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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
In response to the ongoing threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and the lack of regional coordination between LRA-affected countries, U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) joined a bipartisan group of representatives in sending a letter to President Obama on Tuesday. The letter urges the Obama administration to work with the African Union and the United Nations to convene a side meeting on the LRA at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September. The meeting should include the heads of state of LRA-affected countries, as well as current and potential donor governments, including President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, in an effort to increase cooperation in the region and support for efforts to end the LRA, they said.
“The world community must continue to focus on capturing Joseph Kony and putting an end to the violence,” Rep. McGovern said. “We are urging the Obama Administration to make this a high priority in the weeks and months ahead.”
At a time when more robust efforts to end the LRA crisis are vital, a LRA-focused side meeting at the U.N. could play a much-needed role in enabling current initiatives to succeed. In particular, the meeting should aim to strengthen cooperation between the governments of the affected countries and encourage them and other partners to commit the resources and troops required to effectively protect civilians, apprehend the LRA’s senior leadership, and encourage LRA commanders and fighters to defect. The Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of the Central African Republic are still off-limits to the only army pursuing the LRA—the Ugandan army. This has created de facto safe havens for the LRA. The U.S., working with the A.U. and U.N., should broker agreements between the governments in the region to allow access for the Ugandan army to LRA safe havens.
With the transfer last month of the Congolese army from LRA-affected areas to Goma to battle the M23 rebellion, there are only approximately 1,000 troops deployed in areas where the LRA is operating. More troops are thus urgently needed, including special forces, to apprehend the top commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court and protect civilians. The military operations against the LRA lack adequate intelligence and logistical capabilities, so the U.S. and partners in Europe and elsewhere should lend their support. More resources are also needed to bolster initiatives to promote defections from the LRA.
“It would be a tragedy if poor cross-border cooperation allowed Joseph Kony and his commanders to slip through the cracks,” Rep. Royce said. “This bipartisan initiative calls for Presidential leadership—to ensure that all the countries the LRA has plagued are working together to stop the killing.”
The letter was signed by 78 members of Congress, with a strong presence from both sides of the aisle. Signers include the Chair and Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA); Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Rep. Chris Smith (D-NJ); and the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). View the letter for the full list of signatures.
In the Senate, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense announced this week that it will authorize $50 million for increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities in support of counter-LRA operations in central Africa as part of the 2013 appropriations act for the Department of Defense. These funds are crucial to complement the U.S. military advisors’ work in the region. The allocation of funds will next be considered by the full committee.
Photo: U.S. Capitol