Joseph Kony — Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Image Courtesy of http://in2eastafrica.net
KONY! Some of you might know who this man is, or perhaps even seen images or videos of him on the news a few times. His name is Joseph Kony and he is the world’s most wanted Ugandan warlord. He is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. However, you probably have not heard of Kony’s name before the KONY 2012 Movement. Kony’s crimes against humanity gain international attention on March 5th, 2012 after Jason Russell, a filmmaker and founder of the KONY 2012 Movement, posted a video (below) about him and his organization on YouTube. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, please watch the video below to get a better understanding before you read the rest of this blog.
Kony is responsible for the kidnappings and enslavement of nearly 30,000 children in Northern Uganda since 1986. After the abductions, Kony and his followers brainwash the kidnapped children by indoctrinating them to the “culture of being rebel fighters.” If abductees were caught trying to escape, the punishments is very severe. They would suffer physical beatings and forced to endure starvation — sometimes even worse! Consequently, these cynical punishments often deter abductees from escaping. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult for these kids to escape (to go home to their villages) due to them being stationed deep within the jungle of Northern Uganda. Usually, these “child soldiers” are forced to commit atrocities throughout the region. This involves abducting more young children from their families, destroying the homes of civilians and carrying out assassinations. An estimated 2 million people have been displaced from their homes due to Kony’s terror in Uganda. According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the motives behind Kony’s actions is to simply maintain his “power” as a warlord — he have no other objectives other than that. However, he still insists that the reasons why young kids are recruited into his army is so he can fight and overthrow the Ugandan government, though he rarely conduct combat operations against government forces. In October of 2011, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers to Uganda to “capture or kill” Joseph Kony. However, to this day, Kony is still at large and has not been captured. Due to the vast jungle of Uganda, he is able to successfully evade U.S. Forces and Congolese government forces. Having said all of this, how is Joseph Kony related to my issue of the ongoing ‘conflict minerals’ war in the Congo?
American Special Forces (U.S. Army) conducting missions with Congolese government forces to find Kony and the LRA. Image Courtesy of http://www.anngarrison.com/
DR Congo’s African Forest Elephants. Image Courtesy of http://www.timeslive.co.za
Surprisingly, he has a lot to do with my issue. Although Kony is not invested in the conflict minerals trade, he still indirectly funds the conflict in the Congo. For example, according to VICE News, Kony is involved in the illegal wildlife and ivory trade. VICE reported that he ordered his soldiers to kill African Forest elephants in Eastern Congo for their “bushmeat,” as well as to obtain the elephants’ valuable ivories. Consequently, poaching have killed off roughly 5,000 elephants so far. After Kony’s poachers obtain the elephants’ ivories, they sell these valuable items to other rebel groups, such as M23, in exchange for money. In other occasions, Kony’s armies trade the ivories for used rifles, munitions, and food to feed his army. After the exchanges, the rebel group M23 usually sell the ivories to the black markets. Often the values of the ivories ranges from $3,000 to $3,500 per kilogram; sometimes even more depending if the quality and size of the ivories is acceptable. Any profits that M23 makes is used to buy new weapons from the illegal arms trade in neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and, of course, Uganda. Afterwards, new rifles are distributed to members of M23 or other allied militias throughout DR Congo to defend coltan mining sites from government forces. These types of operations conducted by Kony, M23, and other rebel groups helps fund the ‘conflict minerals’ war, thus contributing to the ongoing violence in Eastern Congo.
So what are the Congolese government doing about this issue? Well, back in July 30th of 2011, the DR Congo Parliament and the International Council of Ministers, passed a legislation called the “Mixed Court Law” to deal with human rights violators (such as M23 and foreign rebel groups: LRA) in Eastern Congo. According to the legislation, individuals who are found guilty by the court of committing atrocities (crimes such as mass kidnappings/human trafficking, murders/genocide, or selling illegal firearms, on a large scale, for profits) against humanity in DR Congo will receive the death penalty. However, not all members of the international human rights organizations agrees with this legislation. Take for instance, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, an International Justice advocacy director spoke out against the death penalty.
“The mixed court can give victims hope that they will finally see justice for the vicious cycle of unpunished violence that has plagued Congo for decades. The legislation holds great promise, but the death penalty provision should be amended or the court risks becoming an instrument of execution.”
– Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, International Justice advocacy director
Although I understand Zeltner’s concerns, I can not agree with her views. Why should the death penalty provisions be amended? If the punishment fits the crime, I do not see anything wrong with it. If Zeltner thinks that the court is at risk of becoming an instrument of execution, then she should review the International Criminal Court’s Human Rights and International Criminal Law. According to that law, since the court is a “Mixed Court”, judges from the international community are authorized to examine the verdicts given by the Mixed Courts to ensure that the punishments are in accordance with the International Criminal Court’s standards and legislation. Countries with high human rights violations and crime rates, like DR Congo, should be given the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want to put the death penalty into effect. That said, I support the DR Congo Parliament’s decision to enact the “Mixed Court Law” 100 percent!
Take a second and imagine what would be the appropriate punishment for Joseph Kony, the world’s most wanted warlord, if he was finally arrested? Let’s say if the Mixed Court finds him guilty, wouldn’t it be reasonable to give Kony the highest form of punishment, which is the death penalty, for he committed numerous atrocities against thousands of young children and have destroyed the lives of millions? I say yes. Although Zeltner might argue for other alternatives to the death penalty such as life imprisonment for the high-level offenders. To that argument, I say then how can DR Congo make progress to reduce violence and deter criminals from carrying out atrocities if their laws does not fit the crime? In the United States, we also have the death penalty and its reserved for the “worst of the worst.” So why should we deny DR Congo’s rights to assert their own laws? That would be very hypocritical of us to do so. Therefore, I believe that the death penalty is justified as an appropriate punishment for the “large-scale” crimes.
Ayres, Christopher. “The International Trade in Conflict Minerals: Coltan.” Critical Perspectives on International Business, 8.2 (2012): 178-193.