Wikileaks And Kony 2012: Does the U.S. Allow The Ugandan Government To Commit War Crimes?

on 20 March, 2012

In the piece from last week on the ‘incisive’ body of Kony 2012 coverage produced by herds of journalists in the days after the viral video was released, I cited several leaked diplomatic cables, published by Wikileaks, which provide some insight on the U.S. role in the hunt for Kony.

Unsurprisingly, the massive cache of leaks does provide valuable, direct insight on many matters related to the content of Kony 2012. So, as a follow-up to last week’s article, here’s a roundup of some more noteworthy information, gathered from a handful of the cables, on the hunt for Kony and on Invisible Children.

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Do we allow the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) – the Ugandan military – to commit war crimes while using U.S. intelligence or support in the hunt for Joseph Kony?

Of the batch examined, one secret cable from December 2009 is, perhaps, the most troubling. In it, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, describes a meeting between the U.S. mission in Uganda and the Ugandan Minister of Defense, Crispus Kiyonga.

Here’s an excerpt, with emphasis added to key sentences:

The U.S. Mission received verbal assurances from the Ugandan Minister of Defense, Dr. Crispus Kiyonga, that Uganda uses intelligence provided by the U.S. to conduct military operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in compliance with Ugandan law and the law of armed conflict. This pledge includes the principles of proportionality, distinction, and humane treatment of captured combatants…

Furthermore, Uganda understands the need to consult with the U.S. in advance if the UPDF intends to use U.S.-supplied intelligence to engage in operations not governed by the law of armed conflict.

In very basic terms, the UPDF was not allowed to use U.S. intelligence for operations that would violate the law of armed conflict, unless the U.S. gave the UPDF some sort of permission to do so in advance.

While this cable makes it clear that our intelligence sharing agreement placed some restraints on the conduct of the UPDF, the fact that the UPDF’s operations were not necessarily tethered to being governed by the law of armed conflict is disconcerting – again, in effect, violations of the law of armed conflict were not categorically forbidden.

While this somewhat unprincipled cable dates back to late 2009, it certainly does raise serious questions about the nature of our support for UPDF operations against Kony and the LRA today.

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The Conduct of the UPDF in the Hunt for Kony

All that said, ambassador Lanier’s cable indicates that, in spite of the glaring loophole mentioned above, the UPDF “performed under both the laws of Uganda and the law of armed conflict,” throughout Operation Lightning Thunder, its offensive against the LRA in 2009.

The UPDF’s “professionalism” throughout these operations is praised by a prominent NGO’s “Uganda-based field researcher” in another secret cable from November 2009, and by a UN Mission to the Congo Senior Advisor in a secret cable from that August.

It would be misleading to suggest that restraints imposed on the UPDF by our intelligence sharing agreement and our support were at the root of their alleged professionalism during these operations. A secret cable from March 2009 indicates that “the absence of verified reports of  [UPDF] human rights abuses” during this period may have had to do with the ambitions of Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni.

He had a clear interest in building trust with the governments of the countries his troops were intervening in, and he was “fixated on ensuring that his enemies in the diaspora [did] not try to have him charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.”

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Invisible Children

From February 2007 to September 2009, Invisible Children is mentioned in a dozen of the leaked State Department cables. These cables shed light on a positive, sometimes collaborative, relationship between the State Department and Invisible Children.

For instance, representatives from Invisible Children — including CEO, Ben Keesey — had a meeting with former US Ambassador to Uganda, Steven Browning, in 2007. In March 2009 a USAID initiativeprovided support for [an Invisible Children] community advocacy campaign” in Uganda.

Former ambassador Browning also acknowledged the role some of Invisible Children’s advocacy campaigns played in the public promotion of Operation Lightning Thunder.

Note, however, that it’s not unusual for the State Department to give the activities of NGO’s consideration and that meetings with NGO’s also do not appear to be particularly uncommon.

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That wraps up this roundup. Nearly 600 cables mention the LRA, so this article barely scratches the surface. You should look through them.

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