Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

LRA Rampage Sparks Protection Calls

Hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced as Ugandan rebels run amok in central Africa.
By Nancy Sai
  • Sudanese displaced by LRA attacks. (Photo: UN Photo)
    Sudanese displaced by LRA attacks. (Photo: UN Photo)

Human rights groups are warning that greater efforts to protect civilians are urgently needed as the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, continues to carry out attacks in neighbouring countries.

Despite landmark legislation passed by the United States focusing on ending the LRA threat and boosting recovery in the region, activists say that more remains to be done to shield civilians at risk.

Since the beginning of this year, the LRA appear to have stepped up attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, the Central African Republic, CAR, and Sudan.

Small clusters of LRA soldiers have invaded villages in Haut-Mbomou in eastern CAR, Bas Uele and Haut Uele in northern DRC and parts of southern Sudan, abducting, mutilating and killing civilians and making off with food and supplies.

The abductees are known to be recruited into the ranks of the LRA or, in the case of women and girls, to serve as sex slaves for LRA commanders.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has warned that the DRC is the “epicentre of the LRA atrocities”. It estimates that since the beginning of this year, 1,800 civilians have been killed there, with 2,500 abducted and 280,000 displaced.

In southern Sudan, according to UNHCR, an estimated 2,500 people have been killed and 87,800 displaced, with the corresponding figures in CAR 36 and 10,000.

Formed in Uganda in 1986, the LRA began an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government, spreading its attacks into Sudan in 1993, the DRC in 2005 and further north into the Central African Republic in 2009.

In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of LRA founder Joseph Kony and five other commanders. Kony, who remains at large, was charged with 12 crimes against humanity and 21 war crimes.

Ledio Cakaj, Uganda/LRA field researcher for the advocacy group the Enough Project, said the absence of humanitarian organisations in remote parts of CAR targeted by the LRA was leading to a crisis situation.

“There are a few international organisations which operate in south-eastern CAR, in towns such as Zemio and Obo, for instance,” he said. “But many more, including UN offices, are needed.”

Another issue, he said, was a lack of coordination between relief groups and the Ugandan army.

“Only recently did UN missions in Congo and Sudan try to make the LRA a common focus, but as far as I know, there is no or little cooperation between the UN missions and the Ugandan army,” Cajak said.

A more coordinated approach had been signalled by United States president Barack Obama with the signing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act on May 24, aimed at both stopping the immediate violence through interagency cooperation and investing in a sustainable peace.

Anneke Van Woudenburg, senior Africa researcher of Human Rights Watch, said that Obama’s Act was “an important step forward to help address the problem of the LRA.

“The US administration, together with the government in the [DRC] region, will now need to work to come up with a new comprehensive strategy to address the problem of the LRA once and for all. [The bill is] momentous since [it] is one of the few introduced on Africa that has won broad bipartisan support and has succeeded into law.”

But she said there was now an urgent need to act, “The people of northern Congo continue to suffer a human rights and humanitarian crisis as a result of attacks by the LRA. The longer the problem is not addressed the longer it will remain a humanitarian crisis, with civilians at risk of further brutal attacks.”

A recent report by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, set out the difficulties faced in protecting civilians in the region.

“There is no doubt that effectively protecting civilians from the LRA is a daunting task,” he wrote. “Communication systems are very poor or nonexistent, and villagers must sometimes run for days to deliver warnings of.. LRA attacks.

“The LRA often conduct well-planned and sudden attacks, and the [DRC] government and [UN forces] face resource constraints that limit their capacity to have troops on the ground where needed, or to respond rapidly to attacks. Despite these very real obstacles, significantly more can and should be done to protect civilians.”

Nancy Sai is an IWPR intern in London.