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W&L Law Professor Says Kony 2012 Oversimplifies Problem of Child Soldiers

A Washington and Lee University law professor who has written extensively about child soldiers believes the Kony 2012 Campaign unduly simplifies the problem of child soldiering.

A video released this week is part of a charity effort called Kony 2012 that targets the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony, whose Ugandan rebel group is blamed for tens of thousands of mutilations and killings and charged with forcing children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The video has gone viral via social media.

Mark Drumbl, author of Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy, says that the focus on Uganda, where there currently are few child soldiers, hampers efforts to prevent child soldiering everywhere. In Uganda, most child soldiers have been abducted. Worldwide, however, Drumbl notes, “a majority of child soldiers demonstrate some initiative in coming forward and enlisting in fighting forces.”

In the Ugandan case, Drumbl says “a better way to reintegrate former child soldiers, and attend to restorative needs, is to humanize former child soldiers, not present them as devastated mindless victims or deranged cold-blooded automatons programmed to kill.”

Drumbl says that child soldiering is not an African phenomenon. The majority of child soldiers, in fact, live outside the African continent. Further, most of them are older adolescents, not young children, and approximately 40 percent of them are female.

“The saving grace of international humanitarianism can only go so far,” he adds. “The vast majority of LRA child soldiers, after all, exited the LRA not by humanitarian rescue but, instead, by escaping or abandoning the group.”

Drumbl emphasizes that the campaign does demonstrate the power of social media to mobilize and raise awareness.

But this campaign also demonstrates the ability of social media to omit crucial details, sensationalize and reductively simplify,” he says. “For starters, in addition to the horrors inflicted by the LRA, the government of Uganda has also been responsible for human rights abuses in the country, including massive displacement of local populations, and also outside the country.  The video encourages partnering with these forces.

“Second, in calling for armed action, the Kony video exhorts the very militarization that, in turn, has plagued Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan for decades already. The process of peace and justice in Northern Uganda is painstakingly complex, and criminal prosecutions – firmly encouraged by the video – are far from a self-evident solution, especially at the International Criminal Court. In fact, Uganda adopted a national policy of amnesty to end the conflict with the LRA. This policy has worked, since the LRA is so weakened right now. It no longer operates in Uganda.”

Watch a video of Drumbl discussing his book:

News Contact:
Peter Jetton
School of Law Director of Communications
(540) 458-8782