Stopping the next Rwanda in Syria?



KPFA Evening News, 03.03.2012




KPFA Weekend News Anchor: The Rwanda Genocide has been invoked as a reason for NATO and the U.S. to intervene militarily to stop mass atrocities in British photographer Paul Conroy, after being injured and rescued from the Syrian city of Homs urged the world to act to stop massacres in Syria like those in Rwanda in 1994. Photo: AFP/Getty Images Africa and on the Arabian subcontinent, in Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, and now, Syria. At the beginning of February, NPR held a panel discussion titled "The 'Responsibility To Protect' In Syria And Beyond," which was introduced with reference to the world's failure to intervene to stop the Rwanda Genocide. Yesterday NPR published what appeared to be a Sky News and BBC report on Paul Conroy, a British photographer injured and then rescued from the Syrian city of Homs who urged the international community to act before Syrians suffer massacres like those in Rwanda. KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke to Peter Erlinder, former National Lawyer's Guild President, and former defense lawyer for the UN Tribunal on Rwanda, about the Rwanda rationale for US/NATO intervention in Syria.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Peter Erlinder, the one-year anniversary of of the U.S./NATO military intervention in Libya, to, they said, stop mass atrocities like those the world failed to stop in Rwanda is coming up soon, on March 19th. As it approaches, more of the same urgencies, likening Syria to Rwanda, appear in the press every day, not only on NPR. Can you respond, as perhaps the most methodical critic of the received Rwanda Genocide history?
Law Professor Peter Erlinder, former National Lawyers Guild President, and former defense attorney at the UN Tribunal on Rwanda says it's necessary to understand what really happened in Rwanda before using it as a rallying cry. Photograph: Photo: Sayyid Azim/AP
Peter Erlinder: Well, in order to make a comparison between Libya and Syria and Rwanda, it's necessary to be clear about what actually did happen in Rwanda, and that requires reviewing the documents that the United Nations and the United States kept in their files regarding what happened during that time, which is not the story that people have generally heard about Rwanda. In fact, the 90 to 100 days called the Rwanda Genocide were mass killings, mass murder, violence to be sure, but it wasn't because the world did not intervene. Actually what happened was, the United States and the Pentagon created the RPF and turned them into the largest military power in Rwanda, over a period of three years, and supported that side of the Rwandan Civil War.   
Now this isn't something that I've concluded myself. It's something that's in the UN and US government documents. So if we're going to make a comparison between Rwanda and these other situations, we have to be very careful about making certain that we understand the comparison is apt. And, the comparison between Rwanda and these other situations is completely inapt, and not applicable, and not a guidance at all for what should be done in situations that are completely different.
KPFA: And by the RPF, you mean . . .?
Peter Erlinder: Rwandan Patriotic Front, which is the military that seized power after the 90 days. They were built into the major military power because of outside support from the U.S. and from the UK, and we have documents that say that they were the side that could have stopped the mass killing and they refused to do so because they were winning the war. General Dallaire, who was leading UN forces, said so in the dispatches that he sent from Rwanda during that period of time. 
KPFA: Russia and China  abstained on the Security Council resolutions that preceded the U.S./NATO military intervention in Libya, but both nations vetoed the resolutions condemning the Syrian government which seemed, obviously, to be laying the groundwork for intervention there.  What do you think about this and where do you think it's headed?
Peter Erlinder: Well I think that both China and Russia have made clear that they had felt misled and abused by the effects of their abstentions. The proposals from the Security Council were that the Security Council would be protecting civilians during the fighting that was going on in Libya. Russia and China abstained from those proposals and then found that the protection of civilians included not only protection but actually military intervention by US and NATO. And of course the situation there is also much different than it was in Libya because Syria is in a much different strategic position between Iran, Israel, Turkey, and military intervention there can have extraordinarily serious consequences for the whole region. 
KPFA: That was Professor Peter Erlinder, former defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.  
For Pacifica, KPFA, and AfrobeatRadio, I'm Ann Garrison.


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