On August 23, the US Treasury Department issued a press release announcing sanctions against Ali and Salim Kony, sons of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, who has been wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2005 for serious crimes committed in northern Uganda. The LRA continues to commit serious crimes against civilians in several neighbouring African countries, but Joseph Kony has not yet been caught. The US action “freezes any of Salim or Ali Kony’s assets within U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with them”.
Salim and Ali Kony hold important positions in the LRA’s hierarchy, says the press release. Salim was head commander of the LRA’s “field headquarters”, before managing the LRA’s financial and logistical networks, whilst Salim is said to be in charge of his father’s security. Ali is seen as a potential successor to Joseph Kony as leader of the LRA. They have both been responsible for enforcing discipline within the LRA, including decisions to punish or kill LRA members who disobey LRA rules or intend to defect. The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says the sanctions address their acting for or on behalf of the LRA and/or their father, and their engaging in the targeting of civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) through the commission of acts of violence, abduction, and forced displacement. Moreover, Kony’s sons seem to have played critical roles in illicit ivory trafficking and elephant poaching, which provides a main source of revenue to finance LRA military activities. The NGOs Enough Project, The Résolve and the controversial Invisible Children (the Resolve and Invisible Children launched a Kony campaign in 2012) have been reporting since 2011 on the importance of the LRA’s ivory trade to its operations.
The ICC has charged Joseph Kony with 33 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including enslavement, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape and forced enlistment of children. Several of his leaders were charged along with him, but only one — Dominic Ongwen, an ex-child soldier — recently came into ICC hands and faces trial in December. The LRA is a rebel group that operated in northern Uganda from at least 1987, before being pushed out and continuing to operate in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR). After grave human rights violations and abuses suffered by the Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, especially in the 1970s, Joseph Kony, an Acholi himself, was determined to overthrow Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to create a state based on his interpretation of the Ten Commandments. However, the ideology and strategy of the LRA remain unclear.
If the Kony case at the ICC seems to be at a standstill, there have still been efforts by the international community. In 2008, following Kony’s refusal to sign a peace agreement and various LRA attacks on villages in the DRC and CAR, the US Congress adopted in 2010 the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. This Act made it a policy to provide support for transitional justice in northern Uganda and to “provide political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters”.
The US still has troops supporting an African Union unit in the CAR to track Kony. Some LRA members have been apprehended and sent to Uganda, where almost all have been granted amnesty.
As conflict in the CAR intensified, US President Barack Obama issued an executive order on May 12, 2014 to address the widespread violence and atrocities in that country. This executive order expressly authorizes the Treasury to impose sanctions on those “who threaten the peace, security, or stability of the CAR, obstruct the peace process in the CAR, recruit child soldiers, target peacekeepers, fuel the conflict in the CAR through the illicit trade of natural resources or are responsible for human rights abuses or other atrocities in the CAR”. Pursuant to this executive order, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers and enforces economic sanctions programmes primarily against countries and groups of individuals such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers, is responsible for pronouncing these sanctions.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) also listed Ali and Salim Kony in a sanctions list pursuant to resolution 2262 (2016) for their involvement in acts that threaten the peace and security of the CAR and particularly for supporting the LRA through the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources in and from the CAR.
It remains difficult to foresee the effect the US sanctions announcement will have on the LRA, but the aggressive actions that the OFAC promises to take to target their finances, backed by the Security Council committee concerning the CAR, could in the long term affect the LRA’s resources and hence its actions.