Google+ Hangout on War Crimes Issues

Stephen J. Rapp
Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues 
Washington, DC
April 10, 2013


Sarah Pray: Good morning everyone, and welcome to this Google+ Hangout, hosted by the Office of Global Criminal Justice. My name is Sarah Pray from the Open Society Foundation and we have four distinguished, fantastic panelists for you this morning. We’re going to start with Ambassador Stephen Rapp. We also are very privileged to have the ICC Chief Prosecutor Madame Fatou Bensouda with us and two of my colleagues from civil society: Mark Quarterman who is the Director of Research for the Enough Project and Lisa Dougan who is the Director of Civic Engagement for Invisible Children. As many of you are likely aware, on January 15th of this year the War Crimes Rewards Program was expanded and I think we’re going to kick off the conversation with Ambassador Rapp telling us a little about this expansion and what it means for the global fight to end impunity. So Ambassador Rapp, turn it to you?

Ambassador Stephen Rapp: Yes good to be on today Sarah. As you said, in January we had a new law signed by President Obama, legislation that had cleared Congress supported by Senator Kerry, now Secretary Kerry, now my boss, and also by Republicans such as Congressman Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That legislation permitted us to add to those on whom we offer rewards -- we’ve been, since 1998, able to offer rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest, the transfer, or the conviction of individuals that are charged at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda, or Yugoslavia, or the special court for Sierra Leone. This law allowed us to add to that list persons who were indicted by other international courts or by hybrid or mixed courts, and it was specifically intended that we would be able to do that with people that are sought by the ICC. And of course, the ICC for more than the last six years has sought the arrest of Joseph Kony, and Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen of the Lord’s Resistance Army, alleged to be responsible for mass atrocities in Uganda, DRC, in the Central African Republic, and elsewhere in Central Africa. And we’ve now gone through the process of adding those three individuals to our list and publicizing rewards. We’ve also intended to add Bosco Ntaganda and Sylvestre Mudacumura, who’ve both been charged by the ICC for crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course Bosco turned himself in at our embassy in Kigali, Rwanda on the 18th of March and surrendered to the Hague on the 22nd, and is now awaiting confirmation in some detention at the ICC. Sylvestre Mudacumura is alleged to be the leader of a militia group, the FDLR, associated with those responsible for the Rwandan genocide in 1994, who went into the Congo thereafter. He’s charged by the ICC. We’ve added him to the list as well. We have this program where people can contact us confidentially, they can communicate with our embassies and a way to talk with them can be set up where their identities won’t be endangered. They can also contact us through the website of the State Department If you do that, we’ll look at that information and be in touch, and then develop that with other intelligence in ways that can help bring these individuals to justice. It’s important to note this is not a bounty, it’s not a dead or alive kind of Old West reward. This is information leading to the arrest, the transfer, or the conviction of these individuals that have been charged by these international or internationalized courts. And no money is paid before one of those things has happened. And so, if the information is provided today and it helps make possible an arrest next year, then we’ll look back at the information and how it was used to build that operation and consider and provide for a reward that would be then delivered to the individual confidentially. Nothing in advance and only if in fact we’ve been able to bring this individual in. We see this as something that can particularly aid our efforts to bring Joseph Kony and his group, the commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to justice. People are familiar with the fact that the U.S. is strongly engaged with regional militaries in the countries that are threatened to chase Kony and bring him in and to neutralize the Lord’s Resistance Army that continues to plague this region. But that operation needs intelligence. It needs people close to Kony that are prepared to get the information out in a very timely way to those that can act on it. We’ve had a lot of people that have come out as defectors, and one of the good parts of the operation to date has been the way that materials, leaflets are distributed and people are encouraged to come to safe places where they can defect and the message is clear that for those lower and mid-level people there’s not going to be any risk of prosecution. But we also want others to realize it’s not just a matter of getting out and being safe, which of course is critically important in diminishing the force that Kony has; it’s also bringing out the information and finding ways to communicate it very, very quickly so that it can be used by those with whom we’re working and advising in the region to actually effect the arrest and transfer of these individuals so that they can face their accusers in a court of law, before the ICC and The Hague. Great to be on with everybody today and I look forward to answering questions and look forward to the comments, and it’s great to see Fatou Bensouda who was here in Washington last week and was personally present. I was proud to see her in the State Department, present when we announced this expansion of our rewards program and the designation of these additional individuals.

Sarah Pray: Thank you Ambassador Rapp and you’ve provided the perfect segue to the question of how this will impact Madame Prosecutor’s work in the International Criminal Court. So I’m hoping Madame Prosecutor that you would be willing to discuss how this expansion will affect your work seeking accountability in Congo and any future work there and with the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Fatou Bensouda: Well thank you very much. Good afternoon everyone, Ambassador Rapp, Good afternoon. I’m very glad to be participating in this Google Hangout and also equally glad that I was there with you last week in Washington to participate when you launched this program, especially now extended to the ICC fugitives. Trials can only start if you have persons who are wanted by the court, before the court. And for people like Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and the two that we’ve lost in the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo Sylvestre Mudacumura. Arrest warrants have been out for Joseph Kony and his group since 2004. And for Mudacumura it is only recent, but it all comes down to the same thing that we need these people before the court for the court to be able to effectively carry out its mandate. So this is a development that we welcome greatly. The fact that it is now extended to our fugitives and that it is up to $5 million for information leading to their arrests. And I am emphasizing information leading to their arrests or to their conviction because that means that they have to be brought to the court alive, and this is very important. I am glad that you emphasized that it is not a bounty, that it is actually a reward for information. And that it is not looking to just finding them to kill them, but actually to get them arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court in the case of those fugitives that we want. This is absolutely crucial. This is absolutely important for the role of the Court and last week when I was in Washington I expressed the appreciation of the International Criminal Court, but especially of my office for this development --The fact that ICC fugitives can now be part of this reward program. We welcome it very much and we know that it is going to definitely provide incentives for information and that this is going to lead to the arrest of people who have allegedly committed very grave crimes. We also welcome the fact that the alleged victims of these crimes will finally see that those who are going to be held responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice. So this is a very welcome development indeed.

Sarah Pray: Thank you Madame Prosecutor. The Enough Project and Invisible Children are both well known for their efforts to elevate the issue of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, so I’m hoping we can turn to Mark and Lisa to get your reactions. Mark, perhaps we’ll start with you? Any comments you have on the expansion of the rewards program?

Mark Quarterman: I think it’s a very welcome development. I’d like to echo Prosecutor Bensouda’s statement about it, saying that this is one more step to bringing about justice, to bringing these people who have had arrest warrants against them for some time to justice. I welcome the step by the United States and think it’s an important contribution to international justice and to ending impunity. I’d just like to thank you Sarah though for hosting us, to Ambassador Rapp in the State Department for providing this opportunity. It’s wonderful to see Prosecutor Bensouda again and of course to be with our close partners Invisible Children as well. But no, we see this as a very useful step and look forward to it bearing fruit.

Sarah Pray: Great. Lisa, anything you would like to say, anything to add?

Lisa Dougan: Yeah, thank you so much and first I want to say thank you to the State Department, Ambassador Rapp, Madame Prosecutor. It’s really a pleasure to be with you all and to be with our colleagues at the Enough Project. We also welcome this expansion and we’re very celebratory when we were able to hear the announcement that top LRA commanders were added to the War Crimes Rewards Program. For most of last year in 2012, as part of our Kony 2012 campaign, we actually had thousands of activists across the United States that were lobbying their members of Congress to see the passage of legislation that enabled this expansion. They lobbied both in-district and came to Washington, D.C. and lobbied on the Hill. So we were very excited and encouraged by last week’s announcement and we see it as another encouraging sign that the administration is committed to seeing an end to LRA violence and that voices of people who want to see this conflict come to an end are being heard in Washington. I would say that while we very much see this new tool as having a lot of potential to bring information about Kony’s location and top LRA commanders location to lead to their arrest, as well as potentially encouraging the defection of lower-level commanders and combatants. And we do see it as one tool within a comprehensive effort that is all needed. And Ambassador, you alluded to the fact that the U.S. has been engaged in a comprehensive counter-LRA effort that is really reaping positive results: 93% reduction in LRA killings since 2010, huge reductions in the abductions of civilians as well as an increase in defections, so the comprehensive strategy of the U.S. to address this in collaboration with the African Union and regional governments is really working. We’d really love to see the implementation of this War Crimes Reward Program in tandem with a sustained, committed comprehensive effort and we think that all those things together could mean that an end to LRA violence is very near, bringing Joseph Kony to justice is very near, and that could be a victory first for communities on the ground, but also for the United States and for international justice as a whole and could be part of the legacy of the Obama administration. So I’ll just end by saying that last year 3.7 million people signed the Kony 2012 pledge, committing to keep their leaders accountable to seeing an end to LRA violence and bringing Joseph Kony to justice. At the end of last year 10,000 people gathered in Washington to turn the volume up on that message and to renew their commitment and call on leaders to stay engaged. And so I just want to say on behalf of those 3.7 million and the 10 million that came to Washington that we’re very grateful for these new developments and we urge the administration to stay committed and ensure that the LRA doesn’t receive safe haven in areas like Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and to stay in the effort, keep the mission going until LRA violence finally ends. Thank you very much for allowing us to be here.

Sarah Pray: Thanks Lisa. So Ambassador Rapp, the first question to you. Lisa just alluded to the suspected location of Joseph Kony in the Central African Republic. I’m wondering if you could comment on how this program will potentially improve the chances of finding him considering not only the remoteness of where he is suspected to be, but also the current political developments in the C.A.R?

Ambassador Rapp: Well on the first point, we want to get the news about it, and we’ll be distributing information in the affected areas in the same way that we earlier distributed information to encourage defections, which we certainly will also continue to do. And looking for people to provide us, in whatever way is possible, information that can really help develop operations that will make an arrest possible. So we see this as essential and we’ve already seen that this kind of information, in the Bosco Ntaganda case, the fact that it was at least out there that we were going to make that designation led to a situation where an individual didn’t know who he could trust anymore. It became a situation that ended up that an individual coming and standing up to the charges against him. But now on the question of the Central African Republic, and everyone that’s followed this has seen how there has been an illegal change of government in the Central African Republic. This armed movement, a coalition of various armed forces, has taken control of Bangui. That does create challenges. On one hand, that group has signaled it doesn’t want to see foreign forces operating within the country, but on the other hand it’s signaled that it wants to see the end of Joseph Kony, that its members recognize this causes problems for their fellow citizens, particularly in the eastern part of the country. At this time, we are working with our allies in the region, who are taking the lead in this area. There’s the community, the economic community of Central African States, that’s had meetings in N’Djamena in Chad. The African Union, which of course supported the effort on Kony and pushed the establishment of a regional task force also taking a hand to ensure the constitutional and legal government is restored in the C.A.R. And that’s a condition for engagement of various countries with the military and other forces there. This is ongoing but certainly it involves making sure that there is promises of early elections, and then in the period between now and elections, that there is a broad based government that follows the patterns set by the Libreville Accords that were implemented prior to the change of control in Bangui, in which Nicholas Tiangaye was appointed as Prime Minister by President Bozize under that agreement. We look for a similar government, most likely under his leadership to be appointed as well that would be constitutional and legal and that we could work with to continue the Kony efforts. We’re convinced that there is common ground on this issue and no one in the C.A.R. wants to see the continued threat of Joseph Kony. So we’re hopeful that within a brief period of time, active operations can continue. As it stands right now, the Ugandan forces that have been present in the C.A.R. as part of this operation, in collaboration with the government of the C.A.R., remain there but have stood down from active operations, and we’ve continued our presence in an advisory capacity but not in terms of active operations. We hope that it will soon be possible to recommence those operations in collaboration with a constitutional and legal government in the C.A.R., because this is obviously a very important front in this fight and a place that everyone knows Kony and others have often found refuge and committed their acts against civilian populations.

Sarah Pray: Thank you Ambassador. Recognizing that we only have a few minutes left, so perhaps one more question for Madame Prosecutor and then a last question for my civil society colleagues. Madame Prosecutor, you mentioned how many years it has been since the ICC work in Congo began. I’m wondering if you could talk a little about that. Why is the Congo context different? And how you see this rewards for justice program potentially changing the way that the ICC operates its Congo cases.

Fatou Bensouda: I think it is important to place this within the wider discussion on arrests. We need arrest strategies to ensure perpetrators face justice and that victims will find redress. It will also impact the credibility and legitimacy of the International Criminal Court and the systems of justice that has been set up by 120 states in Rome. I believe all actors have a role to play. States in devising strategies, executing arrest warrants, having nonessential contacts with ICC fugitives, and civil society also have a role in bringing awareness and pushing states to act.

Sarah Pray: Thank you. Mark and Lisa, I know that Ambassador Rapp’s team is planning on putting out posters and matchbooks and getting the word out about this program. Are either of your groups going to publicize this and if so, how?

Mark Quarterman: Lisa maybe I’ll defer to you first because you have an extensive project aimed at defection among other things in Uganda and then I’ll chip in after.

Lisa Dougan: Sure, and I can give maybe a quick answer to that. There are some of my colleagues at Invisible Children who spend significant amounts of time on the ground working with local civil society and could speak better to it. I think that one thing that we really value is ensuring that expectations are set appropriately amongst the local communities and that there is clear communication with civil society and it’s something that I know we’ve been in touch with the State Department about before and so we think a lot of what we would like to try and do it and ensure that there is appropriate and through communication with local communities about what this is and isn’t, because I think a lot of times these communities are so hungry for security, so hungry for an end to this violence that they may jump on things assuming that it’s more of a silver bullet than it might be. So I think with our work on the ground, the network of civil society we’re in communication with regularly, our work with FM radio programs and ‘come home’ messaging, I think those will certainly play a part in helping people understand what this is, how they might be able to contribute, getting the word out, but then also what it isn’t to so expectations are set appropriately.

Mark Quarterman: I’d just like to say that I think Invisible Children is doing great work on the ground and can play a useful role in this. I’d like to go back to what Madame Bensouda said though and say that this is part of a much larger context involving the credibility of international criminal justice and the credibility of the International Criminal Court. Of course the court does not have a police force that it can send out to arrest fugitives, so it has to rely on national governments and their justice systems to carry this out. This is extremely difficult. We have to recognize we are at the early stages of the international criminal justice movement and we are seeing a number of hiccups, but rewards for justice can add more incentive for cooperation. And really top to bottom, it’s partly having local communities cooperate but it’s also having governments cooperate to prevent fugitives, high and low, in their countries from moving across borders, from finding refuge in places, from not being arrested when there are standing arrest warrants. This is a useful step, I applaud the U.S. for taking this step, but there is-we’re still climbing a very high mountain and at the very early stages of it. One last thing I’d like to say too is I welcome this especially because of this one more step of U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court. I’d like to make a pitch for the U.S. ratifying the Rome Statute and fully becoming a member of the International Criminal Court, but I really applaud this important step that the State Department, the U.S. government, and Ambassador Rapp have made.

Sarah Pray: Thank you Lisa and Mark. So we’ve come to the end of our time. I’m wondering if Madame Prosecutor or Ambassador Rapp you have any final words they want to share with us? Madame Prosecutor?

Fatou Bensouda: It’s just to really re-emphasize what has been said, and particularly the cooperation that we are receiving from the U.S government. I also want to thank you for applauding that, as I said at the beginning we are very much appreciative of this. We are very much appreciative of the fact that ICC fugitive are part of this rewards program and we are really, as I said, very hopeful that this will quickly yield results for these people to be brought to-before the ICC and be brought to justice.

Sarah Pray: Hear Hear! Ambassador Rapp, the final word is yours.

Ambassador Rapp: Well let me say-echo what Mark said earlier, that this is really part of sending a message that there will be accountability for mass atrocities, that there are consequences. There will be prosecutions and by sending that message to deter these crimes and preventing others from falling victim to them. I do want to emphasize again that this is just one part of a comprehensive approach. As we heard -the approach we have taken to date has reduced the number of attacks against civilians, the number of killings. It has had positive effects to date but it will only really have permanent positive effects if we can eliminate this threat. I also want to note that in terms of the funds here, this is just one part of the ways in which the United States supports development and the populations in these areas. Of course we recall that it was in May of 2010 that Congress passed legislation that called for effective action against the Lord’s Resistance army, but also the reconstruction of northern Uganda. So people say spend the money on something else, we’re doing that as well, we’re doing those things but if we’re going to be able to have security, and people know that what they build will be safe and secure for future and that they and their families are safe and secure from the kind of attacks and abductions that make people huddle at night at peril from falling victim to Kony. Unless we have that kind of security, it’s very difficult to have development and a quality of life. And so, these things have to go hand in hand but now I think the key part of this is, let’s bring Joseph Kony to justice and Odhiambo Ongwen, and Mudacumura as well.

Sarah Pray: Thank you Ambassador Rapp. Well thank you all for joining us! Thanks to Enough and Invisible Children for your good work. Thank you Madame Prosecutor for joining us. And of course Ambassador Rapp and to the Office of Global Criminal Justice, thank you very much for hosting this and for this new exciting development. I know all of us in civil society welcome it and can’t wait to see what happens. So thank you all for joining and thanks to those of you off in the Internet land for participating in this.

Ambassador Rapp: For hanging out with us!