Tag Archives: ICC

Watching The West Wing: Teachers and Courts

I am midway through a weeks-long marathon of watching The West Wing. When I was young, my parents watched the show, and I often watched it with them. Most evenings I watched whatever prime time drama my parents were into, and my wife and I recently began to run through the whole show on Netflix. Aaron Sorkin’s tendency to plant teachable moments throughout what is a fairly fast-paced and often context-riddled dialogue – notorious both in The West Wing and The Newsroom – does two things: teach the intricacies of American politics, both complex and simple, to an audience that may not yet know the details of a filibuster or censure or pardon, and allows those who do know feel a sense of being an “insider” as they follow the main characters down familiar hallways.

Coincidentally, Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post is also watching the show this summer, and wrote a smart piece on the personal politics of the show, focusing on the fact that the main characters’ “positions on policy are — at least initially — determined by their personal attachments.” She argues that “it’s an ingenious way to make viewers feel attached to policy debates. But it also lets the Bartlet administration, which was never terribly liberal in the first place, be guided much more by emotion than any particular partisan theory of government.” I suggest reading her article, as it looks at the show’s focus on personal relationships and on its discussion of media and personal lives.


But I have something else I’d like to focus on. In watching the senior staff of the Bartlet administration debate education, drug policy, war, and terrorism, I’m becoming more and more convinced that The West Wing obscures more than it reveals. While the script frequently teaches its audience about the inner workings of the White House and American politics in general, the descriptions and definitions it provides often preclude the viewer from making up her own mind about those very issues. The ideas proposed – recruiting more teachers, supporting international justice, decriminalizing marijuana, selling weapons to repressive regimes, etc. – are introduced not to educate but to show the viewer which one is right (or at least practical, for the latter two realpolitik situations).

The West Wing‘s take on the post-9/11 world is something I’ll have to set aside for another day (that subject will take much, much more time), but here I’m going to outline two specific scenes in seasons 2 and 3. I’m halfway through the show, so it’s very likely that more of these posts are coming. Without further ado, The West Wing, Teach for America, and the International Criminal Court.

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Acholi Opinions of Ongwen’s Arrest

I’ve written a little bit over the last month or so about Dominic Ongwen’s arrest and the charges he faces. There are a pair of recent publications that shed light on the heated debate over his arrest and trial.

For background: Dominic Ongwen was abducted by the LRA as a young boy and inducted into the rebel group, where he gradually rose in ranks to become a high-level brigade commander. As many have noted, he may be the first conscripted child soldier to be charged with conscripting children, a status that makes his case controversial.

Beyond all of this controversy, many in the Acholi community have long pushed for reconciliation rather than prosecution or military action as a means of ending the war. The radio programs I studied over the last couple of years are just one example of efforts to encourage rebels to demobilize and return home without punishment. The national Amnesty Act is another, and the mato oput traditional reconciliation ceremony is another. There have been numerous efforts at reconciliation that don’t follow the usual retributive justice model. This isn’t to say that these efforts don’t have their own set of critics – they do – but that the question of whether or not Ongwen should face trial at the ICC is complicated.

At the end of January, two pieces were published that speak to the complexity of Ongwen’s arrest on the ground in Acholiland.

First, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith group that was created in northern Uganda to address the LRA conflict, issued a press release on Ongwen’s trial which puts the rest of the world on blast:

The question we all need to ask ourselves, is, how did Ongwen Dominic, in the first place, end up in the hands of the LRA? We have been informed from the most reliable sources that Ongwen Dominic was abducted, by force, at the age of ten years old, by LRA. In this context, we believe that there was, of course, some negligence, on the part of the government of Uganda, which had failed to protect numerous unfortunate children of Northern Uganda for years. On the other hand, the LRA that abducted Ongwen Dominic at tender age, and destroyed his humanity completely, by making him to becoming a mere killing machine in its hands, should be held both accountable and responsible for all that Ongwen Dominic did during the LRA captivity all these years. We also think that the international community did not take immediate action to arrest the unbearable situation of the LRA in time. A lot of mistakes have been made even by the international community, who did not have an eye to see us, as human beings here in Northern Uganda. Instead, we have all become ‘invisible people’ in the eyes of the international community.

The press release also argues for Ongwen to undergo traditional reconciliation in Gulu instead of facing trial at the ICC. This statement includes a strong critique of the retributive justice system:

Ongwen Dominic, as a victim of circumstances, should not be punished twice, by humanity. Ongwen Dominic, as a victim of circumstances should not be taken to the Hague in the Netherthelands in Europe. As a matter of course, Ongwen Dominic should have been brought back home, in order, to go through the rituals of ‘Mato Oput’ (Reconciliation), as a cleansing mechanism to all that he went through during his time in the LRA captivity. The cultural justice system of Mato Oput is pro-life and holistic in every respect in life. Unlike the Court system in the world, it brings restoration of the broken human relationships. It also brings a complete transformation in the lives of the two communities involved into violent conflict.

It creates a healing process in the hearts of all those who have been wounded, by the war of insurgency. But above all, it brings new life to all the communities who have been affected by violence and death. In the truth-telling process, there are no denials, no lies, and no deceptions, as it is the case in the Court system. Surprisingly, the Court system, which is punitive or retributive, promotes polarization that only leads into ultimate alienation on both sides.

A week later, the Refugee Law Project, a think tank affiliated with Makerere University, published a report on Ongwen’s trial and leading perspectives [pdf] in Gulu. It includes similar indictments of the Ugandan government for allowing LRA violence to continue unabated in the north:

Most participants argued that Ongwen is a victim and will remain so because it was the Government that failed in its responsibility to protect him, prior to his abduction. Ongwen was abducted in Gulu in 1990, at the age of 10 while on his way to school. Sheikh Musa Kilil said, “It was the responsibility of government to protect such a child, a pupil who was going to school”. Reflecting on who a victim is in the context of the LRA, a former abductee noted, “Victims in LRA conflict are all those who were abducted, those who lost their property, body parts, their lives, loved ones and others who have been forced to kill”. Another participant argued that Ongwen is a victim because; “Ongwen was abducted, destroyed and ruined. He was made a teacher of a system whose motto value is, kill to survive”

These opinions are just a few more examples of how complicated and potentially divisive this trial, which begins in August, will be.

The Complexities of Dominic Ongwen’s Reported Surrender

News broke on Tuesday that ICC-indicted LRA commander Dominic Ongwen had surrendered to U.S. forces in Central African Republic. The human rights and LRA crowd was all atwitter (literally), and it has now been confirmed that Ongwen surrendered (or maybe was captured) by Seleka forces near Kafia Kingi, who handed him over to U.S. forces in Obo. Ongwen is to be handed over to Uganda, and his ultimate fate remains uncertain.

Ongwen’s case is a complex one. He was abducted and conscripted into the LRA at the age of 10, but quickly rose through the LRA ranks to become the leader of the Sinia brigade. For his involvement in attacks on IDP camps and the killing and abducting of civilians, Ongwen was charged by the ICC with three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes in 2005. He has since continued to be active in the LRA, although his position in the army’s leadership has been in flux. He has been sidelined by Kony, but remains influential in the rebel group to some degree.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ongwen, the essential reading list includes Erin Baines’ article on Ongwen and his position as a “complex political perpetrator” [gated] and a report [pdf] she wrote for the Justice and Reconciliation Project that discusses similar issues. Ledio Cakaj also wrote a brief but thorough bio on Ongwen for the LRA Crisis Tracker.

In addition, Mark Kersten recently penned some reflections on what Ongwen’s surrender/capture means, and why it isn’t a clear-cut victory for international justice. Importantly, he notes the “it’s complicated” relationship status between Uganda and the ICC, and the tenuous status of Uganda’s domestic court for international crimes – two important aspects of the ICC’s involvement in the LRA conflict.

Dominic Ongwen’s story isn’t over, and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds as he is transferred to Uganda and navigates a complex path between the domestic justice, amnesty, and international justice systems, not to mention the politics of all three.

*   *   *

This past fall, I presented a paper at the African Studies Association on Invisible Children and the role of reconciliation. While most of the paper deals with Invisible Children’s programs in central Africa, part of it discusses narratives of reconciliation and accountability – especially in regards to the ICC. I compare Ongwen’s status and the narrative surrounding him to that of Caesar Acellam, the LRA commander taken into custody in 2012 whom I wrote about here. Acellam’s story is similar to Ongwen’s, but the reception to this capture/surrender were different than the media’s and human rights community’s treatment was markedly different. While not directly about recent events, here are the relevant paragraphs discussing Ongwen:

LRA commander Dominic Ongwen was placed on the wanted list of the ICC and was recently the target (along with Joseph Kony and Okot Odihambo) of radio messages offering rewards for information leading to his capture. The U.S. government had expanded its Justice for Rewards bounty program to include LRA commanders indicted by the ICC a year before (see Ross 2013), with strong support and grassroots mobilization from Invisible Children.  Ongwen has not been the target of this attention because of his role in the organization today – he has recently been demoted, arrested, and threatened on Kony’s orders on numerous occasions (Lancaster and Cakaj 2013). Like Acellam, Ongwen was abducted in his youth, and subsequently rose in the rebel ranks to become a commander. Unlike Acellam and other LRA commanders who enjoy impunity or have received amnesty, however, Ongwen is painted as responsible for his actions. Ongwen remains “the first known person to be charged with the same war crimes of which he is also victim” (Baines 2008, 1). Some Invisible Children staff members I spoke to argued that Acellam was a victim of the LRA despite his position, while Ongwen had grown into LRA leadership and should therefore be held to account. But the reason Ongwen’s name is said on Congolese radio waves is arguably not based on his role in the LRA now, but because of his role in the organization in the early 2000s, and because of the timing of the ICC’s intervention.

Acellam and Ongwen were conscripted into LRA ranks decades ago, “a temporal span over which a young person so labeled [as child soldier] at one time moves to different stages of moral reasoning, responsibility, and culpability” (Ferme 2014, 58). Both fit the category of “complex political perpetrators” (Baines 2009), those who came of age within LRA ranks and became perpetrators in an attempt to reclaim agency over their lives, but who nonetheless remain victims, and whose complex status is excluded from the criminal justice discourse that the ICC and its supporters put forth (Baines 2009). Both Acellam and Ongwen fit these descriptions, yet the former has evaded the responsibility and culpability that could have come with commanding a rebel group as an adult while the latter has been less fortunate, due primarily to his having been indicted by the ICC. Despite the ICC’s role in the LRA conflict having diminished over the years since the end of the Juba peace talks, the Court remains a potent force for the three remaining indicted individuals – and for Invisible Children. By channeling Invisible Children’s media and narrative, the ICC has calcified the identities of the LRA leadership based on dated investigations and dictated the narrative of Invisible Children’s justice-for-some, forgiveness-for-others narrative.


One Year After Kony2012: Resources for the Lord’s Resistance Army

Today marks a year since Kony 2012 was released, which means a year minus a couple of hours since it went viral. In the aftermath of the controversy, I threw together a link roundup about the video. To mark the occasion, I wanted to try my hand at a definitive reading list on the conflict and its many facets. I’ve broken this into categories to help anyone looking for specific aspects of the LRA conflict. A lot of the links are open access, but there are a lot of journals too. If you have trouble opening any articles, drop me a line. Please let me know in the comments if you know of other works I should include.

For a broad overview, there are two big things you should read. The e-book, Beyond Kony 2012, edited by Amanda Taub, is available at whatever price you’d like to pay. It includes everything from the history of the conflict to advocacy responses to Invisible Children, all from great people in various fields. The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality,  edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot, is a good primer and tackles some of the myths around the conflict.

If you’re looking for other broad resources, International Crisis Group (ICG) has a report on understanding the conflict. The Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) has a number of field reports explaining and analyzing various events in the conflict’s history, all of which are worth perusing. For specific aspects of the conflict, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Tulane’s Payson Center for International Development have a report on LRA abductions. In additon, the LRA Crisis Tracker has just issued its annual security review on LRA activity.

There are quite a few decent articles on motivations and politics of the LRA: Frank van Acker and Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot have written good analyses of the LRA; Adam Branch situates the conflict around Acholi  peasants; Paul Jackson views the conflict from the greed vs. grievance perspective.

Patrick Wegner wrote a great piece on the Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Uganda. Chris Dolan has written a whole book (Google Books preview here) on the camps, in which he details their damaging effect on the entire northern Ugandan society in a case of what he terms “social torture.” He was also the first to break the conflict into phases, pointing out the trends in the conflict which Branch and Atkinson would later pick up on. The Refugee Law Project has a paper [pdf] on effects of violence on displaced communities.

Adam Branch has written a book (preview) about the consequences of humanitarian involvement that is absolutely imperative – his analysis of IDP camps, of the ICC, and of AFRICOM are all vital, and his history of the war is probably the most comprehensive. Sverker Finnström‘s book examines living in northern Uganda during the conflict, and sheds light on the political motivations behind the LRA.

Regarding the ICC, Allen’s short book on the subject is best, but you can also settle for his DFID report [pdf]. Branch has written this short piece [pdf] and a longer one [pdf] on ICC involvement. My professor in undergrad, Victor Peskin, wrote this analysis of the ICC’s approach to both Uganda and Sudan. The Refugee Law Project has working papers on the ICC and traditional justice. Also worth perusing is a series of blog posts at Justice in Conflict about LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo’s trial in Gulu.

On the flip side, regarding Uganda’s amnesty process, Louise Mallinder analyzes the amnesty process and Linda M. Keller looks at alternatives to the ICC. The first issue of JRP’s magazine, Voices [pdf], was about the amnesty process, and the Refugee Law Project has a working paper [pdf] on it as well. ICTJ and Berkeley’s Human Rights Center have a report on popular attitudes towards the ICC and amnesty, and ICTJ, Berkeley, and Tulane later published a joint report [pdf] on attitudes towards these ideas and reconstruction.

ICTJ and JRP have a joint report [pdf] on memorials and memory in LRA-affected regions. There’s also this piece on young adult perceptions of the LRA, which is an interesting perspective. Accord has a great report [pdf] on the long history of peace negotiations between the LRA and Uganda. They also put out this addendum [pdf] by Chris Dolan about the Juba peace process.

Looking at the military side of things, Mareike Schomerus has a look at the UPDF’s actions in Sudan, Sverker Finnström wrote about Kony 2012 and military humanitarianism; a group of authors wrote this article shedding light on what a military solution to the conflict would actually require. The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative released this report right before Kony 2012, outlining what U.S. involvement should look like. More recently, Resolve helped release this report [pdf] on problems with the UN’s response. ICG has a report spelling out what else is needed beyond Kony’s capture/death.

This is my no means an exhaustive list of readings, merely the ones I think are the most important or ones with interesting perspectives, in addition to some reports with lots of information. Again, if you know of other things that are missing that you think are important, leave a comment.

Update (9/1/2013): I’m editing this post to add some things I’ve come across recently. Firstly, Ron Atkinson’s The Roots of Ethnicity: Origins of the Acholi of Uganda is about precolonial Acholiland, but the second addition includes a very thorough history of post-colonial Uganda, including analysis of the LRA conflict. In 2009 he also wrote two good essays about Operation Lightning Thunder. Also, Chris Blattman has linked to the data from the Survey for War-Affected Youth (SWAY) that includes tons of information. In the year since I initially wrote this post, Resolve has published two important reports [both pdfs]: one reveals that Sudan is supporting the LRA again, another is the most recent in-depth look at who makes up the LRA and outlines effective defection strategies.

Latin America’s Exception, From the Torture Network to the ICC

About a week ago, Greg Grandin wrote a piece about the CIA’s extensive torture network, noting that, among the 54 countries involved, Latin America was completely absent. The article is a really great read and sheds light on why the region didn’t render itself part of the massive anti-terror network. The history of U.S.-Latin America relations is, of course, a dubious one. Grandin cites Cold War involvement as well as economic failures brought about by neoliberalism as setting the stage, and both the Iraq War and the U.S.’s aggressive post-9/11 militarization as informing the Latin American response to Washington’s requests. He cites several WikiLeaks cables regarding Brazil’s effort to prevent U.S. expansion into South America:

[The cable] went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law. “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act. It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

It’s really fascinating to look at the reasons that Brazil and other South American countries might be wary of what the U.S. is trying to use them for. This is also evident in the context of the International Criminal Court. Every single country in South America – and almost all of Central America – are members of the ICC, despite U.S. efforts to prevent such membership in the Court’s early years.

When George W. Bush entered office, he quickly set out to cripple the ICC before it was even officially created. He and like-minded senators targeted the ICC and tried to discourage states from signing the Rome Statute, the founding treaty behind the Court. They passed laws like the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, which barred U.S. cooperation with the Court and prevented military aid and training from going to countries that joined the Court. The White House also set about signing Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIAs, also called Article 98 agreements) with countries establishing that they would not extradite American citizens to the Court. If states joined the ICC but didn’t sign BIAs, they would no longer receive aid.

The Bush administration worked hard to either isolate the ICC or cripple it by preventing jurisdiction over U.S. citizens. The response wasn’t what conservatives had hoped. By October of 2005, 54 countries had denounced BIAs (pdf), including a number of Latin American countries. While countries around the world issues such statements, Latin American countries had much more to lose in aid dollars, and yet they still refused to cooperate with the U.S. attempt to derail international justice. Ecuador lost more in aid funds than any other country in the world, and Peru and Uruguay both lost over a million dollars, in 2004, with threats of more in years to come.

In 2005, General Bantz Craddock of SOUTHCOM testified before a House committee (pdf) that he was unable to work with 11 countries in his region, and that these countries were turning elsewhere for training and aid, causing severe damage to U.S. influence. Losing its sphere of influence in it’s own backyard, the U.S. eventually backed down, allowing aid to flow into these countries in order to reestablish military support, but apparently not enough to marshal admission into the CIA torture network. It’s not crazy to assume that holding aid hostage for U.S. gains in the early 2000s played a role when it came to trying to build anti-terrorist laws and programs in the region.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Milwaukee Edition

Next week, I’ll be presenting a paper at the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The conference is hosted by UWM’s English department, but has the interdisciplinary theme of “Failure.” My contribution will be a paper I started putting together last year, tentatively titled “Amnesty Versus Prosecutions in Uganda” (catchier title forthcoming, maybe).

Broadly, I look at the International Criminal Court’s involvement in the Uganda situation (a.k.a. the Lord’s Resistance Army) and the amnesty program that existed in Uganda from 2000 to 2012. I explore the relationship between the two and argue that the ICC involvement in the conflict indirectly led to the end of the largely successful amnesty program by giving the Museveni government – never a fan of the program – an excuse to let its provisions expire. I also look briefly at the cases that have fallen through the cracks – Thomas Kwoyelo and Caesar Achellam, who should have qualified for amnesty but have unclear futures – and the rise of what I call the military-judicial approach: the notion that justice requires military action, which has largely replaced efforts at peace through forgiveness or negotiation.

The conference as a whole promises to be really interesting, and its interdisciplinary nature means I’ll be learning a lot about things with which I have absolutely no experience. Plus, I’ve never been to Milwaukee! If I happen to have any readers there, feel free to visit – most of the events are open to the public, and you can find a schedule here.

Putting Kony 2012 in Context

In the last issue of Journal of Human Rights Practice, there was a debate about the Kony 2012 film and campaign by Invisible Children, four authors contributed analyses of the phenomena that captured the world’s attention last March.  Now that we’ve passed the campaign’s self-imposed “expiration date,” it’s worth revisiting it to explore some of what these authors critiqued, to offer yet more criticisms on the campaign, and also to defend some of the campaign’s accomplishments.

All four essays are worth reading. Sam Gregory explores the important pitfalls of centering a film around its audience the way that IC chose to, especially in regards to how the film was interpreted outside of that context.  David Hickman rightly points out that the film lacks an observational mode, rendering any exploration of the war’s history impossible.  Meanwhile, Lars Waldorf correctly observes that the campaign has raised the alarm, and that online attention must transition into real action. Mark A. Drumbl offers a strong analysis of the depiction of child soldiers. These are all important aspects of the film from which IC and others seeking to replicate their success can learn. But there are a few moments when the essays address the pitfalls of the film without considering the context in which it is set and the other activities of Invisible Children.

When he questions IC’s failure to garner offline support, Waldorf cites the poor showing in April’s Cover the Night activities.  However, I think it is important to situate Kony 2012, both the film and the campaign, within the organization’s almost decade-long campaign to raise awareness about the LRA conflict.  The fact is that IC has translated its surface appeal into real action on numerous occasions, with tens of thousands of American youth committing to day-long actions to draw attention to various aspects of the conflict.  In addition, IC and its partners were able to mobilize over a thousand supporters, myself included, to descend on Washington, DC, in 2009, helping usher the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into passage.  It was hailed as the largest lobbying initiative for any Africa-related bill, garnering record-breaking bipartisan support. This law would later be the foundation for President Obama’s decision to deploy 100 military advisers to the region and the stepping stone for the post-Kony 2012 lobbying push to gain more funding for civilian protection programs in LRA-affected regions and to expand the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program to include LRA leaders, both of which have passed.  In November, long after the luster of the viral video had worn off, IC was able to host a massive summit in DC that included political and civil society leaders from LRA-affected countries as well as representatives from the AU, UN, and ICC, with an audience in the thousands. Whether you support the goals or not, this is a record that overshadows the piecemeal results of Cover the Night, and the number of victories IC can claim is a testament to the depth and breadth of the organization’s grassroots support.

When Drumbl criticizes IC, he argues that the organization fails to provide other needs that victims may require beyond the capture of Joseph Kony.  Here he makes the same mistake, failing to look beyond the film itself while criticizing the organization as a whole.  IC’s programs in Uganda have included scholarships for children to return to school, employment in a number of agricultural and craft-making programs, teacher exchange programs, and efforts to rebuild schools and provide better sanitation in villages. In an effort to criticize IC’s humanitarian proposals, Drumbl also states that child soldiers are often not rescued at all; most former abductees actually defect.  But IC understands that, and while they may urge their donors to “help bring them home,” their efforts to make that happen are actually through leafleting and radio broadcasts specifically targeting conscripts, encouraging them to defect.

One critique that Waldorf levels, however, is very important to expand upon.  In this video, as in their other videos, IC has taken clear sides in the conflict between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, depicting Kony as pure evil.  While Kony has committed egregious acts of violence, often on innocent civilians, it is imperative that an organization with the platform that IC holds turn some attention to the Ugandan government, which has allowed Kony’s terror campaign to continue to benefit its own agenda, which has employed devastating tactics on civilians under the auspices of anti-LRA missions, and which has forced millions of civilians into displacement camps with such deplorable conditions that they have been described as torture and genocide.  Anything less is a misrepresentation of the situation and a disservice to the mission of ending the conflict.

Another problem that IC has chosen to ignore was highlighted by Drumbl, and that is that the organization fails to depict the complexities of opting for prosecuting Joseph Kony over other alternatives, such as Uganda’s recently-ended amnesty program.  While Invisible Children’s programs fund radio come-home messaging aiming to encourage defections by promoting amnesty, the organization’s video made no mention of how the amnesty complicates the ICC’s indictments for Kony.  And worse, when the Ugandan government chose to end the amnesty program in May, Invisible Children failed to use its platform to adequately condemn the decision, choosing to sign a joint statement [pdf] with other organizations, but without broadcasting very much information to its massive support base.  When coupled with its support for the ICC indictments and Uganda’s military solution to the conflict, Invisible Children is involved in what is an increasingly militarized, judicial agenda that is replacing amnesty and negotiations.

What we have seen in the last year is that IC’s support base has grown, but its policies have remained the same.  The group is still using a simplified narrative to gather massive amounts of support, pushing a military solution as the only way forwards.  On this, their critics and I agree.  However, it is important to also consider the places where IC has succeeded, in its ability to raise awareness, in its efforts to support the local population, and in its work to protect civilians.  It seems that we are past debating whether Invisible Children has had an influence or whether they are doing any good at all; the debate should be about whether the net influence is positive, and whether the good work comes at a cost. As we move forward in 2013, it is critical that Invisible Children do three things: give a more nuanced and balanced depiction of the conflict, including naming and shaming the government where it is desperately needed; take a step back from its pro-military agenda, allowing room for amnesty and protection of soldiers forcibly conscripted into rebel ranks in their messaging; and stop dismissing critics, engaging them in a healthy dialog about how best to resolve the conflict.

LRA Commander Captured! What Does It Mean?

Over the weekend, news broke that LRA commander Ceasar Acellam Otto was captured by UPDF soldiers on the border between Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his 60s, Acellam is a former UNLA fighter, meaning he’s been a rebel since before the LRA were in the game, so he’s a pretty big catch. He was allegedly in charge of intelligence for the LRA, and defectors have alluded to him being the link between Kony and Khartoum. While Acellam is not one of the remaining leaders that has been indicted by the ICC, he is one of the top commanders of the rebel force. His capture could mean a lot of things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near.

The LRA has been increasingly on the run, but has regained some strength. After a long silence in the last months of 2011, during which LRA leader Joseph Kony allegedly ordered his troops to lie low, the rebels have been making a comeback with attacks on the rise in Central African Republic. This is in addition to the steady flow of attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UPDF soldiers cannot follow.

Against this backdrop, the BBC recently reported on allegations that Sudan was again supporting the LRA, which comes as no surprise. Khartoum supported Kony for years during the 1990s and early 2000s, and with increasing tensions along the Sudan-South Sudan border it would benefit the government to partner with the LRA once again. Indeed, as far back as late 2010 people were saying that Kony could be on his way to Darfur, where he would be safe from international pressure.

While Acellam’s capture could deal a huge blow to the LRA, if Kony is already in Sudan then there is no change in the manhunt. As Mark Kersten has pointed out, it’s like playing hide and seek with the seekers in one house and the child hiding in another. No matter who the coalition of soldiers captures, Kony might not be where they’re looking. Ending LRA violence is obviously in the interests of many, but capturing Joseph Kony has been the stated goal (and means to ending the violence) all along. If the LRA is getting support from Sudan, it’s even more likely than before that LRA fighters and indicted leaders are seeking shelter under Khartoum’s wing. If the LRA leadership enjoys safe haven and impunity, the conflict won’t be over.

Update: Mark Kersten has written a pretty thorough addition to the discussion of Acellam’s “capture.”

ICC Neutrality Keeps Not Existing

In December of 2003 the International Criminal Court opened its first situation, the civil war in northern Uganda, at the referral of the Ugandan government. From the beginning, the Court opened itself to criticisms with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda with Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-O’Campo’s joint press release on the referral. Critics challenged that the ICC was being used as a tool by Museveni and that the Court would not approach the situation from a balanced perspective.  Indeed, the ICC has only issued five indictments for LRA leaders to date, despite evidence of egregious human rights abuses by the Ugandan army against civilians in the region.

Since this biased introduction to the world stage, the ICC has tried to navigate between government assistance in access on the ground and the desire for judicial fairness. While there was marginal success in some situations, the ICC has more recently continued its record of only investigating one side of the conflict, most recently in Libya.

Last month, in a piece questioning the “Libyan model” and whether it should be used in Syria, Vijay Prashad outlined some of the missteps concerning biased justice in Libya. The ICC made huge strides in getting American and Chinese support for the UNSC resolution authorizing NATO assistance in the Libyan Civil War, but has since faded into memory by not being proactive to try those it has indicted and by refusing to step forward in investigating rebels or NATO forces.

Prashad also points to two damning reports on the transitional government’s abuses. Amnesty International has outlined the problems of torture and abuse in detention facilities in post-war Libya, along with discrimination against women, foreigners, and black Libyans. This was followed by a report by the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya (PDF) which stated that it was concerned by revenge attacks and intimidation against alleged Qaddafi loyalists, including the potentially extrajudicial killing of Muammar Qaddafi, allegations of executions of detained loyalists, instances of abuse and torture in detention facilities, and the possibility of civilian targeting by NATO.

Some of these allegations have existed since before the war was even over, and the ICC has taken virtually no action to investigate the other side of the civil war. The ICC continues its course of using its allies’ assistance to investigate and indict the other side while turning a blind eye to abuses committed by its allies.  The ICC has been able to issue indictments on all sides in Sudan and Kenya, but this record is dwarfed by the overwhelming situations in which the Court benefits from its silence.  From Uganda to Libya, the ICC has yet to prove that it can truly move beyond victor’s justice.

Russia and China Veto Resolution – Everybody’s Pissed

This morning, the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a watered down resolution addressing human rights abuses and massacres in Syria. Last night, in the hours leading up to the vote, the Syrian government launched a campaign against the city of Homs resulting in anywhere from 200 to 300 deaths. Today, both Russia and China vetoed the UNSC resolution. In the aftermath, there were a number of officials that were furious and ready to unleash.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was angry, saying:

 The United States is disgusted that a couple of members of this Council continue to prevent us from fulfilling our sole purpose here-addressing an ever-deepening crisis in Syria and a growing threat to regional peace and security. For months this Council has been held hostage by a couple of members. These members stand behind empty arguments and individual interests while delaying and seeking to strip bare any text that would pressure Asad to change his actions. This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that at least one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Asad.

Since these two members last vetoed a resolution on Syria, an estimated 3,000 more civilians have been killed. 3,000. Another almost 250 killed just yesterday. Many thousands more have been held captive and tortured by Asad and his shabiha gangs. Since these two members last vetoed a resolution, however, and despite the absence of Security Council action, we have seen more and more Syrians speak out in peaceful demonstrations against the regime.

Once again, the courageous people of Syria can clearly see who on this Council supports their yearning for liberty and universal rights-and who does not. And during this season of change, the people of the Middle East can now see clearly which nations have chosen to ignore their calls for democracy and instead prop up desperate dictators. Those who opposed this resolution have denied this last chance to end Asad’s brutality through peaceful means under Arab League auspices. Any further blood that flows will be on their hands.

The British ambassador to the UN Marc Lyall Grant expounded on what had happened leading up to the vote:

Four months ago, to the day, two Council members vetoed an attempt to send a clear message to the Syrian regime to end the bloodshed. That day, the death toll stood at 3,000. And the Syrian regime only continued its brutal repression.

The death toll today stands at around 6,000. The Syrian regime has ferociously escalated its already brutal repression in the last 24 hours, subjecting the citizens of Homs to artillery and heavy weaponry. The death toll will be high. Those that blocked Council action today must ask themselves how many more deaths they are prepared to tolerate before they support even modest and measured action?

Last Tuesday, this Council – and the world – heard from His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim of Qatar and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. They came with a simple request for Security Council support for the Arab League’s plan to facilitate a political transition and bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The original Moroccan draft resolution did just that. It had, from the outset, support from the vast majority of Council members and had the backing of the Arab League. Yet some Council members argued that the resolution imposed regime change. It said no such thing. But in an attempt to reach consensus, we provided further assurances in the text.

The same minority argued that the text could somehow be used to authorise military intervention. It did no such thing – it was a Chapter VI resolution. But in an attempt to reach consensus, we provided further assurances in the text.

The same minority argued that very modest language expressing concern about weapons was somehow tantamount to an arms embargo. It was not. But we took it out.

They said that mere mention of the existence of Arab League sanctions was tantamount to sanctions. It was not. But we took it out in an effort to reach consensus.

Mr President,

The facts speak for themselves. There is nothing in this text that should have triggered a veto. We removed every possible excuse.

The reality is that Russia and China have today taken a choice: to turn their backs on the Arab world and to support tyranny rather than the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. They have failed in their responsibility as permanent members of the Security Council. And they have done so on the most shameful of days of the Syrian killing machine’s 300 days of repression.

I’ll add more quotes throughout the day as I find reliable sources.