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Rights Groups Call on US to Protect Against LRA Rebel Attacks

  • Joe DeCapua

The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN officials in southern Sudan, Nov 2006 (file photo)

The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN officials in southern Sudan, Nov 2006 (file photo)

A coalition of nearly 40 human rights and humanitarian organizations is calling on the Obama administration to step up efforts to protect civilians against LRA rebels.

For many years the Lord’s Resistance Army was based in northern Uganda, but now rebels are launching brutal attacks in several countries.

LRA Disarmament Act

“One year ago, Congress passed one of the most comprehensive bills ever focused on resolving a crisis in Africa. But a year later we’re seeing really just not enough momentum towards this issue. This group…survives by targeting the most remote and marginalized populations in Central Africa. And I think the international community enabled that strategy with their lack of leadership,” said Michael Poffenberger, head of the Washington-based advocacy group Resolve.

Poffenberger said there needs to be a “much more robust, multilateral effort focused on protecting civilians from these brutal attacks and on apprehending the leaders of the LRA, who are wanted by the International Criminal Court.”

But how?

The coalition of rights and humanitarian groups said there are several steps that can be taken.

“On the civilian side, actually,” said Poffenberger, ”there’s a really innovative proposal on the table to build up mobile phone networks in these areas, so the communities who are cut off from communication can actually inform their governments and the U.N. when they’re under attack by the LRA and similarly be warned before attacks can take place.”

The groups also called for more U.N. peacekeepers to be deployed and better trained regional forces to protect communities.

“Many of them are completely cut off from any kind of protection that should be being provided by their governments,” he said.

Special envoy

There’s also a call for U.S. President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy for the Great Lakes region “with a mandate extending to LRA-affected areas. Besides Uganda, LRA attacks have occurred in the eastern DRC, CAR and South Sudan.

Poffenberger said, “The problem here is that…each of these countries has much broader challenges that they’re facing than the LRA. You know, that’s how the LRA survives. They target these remote populations and as a result the ambassadors in these countries are not focused on the LRA. They’re focused on other issues and they’re not talking to each other enough and they’re not working in a coordinated fashion to really engage the root problems that are allowing this to continue.”

A special envoy, he said, could help break through those challenges and lead a more “proactive” effort against the LRA.

The LRA has been accused of many atrocities, including child abductions, over the more than 20 years it battled the Ugandan government. Now it’s blamed for sexual attacks, killings and abductions in neighboring countries. The LRA is no longer believed to be a single entity, but rather 10 or more small groups acting independently.

Want Obama to lead

The coalition wants President Obama to take the lead on the LRA issue.

“Congress has been pushing this for some time because the impact of the crisis on these communities has just been absolutely devastating. But the administration I think doesn’t have the focus on this issue that they should be having with the mandate that they were given by Congress and the American people,” he said.

Three LRA leaders – Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen – are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.