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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
Congress has passed legislation to expand a critical initiative that would bolster efforts to arrest and bring justice to individuals wanted for committing acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The State Department's Rewards for Justice Program currently authorizes the payment of rewards to people who provide information leading to the arrest or conviction of individuals wanted by select international criminal tribunals for committing the most serious human rights violations, as well as those sought for terrorism and narcotics-related offenses. The legislation, which has been sent to the President's desk for his signature, would expand the program to target individuals indicted by any international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes and foreign nationals involved in transnational criminal activity, including human trafficking and arms trafficking.
The House passed the bill, originally authored by Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), by voice vote on Tuesday. The initial legislation, H.R. 4077, was co-sponsored by 57 representatives and was included in the comprehensive State Department legislation, H.R. 6018, passed by the House in July. The Senate companion legislation, S. 2318, was introduced by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Boozman (R-AR), Coons (D-DE), Isakson (R-GA), Landrieu (D-LA), Graham (R-SC), and Durbin (D-IL) and passed by the Senate on December 20. The expansion of the Rewards for Justice Program has been supported by the State and Defense Departments.
The program as expanded could be instrumental in precipitating the arrest and prosecution of some of the world's most wanted, including Joseph Kony and other top commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other government officials wanted for committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur, Darfuri rebel leaders, as well as rebel commanders in Congo.
Currently, efforts to apprehend and bring to justice senior leaders of the LRA are hamstrung by several challenges. Although U.S. military advisors remain deployed in Central and East Africa to advise and assist the national armies of LRA-affected countries, inadequate numbers of troops, a lack of real-time intelligence about the LRA, a lack of access to the group's safe havens, and stymied initiatives to promote defections present major obstacles. The application of the rewards program to the LRA could support efforts to obtain timely information about the LRA's locations and encourage commanders and fighters to defect, and could lead to the arrest of top commanders.
"This bill responds to the need to develop more tools to pursue the world's worst," said Royce, who will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress. "Target one is Joseph Kony, the murderous head of the LRA. U.S. military advisors working in Central Africa consider a reward offer on Kony as critical to their effort. This action bolsters the hunt."
If the President signs S. 2318, the next order of business is to determine how to most effectively employ the rewards program in specific cases. In March 2012, the State Department noted that it would publicize the rewards offers for LRA senior commanders through radio stations broadcasting in the region, distributing leaflets, and other publicity tools. The promise of rewards could provide an incentive to LRA commanders and fighters, as well as herders and others who transit within the border areas of the Central African Republic, Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan, to share any information about LRA whereabouts and activity.
After the new rewards program is authorized, additional individuals would be added to the program following review and approval by the Secretary of State and an interagency committee.
The State Department is authorized to provide payments of up to $25 million. Rewards provided to individuals under the existing War Crimes Rewards Program have averaged approximately $400,000. The current War Crimes Rewards Program applies to individuals wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The time has come for the War Crimes Rewards Program to be expanded. Last March, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp noted that there were only nine targeted fugitives still at large and that "[a]fter the capture of those fugitives, the program will cease to be useful as a tool to ensure accountability for some of the world's worst crimes."
Photo: U.S. Capitol Building