Expanded U.S. Program Includes Rewards for Information Leading to Arrest of ICC Suspects

Earlier this month, the United States announced an expansion of its program offering monetary incentives for information leading to the arrest or conviction of designated non-U.S. nationals wanted on suspicion of committing crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes. The program had previously been limited to individuals indicted by three international or internalized criminal tribunal tribunals: the Special Court for Sierra Leone, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  The new legislation allows the U.S. Department of State to offer rewards of up to $5 million with regard to foreign nationals charged by any international or hybrid criminal tribunal, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), and thus represents an advance in U.S. cooperation with the ICC, to which it is not a party.

The U.S. State Department manages three reward programs: the Rewards for Justice, the War Crimes Rewards, and the Narcotics Rewards programs. Established in 1984 to combat international terrorism, the Rewards for Justice Program (RJP) administered by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security offers anywhere between 1 to 25 million dollars for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone involved in terrorism directed against U.S. persons or property or that is key in disrupting terrorist financing. [State]  The RJP has reportedly paid more than $100 million for information that has prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring to justice those involved in prior acts. In one instance, RJP paid a 30 million dollar award for information that led to the arrest of sons of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Narcotics Rewards Program is a similar effort targeting violators of U.S. narcotics laws and was established in 1986. The Department of State has reportedly paid over $62 million since the program’s launch to individuals who have come forward with information leading to the arrest or conviction of major narcotics traffickers. Its reported “recent successes” include the arrest of Haji Bashir Noorza, described as “an Afghan heroin warlord and Taliban ally.”

The State Department expanded the Rewards for Justice program in 1998 to help track down fugitives wanted for war crimes. Managed by the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the State Department, in its original form the War Crimes Rewards Program (WCRP) authorized rewards for information on individuals wanted specifically by the international criminal tribunals of the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, emphasized the value of this tool in bringing war criminals to justice at the ICTY where to date all 161 indictees have been accounted for. In addition, out of the 92 individuals indicted by the ICTR, only nine remain to be apprehended. Among other former government and militia leaders, the WCRP reportedly aided in efforts to arrest Tharcisse Renzaho, Jean-Baptiste Gatete, and Yusuf John Munyakazi who were wanted for their involvement in the Rwandan genocide. The State Department maintains a list of fugitives from justice on its website which includes these nine individuals who have been indicted by the ICTR.

On January 15, 2013, President Obama expanded this program by signing a bill, Department of State Rewards Program Update and Technical Corrections Act of 2012, S. 2318, as part of the White House Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. Authored by Senator John Kerry (now Secretary of State) and commonly known as the War Crimes Rewards Program, the newly-expanded program offers awards for information on foreign individual’s accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes by any international, mixed or hybrid tribunal. The legislation thus includes indictees of the International Criminal Court (ICC), marking s a step forward in U.S.-ICC relations that has been welcomed by civil society.

On April 3rd of this year additional fugitives were designated for a reward. The Obama Administration offered a bounty of $5 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) chief Joseph Kony and two of his top aides and leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, Sylvestre Mudacumura, who are all facing charges at the ICC.  Military advisors working in Central Africa have said that a reward offer on Kony has been critical to their efforts. Among groups welcoming the expansion, Human Rights First stated that the program “signals an overdue recognition that accountability for the world’s worst crimes really is a common objective shared by the United States and the international community – that the United States has a key role to play in facilitating the important work of the Court.”

Several reasons have been put forth as to why this legislation has potential to help put an end to LRA violence. Until now, one of the primary hurdles faced in apprehending the LRA has been lack of real-time information about the LRA’s whereabouts. This program could encourage defections and mistrust among commanders resulting in a depletion of the LRA’s fighting capacity and also provide valuable information about Kony’s location, plans, and movements. And, Samantha Power, Obama’s top adviser on human rights, has stated that money is a motivating factor for “a lot of the people in the ranks of these armed groups.”