U.S. charity campaigns to bring an Ugandan war criminal to justice
Invisible Children, a charity organization based in San Diego, launched an internet campaign to bring accused Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony to justice. Invisible Children posted a half-hour film about the rebel leader online, hoping to spark international action. The film about the abuse of children in Africa has been watched more than 50 million times on the internet within four days of its release, and almost six million people, including US celebrities George Clooney, Rihanna and others, have tweeted about the campaign using #StopKony.
Monday, 02 April 2012, by HRH Bergen, based on Al Jazeera, Reuters information
The online video drawing attention to the case of alleged war criminal Joseph Kony provoked lively debate over the situation in Uganda. In spite of overnight success and international attention, Invisible Children charity is now being criticised for its style of campaigning on the issue, and the film has triggered a vigorous online debate about its accuracy. Much of the criticism focuses on what is being called the group's oversimplification of a complex region that has experienced fighting and human rights abuses for over 20 years.
Profile: Joseph Kony
J. Kony was born in Odek, a village in a region of northern Uganda known as Acholiland, sometime in the early 1960s. Not much is known about his early years, though he reportedly served as an altar boy within the Catholic Church and was heavily influenced by both Christian and spiritualist teachings. Kony joined the Uganda People's Democratic Army, a rebel alliance formed after Museveni's National Resistance Army came to power in 1986. He became a key ally to Alice Lakwena, an Acholi spiritual healer and founder of the Holy Spirit Movement. After Lakwena suffered a devastating defeat against the Ugandan government in a battle at Jinja, around 100 km from the capital Kampala, she fled to Kenya, and Kony emerged as the leader of the forces that remained. With Kony's assumption of power came a shift in the rebels' strategy.
Under Kony's control, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) took to Uganda's north and began to operate almost exclusively against civilian targets, rather than the Ugandan military. The LRA has waged a durable insurgency utilising brutal tactics, forcing 1.5 million people from their homes and abducting more than 20,000 boys and girls to become fighters or forced "wives" to LRA members. Sponsored in part by the government of Sudan, the LRA conducted operations in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, though activity in the latter has almost ceased due to the forging of a comprehensive peace between north and south and the creation of an independent South Sudan.
Kony has long said that his movement is aimed at liberating Ugandans from oppression and has made himself into a dogged enemy of Museveni, whose career as Uganda's leader has run in parallel with Kony's as an infamous warlord. He has reportedly claimed to be a prophet possessed by spirits and to believe in the power of the Christian cross and holy oil to protect him and his fighters from physical harm. In 2005 Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court for leading the LRA in a campaign of "murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements" since at least 1987 and for personally issuing broad orders to target and kill civilian population. The indictment was partly based on intercepted radio communications where Kony could be heard praising LRA forces for attacking camps of displaced persons and calling on them to find targets with "even more people".
Child soldiers and forced recruitment
Most child soldiers were forcibly recruited into LRA ranks by fighters who often killed those who were reluctant to join the LRA or hacked off their ears, lips and limbs. Although the group has been basically a ragtag army that often resorted to banditry to survive, it took the Ugandan government nearly two decades to rein them in. After a series of defeats at the hands of the Ugandan military, the LRA sought sanctuary in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg, they have become a "regional problem spread between three countries" - the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). Part of the reason the Ugandan government had difficulty defeating the LRA was because of the military support they were allegedly receiving from the Sudanese government.
Joseph Kony’s tactics were — and remain — brutal. He often forced children to kill their parents or siblings with machetes or blunt tools. He abducted girls to be sex slaves for his officers. He brainwashed and indoctrinated children with his lies and manipulated them with his claim of spiritual powers. At the height of the conflict in Uganda, children “night commuted”. That is, every evening they would walk miles from their homes to city centers. There, hundreds of children would sleep in school houses, churches, or bus depots to avoid abduction by the LRA. In the course of conflict Kony and the LRA abducted more than 30,000 children in northern Uganda.
HRH Bergen, based on Al Jazeera, Reuters information