WASHINGTON: Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has eluded justice for decades despite joint military efforts and an Internet campaign that swept the globe – now US lawmakers are hoping an expanded reward system could hasten his capture.
A group of senators led by Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry introduced legislation Thursday that expands the US rewards program used to help nab international criminals including those accused of mass atrocities.
“This is an important bi-partisan initiative that needs to get passed right away… to expand our arsenal of weapons against war criminals like Joseph Kony,” Kerry said in a statement.
Lawmakers did not mention a dollar figure for any Kony reward, but the current system allows for up to $25 million.
The enhanced rewards program would allow the State Department to make payouts for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people who commit “serious violation of humanitarian law (and) transnational organized crime,” the bill said.
A similar system was put in place for criminals prosecuted in tribunals in Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
“Information is a powerful tool and with these authorities, we can help bring brutal and dangerous fugitives to justice,” Kerry said.
Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is accused by the International Criminal Court of the rape, mutilation and murder of civilians, as well as forcibly recruiting child soldiers for his years-long campaign of terror in central Africa.
His exact whereabouts are unknown but he is believed to be in the Central African Republic.
Calls for his arrest grew louder last month after US group Invisible Children posted a video online that drew attention to his alleged crimes, and quickly went viral, drawing nearly 90 million views on YouTube.
Seeking to capitalise on that energy – and perhaps to deflect criticism over the failure to track down the warlord – the senators unveiled their own, seven-minute digital video on the eve of the Kony 2012 movement’s global day of action.
“They’re getting very very close” to capturing Kony, Republican Senator James Inhofe said in the video. “Hopefully this will be the year.”
Senator Mary Landrieu was skeptical, noting Kony has been “the world’s leading and most wanted war criminal” for years.
“So there is a real question out there: why can’t we stop him?”
US President Barack Obama last October raised the pressure on the rebel leader, dispatching 100 combat troops to central Africa to help and advise forces battling LRA rebels.
Senator Chris Coons said there are LRA members “who we are trying to incentivize and encourage to leave the LRA, and this might provide some additional incentive” for them to provide vital intelligence about Kony’s whereabouts.
The new bill also removes mention of a $50 million reward linked to the capture of Osama bin Laden.