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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
This month President Obama announced that he is sending 100 U.S. military advisers to central Africa to assist regional forces in ending the reign of terror orchestrated by the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Mr. Obama noted that the LRA "continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security." He concluded, "I believe that deploying these U.S. armed forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy."
There is also a human interest.
In improvised camps near Yambio in South Sudan, parents keep children close. "When we go to sleep, we don't know if we will be alive in the morning," a young mother revealed to one of us (Ms. Farrow) this year. Everyone there has a story of murder, torture, mutilation, or abduction.
Sister Giovanna, an Italian nun, cares for children who have been abducted by the LRA. "These children have been taught to kill without mercy. Those who are able to escape come back traumatized," she told Ms. Farrow. She pointed to a slight, silent boy of 11 or 12. "That child was forced to kill his father, breaking his head with a log."
Another boy was outspoken; he had killed 82 people, he said. He was forced to cut one of them into pieces with a machete.
"Do you think the children can ever forget what they did?" Sister Giovanna said. "They scream in the night."
During its 24-year existence, the LRA has abducted some 70,000 civilians, mostly children. The group has killed tens of thousands and displaced two and a half million people in four countries. Countless villagers have been mutilated, their lips, ears, and noses cut off.
The LRA was founded in 1987 by Joseph Kony, a Ugandan, in the north of that country. His stated goal was to overthrow Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and establish a regime based on the Ten Commandments. It wasn't long before he had shattered all 10, and then some.
In 2001, the U.S. Patriot Act declared the LRA to be a terrorist organization. Kony and two of his most brutal henchmen are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and using children as combatants. There are longstanding allegations that the LRA has enjoyed the support of another indicted war criminal, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Five years ago, Ugandan forces succeeded in driving the LRA out of Uganda into the dense brush along the border areas of neighboring South Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic, where they have continued their depredations. The brutal, messianic Kony long ago abandoned any pretense of a political agenda. The LRA is a self-sustaining predatory guerilla group that replenishes itself through plundering villages and abducting children to use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves.
The Bush administration supported a Ugandan assault on Kony's forested encampment, but when it failed, executive attention faded. However, spurred on by a growing U.S. activist network led primarily by students, in 2010 Congress passed a strong bipartisan bill demanding a presidential strategy to end the LRA and bring the hundreds of captive children home.
Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK) welcomed President Obama's announcement. "I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA, and this will help end Kony's heinous acts that have created a human rights crisis in Africa," he said in a statement.
Fighting in some of the most impenetrable terrain in the world, the Ugandan forces significantly reduced LRA numbers to some 200-400 of its most hardcore fighters. But Uganda has now redeployed some of its best troops to Somalia for counterterrorism operations there.
With U.S. troops on the ground, President Obama has the credibility to ask African and other nations to contribute troops. The mission must be backed by sophisticated intelligence and logistical capabilities from the U.S. and others.
With this additional support, it shouldn't take long to bring Kony and his henchmen to justice, return captive children to their families, and restore peace to this agonized region.
Photo: Sister Giovanna counsels a victim of the LRA in South Sudan (Enough/Ledio Cakaj) A slideshow from Mia Farrow's recent trip also appears on Huffington Post.