U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to send military advisers to central Africa to help in the fight against Lord's Resistance Army rebels follows a long, determined effort by rights groups to publicize the LRA crisis affecting millions.
The fight to end the LRA's reign of terror in central Africa and capture its leader, Joseph Kony, will not be easy. The rebels are well-known for attacking remote villages and then melting back into the surrounding jungle.
But Michael Poffenberger, the executive director for the Washington-based group Resolve, is working to change that. His group has compiled data from the area since December 2009 to provide a more comprehensive picture. "Four out of every five attacks that we documented were never before publicly reported," he said. "And so what we aim to do with this is to really show the world, 'Here's the full scale of what's going on.'"
The group updates its online Crisis Tracker in real time with information from the United Nations, partner organizations and a high-frequency radio network. But it's not just a map that lists attacks. It's also a storytelling tool, showing the rate of violence and where LRA rebels are moving their attacks.
"I want President Obama to end this war. We do not know why we are being killed without any cause," said one female victim of the violence.
Human Rights Watch launched an appeal to the Obama administration in early 2010 that allowed victims to tell their stories to the president. Mr. Obama cited the work of aid groups as part of his decision to reaffirm the U.S. commitment against the LRA later that year.
Tom Malinowski is HRW's Washington advocacy director. He says he hopes the United States uses all tools available for a comprehensive strategy aimed at defeating the rebels. "If you provoke the hornets in the hornets' nest without effectively removing them from the forest or the battlefield, they tend to strike out even more viciously. So that's the dilemma," he said.
The United States supported another regional campaign against the LRA in 2008. But that mission failed to capture Joseph Kony and other commanders, resulting in what human-rights groups called retaliatory attacks against civilians.
This time around, rights groups hope it will be different.