Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

State Impunity in Central Africa

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

State Impunity in Central Africa

Article excerpt

Why has the Arab Spring failed to spread south? One reason is that the U.S. and the I.C.C. turn a blind eye to government abuses.

Two recent events highlight the scourge of rebel leaders in Central Africa who use child soldiers to commit atrocities -- the Kony2012 Internet campaign by the advocacy group, Invisible Children, which supports U.S.-led military action against the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, and the International Criminal Court's guilty verdict against the warlord Thomas Lubanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Accompanying these developments has been widespread praise for two of the international community's preferred means of ending mass conflict -- military intervention and international justice.

Largely overlooked, however, is the fact that, in pursuing rebel leaders in Central Africa, the United States and the I.C.C. have cooperated with the Ugandan and Congolese governments, which themselves are responsible for murder, forced displacement, rape and torture of civilians over the last 15 years. These crimes have been committed by state actors or their rebel proxies. Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots, for example, was heavily backed by Uganda and Rwanda -- a point which the international court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, deliberately ignored in the case against Lubanga because it would have jeopardized his good working relations with Ugandan officials.

Crimes committed by the Ugandan and Congolese governments are hardly a thing of the past. A U.N. report last week detailed human rights violations committed by the Congolese security forces -- including murder, torture and arbitrary arrests -- during last year's volatile election period. Last week the Ugandan government arrested the opposition leader Kizza Besigye, and attacked protesters in Kampala -- the latest in a string of crackdowns since the Ugandan elections early last year.

Many commentators have questioned why the Arab Spring hasn't spread south when many of the same conditions for revolution pertain in Sub-Saharan Africa. One key reason is that governments such as those in Uganda and Congo -- which have faced continuous protests over state violence, corruption, rigged elections and rising commodity prices -- receive unwavering support from international actors such as the United States and the I.C.C., which either turn a blind eye to government atrocities or naively facilitate them. By allying so closely to these regimes, international attempts to bring peace to this region have entrenched state impunity and may ultimately prolong conflict.

When President Obama sent 100 American military advisers to support the Ugandan government's campaign against the Lord's Resistance Army last October, it was the latest move in a long- standing military relationship. …

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