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.

Seat Belts and Human Rights Prosecutions: A Digressive Review

Having taken several classes centered on accountability for mass atrocity crimes, I’ve run across a lot of common questions. One question is the notion that we all know that killing is bad – mass killing exponentially so – so what effect does making it illegal or prosecuting it really have?

A couple of years ago I ran across, of all things, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood speaking on CSPAN (I know, right?). I have no idea what the circumstances were, but he detailed that in the past people rarely used seat belts despite knowing that they protected them. After states began to make it illegal to drive without wearing seat belts, more and more people wear them now. According to some surveys, many wear them not to be in line with the law but because they are safe and that is what you do when you are in a car. In a very weird connection and long stretch, you could say the same about atrocities – after a while the fact that one faces prosecution could change the mindset about actions one is willing to take. It’s weird, but it’s a connection. When society speaks up about what is wrong, fewer people are willing to commit that act.

Enter Kathryn Sikkink, professor at the University of Minnesota and author of The Justice Cascade. I’m currently halfway through the book and it makes a strong case for human rights prosecutions. The book gives an intricate history of human rights prosecutions in Greece, Portugal, and Argentina. Sikkink also works to debunk the notion that the specter of prosecutions is dangerous for transitional democracies, another concern I’ve heard in academia and in advocacy.

But the heart of the book is that Sikkink looks at the diffusion of justice and accountability between countries. The first change in the international justice system was to make individuals accountable instead of just states – and this has definitely grown as more perpetrators are indicted and prosecuted for their actions. She also notes the increase in international, foreign, and domestic human rights prosecutions across the board by using a database.  The database counts all “processes of prosecution” regardless of verdict and uses the State Department’s human rights reports as its source.

According to her research, Sikkink found that Latin America, which has had the most human rights prosecutions of any region, is also the leader in successful democratic transitions. Most of the allegations that trials could lead to a renewal of conflict seem rooted in an attempted coup in Argentina when prosecutions expanded to include more suspects. The coup failed and the trials continued and even spread across the region, fostering democracy. Somehow, the threat has lived on in policy circles.

She also found that more prosecutions foster better human rights practices, and that if four or more countries in one region have prosecutions, the countries nearby could benefit even without having prosecutions – accountability and deterrence cross borders. The question is if that deterrence only works in a regional context or if it can lead to a global deterrence through international prosecutions. I’m only partway through the book so far, but Sikkink makes a pretty good case for how prosecutions can impact societies for the better.

Foiled by Libya

So, this weekend I’ve holed up in front of my computer, wrapping up my paper on the United States and the International Criminal Court.  After spending weeks with piecemeal research and months of hypothesizing, I’m putting everything on paper (once it’s printed).  My paper starts with an introduction to the ICC, followed by page after page of American grievances.  I’ve talked about Clinton and Bush, and I am just working on the supposed lane-change of the Obama administration.  I’m gathering research on the review conference from this summer.

My thesis:  despite the near-fact that the U.S. will not be joining the Rome Statute, the Obama administration should embrace the ICC by working alongside the Court and acknowledging its usefulness.

Yesterday, the Obama administration did just that.

Time to re-work my thesis.

The Rome Statute

This is Uganda-related, but not related to my presence here.  Starting this passed Monday, a two-week conference is going on in Kampala.  The International Criminal Court has called a meeting to review and amend the Rome Statute.  This has a lot of ramifications around the world, even in non-member states like the U.S.

Importantly, President Museveni spoke at the conference and called for a method of provisional immunity.  This comes straight from the villages of northern Uganda (and South Sudan, eastern DRC and CAR) where perhaps the only thing between Africa’s current longest-running war and peace was Joseph Kony’s indictment for war crimes.  This would be a game-changer in a lot of different fields as far as having a chance to achieve peace sooner and can be very important.  The review is also trying to find ways to increase the involvement of states and narrow the amount of impunity.

The important thing, though, is the two tracks of the review conference.  The conference will take stock of how the ICC has been operating and decide how to move forwards to make the court work better as well as consider amendments.  The big whopper is making decisions regarding wars of aggression.  If the definition of “war of aggression” is added to the statute then things like Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla and America’s use of drones might become deemed as war crimes through the use of pre-emptive strikes.  So keep an eye out.