MARCH 12, 2010: U.S. Passes Bill Against LRA

U.S. Senate Passes Bill Against African Rebel Group's Atrocities

By Jim Fisher-Thompson

Washington, DC — The U.S. Senate has passed a bill with wide bipartisan support aimed at curbing atrocities in Uganda and Sudan committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a vicious rebel group that has terrorized eastern Africa for more than two decades and whose depredations are spreading to Africa's Great Lakes region.

The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, sponsored by senators Russ Feingold (Democrat from Washington), Sam Brownback (Republican from Kansas) and James Inhofe (Republican from Oklahoma) and cosponsored by 60 other senators, was approved by the Senate March 11. Feingold, who long has been an advocate for democracy and development in Africa, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa.

To become law, the bill must be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the president.

It would require the U.S. government to work with multilateral partners "to develop a viable path to disarm the LRA, while ensuring the protection of civilians," according to a statement from Feingold.

In the statement, Feingold said, "When I traveled to northern Uganda, I saw the effects of the LRA's brutality in the faces of the Ugandan people living in displacement camps. The passage of this bill sends a message that the United States will no longer stand by and watch the Lord's Resistance Army terrorize innocent civilians across central Africa, kidnap thousands of children and force them to become child soldiers."

He added, "This legislation also sends a clear signal that the United States is committed to working with regional stakeholders to change the conditions that have allowed this war to persist for so long."

Over more than two decades, the LRA, under the brutal leadership of Joseph Kony, has kidnapped more than 66,000 children and forced them to fight as child soldiers, Feingold said. The group's attacks have spread to northeastern Congo and the Central African Republic. In 2009 the United Nations reported that the LRA killed more than 1,500 people, abducted more than 1,800, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the Central African Republic, Congo and southern Sudan.

The legislation authorizes U.S. assistance for transitional justice and reconciliation to help the Ugandan government address the grievances and regional divisions that the LRA exploited for nearly two decades. The act calls for an additional $10 million in humanitarian assistance for those areas outside of Uganda now directly affected by the LRA's brutality.

Brownback, a promoter of anti-malaria programs in Africa, said when he visited Uganda in 2004, "I learned firsthand about the atrocities against civilians committed by the LRA. The United States and the international community must work to establish lasting peace in northern Uganda and to bring Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army to justice."

He added, "I am thankful that my Senate colleagues passed this important piece of legislation, and look forward to the bill being signed into law."

Inhofe said, "I am pleased that we were finally able to find a way forward for this legislation, because quite frankly, it is just too important to hold up. Today's Senate passage of this bill is a victory for the countless lives destroyed at the hands of Joseph Kony."