US: Act to end Lord's Resistance Army Violence in Central Africa


(Washington, DC) - President Barack Obama should move swiftly to implement landmark legislation he signed today committing the US to help civilians in central Africa threatened by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a coalition of 49 human rights, humanitarian, and faith-based groups said today. The rebel group has carried out one of the world's longest-running and most brutal insurgencies.

The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 was signed into law during a White House ceremony today that included key members of Congress and representatives of civil society organizations. It states that it is US policy to support efforts "to protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining LRA fighters." It also requires President Obama to develop a comprehensive, multilateral strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from LRA attacks and take steps to permanently stop the rebel group's violence. Furthermore, it calls on the United States to increase humanitarian assistance to countries currently affected by LRA violence and to support economic recovery and transitional justice efforts in Uganda.

The coalition of supporting organizations includes groups in Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan - where communities face ongoing attacks by the LRA - as well as in Uganda, where the conflict originated.

Human Rights defenders in Niangara, a town in northern Congo deeply affected by recent LRA attacks, in a public letter to President Obama published last week, pleaded for concrete and urgent action against the LRA. "We feel forgotten and abandoned. Our suffering seems to bring little attention from the international community or our own government," the letter says. "We live each day with the fear of more LRA attacks. What chance do we have if no one hears our cries and if no one comes to our aid?"

The law was introduced into the US Senate and House of Representatives in May 2009, and has since become the most widely supported Africa-specific legislation in recent Congressional history. The law was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 65 Senators and 201 Representatives, representing 49 states and 90% of US citizens. Tens of thousands of Americans mobilized in support of the legislation, participating in hundreds of meetings with Congressional offices across the country.

"For years civilians in central Africa have suffered immensely from LRA violence," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This legislation gives President Obama a clear mandate to work with international and national partners to apprehend indicted LRA commanders as part of a comprehensive strategy to permanently stop LRA atrocities."

"President Obama should move swiftly to take advantage of this historic opportunity to help bring closure to one of the worst human rights crises of our day," added Van Woudenberg.

LRA violence has plagued central Africa for more than two decades. In northern Uganda, thousands of civilians were killed and nearly two million displaced by the conflict between the rebels and the Ugandan government. In July 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the senior leaders of the LRA for crimes they committed in northern Uganda, but the suspects remain at large. Though the rebel group ended attacks in northern Uganda in 2006, it then moved its bases to the northern Democratic Republic of Congo and has since committed acts of violence against civilians in Congo, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Kony and his top commanders sustain their ranks by abducting civilians, including children, to use as soldiers and sexual slaves.

In December 2008, following the collapse of a negotiations process, Sudan, Uganda, and Congo began a joint military offensive, "Operation Lightening Thunder," against the rebel group, with backing from the United States. In the subsequent 17 months the LRA has dispersed into multiple smaller groups and has brutally murdered more than 1,500 civilians and abducted over 1,600 people, many of them children. LRA violence has often targeted churches, school and markets, and includes the massacre of over 300 Congolese civilians in an attack last December.

"If left unchecked, the LRA leadership will continue to kill and abduct throughout central Africa, threatening stability in four countries and potentially undermining the referendum in southern Sudan. The LRA is a clear threat to international peace and security," said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. "The US now is tasked with leading a global effort to end this threat once and for all."

The law also aims to help secure a lasting peace in Uganda by increasing assistance to war-affected communities in northern Uganda and supporting initiatives to help resolve longstanding divisions between Uganda's north and south. It seeks to increase funding for transitional justice initiatives and calls on the Ugandan government to reinvigorate its commitment to a transparent and accountable reconstruction process in war-affected areas.

"Until now the world has turned its back to the suffering of our people," said Bishop Samuel Enosa Peni of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan's Nzara Diocese, which has been deeply affected by LRA violence. "We are praying for US and international leaders to hear our cries and end this violence once and for all."

source from Human Right Watch