Found in 1917 and the recipient of the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize, the [American Friends Service Committee] AFSC had long been committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian causes. The Vietnam War posed a particularly acute challenge by bringing up key questions that the human rights movement had assiduously avoided. Should all violence be condemned? Should the response be a call for a plague on both houses? How could one relate the war to other struggles in the Third World, such as the battle against apartheid? The AFSC's executive secretary spelled out the challenge in 1975: "All too frequently, in human experience, wars of liberation have been fought with lofty courage and high idealism only to result tragically and ironically in the rebirth of tyranny with new tyrants in charge." Revolutionary violence would not build a new, just society; but the answer was not to simply denounce violence but to advocate for a kind of revolutionary pacifism. "The necessity to be nonviolent must be urged with passion, and persuasion, not upon the oppressed revolutionaries, but upon those who oppress them, and upon the accomplices of the oppressors." Many of the governments that were fighting rebellions in the Third World were corrupt, vicious states employing far greater violence than that leveled against them. "To put it simply: We believe in nonviolence and in revolution and therefore in the possibility of nonviolent revolution. We understand that the oppressed do not share our faith in nonviolence. We have given them little reason to do so." The task, in part, was to reduce direct American "domination and/or American support for their oppressors, and this, in turn, will serve to minimize the violence which they feel compelled to use to reach their goal." The AFSC did "not support the violent means used by the NLF and Hanoi, but we do support their objective in seeking the liberation of Vietnam from foreign domination…. Clearly one has to distinguish between the violence of the Americans—which is criminal—and that of the people of Vietnam—which, by contrast, is tragic." Few human rights leaders enunciated comparable views.

James Peck

Over the years Helsinki Watch expanded into regional committees (Americas Watch, Africa Watch, Asia Watch, Middle East Watch), and in 1988 these committees united to form Human Rights Watch. From its beginnings the group has been emblematic of the American human rights organizations that formed in the late 1970s and early '80s. It was not mass based; tactics associated with civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, ad with the earlier struggles to organize labor and to obtain women's suffrage, had no place in its evolving strategies. Rather, it was an elite organization, an NGO with a board of directors and a paid staff quite unlike the movement organizations of a decade before. Its natural constituency was to be found in the worlds of power and influence—among politicians, journalists, jurists, union leaders, and academics. Its principal aim was to pressure the United States and Soviet governments into acting in accord with the organizations human rights objectives. As sociologists like to say, it lived by "tree-topping" tactics aimed at other elites, no grassroots mobilizing of large constituencies. Its leaders were primarily upper-middle-class professionals—from publishing, law, journalism, and Wall Street—with highly developed communication skills and discretionary time and income to devote to international issues. Most of them traveled widely, especially in Europe, and moved amid the elites and intellectuals of many countries. They generally felt comfortable with the idea of multiculturalism and had long supported civil rights.

James Peck

The British were the chief spokesmen for the view that the desire to colonize was largely based on their good intentions in wanting to put a stop to the slave trade. True enough, the British in the nineteenth century were as opposed to slave trading as they were once in favor of it. Many changes inside Britain had transform the seventeenth-century necessity for slaves into the nineteenth-century necessity to clear the remnants of slaving from Africa so as to organize the local exploitation of land and labor. Therefore, slaving was rejected in so far as it had become a fetter on further capitalist development; this was particularly true of East Africa, where Arab slaving persisted until late in the nineteenth century. The British took special self-righteous delight in putting an end to Arab slave trading, and in deposing rulers on the grounds that they were slave traders. However, in those very years, the British were crushing political leaders in Nigeria, like Jaja and Nana, who had by then ceased the export of slaves, and were concentrating instead on products like palm oil and rubber. Similarly, the Germans in East Africa made a pretense of being most opposed to rulers like Bushiri who were engaged in slave trading, but the Germans were equally hostile to African rulers with little interest in slaving. The common factor underlying the overthrow of African rulers in East, West, Central, North, and South Africa was that they stood in the way of Europe's imperial needs. It was the only factor that mattered. with anti-slaving sentiments being at best superfluous and at worst calculated hypocrisy.

Walter Rodney
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