On Wednesday April 3, the State Department announced the names of individuals wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, under its recently expanded Rewards for Justice Program, including fugitives sought by the International Criminal Court from the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and a brutal Congolese rebel group.
The announcement came as the Ugandan and U.S. forces pursuing LRA senior commanders in the Central African Republic, or CAR, suspended operations, following the overthrow of the CAR government on March 24.
In a special briefing, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, and Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, announced that the State Department is offering rewards of up to $5 million for information that leads to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of the top three leaders of the LRA – Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen – as well as Sylvestre Mudacumura, the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR. The hope is that the financial incentive will increase defections from the LRA and encourage intelligence efforts towards apprehending its leadership.
“Accountability is a key pillar of the United States Atrocity Prevention Initiative,” noted Ambassador Rapp, “and our national security strategy, which states that the end of impunity and the promotion of justice are not just moral imperatives; they’re stabilizing forces in international affairs. We act so that there can be justice for the innocent men, women, and children who have been subjected to mass murder, to rape, to amputation, enslavement, and other atrocities.”
The Rewards for Justice Program is managed by the Office of Global Criminal Justice. It originally offered rewards for information leading to the arrest or conviction of individuals indicted by the international tribunals created for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. On January 15, 2013, President Obama signed legislation into law which expanded the Rewards for Justice Program to include individuals wanted by any international criminal tribunal on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
While the State Department’s announcement is a step forward for justice in the hunt for the LRA, the suspension of counter-LRA operations in the Central African Republic, is a step backwards. On Wednesday, April 3, the Ugandan government suspended operations in CAR, claiming that the rebel leaders who deposed the CAR government, “have been openly hostile to us” and “have not been cooperating with us since they took over power.” Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye told the BBC: “We have reorganised our forces, collected them in defense, as we await the decision that will follow consultations going on between the African Union and participating countries."
The LRA has been present in CAR since 2006. Just last week, a coalition of rebel groups called Seleka took over the capital, ousting the former president François Bozizé, and forcing him and his family to flee, and further destabilizing the country.
On April 2, Invisible Children, the Enough Project, and The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative released a joint statement urging the governments of Uganda and the United States to remain committed in their efforts to end the threat posed by the LRA to civilians in central and east Africa. They warned of the dangerous “security vacuum” that would be created if the Ugandan army and the U.S. military advisors depart, leaving civilian communities vulnerable to attacks by the LRA.
The following day, the Enough Project issued a Policy Alert urging the Ugandan and U.S. governments to remain deployed to protect civilians and to arrest the LRA’s top leaders:
“In the absence of any military pressure, the LRA will likely use the security vacuum as an opportunity to regroup, reorganize, and abduct more fighters. LRA attacks could easily increase and it could see its ranks grow. The gains made thus far by the advisors and their partners would likely be reversed. Undoubtedly, civilians in the region would bear the brunt of the consequences.”
The announcement of the expansion of the Rewards for Justice Program demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. to end the LRA, but in this pivotal moment in CAR, the Ugandan army and the U.S. government must continue their deployment in the region to finally bring an end to the LRA and bring justice and peace to the many civilians that have been affected by the group’s reign of terror.
Moreover, it is President Obama’s legacy that is on the line. As Enough Co-founder John Prendergast has said:
“The success or failure of the LRA mission will be one of President Obama’s legacies in Africa. More than 2.2 million Americans called on him last year to see this mission through, and we hope his Administration will continue to do all that it can to help bring an end to the LRA. If the joint operations are closed down now, it will be almost impossible to reboot when – not if – Kony’s forces regain momentum. Rest assured the LRA will rise again if the Ugandan-US mission is withdrawn.”
Photo: Stephen Rapp, Ambassador at Large, Office of Global Criminal Justice; Credit: Interpol