For over 25 years, Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have caused untold pain to children and families in Central Africa. The rebel group is responsible for a litany of human rights violations including abduction, rape, torture and murder. Under orders from Kony, the LRA has abducted children, turning the girls into concubines and the boys into child soldiers forcing them back into their villages to torture and kill their relatives.
The LRA's crimes number in the thousands. Thankfully, the group's soldiers only number in the low hundreds now. But Kony is still out there. And he is still committing atrocities.
I've had the opportunity to travel to the northern Uganda where at the time, the LRA was actively terrorizing villagers, abducting kids to serve as child soldiers and sending them back to their village to murder and mutilate their families and neighbors. This was at a time when the LRA was extremely active in that area. At the height of the conflict, nearly two million people in northern Uganda were displaced. 66,000, mostly children, were abducted.
The LRA has since been forced to operate on the run, hiding and constantly moving in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.
In recent years, human rights groups and documentary makers have shined a light on the suffering Kony has inflicted on the region, most notably the "Kony 2012" documentary that was a viral phenomenon earlier this year. Those efforts continue to raise awareness of the LRA here in the U.S., especially among high school and college students, and have inspired thousands of Americans to get involved and try to help people thousands of miles from home in a region they have never even visited.
While the ability of the LRA to carry out attacks has been dramatically reduced, there has been a recent uptick in LRA activity in central Africa. It is imperative for the security of the region, and the protection of basic human rights, that we capture Kony and end the LRA's carnage that continues throughout the region. That's why Congress needs to pass the bill Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and I introduced that expands the State Department's Rewards for Justice program to make it applicable to anyone who offers information that leads to the arrest or conviction of Joseph Kony.
Currently the Department of State's Rewards for Justice program only grants the Secretary of State authority to provide financial rewards in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of criminals wanted for terrorism, narcotics trafficking and anyone indicted in the three international criminal tribunals--Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. Our bill will expand the program to provide incentives for offering information for individuals wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide; giving us one more instrument to help track this elusive war criminal down.
Let's not let the search for Kony slip away now that the initial buzz "Kony 2012" created has subsided. If we can pass this bipartisan bill, we can help keep the pressure on to bring Kony to justice, save lives and stabilize the region.