quoting UN sources.
4 Eritrea: President Accuses U.S. of Genocide in Somalia, http//, Sept. 7,2008.
5 By 2003, the Congo wars had been going on for 7 years and had killed more than 3 million Congolese. See, UN Panel of Experts Report on the Illegal Exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 20, 2003. Since 1998 to the present, alone, the total is 5.4 million.
6 See, UN Panel of Experts Report on the Illegal Exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 20, 2003.
7 Rptr. Colette Flesch, Report of European Observer Mission, September 2003; See also, Waugh, Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, pp. 185-206 (Mcfarland USA 2004); U.S. State Department 2003 Human Rights Report on Rwanda, Feb. 25, 2004.
8 See, UNAMIR Reconnaisance Report, September 1993;