Contribution | Rewards for Justice

30 January 2013 | Michael Poffenberger

Michael Poffenberger is Co-founder & Executive Director at Resolve, based in Washington DC. We asked him a few further questions following our blog about the US government’s amended Rewards for Justice programme (RFJ):

LRA specific

How likely is it that a lower ranking LRA officer will come forward with information? What else would need to happen in conjunction with RFJ (such as reinstatement of amnesty in Uganda) to achieve the goal of arresting Kony and his commanders? How will the rewards process work?  What if someone outside of the LRA comes forward with the intention of using the money for criminal/war mongering purposes – are there provisos or exclusions within RFJ? Would there be a need for witness protection or a similar scheme? What would the reaction be in Uganda if an LRA officer returned home (or relocated) with a substantial amount of money?

International justice and peace

In what ways would RFJ contribute to achieving sustainable peace? What can we say about the US role in international justice, given that they make certain steps such as RFJ but are not signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC) themselves? How does RFJ fit in with regional opinion on what should be done to resolve the LRA/Uganda conflict? What are the broader ethical/philosophical considerations of putting a bounty on individuals? In future cases, is there a risk of people sitting on crime-related information to hold out for potential rewards?

Here are his responses:

  • RFJ is not actually a “bounty,” as it does not seek action by private citizens to actually apprehend Kony. It is just a reward for information, a tool commonly used in law enforcement and human rights protection (in the US, for instance, we have 1-800 numbers you can call to share information about perpetrators of crimes).
  • It is impossible to know what the prospects are that one of Kony’s deputies will come out with info on Kony. The threat of this occurring will itself likely cause internal discord within the LRA. But there are many other scenarios as well — nomadic groups, other militias in the region, and even poachers could try to take advantage of the reward.
  • The program can be administered with or without reinstatement of a legal Amnesty in Uganda. Amnesty is just another incentive that boosts the prospects for its success.
  • Once the apprehension occurs, the State Dept War Crimes Office prepares recommendations for the Secretary of State about who should get rewarded and how much (often multiple parties receive rewards). The Secretary of State makes the final decision. Witness protection (or simply moving people out of the region) is possible and often done in such cases (even just for economic reasons, as was done for refugees who have won the rewards in the past).
  • Other armed groups are in fact eligible to receive the reward so long as they are not sanctioned by the United States, but the Secretary would undoubtedly take that into consideration when deciding how to issue the reward (and for how much). Gov’t officials are NOT eligible.
  • Tough to gauge regional opinion. Smaller-scale rewards programs administered by DOD in the field have had both positive and negative reactions so far, so much depends on how it is actually implemented. Certainly there are ways this could create perverse incentives or cause community discord if not done well.
  • Our sense is that RFJ represents a very positive step forward for the US’ commitment to international justice by making available a proven tool for efforts to track down war criminals. It’s also the first time the US will be statutorily aligning itself in any way with the activities of the ICC.

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