The advocacy group Invisible Children is calling on people around the world to take action today by “Covering the Night” to call on the world to bring war criminal Joseph Kony to justice. This is a unique moment in human rights activism. Yet, it has happened before.
Mass atrocities have happened at other times and other places, and outraged citizens around the world have chosen to sound the alarm. In my own past human rights work on Indonesia and Central America, I remember my shock at the revelations of “scorched earth” campaigns leaving over 100,000 dead in Guatemala; and a massacre in East Timor in the early 1990s that exposed a campaign of terror that left 200,000 dead.
Both of these atrocities, and many others, sparked concerned citizens in the United States to mobilize in solidarity with the affected people and take action.
United to End Genocide grew out of the Save Darfur Coalition, formed in 2004, to unite efforts to take action against the genocide in Darfur. The atrocities in Guatemala and East Timor motivated the formation of similar networks — the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala and the East Timor Action Network. What they lacked in social media tools they found in churches, community groups, trade unions and student organizations. And there have been dozens of others.
The numbers of activists working to end atrocities in East Timor were small. A few dozen people attended events and rallies in the early 1990s following the killing of an estimated 200,000 people.
The Darfur rallies were much bigger. An estimated 1 million people converged on the National Mall in 2006 to call attention to the genocide in progress.
But the Invisible Children video, Kony 2012, has reached a new level of awareness. An estimated 100 million people around the world have seen the video. If the spinoff debates in the media, blogs and YouTube responses, including the Kony 2012 II: Beyond Famous video, are any indication, millions were engaged enough by the initial views to seek out more information.
But will they take action? We’ll find out today. Invisible Children did more than just create an awareness-raising tool. They are calling on all of us to move from learning to action — and to demonstrate that today in the Cover the Night activities.
United to End Genocide is well aware of the critiques regarding the content of the video and we are glad the video provoked those important debates. Despite the controversy, one central point remains uncontested: Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court and has yet to be brought to justice. He is, as the video points out, the world’s #1 international war criminal.
Cover the Night won’t bring Kony to justice. But it will point out how many people around the world care that Kony — and war criminals like him — are brought to justice. And this is why participating is so important.
We believe that many of the people who stood in solidarity with the people of Darfur are now going to take action to end the war crimes of Joseph Kony. And as we have come to know so many of you, we believe you will act again, when innocent people are at risk. Perhaps you’ll act again this very month to call attention to the intentional starvation of people in Sudan. Perhaps you’ll act again next month. Action is a renewable resource — the more people get involved, the more actions we take together, the more we get into the habit of standing up to atrocities the stronger we become.
The world did stand silent in the face of past mass atrocities, whose anniversaries we have commemorated this month: Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, the Holocaust. Joining Cover the Night is not just about Kony nor just about the Lord’s Resistance Army — it’s a statement of our commitment to awareness and action everywhere.