International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Kony

The Curious Case of Dominic Ongwen: Child Soldier turned LRA Leader

As we discussed in class, Dominic Ongwen was abducted at age 10, and forced to become a child soldier in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. As the global Kony 2012 campaign asserted, Kony’s LRA thrived off of the kidnapping and manipulation of many young children—forcing hundreds of impressionable youths to commit heinous crimes on behalf of Kony, who is portrayed as “a godly person” (Invisible Children). As many of these blog posts contend, Ongwen’s adult actions (which he will be tried for by the ICC) consist of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, to echo the sentiments of many of my classmates, “Ongwen is the first person to be tried for the very same crimes for which he was a victim,” introducing an inherent complexity to his case (ckeefe2016’s post). Will it be possible for the ICC to rectify that fact moving forward, and to determine a truly appropriate sentence for him? Will they be able to determine if Ongwen was really responsible for his actions, or if his extensive childhood trauma as a child soldier has forced him to this terrible fate?

Today, data has been collected from “87 war-torn counties,” leading to an estimate that “300,000-500,000 children are involved with fighting forces as child soldiers” (Harvard School of Public Health). These children are forced to commit unspeakable atrocities from age 7, and are even sometimes “injected with drugs to curb their inhibitions against committing violence” (Harvard School of Public Health). According to the Irish Forum for Global Health, “even when being compared to other children that lived through civil wars and have witnessed the brutality of war, former child soldiers suffer from markedly higher levels of psychological disorders” (IFGH). All three of the articles cited above assert that it is critical for child soldiers in the post-conflict environment to receive treatment, in order to overcome the enduring scars from their traumatic experiences. Perhaps the most problematic discrepancy in these international justice cases is the divide between former child soldiers that receive amnesty and mental health care, while others are prosecuted for their crimes. Ongwen is undoubtedly responsible for countless heinous atrocities he committed as Kony’s right-hand man, and should rightfully be punished to the fullest extent of the law for his wrongdoings. However, it becomes troublesome to think that he may have received amnesty if he had not been manipulated from such an early age. Further, this case poses many interesting problems due to the difficulty of assessing the state of mind of Ongwen when he committed these unspeakable atrocities and due to the lack of relevant jurisprudence for the ICC.

Kony “Seeking Forgiveness”


A recent article published in Uganda’s (privately owned) Daily Monitor newspaper reports of a letter from Joseph Kony to Ugandans claiming a desire to resume peace talks:

“We are willing and ready to forgive and seek forgiveness, and continue to seek peaceful means to end this war which has cut across a swathe of Africa for the people of the Great Lakes and the Nile-Congo Basin to find peace.”

Not surprisingly, Kony also seeks to share blame for war crimes  and deaths that have occurred over the course of the rebellion with the government, and even claims that his actions were committed out of self defense while some atrocities, such as the massacres in northern Uganda, were also committed by the UPDF to “spoil” his name. Let’s pretend for a moment that Kony is sincere about making peace; are successful peace talks and an apology from the LRA really enough to foster reconciliation? Furthermore, even if peace is reached between the LRA and the Ugandan government the ICC will still maintain its outstanding warrant against Joseph Kony for the crimes he committed in the past.

Strangely enough, in Kony’s letter he additionally appeals to the ICC, the institution he has publicly denounced and evaded for years, to investigate crimes committed by President Museveni and General Sejusa. This is especially surprising considering the fact that the 2008 government-LRA peace talks hosted in South Sudan primarily collapsed due to Kony’s insistence that the ICC drop its warrant against him. Other than attempting to provide a possible defense for himself if convicted, what could Kony possibly hope to achieve by making these claims against the government with whom he “hopes” to reconcile?

Sensationalism and Intervention

(My apologies in advance).

While there are many aspects of the Kony 2012 video that can be debated, the issue that most interests and concerns me is that of sensationalism in media coverage of conflicts and the potential effects it has on aid and humanitarian interventions.  The Invisible Children, Kony 2012 video received much (mostly deserved) criticism but the style of media coverage and fund/awareness raising is nothing new.  The American media is structured around the idea that “if it bleeds it leads.”  This sounds despicable, yet is a concept that has grown out of the interests and attentions of the public.  Americans (possibly humans in general) are drawn to and fascinated by the worst of the worst (or at least the worst until things become too real or uncomfortable to deal with) and the media caters to that interest.  The Kony 2012 video very effectively tugged at the heart-strings of the American public and turned more heads towards central Africa than any other media project since the movie Hotel Rwanda.

It’s extremely difficult to pull egocentric populations out of their daily lives for more than a second of caring or concern.  So, the question is, should the media utilize sensationalism to gain the quick attention and dollars of hundreds of thousands, or work to accurately and thoroughly represent these types of situations and gain the more sustainable attention of only a few hundred or thousand?

Eve Ensler has used a similarly over-the-top method to raise awareness of rape in eastern Congo and the creation of her City of Joy.  She created the term “femicide” and effectively brought the phrase “rape as a weapon of war” and the sound-byte “rape capital of the world” to the dialogue on S.V. in eastern Congo.  But while these sensational, often ego-stroking, superficial disseminations may turn many more heads, there are grave consequences. There is power in numbers, but problems lie in the type of power and how it’s used.

Overly-sensationalized media doesn’t just under-inform, it misinforms, leading people to believe i.e. that catching Kony would make the LRA disappear or would solve the problems in the Great Lakes Region.  This misinformation doesn’t only waste opportunities to genuinely inform the international community, it furthers the divide between more developed nation populations and those the media projects are “reporting” on.  Aside from the social implications of this, it can have devastating real-world consequences.

We’ve seen rash, emotionally driven attempts to help repeatedly make problems worse (i.e., after the earthquake in Haiti, the 2004 tsunami in Thailand).  Eve Ensler’s V-Day organization raised millions of dollars (plus grants from USAID and UNICEF) to open The City of Joy in Bukavu, and while the project is hailed in the international media, it’s widely considered hugely unsustainable by aid workers on the ground and the relatively posh establishment in a very poor area could even cause further victimization of the women it aims to help.

Simple phrases like “the blood in your cellphone,” and “rape capital of the world,” draw otherwise unattainable attention and funding, but the over-simplification of conflict, life, and potential solutions so often make matters worse.  In many cases, specifically the more extreme ones such as Kony 2012, Haiti, etc., both the ends and the means take us all backwards.  But on a more consistent and sustainable level, if the results do benefit the targeted population do the ends justify the means in terms of sensationalism when “if it bleeds it leads?” Or does sensational media so consistently make matters worse that the entire genre should be fought and humanitarian work would be better served with smaller, more knowledgeable and effective numbers?  Speaking only to information not implementation, is it better to slightly misinform the masses and further the divide between cultures/populations or to attempt thorough education of only a few and leave the rest to live their merry lives?

US forces join jungle search for Kony

In an article recently published by the BBC, the writer reports traveling from Uganda’s capitol city of Kampala to Obo in the Central African Republic.  The writer reports that there they are met by a few of the US special forces and identifies these as the ones that were sent to locate and kill Osama bin Laden; specifically Navy Seals.

Although the author confirms exactly what the United States has been reporting on the issue of finding the LRA’s leader Jospeh Kony in that the goal is to simply aid already existing African forces on the ground, it seems that the perceived notion of the local people is that US forces is different: “The man in overall charge of the US African Command (Africom) is General Carter Ham.  He emphasizes that US soldiers will not be out on patrol in the jungle tracking Mr Kony, but he acknowledges that this is what a lot of Africans think is going to happen.”

Is it possible for the US to respond to a humanitarian crisis and for the public perception to not be that they are the only answer to the solution?  In addition, towards the end of the article it is written, “The local betting is that Joseph Kony is more likely to die in the forest than appear in the dock in The Hague as an indicted war criminal.”

Ugandan army says Sudan is backing Joseph Kony’s LRA

A Ugandan colonel stated that they had captured an LRA member dressed in Sudanese garments and armed with Sudanese weaponry. Sudan’s ambassador denies these claims. A Ugandan rep stated that “Kony knows we can’t enter that region, so when the pressure is high in Central Africa he crosses into the Sudanese border [areas],” In the past Uganda helped support southern  Sudan. While at the same time it was believed that Sudan supported the LRA so as to weaken them and their support of Southern Sudan.

Ugandan’s Reaction to Kony 2012

Washington Post today has an article on the recent screening of Kony 2012 in Uganda.

A much over-hype recent sensation in America in the last couple week. Thousands tweeted and posted, but not really understand what the actuality of event is been going on in Uganda and Kony.

For those of us that been learning in class, we know the video is very biased and much Western point of view to the whole situation, so what would you think the screening turn out?

Not well of course, Ugandan were angry at the end the screening, felt that an “…inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous…”

Maybe this article would help some that just reposted on facebook or tweeted about it to learn a thing or few.