From the Team Blog Posts
Today we released the LRA Crisis Tracker January – March 2013 Quarterly Security Brief, which analyzes patterns in LRA activity in the first three months of the year. Key trends in LRA activity, highlighted in the report’s Executive Summary, are reproduced above. The full report, available here, includes maps of LRA attacks and additional analysis on people who escaped or were released from the LRA.
Today we partnered with the Enough Project and Invisible Children to release Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Helps Support the Lord’s Resistance Army. Jonathan Hutson and Kasper Agger at Enough Project authored the report, and we provided some of the research material. I’ve asked our researcher Paul Ronan to share the key takeaways by answering five questions below.
Gimme the basics – how often are LRA fighters killing elephants and where?
The LRA’s poaching of elephants has been concentrated in Garamba National Park, a large reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo). LRA fighters first moved into Garamba in September 2005, and rumors of LRA fighters killing elephants and harvesting ivory have been circulating since at least 2008. However, in the past year a number of LRA escapees have provided eyewitness testimony of increased poaching by LRA, which has been corroborated by clashes between park rangers and suspected LRA poaching parties. For now, it remains unclear how much ivory the LRA has harvested in the past several years.
Is the poaching the work of rogue LRA groups, or do orders come from the top?
Most signs point to Joseph Kony directly ordering LRA fighters to kill elephants in Garamba and harvest ivory, as has been reported by several Congolese and Ugandan defectors who escaped the LRA since early 2012. Kony reportedly tasked Lt. Col. Binansio “Binany” Okumu, who oversaw LRA operations in Congo, with collecting the ivory. Binany was killed in January 2013 by Ugandan troops after returning from a meeting with Kony in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. With Binany dead, it’s unclear how frequently the LRA continues to poach elephants.
Does the LRA’s harvesting of ivory signal a shift in their survival tactics?
Possibly. Kony has never before ordered LRA fighters to trade in extremely valuable goods, making his order to poach elephants significant (even if looting small communities remains the LRA’s primary survival tactic). However, Kony’s decision could backfire, especially if remaining LRA combatants become more disillusioned and believe the LRA is drifting further from its core goal of seizing power in Uganda and is becoming just another bandit group in the region.
Is there a connection between the LRA poaching elephants and the new evidence of their relationship with the Sudanese military?
Most likely. Several former Ugandan LRA combatants have testified that LRA combatants, under Kony’s orders, sold or gave ivory to Sudanese troops in Kafia Kingi. This may have been an attempt to curry favor with Sudanese troops who had given LRA troops permission to camp in Kafia Kingi. For more on the relationship between the LRA and Sudan, see our April 2013 report Hidden in Plain Sight: Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave.
Is the LRA the only armed group poaching elephants?
Though the LRA poses a serious threat wildlife in the region, it is by no means the only armed group in the region killing elephants in search of ivory. Garamba park rangers believe that that Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Ugandan troops are also poaching elephants in the park, along with other armed poachers. In nearby CAR, Chad, and Cameroon, heavily armed poachers are wiping out massive numbers of elephants on a far larger scale than the LRA. Improving civilian protection and keeping elephants and other wildlife safe requires a comprehensive approach that looks beyond just the LRA. For more on that, check out the report or the work of World Wildlife Fund.
Last week we highlighted calls from Ugandan (and international) civil society groups urging the Ugandan government to reinstate the amnesty provisions stripped out of Uganda’s Amnesty Act in May 2012. Encouragingly, Ugandan officials actually listened and reinstated the amnesty provisions. (See a joint civil society statement welcoming the move below).
Crucially, the reinstatement gives returnees from the LRA (with the possible exception of senior commanders) the right to receive an amnesty certificate and a reintegration package. However, the Amnesty Commission is in shambles after years of underfunding, delays in appointing top officials, and uncertainty over the future of the Act. Many of the people who have returned from the LRA in recent years have not received their entire reintegration package, and there are few organizations providing trauma healing and psychological assistance. The Commission’s credibility has also been damaged by the Ugandan military’s periodic efforts to force ex-LRA combatants into military service without an adequate opportunity to apply for amnesty. Furthermore, northern Ugandans have very complex views of amnesty, highlighting the need for returnees from the LRA to have opportunities to participate in reconciliation activities with LRA-affected communities.
The Amnesty Act has great potential as a tool to help end the LRA conflict, help returnees reintegration into society, and promote broader reconciliation, but only if we remember amnesty is more than certificate.
“Amnesty reinstatement: Press statement from civil society organisations
Welcoming the Full Restoration and Extension of the Uganda Amnesty Act
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
GULU – We the civil society organisations, community and religious leaders welcome the decision by the Government of Uganda to reinstate Part II of the Amnesty Act, and to extend the duration of the whole Act for a further period of two years, in accordance with the recent Resolution of Parliament.
We recall with satisfaction the comprehensive and thorough Report of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs which reflected the views of the various stakeholders and the victim-communities, and congratulate the Government for affirming the decision and conclusions of Parliament.
We remain confident that the amnesty will continue, as before, to be a critical tool for ending conflict in Uganda, and for promoting social peace and genuine reconciliation within communities affected by the conflict.
We will endeavour to make known widely the decision of the Government to restore the amnesty, pledge to play our part in encouraging any person still involved in armed rebellion to take advantage of the restored amnesty, which is a gesture of reconciliation and goodwill on the part of the people of Uganda.
We call upon the Amnesty Commission, and the Government of Uganda as a whole, to redouble efforts to make full use of the amnesty law in promoting peace and genuine reconciliation.
We remain committed to working with the Commission, Parliament, the Government and all other stakeholders to realise lasting peace within Uganda and in any country that is affected adversely by any of Uganda’s armed rebellions.
Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
Concerned Parents Association
Gulu NGO Forum
Human Rights Focus, Gulu
Iteso Cultural Union
Justice and Peace Commission, Gulu
Ker Kwaro Acholi
Refugee Law Project
Sheik Musa Khelil – Chief Khadi of Acholi
The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative
The Enough Project
The Rt. Rev. John Gakumba, the Lord Bishop of Northern Uganda
The Rt. Rev M. Baker Ochola – (retired Bishop, Kitgum Diocese)
The Rt. Rev Nelson Onweng – (retired Bishop, Diocese of Northern Uganda)
Uganda Historical Memory & Reconciliation Council
Uganda National Advisory Centre for Men”
Just over a year ago I wrote a post arguing that the Ugandan government should renew the country’s Amnesty Act because it was crucial to encouraging members of the LRA to peacefully return home. I guess Ugandan ministers don’t read our blog very closely, because a few weeks later the Ugandan government gutted the Act, removing the provision that allows returning members of the LRA and other armed groups to receive amnesty.
A year later, the cost of this decision is clear. Dozens of Ugandans have escaped or defected from the LRA and returned home, only to find themselves in a legal limbo, unable to receive amnesty. This not only includes former male combatants, but also women abducted years ago as young girls who have now have no legal protection from the Ugandan government. Though the Ugandan government is unlikely to prosecute women who return from the LRA, they can use the lack of an amnesty offer as leverage to force former male combatants to join the Ugandan military and fight against the LRA.
Just as disturbing, the work of the Amnesty Commission has almost ground to a halt. Though no longer able to grant amnesty, the remaining sections of the Amnesty Act that were spared the axe last year allowed the Amnesty Commission to continue providing reintegration support to people returning from the LRA. However, the Amnesty Commission has struggled to secure funding and is erratic, at best, in providing new returnees fresh from the LRA with assistance in restarting their lives.
This week, the Ugandan government has a chance to reverse course and reinstate the amnesty-granting provision of the Amnesty Act. Uganda’s Parliament has expressed support for such a move, as have civil society leaders from across Uganda (see below for a joint statement released today which The Resolve supported). Let’s hope that the Ugandan government listens to their voices.
“Welcoming the Resolution of Parliament to Restore the Amnesty Act
Amnesty reinstatement: Press statement from civil society organisations
Wednesday, 22 May 2013
GULU – We the civil society organisations and community and religious leaders welcome the resolution of the Parliament of Uganda on 15th May 2013 calling on the Government to reinstate Part II of the Amnesty Act, which was lapsed on 23rd May 2012, and also to extend the duration of the Act, including Part II, for two more years.
We heartily congratulate the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee for its thorough and well-considered report, which reflected the views of the various stakeholders and the victim-communities.
We call upon His Excellency the President, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Attorney General, in particular, to ensure that the resolution of Parliament, which received support across the political spectrum, is urgently implemented before the Act lapses on 24th May 2013.
We are confident that the restoration of the amnesty will make a positive contribution to the cause of peace in Uganda and the region, by facilitating the defection of rebels, and encouraging other rebel groups to settle their grievances peacefully with the Government.
We are aware that the Government of Uganda proposes to develop further principles for addressing the past, but we are convinced that it is essential first to reinstate Part II of the Amnesty Act, even as proposals on transitional justice are developed in a considered, unhurried manner.
We will continue to work with all stakeholders and the Government to bring sustainable peace to Uganda and the region.
Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
Concerned Parents Association
Gulu NGO Forum
Human Rights Focus, Gulu
Iteso Cultural Union
Justice and Peace Commission, Gulu
Justice and Reconciliation Project
Ker Kwaro Acholi
Refugee Law Project
The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative
Rt. Bishop M. Baker Ochola – Kitgum Archdiocese
Rt. Bishop Onono Onweng – Diocese of northern Uganda
Rt. Rev. Canon Johnson Gakumba – Diocese of northern Uganda
Sheik Musa Khelil – Chief Khadi of Acholi
Uganda Historical Memory & Reconciliation Council”
In June 2012, to great fanfare, the UN Secretary General released a UN regional strategy on the LRA. The strategy was designed to help coordinate and improve the counter-LRA efforts of the alphabet soup of UN agencies, peacekeeping missions, and senior officials working on the crisis. For donors and civil society groups, one particular hope was that the UN would create a list of “priority projects” whose implementation could help fill critical gaps in the field.
Unfortunately, that hope has been stuck in a bureacratic purgatory ever sense. UN officials circulated the first drafts of the priority projects in mid-2012, but disappointed many with their lack of detail. Progress in developing the list was so slow that in December 2012 the UN Security Council formally requested the Secretary General to submit a list of priority projects as part of a broader implementation plan for the strategy.
Unfortunately, the list of 17 priority projects submitted to the Council by the Secretary General in April 2013 was little better than the initial drafts. The project descriptions lacked detailed cost estimates, analysis of how they’d add value to existing initatives, and are extremely vague about specific activities and timelines. Donor countries interested in funding quality projects are extremely frustrated by poor quality of the UN effort, and at the moment any hope of enticing new non-traditional donors is far-fetched.
Why has the UN done such a terrible job at a seemingly simple task? It’s not for lack of ideas: everyone working LRA issues can identify key gaps that need to be filled, and there’s a broad consensus on a few key projects, such as rehabiliting the key road connecting South Sudan and CAR. The biggest problem may be that the SG tasked the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) with compiling the list. UNOCA lacks the programmatic expertise that UN agencies working in the field have, and is so understaffed it doesn’t even have one dedicated person to help SRSG Abou Moussa coordinate the UN LRA strategy.
So at least for now, UNOCA clearly lacks the ability to get the myraid UN agencies and missions operational in LRA-affected areas to cooperate in identifying realistic projects and putting together solid proposals that can reassure donors they won’t be wasting their money. Unfortunately, the SG’s office has simply ignored the fact that the list of projects they’re submitting to the Council and donors have little hope of being funded or implemented in the near future, in the process making a mockery of the Council’s request for “priority projects.”
When the Council takes up the issue of the LRA at the end of the month, they’ll face the unpleasant choice of either finding a way to pressure the Secretary General to take implementation of the UN LRA strategy seriously, or simply acquiesing to its slow march towards irrelevancy.
With the Ugandan and US operations focused on stopping LRA atrocities hovering close to collapse due to unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), we joined partners to release a statement today urging the two governments to stay committed to the mission.
“As the international community seeks to address the upheaval in CAR, it is critical that they find ways to sustain efforts to address LRA violence. A premature withdrawal would have devastating and immediate consequences for civilians in LRA-affected areas,” the statement reads. “It gives Kony a new lease on life, enabling him to regain power by initiating new rounds of abductions in communities that will be left totally unprotected and vulnerable to LRA attacks.”
Ten local civil society organizations in CAR held a meeting just this morning to discuss the situation and issued their own statements, which you can read here. Some select quotes from local leaders:
“If these two force leave us, we will fall back in the same situation that we found during the highest times of the LRA conflict.” -Local Protection Committee of Obo
“No one here ignores the intrinsic value of the support these two forces provide in the fight against the LRA rebels of Joseph Kony. From the depths of our hearts, women from Haut-Mbomou oppose themselves to this precipitated departure, as it will lead to sexual abuse on girls and women, and to them becoming porters.” – Women Association
“We pray you to reconsider your decision. After the forces leave, LRA will enter immediately in our city. Because Haut Mbomou is an autonomous district, Bangui does not react to our calls of distress.’” – Radio Zereda
“In our opinion, the departure of Ugandan and American troops from our region wold be a disaster. We, in the name of the religious leaders in the LRA-affected region, pray you to retract this decision, until the day this Ugandan rebel group will be ousted out of CAR.” – Catholic Church leader
Ugandan and US operations — which have been authorized by the African Union and focused on LRA-affected areas of CAR — have made significant progress in reducing LRA atrocities in recent years. However, the Ugandan government suspended their operations last week after the CAR government was overthrown.
On March 21, we heard the great news that 28 women and children were released from LRA captivity. As the LRA Crisis Tracker reports, the group was actually escorted and purposefully let go by four LRA fighters near the town of Digba in Bas-Uele district of northern DRC. This is the largest return of long-term LRA members in at least three years, and is a truly encouraging achievement for efforts to incentivize LRA defections, which have been expanded in the past year.
Our LRA Crisis Tracker received the report from a community that is part of the HF Radio Early Warning Network in DR Congo. The defectors consisted of eight women (18+), 13 girls (0-17), and seven boys (0-3). Tragically, one woman drowned on the journey from Digba to the neighboring town of Ango. Most of the woman and children are from DR Congo, but there are others from Uganda, South Sudan, and Central African Republic. At least three of the women have been in LRA captivity for over ten years and the rest for two years or more.
This is a great sign, and builds on a surge of defections we’ve seen among Ugandan LRA fighters in recent months as well. Our own Paul Ronan is currently in the field to evaluate how efforts to encourage defections from the LRA can be improved further, and next time perhaps the LRA fighter will join the women and children in defecting.
photo credit: Invisible Children
Next week I’ll be heading back out to LRA-affected areas to launch a research project examining how best to encourage members of the LRA to escape peacefully and defect from the rebel group. I’ll be working with a small team of researchers, and traveling to CAR, DR Congo, Uganda, and South Sudan.
It’s an exciting time to be doing research on LRA defections. In recent months, there’s been renewed momentum to encourage defections from the LRA. As we pointed out in our latest LRA Crisis Tracker report, US military advisers and NGOs in the field are using innovative new tools, such as helicopter-mounted speakers, to break through to LRA groups with messages highlighting opportunities to return home. The UN has also finalized Standardized Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation of the LRA members, a long-overdue attempt to better coordinate processes for receiving, repatriating, and reintegrating people who return from the LRA.
Despite this progress, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of how best to encourage defections from the LRA and in the implementation of effective defections initiatives. To help fill some of those gaps, our research will focus on several topics, including:
-What mediums are already being used to encourage defections from the LRA;
-Which actors are implementing defection initiatives, and the level of coordination between initiatives;
-How donors and actors in the field working on defections initiatives can most effectively fill remaining programmatic gaps and improve coordination;
-Which LRA commanders are more likely to be receptive to defections messaging, and how to best target defections messaging to encourage them to defect.
Time permitting, I’ll be tweeting and writing blog posts in the next several weeks as the research gets underway. You can follow me at @pauldronan.
*photo credit: Invisible Children
“The more things change the more they stay the same”
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said that. You might not know who he is, and that’s okay (neither do we). However, we like what he said, especially today.
You’ll probably notice some changes to our website in the coming weeks, the most obvious being our new name: The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative. While our name is getting a facelift, our mission remains the same, and our commitment to seeing peace in areas of central Africa affected by the LRA crisis is as strong as ever. In fact, as our new tagline suggests, we have no plans for our organization to outlast the crisis we’re currently working to address.
Instead, as we’ve done many times during our eight years advocating for an end to LRA atrocities, we’re evolving in service of our mission. As we reshape Resolve into The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, we’re aiming to strengthen our role as a hub for timely information on the LRA crisis and a go-to source for innovative solutions. We want to ensure that government agencies, organizations, and partners working to end this conflict have the information and direction they need to succeed.
This includes more focus on investigative field research from our Director of Policy, Paul Ronan, which helps uncover the impact of new developments in the conflict like LRA presence in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave and US military advisors being deployed to LRA-affected areas. It includes sustaining our work on the LRA Crisis Tracker project and producing reports like the 2012 Annual Security Brief that analyze LRA atrocities. And there will be more done to share our research and findings with supporters and partners through our blog and social media.
But we’re not just an information source; we’re do-ers. As such, we’ll continue working to influence policy and programs that can help end this conflict and advocating directly with policy leaders on the LRA issue. But unlike before, we won’t be organizing grassroots advocacy campaigns in support of our goals. Instead, we’ve partnered with Invisible Children to launch a new advocacy initiative called Citizen, which is being overseen by our former Director of Field Outreach (and all-around life powerhouse) Lisa Dougan. Our past campaigns helped see historic bills passed and new programs on the ground funded, and we expect even more of these results moving forward. You can check out what Citizen is already doing here.
Thanks for your patience as we make these changes. Our impact is only possible through the support and collaboration from our partners and allies, and – as always – we’re grateful for yours.
Today we released the 2012 LRA Crisis Tracker Annual Security Brief. The brief analyzes trends and patterns in LRA activity from January – December 2012 and compares LRA activity between 2010, 2011, and 2012. You can download the pdf here, or view the report online in the plug-in above.
For those of you hesitant to read another densely-worded thesis by a DC-based NGO: fear not. This report will dazzle you (we hope) with a mix of maps, charts, and graphs. It’s no Beyonce half-time show, but we did our best.
The top six trends from the report, including a spike in Ugandan combatant defections in 2012, are pasted below. The full report includes analysis on LRA weapons use, size of attacking forces, and patterns in the location of large scale abductions/killings and the relation of LRA attacks to time of day.
1. LRA violence spiked in the first half of 2012 (191 attacks) and then tapered off in the second half of the year (84 attacks).
This trend is similar to LRA activity patterns seen in 2010 and 2011. These patterns have been influenced by the LRA’s tendency to reduce attacks during the rainy season, and indicate that civilians are at increased risk of LRA violence in the first several months of 2013.
2. Senior LRA commanders are operating primarily in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave.
Commanders operating primarily in these areas include International Criminal Court-indictees Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen, and Okot Odhiambo. Maj. John Bosco Kibwola and Col. Otto Agweng, two increasingly influential LRA commanders, are also reported to be in CAR or Kafia Kingi. Lt. Col. Vincent Binansio “Binany” Okumu, formerly a personal bodyguard to Kony, was allegedly the ranking LRA commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) for much of 2012. He was killed by the Ugandan military in CAR in January 2013.
3. The number of Ugandan adult males returning from the LRA increased in 2012.
Though accurately tracking Ugandan returnees from the LRA is difficult, the LRA Crisis Tracker recorded a spike in the number of Ugandan adult males who escaped or were captured in 2012. Because the LRA can no longer actively recruit Ugandans, each Ugandan adult male who returns from the group is a significant loss to the LRA’s core fighting force and command structure. Of the 20 who returned in 2012, 15 saw or heard defection messaging in the form of leaflets, FM or shortwave radio broadcasts, or helicopter-mounted speakers. In addition, 8 surrendered to newly introduced Safe Reporting Sites in CAR.
4. The majority of LRA abductees in 2012 were adults used as temporary porters, not children trained to become future fighters.
Available data indicates that 69% of LRA abductees in 2012 were adults and 64% of all 2012 abductees escaped or were released within one month of their abduction. The preference for temporary adult abductees suggests that instead of seeking to train young children as new fighters, the LRA is in need of strong adults capable of carrying heavy loads of looted goods.
5. In 2012, LRA groups committed unusually large and brazen attacks in areas of CAR beyond the reach of Ugandan troops and US military advisers.
These include the massacre of 13 artisanal gold miners on a hunting reserve northeast of Bangassou, an attack on a French uranium mining camp in Bakouma, and the abduction of 97 people in two separate attacks near Fode. LRA groups have directed threats of future attacks at communities in this area. There are few CAR troops deployed in this area and it is largely out of reach for Ugandan troops and US military advisers, who are deployed further east in CAR.
6. The LRA is intentionally killing fewer people.
LRA combatants killed a total of 51 civilians in 2012, the lowest figure since 2007. The LRA killed civilians in only 10% of total attacks in 2012, compared to 30% in 2011 and 50% in 2010. Similarly, the average number of people killed per attack has decreased steadily in the past three years: 1.5 (2010), 0.52 (2011), and 0.18 (2012). Though the LRA’s fighting force has been reduced since 2010, the drop in killings does not indicate that the group no longer has the capacity to kill civilians or commit large massacres.This trend is also the result of a strategic decision by Kony in mid-2011 to reduce killings of civilians.