WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama signed legislation into law Tuesday expanding the State Department's Rewards for Justice program aimed at capturing the world's most serious human rights abusers, with African warlord Joseph Kony the top target.
The legislation passed Congress with bipartisan support and was strongly backed by the State Department, which sees financial rewards as a key method for tracking down elusive human rights offenders.
Obama said the law will enhance the government's ability to offer reward money for information leading to the arrest or conviction of such individuals as Kony and other leaders of his Lord's Resistance Army, as well as certain commanders of the M23 rebel group in Congo and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
"All of these individuals face charges before international criminal tribunals for horrific acts, including attacks on civilians, murder, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and rape," Obama said in a written statement. "We have made unmistakably clear that the United States is committed to seeing war criminals and other perpetrators of atrocities held accountable for their crimes, and today's legislation can help us achieve that goal."
Samantha Power, Obama's top adviser on human rights, said money is a motivating factor for "a lot of the people in the ranks of these armed groups."
The Rewards for Justice program, established in 1984, gives the secretary of state the authority to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone who plans, commits or attempts international terrorist acts. The new law allows the State Department to publicize and pay rewards for information about people involved in transnational organized crime or foreign nationals wanted by any international criminal tribunal for war crimes or genocide.
Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous attacks in multiple countries, will be the top target of the expanded law, administration officials said. Kony and his ruthless guerrilla group, the Lord's Resistance Army, are responsible for a nearly three-decade campaign of terror in Central Africa that has been marked by child abductions and widespread killings.
The United States designated the Lord's Resistance Army a terrorist organization in 2001.
In 2010, Obama dispatched 100 U.S. troops — mostly Army Special Forces — to Central Africa to advise regional forces in their hunt for Kony, who remains on the run.
Administration officials said the expanded powers would not apply to Syrian President Bashar Assad or members of his government since the regime's top leaders are not currently being sought by an international criminal tribunal.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.