Following Uganda's announcement that it is suspending its hunt for Joseph Kony, the State Department said Wednesday that it is putting a $5 million bounty on the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader.
The Ugandan military halted its search for Kony this week after rebels took over the government of the Central African Republic, where Kony is believed to be hiding. The State Department held a special press briefing Wednesday to announce the expansion of its War Crime Rewards Program to include Kony, LRA leaders Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, and the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Sylvestre Mudacumura.
"We act today so that there can be justice for the innocent men, women, and children who have been subjected to mass murder, to rape, to amputation, enslavement, and other atrocities," said Ambassador at Large Stephen Rapp, head of the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice.
The program, which was started in 1998, had been focused on bringing to justice those indicted by the three international tribunals that were created for the former Yugoslavia, for Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Over the past two years alone, State has paid out more than $5 million to 14 different recipients, Rapp said
But as those cases neared completion, State sought authority to go after any indicted international war criminals. The department succeeded in getting new legislation passed, sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and then Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last year.
"To that end, the expanded program now targets the alleged perpetrators of the worst atrocities, some of whom have evaded justice for more than a decade," Rapp said. "The LRA is one of the world's most brutal armed groups and has survived for over 20 years by abducting women and children and forcing them to serve as porters, sex slaves, and fighters."
Don Yamamoto, the acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, acknowledged that the U.S. forces assisting the Ugandan military in their hunt for Kony are also suspending their activities, but he promised the United States would continue the search using other means.
"The United States remains very committed to the counter-LRA program, along with our partners. And of course, right now is -- even though we've taken a pause because of the developments in Bangui and how the situation there is unfolding -- is remain committed," he said. "And we're going to use all facilities and all technology at our hands to try to find and locate Kony and his group."
Kerry wrote about the ongoing hunt for Kony and other LRA leaders in a Wednesday op-ed in the Huffington Post.
"I refuse to accept a world where those responsible for crimes of this magnitude live in impunity. We will keep working to hold them accountable and deliver justice to all the people they have hurt. Nowhere will thugs and war criminals who terrorize children be safe -- not for long anyways," he said. "And starting today, their lives on the run -- always looking over their shoulder -- include an even greater prize on their head."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said in a Wednesday statement that he hoped the search for Kony would be resumed soon.
"Joseph Kony and his commanders in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are war criminals whose heinous acts have wreaked havoc across Central Africa for the last 25 years. It is important that they are brought to justice for unconscionable crimes against humanity, even as the political situation in the Central African Republic has destabilized," he said. "In expanding its Rewards for Justice program today to include a $5 million reward for the apprehension of Kony and other LRA leaders, the United States has reasserted its commitment to bringing their reign of terror in the region to an end."
STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images