NOVEMBER 11, 2010: LRA Victims Appeal to Obama

LRA Victims Appeal to Obama

SOURCE: Human Rights Watch

               Victims of atrocities
               by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have sent emotional
               personal pleas to US President Barack Obama, calling for
               urgent action to end attacks by the rebel group, Human
               Rights Watch said today.

               Human Rights Watch conducted five research missions to
               northern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central
               African Republic between May and September 2010, in areas
               where few outsiders have traveled. Researchers spoke with
               hundreds of victims, took their testimony, and recorded
               their messages to Obama and other world leaders. Based on
               an analysis of this and other information gathered in the
               region, Human Rights Watch called for a comprehensive
               international strategy that places at its core the
               protection of civilians.

               Human Rights Watch on November 11, 2010, posted dozens of
               the video postcards, testimonies, and letters from adults
               and children in the region, appealing to Obama and other
               world leaders to help end the suffering inflicted by the

               "Even in the crush of politics at home, President Obama and
               other world leaders should respond to the desperate cries
               of the LRA's victims," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior
               Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "His leadership is
               urgently needed to work with governments in Europe and
               Africa to protect civilians and arrest the war criminals
               responsible for the attacks."

               The LRA, an especially brutal rebel group that has caused
               havoc in the central African region, has killed at least
               2,385 civilians and abducted over 3,054 others since
               September 2008, when regional peace talks collapsed,
               according to Human Rights Watch and United Nations
               documentation. With the LRA attacking villages in remote
               areas with limited communications, roads, and other
               infrastructure, the actual number of victims is probably
               far higher.

               One community leader was forced to flee his home in Digba
               village, northern Congo, after the LRA attacked. He told
               Human Rights Watch: "There are many dead. The LRA abducted
               our people, whipped them, tied them up, killed them, and
               burned our homes. We have truly suffered a lot because of
               the LRA."

               In May, Obama signed legislation requiring the US
               government to develop within 180 days a comprehensive,
               multilateral strategy to protect civilians in central
               Africa from LRA attacks and to take steps to stop the rebel
               group's violence. Under the law, the new strategy is due by
               November 24.

               The LRA was pushed out of northern Uganda in 2005 after
               fighting the government for nearly two decades. The rebel
               group now operates in the remote border regions of northern
               Congo, the Central African Republic, and Southern Sudan.

               Many of the LRA victims were beaten to death, or their
               skulls were crushed with heavy wooden sticks, Human Rights
               Watch said. LRA combatants tied others to trees, then
               sliced their heads with machetes. The LRA forces abducted
               children to kill family members and neighbors who try to
               escape, are tired or weak, or whom the LRA decides it does
               not need.

               In an attack in Duru, northern Congo, on August 28, five
               LRA combatants abducted eight civilians less than a
               kilometer from a UN peacekeeping base, and that night
               brutally killed three of the young men taken with knives. A
               woman and 16-year-old girl released the next morning told
               Human Rights Watch that the LRA gave them a message for the
               Congolese army: "We are nearby, and we will be back soon."

               The LRA is estimated to have between 200 to 400 armed
               combatants, plus hundreds of abductees. It has no coherent
               political objectives and no popular support. It is able to
               replenish its ranks only by abducting children, and
               sometimes adults, who are exposed to immense brutality and
               forced to fight. Three of the LRA's leaders – Joseph Kony,
               Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen – are sought by the
               International Criminal Court (ICC) under arrest warrants
               issued in July 2005 for war crimes committed in northern
               Uganda. All three remain at large and have been implicated
               in new atrocities.

               Ongoing military operations against the LRA, led by the
               Ugandan army alongside national armies from the region and
               supported by the US government, have failed to capture the
               LRA's top leaders or end LRA attacks on civilians.The
               Uganda army and their allies appear to lack the capability,
               will, or expertise to apprehend the LRA's top leaders, even
               though they have come in close proximity to some senior
               commanders on several occasions in the past year.

               In an earlier letter to Obama, Human Rights Watch urged the
               US government to use its diplomatic clout to bring together
               like-minded world leaders who can commit political will,
               resources, intelligence, and assistance for specialized
               units capable of arresting the LRA's top leaders wanted for
               war crimes and rescuing abductees, while at the same time
               significantly enhancing UN, regional, and local capacities
               to protect communities at risk of attack.

               "The LRA's top leaders can be found, but the current
               strategy of supporting Ugandan army operations is clearly
               not working," Van Woudenberg said. "A new approach is
               needed to protect civilians and to bring together improved
               intelligence and capable units to apprehend the LRA's top
               leaders. Otherwise, the LRA's grave threat to civilians
               will continue."

               Human Rights Watch has also called on the UN Security
               Council to step up its efforts and advance capabilities
               such as rapid response to protect civilians in areas
               affected by the LRA's violence. While three peacekeeping
               missions are in the affected areas, they lack a
               cross-border mandate that would allow them to address the
               full scope of the LRA problem, and they are not focused on
               addressing LRA violence.

               The UN peacekeeping force in Congo, MONUSCO, is the largest
               in the region, with nearly 18,000 troops, but only 850 UN
               peacekeeping troops are in the LRA-affected areas. No
               peacekeepers are based in Bas Uele district, on the border
               with CAR, despite repeated LRA attacks and abductions in
               the area over the past 20 months. The UN has no
               peacekeepers in LRA-affected areas in CAR, and only a
               handful of UN humanitarian staff. The United Nations
               Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is present in Western Equatoria
               but has also proven ineffective at protecting civilians
               from LRA attacks.

               "The UN's response to attacks on civilians and its
               assistance to those in need has been woefully inadequate,
               so at the very least the UN needs to deploy more of its
               existing forces to LRA-affected areas," Van Woudenberg
               said. "The UN Security Council should urgently discuss this
               regional threat and commit further action and resources to
               protect civilians at risk from the LRA."

               Based on recent reports, the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, may
               have moved to the border region between the Central African
               Republic and South Darfur, an area controlled by Sudan's
               Khartoum government. In the past, Sudan provided important
               military support to the LRA.

               Human Rights Watch called on the Sudanese government to
               ensure no support of any kind is provided to the LRA, and
               urged the US government and other world leaders to pressure
               the Sudanese government to ensure that the LRA does not
               find refuge in Darfur. Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir is
               also wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in

               To view a special multimedia feature that includes video
               messages from victims of the LRA to President Barack Obama,
               please visit:


               To download or embed video footage and a high-resolution
               photo, please visit:


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