- April 3, 2013
- News & Analysis
Earlier today, the US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp announced that LRA leaders Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen, and Okot Odhiambio – as well as Rwandan rebel leader Sylvestre Madacumura – are being added to the US War Crimes Rewards (WCR) program, authorizing a reward of up to $5 million to anyone who provides information leading to their arrest. Notably, the announcement was made possible by the passage of legislation sponsored by then-Senator Kerry (D-MA) and Representative Ed Royce (R-CA); it was the last legislation Kerry sponsored that passed before he became US Secretary of State.
This new tool could prove critical for efforts to bring LRA commanders to justice and end the group’s atrocities, though its implementation does carry some risks. The program also only works if there is an entity that can act on tip-offs received; in other words, if US and Ugandan forces withdraw from operations to pursue the LRA as reports indicate they may, the program will be largely toothless.
In this post, we discuss whether the WCR program can have a role in securing the arrest of Kony and his two deputies, and the details of how it will be implemented. You can also find more information on the website of the program itself.
What is “War Crimes Rewards” and “Rewards for Justice?”
A program called “Rewards for Justice” was first established in 1984 targeting foreign terrorists who pose a threat to the United States. The State Department later expanded the program by adding “War Crimes Rewards” in 1998 to help track down fugitives wanted for war crimes. It can provide rewards of up to $5 million for information that leads to the arrest of specific criminals.
Who is eligible to be targeted by WCR?
Originally, only individuals indicted by special tribunals for Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Sierra Leone were eligible to be targeted by the program. However, on January 15, 2013, President Obama signed into law a bill making any foreign national accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes by any international, mixed, or hybrid criminal tribunal eligible targets for WCR. This includes Kony, Ongwen, and Odhiambo, who were indicted by International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005. The bill’s passage marked the first time that Congress has authorized a formal relationship between the US and the ICC , which many Members of Congress have previously opposed.
How can this be used to help bring LRA leaders to justice?
By adding Kony, Ongwen, and Odhiambio to the WCR program, the State Department has increased the chances they will be brought to justice in several ways.
First, the financial reward could incentivize LRA fighters and commanders to defect from the LRA in order to share information about the location of the three eligible commanders with US authorities. This would not only lead to better information on their whereabouts, but also drain the LRA of the fighters essential for its survival. Crucially, it could also sow divisions and suspicions within LRA ranks if Kony and other commanders fear betrayal, which would further diminish their capacity to perpetrate attacks on civilians.
Second, the financial reward could incentivize local hunters, nomadic groups (such as the Mbororo), or other people who may have information about the location of the three eligible commanders to share it with US authorities. Community members in some LRA-affected areas of CAR and Congo that have been repeatedly targeted by LRA attacks have already been willing to share information about the location of LRA groups and commanders. However, people in areas of northern CAR and Sudan, where senior LRA commanders are thought to be located, have been less cooperative, so a financial reward could provide the impetus needed to facilitate information sharing.
Less likely (but still possible), lowly research groups such as ourselves or others working in LRA-affected areas could presumably benefit from a reward.
How can it be advertised, especially to LRA groups in remote areas?
The WCR program has a budget for advertising the financial reward for the three LRA commanders, and in the coming weeks US government officials will spreading the word in a variety of ways. They will likely use radio broadcasts as the main tool, but could also use leaflet drops over areas of LRA activity and briefings for local communities.
Who can receive the award, and how can they share the information?
Anybody is eligible to receive the financial award, with the exception of government officials acting in their official capacity and individuals under US sanction. To receive the award, the information provided by the individual must lead to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of one of the three LRA commanders. The State Department website has guidance on how to directly share information regarding the whereabouts of an indictee. To determine the size of the reward, the State Department takes into consideration the importance of the target, the risk taken by informant, the value of the specific information they gave, and other factors. Most rewards issued range from $400,000 to $2 million.
Do informants face any risk?
Though the LRA will likely be unable to identify or locate specific informants, some informants could face risks or challenges, such as coping with a large influx of cash while living in an impoverished community. To minimize risk to the informant, the State Department does not reveal the identity of informants and can provide a range of witness protection measures.
Is there any risk of LRA reprisal attacks?
Though the LRA has intentionally reduced civilian killings in recent years, there will be a risk of LRA reprisal attacks. LRA commanders have ordered reprisal attacks and massacres following the launch of international interventions in the past, including the announcement of the ICC indictments in 2005 and the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008. To mitigate this risk, US officials should work with military forces, peacekeepers, and early warning civilian protection networks in LRA-affected areas to ensure they are informed about the WCR program and are taking steps to prevent LRA reprisal attacks.