Former victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army are demanding an end to bloodshed and human rights violations in Central Africa, and that outlaw LRA leader Joseph Kony be brought to justice. U.S. lawmakers heard from a Ugandan man made famous by the KONY 2012 viral video seen by tens of millions of people worldwide on YouTube.
Abducted by the LRA at age 12, Jacob Acaye put a human face on the misery and suffering perpetrated by Joseph Kony. “We worry. The rebels, when they arrest us again, they will kill us. My brother tried to escape. Then they killed him using a panga [machete]. They cut his neck," he said.
Featured in the YouTube video, Acaye’s story touched millions and focused global attention on atrocities committed by the LRA.
At age 21, Acaye’s work continues. Tuesday, he testified before the U.S. Senate. “I am calling upon the world to come and join the youth who are advocating for the end of this war," he said.
Now a law student, Acaye remains haunted by the pain of his past. “When you wake up in the morning and you hear that people are still being abducted in Congo, it takes my mind back to the situation where I was abducted. And if someone’s brother is being killed in Congo, it takes my mind back when I saw my brother being slaughtered," he said.
Over the last 25 years, the LRA is believed to have recruited tens of thousands of child soldiers and displaced as many as two million people across Central Africa. No longer based in Uganda, the LRA remains active in neighboring countries, says Senator Chris Coons.
"In the past four months alone, the LRA has committed 132 attacks in three countries: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan -- despite an increased U.S. presence and regional efforts to counter them," he said.
The United States maintains 100 military advisors in the region to aid international efforts to capture Joseph Kony and disband the LRA This is no easy task, says Donald Yamamoto, deputy assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
“Ending the LRA threat is not an easy mission. The LRA operates in very small groups across vast territories roughly the size of California, and very heavily-forested," he said.
Joseph Kony has been a fugitive from the International Criminal Court since 2005. His capture and conviction for crimes against humanity would be a blessing for Africa and the world, says former LRA victim and children’s advocate Jolly Okot.
“Bringing Kony to justice will show the world that impunity is not a way forward, to let human souls suffer. And I think bringing him to justice will, in the long run, stop people around the world who are so brutal, and who think that playing around with the lives of human beings is the way forward," he said.
Jacob Acaye can envision a better future. “I do not want children to think that they will have to pick up a gun to get money, or pick up a gun to get food," he said.