Communities in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo are mourning the loss of an extraordinary man. Abbé Benoît Kinalegu, the Catholic priest who alerted the world to the terrible abuses of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Congo, passed away on April 8, 2016. He died of kidney and respiratory problems in the town of Dungu at the age of 53.
I first met Abbé Benoît in early 2009, soon after he spoke on the radio to sound the alarm over the so-called “Christmas massacres,” when Joseph Kony’s LRA rebel group launched a wave of brutal attacks against civilians across Congo’s Haut Uele region, leaving over 800 people dead.
When a colleague and I arrived in Dungu to see if the reports were true, we were told that there was one person we needed to meet: Abbé Benoît. From the moment we met him, we were struck by his courage. He agreed to help us uncover what had happened and accompanied us by motorcycle to the remote massacre sites. His rapport with the traumatized victims and witnesses, many of whom had seen loved ones hacked to death, was instant. He was gentle, comforting and supportive. They looked up to him and he gave encouragement, assuring them they would not be forgotten.
Over the years, Abbé Benoît did more than documenting the LRA’s horrific crimes. He led an advocacy campaign urging President Barack Obama to help protect civilians from the LRA threat. Abbé Benoît’s voice, together with others, led to the deployment of special advisors from the United States to support a regional task force against the rebel group. He helped set up an early warning network so that communities in even the most remote, far-flung areas with no cell phone coverage could quickly alert others and seek help when attacks occurred. These efforts contributed to a significant reduction in LRA attacks in recent years.
Perhaps most importantly, he started a center in Dungu for children who had been abducted by the LRA and forced to serve as sex slaves and fighters. He helped them to recover, rebuild their lives, and reintegrate back into their communities. His warm smile and optimistic nature helped them on their long journey to recovery. For the LRA’s many victims and their families, he was a pillar of strength in their darkest hours.
I will greatly miss Abbé Benoît. And like so many others, I will not forget him or his remarkable contribution to making our world a better place.
Abbé Benoît Kinalegu was the director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission for the Dungu-Doruma Diocese in northeastern Congo. In 2012, he was the recipient of Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
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