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Senators invite Americans to sign anti-Kony legislation

By Athena Jones, CNN
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Thu April 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senators invite citizens to join in sponsoring legislation against Kony
  • The African warlord is accused of crimes against humanity
  • A video called "Invisible Children" showed Kony's recruitment of child soldiers

Washington (CNN) -- On the eve of a day of action aimed at an African militia leader, a bipartisan group of senators is inviting Americans to sign on as co-sponsors of legislation condemning Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, held a press conference Thursday to unveil a video about the Senate's efforts to remove Kony and his top lieutenants from the battlefield in Central Africa.

The leader of the LRA, who was named a "specially designated global terrorist" by President George W. Bush in 2008, gained worldwide notoriety earlier this year after 30-minute video called "Invisible Children" went viral on the Internet.

A roughly 8-minute video released by the senators Thursday, "Pursuing Joseph Kony: A Message from the United States Senate," is aimed at the millions of young Americans who have become part of the movement to capture Kony. It features Coons and interviews with Inhofe, Leahy and Landrieu, as well as Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts; Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.

"Tomorrow is the Kony 2012 movement's national day of action and so the timing here is deliberate," said Coons, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. "It's an effort to communicate back to millions of people in the United States and around the world to simply say that we in United States Senate hear you, we are listening, we are acting and we are hopeful that everyone who's been interested in and concerned about the issues raised by the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony and the efforts to bring him to justice at the ICC (International Criminal Court) know about the work that's been going on for many years."

Coons said it was the group's hope that the video would get 100 million views -- a reference to the popularity of the "Invisible Children" video. It has been posted on YouTube and will be pushed out through the senators' Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other accounts.

Leahy said until the world knows that such a person will be stopped, there will be other Joseph Konys. Inhofe, who has made 123 country visits to Africa -- a place he has called "the forgotten continent" -- hailed the attention the issue has been getting.

"It's now a policy of the United States to go after and get after this guy and we're going to do it," Inhofe said.

The ICC issued arrest warrants for Kony and other top LRA commanders in 2005. President Barack Obama sent 100 American military advisers to central Africa to help train and assist regional militaries pursuing Kony in 2011.

In the video released Thursday, Isakson, the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee, said Kony was thought to be somewhere in the Central African Republic, South Sudan or the Congo.

He's been "separated somewhat from his soldiers, which is a good sign," Isakson said.

The Georgia Republican visited Uganda recently and met with some of the special advisers sent there by the United States. 

"They're adding a great bit of ability to the troops over there and a great bit of intelligence," he said in the video, but added that finding Kony is difficult due to the terrain and poor infrastructure of the area in which he is believed to be located.

Last month, senators introduced a non-binding resolution condemning Kony and the LRA for committing crimes against humanity and mass atrocities for more than two decades in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan -- including abducting children and turning them into soldiers or sex slaves -- and supporting ongoing efforts by the U.S. government and governments in central Africa to remove Kony and LRA commanders from the battlefield. 

Among other things, the legislation calls on the State and Defense Departments to use existing funds for ongoing programs to encourage non-indicted LRA fighters and abductees to defect from the group and to rehabilitate children and youth affected by Kony's actions.

Thursday's event was aimed at keeping the spotlight on the issue to help senators schedule a vote on the resolution. The hope is to attract ordinary Americans to become what the senators are calling "citizen co-sponsors" of the resolution by signing up online. Those who co-sponsor the resolution before its passage will have their names entered in the Congressional Record.

Both Coons and Landrieu, who wore a red lapel pin reading "Joseph Kony 2012," said their own daughters had asked them about Kony.

"My 14-year-old showed me the Kony 2012 video and said 'Mom, what are you doing to help?'" Landrieu said, explaining that she first learned about the warlord during a trip to Uganda eight years ago.

The Kony 2012 campaign is calling for supporters around the world to join a day of action Friday by wearing t-shirts in support of the movement, sending letters to members of Congress, putting up signs in their yards or posters around their neighborhoods and taking part in community service -- from car washes to beach clean-ups -- in an effort to draw attention to the matter.  "Nothing is too small," says one of the videos the campaign has produced to promote the day.

Coons' subcommittee plans a hearing on Tuesday, April 24, to discuss ongoing efforts to help communities affected by Kony and to capture him.

Legislation was introduced Thursday that would expand the scope of a financial rewards program run by the State Department to include people like Kony, explained an aide to Kerry, who is spearheading the bill. Sens. John Boozman, R-Arkansas; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, as well as Coons, Isakson and Landrieu, co-sponsored the measure.

Coons said the Rewards for Justice Program had been successful in helping to motivate people to give information in the search for Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

"There are folks who are currently in the LRA who we are trying to ... encourage to leave the LRA and this might provide some additional incentive both for current or former LRA fighters to leave" and "provide critical recent intelligence about their movements, their practices and Kony's recent whereabouts," Coons said, adding that providing this kind of information often means risking their lives.

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