November 11, 2011

20 civil society groups in northern Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan write to President Obama, in regards to the announcement by the Obama administration to send 100  military advisors to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
 
This is not a letter from Human Rights Watch, but we believe it is particularly powerful.
 
Dear President Barack Obama,
 
We, the civil society representatives of Haut and Bas Uele districts in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Equatoria State in South Sudan, and Mbomou and Haut Mbomou prefectures of the Central African Republic, appreciate the announcement by your administration to send 100 well-equipped military advisors to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) menace in the region we live in and to help protect civilians. We also appreciate the LRA bill that was signed into law by your administration. Your efforts have given us hope that our dream of living without the threat of the LRA might come true.
 
Yet we can only truly rejoice when the LRA threat is over and when we hear that Joseph Kony is no longer terrorizing our region. We have suffered too much and we are tired of living in total insecurity – afraid to go to our fields to farm and unsure when or where the rebels may surface again. We don’t know whether our children who were abducted by the LRA will ever come back home. You cannot imagine the pain in our hearts at the thought we might not see our children again.
 
We write to you today to ask you to make special efforts on the issues outlined below which we believe are crucial to help end the LRA threat and provide protection and assistance to our communities.
 
Regional Cooperation to protect civilians and end the LRA threat
We fear that the goodwill shown by the American government will only be effective if our own governments recognize the ongoing LRA threat in our countries and fully commit to meaningful and active cooperation in efforts to protect civilians and end the LRA threat.
 
We feel that our own governments have abandoned and forgotten us, and it only discourages us further when we hear statements from our elected leaders that the LRA is no longer a threat. In Congo, senior government and military commanders deny the existence of the LRA and have made calls for the Ugandan army to end operations against the LRA in Congo; some Ugandan army units have already been pushed out of Congo. In Central African Republic, our government has other priorities and has failed to support or protect the population of the eastern Mbomou region as we continue to live with the LRA scourge. In South Sudan, the local government of Western Equatoria State has shown an interest in supporting efforts to end the LRA threat, yet we have seen no commitment from our new national government to address the problem and support populations in the affected areas.
 
We urge you to use all available channels of diplomacy to pressure our governments to recognize the LRA threat and to make addressing the problem one of their top priorities.
 
Greater Civilian Protection
Your administration’s action should also include a practical solution for civilian protection, in order to avoid a repeat of what happened following the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder, when nearly 1,000 people were brutally massacred during the Christmas period in 2008, just after the failed assault on the LRA’s main base in Garamba National Park. Since those attacks, thousands of our brothers, sisters, parents, and children have been abducted, killed, raped, and maimed by Joseph Kony’s LRA.
 
We would like to call your attention, in particular, to the continued lack of protection in Bas Uele district, northern Congo, and in most parts of eastern Central African Republic, where we continue to suffer some of the worst LRA attacks and where, to date, there is no international peacekeeping presence. Because of the poor roads and lack of communication in these areas, it often takes weeks or months before attacks are reported, and some attacks have never been reported at all.
 
On September 29, for example, about 15 LRA combatants suspected to be in the same group as LRA leader Joseph Kony attacked the village of Lingou, near Derbissaka, in CAR, killing the village chief and abducting three men. Four nearby villages were abandoned after the attack, as people fled in fear. Civilians in this remote region have no protection from LRA attacks, and often no means of communicating with others to call for help.    
 
Improved collaboration and information sharing among the different actors and the local communities in the affected region is critical. Early warning systems have been put in place in many of our communities. We ask you to ensure they are everywhere they need to be. In particular, we ask you to help ensure that telephone networks are set up in the areas affected by the LRA and that efforts are made to improve the road infrastructure in our regions.
 
Supporting Well-Disciplined, Responsible National Armies
Our national armies are also in need of support. We would like to recognize the positive impact of the training the US has already provided to one Congolese army battalion operating in the LRA-affected area, and we hope you can provide training for additional units, and commanding officers, of the regional armies that will take part in counter-LRA operations, as well as additional logistical support.
 
Too often, the soldiers of our national armies have resorted to killing, raping, and looting civilians, making them a threat to the populations they’re supposed to be protecting. Lacking communications, transport, and ammunition, our soldiers are often forced to flee with the population when the LRA attacks. We hope you can help ensure that our national armies send only well-trained, well-equipped, and disciplined forces and commanding officers to protect civilians in the LRA-affected areas. Those responsible for abuses should be held to account.
 
Demobilization and Rehabilitation
We also urge you to support efforts to expand LRA sensitization and demobilization efforts throughout the affected region, especially in CAR, and long-term rehabilitation assistance to returnees and ex-combatants.
 
Please help regional governments and communities ensure that recovery programs similar to those instituted in northern Uganda are also introduced in the three currently affected countries.Existing rehabilitation centers in Yambio, South Sudan, and a new pilot center in Dungu, Congo, should be strengthened, and a similar rehabilitation center should be established in CAR. Local associations in more remote villages should be trained and supported to conduct long-term follow-up with returnees after they return to their homes, including psychosocial support, family mediation, education support, and economic reinsertion into their communities.
 
We also urge you to work with other actors to help ensure that children who escape from the LRA make it back to their home communities as quickly as possible. Lastly, we hope you can support community funds to rebuild towns or villages attacked by the LRA, such as repairing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure which may have been destroyed.
 
Of all that we ask of you, what we want the most is an end to these LRA atrocities. Our communities are traumatized, and we have never before in our region experienced such levels of fear, loss, and suffering. We want to end the LRA problem so we can finally return to our normal lives. 
 
Your Excellency, we know that your intervention can help to bring an end to the LRA insurgency, since Joseph Kony and his brutalities, especially against children, are an affront to all of humanity. We thank you again for the support you have already shown us, and we urge you to remain with us until the LRA threat and its devastating consequences are resolved once and for all.
 
 
Yours sincerely,
 
1.         Association africaine de défense des droits de l’homme (ASADHO), Kinshasa, RDC
2.         Association des victimes de la LRA, Obo, RCA
3.         Association Zereda, Obo, RCA
4.         Commission Diocésaine pour la Justice et la Paix (CDJP), Dungu, Haut Uélé, RDC
5.         Commission Diocésaine pour la Justice et la Paix (CDJP), Duru, Haut Uélé, RDC
6.         Commission Diocésaine pour la Justice et la Paix (CDJP), Ngilima, Haut Uélé, RDC
7.         Commission Paroissiale pour la Justice et la Paix (CPJP), Bangadi, RDC
8.         Communauté des Églises Évangéliques en Centrafrique (CEEC), Zemio, RCA
9.         ECS Nzara Diocese, Yambio, South Sudan
10.       Justice and Peace Commission, Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan
11.       Société civile d’Ango (SOCIDA), Bas Uélé, RDC
12.       Société civile de Doruma, Haut Uélé, RDC
13.       Société civile de Faradje, Haut Uélé, RDC
14.       Société civile de la Chefferie Mopoy (SOCICOMO), Banda, Bas Uélé, RDC
15.       Société civile de Poko (SOCIPO), Bas Uélé, RDC
16.       Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies (SAIPED), Dungu, RDC
17.       Traumatisme blessure du Cœur, Zemio, RCA
18.       Union des Jeunes de Doruma pour le Loisirs (UJDL), Doruma, Haut Uélé, RDC
19.       Union of Journalists of South Sudan, Yambio, South Sudan
20.       Unity Is Strength, Yambio, South Sudan