Viral Video and International Justice
By: Guest Authors
By Dr. Samuel S. Stanton, Jr.
Can a viral video on the internet bring the world’s most wanted criminal to justice? This question is at the core of a video viewed more than 77 million times during the last week.
Who is this most wanted criminal, and should people in the United States care?
His name is Joseph Kony. The video campaign, sponsored by Invisible Children, Inc., aims to raise global awareness of Kony. The video in question and more information can be found at Kony2012.com. The central aim of the Kony2012.com campaign is to make Joseph Kony infamous in as short a time span as possible to accomplish the goals of (1) keeping U.S. policymakers from losing sight of the agenda begun under legislation introduced in 2009 by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) and (2) forcing President Obama to maintain a focus on using U.S. troops to assist in capturing Kony during an election year—when use of military force abroad is not necessarily something a majority of the voting population supports.
Critics of the campaign justly point out that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Kony is weaker than it has ever been. According to multiple sources, the LRA now numbers between 150 to 300 fighters, but was once in the thousands and often double in active strength by the abduction and use of child soldiers. Today, Kony finds little support among the Acholi people of Uganda that spawned his movement. Kony and the LRA do not operate openly in Uganda either, instead hiding in chaotic areas of northern and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in the even more dysfunctional socio-political realm that is the Central African Republic.
Why then, do people need to take notice?
The answer is not in what Kony is doing today. The answer lies in 20 years of Kony’s leadership of the LRA after the Ugandan Bush War (1981-1986) that left Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda. Between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, Kony was responsible for authorizing and leading the way in the abduction of over 30,000 children used as sex slaves, child soldiers, or killed for not cooperating. These children include Sudanese refugees fleeing from the fighting in what is now South Sudan, internally displaced Ugandan children in the northern provinces of Uganda, and children captured in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The known atrocities committed by the LRA under Kony led to his being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) not once but twice. And, when the ICC created its list of the top 25 criminals in the world in 2002 and issued international warrants for their capture, Joseph Kony was (and remains) number one on that list.
Thanks to campaigns led by concerned activists and championed by Sen. Inhofe, the U.S. legislature passed a bill for rebuilding and providing development assistance to Uganda. Kony has not operated in these areas since the middle of the last decade. But, as part of the effort, President Obama authorized 100 special operations soldiers to be sent as advisors, trainers, and technical support for assisting legitimate government forces in the region in an effort to track down and capture Kony. This mission is one for which special operations troops are well qualified; in fact, this type of mission is one of the primary reasons for the original organization of the Green Berets. This type of mission is not a major military movement, nor is it an “invasion;” congressional support was already given in the The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. Note that it did take two years after passage of this law before President Obama authorized use of military advisors.
What is gained by making Joseph Kony infamous? Hopefully this will lead to a surge in efforts to bring him to justice. The truth is that Kony is hiding and trying to rebuild.
Why this video now? Why wasn’t it produced 10 years ago, when Kony was a greater imminent threat to Ugandans and to children across central Africa?
The possibility does exist that Invisible Children, Inc. is using this effort to raise some funds for its organization. On the other hand, Invisible Children, Inc. is a legitimate group with legitimate costs. And Jason Russell, the organizer of the effort, realizes that his video can guilt trip (justifiably) millions of people who have long ignored this violence. After all, how many readers of this article knew who Joseph Kony was before reading it or watching Jason Russell’s video?
The most likely possibility is that Russell is genuine in his desire to make Kony infamous and mobilize popular support to engage policy makers in the United States so the fire will not dim in the effort to bring to justice one of mankind’s truly evil humans.
— Dr. Samuel S. Stanton, Jr. is an associate professor of political science at Grove City College and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values.