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Rogue justice

January 30, 2006

EVEN IN THE ROGUES' GALLERY of African warlords, it's hard to find a criminal worse than Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. His thugs have terrorized northern Uganda for 20 years with tactics that include chopping off limbs, murdering, raping, pillaging, kidnapping children by the thousands to be slaves and soldiers and, more recently, targeting aid workers.

The United States has Kony on its terrorist list and, to its credit, has been giving aid to the Ugandan military units trying to stop him. So far, however, the corrupt and abusive Ugandan military has been ineffective, and even when it does successfully harass Kony and his men, they simply scatter to Sudan or Congo, where their forces killed eight U.N. peacekeepers last Monday.

Enter the new International Criminal Court, which unsealed its first-ever arrest warrants against Kony and four associates in October -- on 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity. But don't expect justice anytime soon. A new report by the International Crisis Group says Kony is probably hiding out in southern Sudan, where he has been given sanctuary by the Sudanese government.

The court can issue warrants, but the only body with the power to arrest is the international community -- in reality, everybody and nobody. The nations that crusaded for the establishment of the court, especially France and Britain, have yet to discuss who should be responsible for arresting brutes such as Kony, let alone devise a plan for putting them on trial. Even though the U.S. opposed the creation of the court (after failing to obtain preemptive immunity for U.S. soldiers and politicians), Washington still has a responsibility to help bring war criminals to justice. The Sudanese have reportedly become more forthcoming with intelligence about terrorism; why not pressure Khartoum to cut off Kony?

Having an international court issue indictments, thus raising hopes of justice and accountability, only to let suspected war criminals continue their business as usual strengthens their arrogant faith in impunity and disrespect for the rule of law. True, the mere fact of an arrest warrant sends a moral message, emboldens some witnesses, makes collaborators nervous and bars suspects from international travel. But letting suspects roam at large undermines the court's credibility.

Kony is the first real test of the court. If the world lacks the will to bring even a man such as him to its dock, justice for Ugandans -- and the ideal of universal justice -- will remain a fantasy.

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