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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
Legislation introduced in Congress last week could greatly propel efforts to bring to justice the world’s most wanted war criminals and human rights offenders. On Friday, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced legislation to expand the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program to include those wanted for the most serious human rights abuses—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—by international criminal tribunals or national courts. Currently, the Rewards for Justice program provides financial rewards for information leading to the arrest or conviction of international terrorists, as well as war criminals who have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
If passed, this legislation would bolster initiatives to arrest and convict individuals wanted by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, including Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and Bosco Ntaganda, leader of the Congolese rebel group-turned-government-ally, the CNDP. As Representative Royce said, “Put simply, this is another tool to target the world’s worst.”
Royce’s “Department of State Rewards Program Update and Technical Corrections Act of 2012 would expand the Rewards for Justice program to apply to “any foreign national accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide” and provide up to $5 million for information leading to his/her “arrest or conviction in any country, or the transfer to or conviction by an international criminal tribunal (including a hybrid or mixed tribunal).” It would also extend the program to those involved in transnational organized crime, including arms trafficking and human trafficking.
Royce specifically highlighted the importance of apprehending Joseph Kony and other senior LRA leaders. “One priority is Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has terrorized northern Uganda and central Africa for over two decades,” he said. “An aggressive rewards program seeking information on Kony and top LRA commanders could help generate intelligence on their location and promote defections—both goals of U.S. policy. It is time to end Kony’s reign of terror.”
The proposed updates to the Rewards for Justice program come at a time when the Obama administration deployed U.S. military advisors to Central Africa to provide information, advice, and assistance to regional armies aimed at ending the LRA, including apprehending Kony and his senior commanders. It could provide much-needed support to boost intelligence on the whereabouts and activity of the LRA’s leadership and could contribute to their arrest and conviction. More capable troops, greater logistical and intelligence capabilities, a robust defection strategy, and a diplomatic push to improve cooperation and coordination among the regional governments are also needed to ensure that the advisors can succeed.
Established in 1984, the Rewards for Justice program is, according to the State Department, “one of the most valuable assets the U.S. Government has in the fight against international terrorism.” Through the Rewards for Justice program, the U.S. has paid over $100 million to more than 60 people who provided actionable information that led to the arrest of terrorists or prevented acts of international terrorism. Specifically, the program contributed to the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Currently the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Congressman Royce has played a significant role in efforts to bring an end to the LRA. In 2010, as chair of the Africa Subcommittee, Royce co-sponsored the historic LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which is the most widely supported Africa-specific legislation in recent Congressional history. The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act called for the U.S. to provide “political, economic, military, and intelligence support” to address the LRA crisis and led to the deployment of the U.S. military advisors and supporting personnel beginning in October 2011.
Photo: Longtime LRA leader Joseph Kony (AP)