Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Violent Lord's Resistance Army in Africa

Imagine a large group of children in America are abducted. All at once, reporters race to cover the incident. Swift reactions are predictably anxious and international news coverage is generous. Yet, according to Human Rights Watch, far worse than that is still happening right now, every day, in northern Uganda, and the silence  in world news  is deafening.  Human rights organisations agree world leaders aren't reacting strongly enough to stop the escalating violence. Covered by few journalists, the violence is being carried out by a group called the Lord's Resistance Army. Calling itself a Christian army, led by a supposedly religious  spiritual leader, the video below, "Dear Obama" offers convincing proof it is not religious at all.

A rebel army has displaced thousands of people from their homes, abducted a whole generation of children and then forced them for years to become soldiers capable of killings and mutilations. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch says America has a moral obligation to stop it, and now.

 According to the Sunday Forum at the Washington National Cathedral led by Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III in a fascinating introduction and conversation on the issue, the LRA is not a Christian group as its leader claims. It is an army concerned with violence against enemies, with no objective, political or religious, and needs to end. It is unlike the Darfur conflict which is racial.

Here's a quick summary of the situation in Northern Uganda:

Army 1: Ugandan Joseph Kony and three to ten associates are training and using kids as young as eight as an army to kill enemies.

Army 2: Ugandan Government Army, funded by the US, is profiteering from American funding and looking the other way from the LRA. There isn't a French or other army in the area.

Problem:  Ugandan  Army  2 isn't stopping Army 1.

Solution:  According to Human Rights Watch,  special foreign forces could use ground intelligence to capture Joseph Kony and his other cohorts and bring them to the Hague Tribunal to face punishment, because the Ugandan Army won't do it, before the violence spreads further and takes a stronger hold as the army of children mature.

Uganda and the surrounding jungle are where a despotic army chief called Joseph Kony, together with a group of fewer than ten other militiamen, have used children to kill their enemies for decades (BBC). Kony  named his army the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) although he is not a religious or spiritual leader. The LRA abducts both boys and girls for the purpose of massacring his enemies without any political or religious objective.

It is not clear what Kony's objective is, apart from engaging in violence. According to members of the press, Kony and the other leaders have reneged on official peace agreements and do fear prosecution if it should come. All of this is happening while America is funding the main Ugandan army which has then taken money and  done nothing to stop the violence, yet has profiteered.

Typically, Mr. Kony ascends a mountain and then uses his cell phone. There, he orders around his army using his phone on the mountain. His child followers believe him when he comes down from the mountain and issues orders they are told are taken from heaven. His army does not allow radios, so these abducted children cannot know their families want them to return home. The abducted children are used as soldiers, and if girls, then taken as wives.  Kony supposedly has over 60 women forced to be sex slaves and called "wives."

Many wonder why the United Nations hasn't stopped the LRA already?...Briefly, we were informed that the LRA  crosses borders to escape detection. The area they fight in is too insecure to have any NGO base. At the same time,  Human Rights Watch, formerly Helsinki Watch, says the US has a moral obligation to stop the violence, and that it would be relatively effective to do so now as a preventative measure against greater violence.

It's an important, under-reported issue because the current generation of Africans in Uganda and the Congo and Sudan is being lost. When schools close, the entire generation of people pressing for social change, doctors and educators and communities are also lost.

There are steps we can take. Urgently, we can support the current legislation on the LRA that has passed President Obama, currently before Congress to do more, meant to bring change to the region. We can also support humanitarian organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Just because the news is not often reported, doesn't mean the situation isn't newsworthy, or that it isn't happening, but just that news organizations can't afford to pay to cover it.

Uganda is a troubled country;  previous dictator, Idi Amin, was accused of committing atrocities, and the country is currently led by President  Museveni and his corrupt army. Let's hope Congress has the sense to pass this legislation, and can bring about a cessation to the violence we know is going on.

Washington National Cathedral   welcomes people of all faiths, a spiritual resource for the nation.With gratitude. Please give generously.
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.sponsors international journalism 
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting 

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