A coalition of human rights proponents, and faith-based groups has endorsed newly introduced US congressional legislation seeking active intervention by the Obama administration to protect civilians uprooted by Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. With the collapse of peace talks last year between the Kampala government and Joseph Kony’s northern Ugandan rebel forces, who have largely shifted operations to neighboring northeastern Congo (DRC), uneasy conditions continue to discourage northern Ugandan residents from returning to rebuild their communities.
Senior policy analyst Paul Ronan of the advocacy group Resolve Uganda says that the bipartisan legislation, introduced in congress last week, aims to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians, help stimulate Ugandan economic recovery, and facilitate transitional justice efforts that were a major stumbling block in last year’s peace negotiations.
“The bill requires the Obama administration within six months to come up with a strategy to address LRA violence, and protect civilians from future attacks and also assist communities that have been displaced by LRA attacks with $10 million in emergency humanitarian assistance. And it states that it is the policy of the United States government that in order to permanently stop LRA attacks, that Joseph Kony and top LRA commanders should be arrested or removed from the battlefield,” he explained.
For more than two decades, the LRA has disrupted life in northern Uganda during its insurgency against the government of President Yoweri Museveni. More than two million civilians have been uprooted from their homes and the LRA has kidnapped and enlisted more than 65,000 children to take up arms as child soldiers, a blatant contravention of international law.
A three-nation joint regional offensive by Congo, Uganda, and Southern Sudan dubbed “Operation Lightening Thunder” failed to dislodge Kony’s staff last December from continuing to stage raids against civilian communities in northeastern DRC. But with the LRA on the run, Ronan says that Washington is calculating that sooner or later, Kony’s operations and a simmering debate on how to mete out justice to rebels accused of heinous war crimes will be overshadowed by concerns for restoring the health and vitality of citizens who have been uprooted by 22 years of conflict.
“After it became clear that Kony was not going to sign the peace agreement last year, the Uganda government made it very, very clear that it was dedicated to implementing the transitional justice mechanisms, as well as some of the economic recovery programs, even though Kony had not signed. Unfortunately, in the past year, we’ve really seen the lack of political will to implement those mechanisms and recovery programs, which has really been quite unfortunate, because the people of Uganda now have some sort of peace, but many of them have been unable to return to their homes,” he pointed out.
The bipartisan Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act received the endorsement of more than 20 NGO’s based in the US, Uganda, Sudan and the DRC, calling for stepped up US leadership to bring the long LRA conflict to an end.
Many of the bill’s sponsors are members of the Senate and House foreign affairs committees with extensive service on the Africa subcommittees of those bodies. In the Senate, Democrat Russ Feingold and Republican Sam Brownback are co-sponsors, and Representatives Jim McGovern and Brad Miller, both Democrats, and former Africa subcommittee chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.
Ronan says he hopes the bill will win passage by August or September so that enhanced US involvement in the region can begin to make a difference. With other equally urgent conflicts raging concurrently in neighboring Darfur and adjacent eastern provinces of the DRC, where Hutu militias continue to stage raids against Congolese targets, the Resolve Uganda advocate dismisses the possibility that US priorities will overshadow the importance of a Uganda recovery act.
“It includes concrete measures that can be acted upon that will actually address this violence. The strategy that the Obama administration must now come up with to increase transitional justice for northern Uganda is an example of where rhetoric will actually meet action,” said Ronan.