From the Team Blog Posts
Father Benoit and Sister Angelique arrived in Washington, D.C., last Sunday and they have had quite the schedule. After a whirlwind of meetings and appearances, they are now in New York City for more meetings and a press conference at the United Nations. After that? They are headed to Europe for even more advocacy meetings. Scroll down for some photos of their time in the United States so far.
The delegates arrived this week with a clear aim to communicate the LRA-affected region’s continuing need for international assistance. The LRA remains a threat to civilians in some of the most remote communities in Central African Republic, DR Congo, and South Sudan, and the international community can help by investing in the region’s infrastructure and the efforts to rehabilitate the affected individuals and communities. Their written testimonies from the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing are now available online.
With a clear message and the moral courage to deliver it, Father Benoit Kinalegu and Sister Angelique Namaika were able to speak with several members of Congress and administration officials.
Members of Congress included Jim McGovern (D-MA), Senator Landrieu (D-LA), Senator Coons (D-DE), Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Lowey (D-NY), Rep. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Duncan (R-SC).
Our thanks to them and their staff for making it a priority to engage with the LRA issue.
This weekend, two delegates from the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Washington, D.C., to kick off a three-week advocacy trip that will conclude with policy meetings in Europe. Father Benoit Kinalegu and Sister Angelique Namaika will be speaking on behalf of communities currently affected by LRA violence.
Resolve is pleased to facilitate their time in the United States. The delegates have a full schedule: on Tuesday, June 19 the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is hosting a hearing on the “Continuing Human Rights Crisis in LRA-Affected Regions.” Father Benoit will appear on one of the panels together with Resolve’s Michael Poffenberger and The Enough Project’s John Prendergast.
On Wednesday, both delegates and Resolve’s Paul Ronan will speak on a panel hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars entitled “Countering the Lord’s Resistance Army: A Civilian View from the Field.”
The following week, the delegates head to New York City for meetings at the United Nations when the Security Council will be convening. But more about that later.
Father Benoit and Sister Angelique continue to do remarkable work in LRA-affected areas of DR Congo, leading their communities’ efforts in civilian protection and rehabilitation. They can speak to the region’s needs with insight and experience. We are thrilled that they are here to tell our leaders, face-to-face, about the ongoing threat and we hope that their testimonies will strengthen the resolve of U.S. policymakers to provide new resources for the protection of civilians and the disarming of the LRA.
Again, we are so pleased to have the delegates here. Take a moment to read their full bios and check back for more blogs about their time in the United States and Europe.
Father Benoit Kinalegu
Father Benoit Kinalegu is a Congolese priest and the President of the Dungu-Doruma Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace (CDJP). Based in the town of Dungu in Haut-Uele district, Democratic Republic of Congo, Father Kinalegu and the CDJP have played a leading role in documenting LRA rebel violence, mobilizing local civil society voices in both Congo and the broader LRA-affected region, and influencing the responses of the Congolese government and international community to the crisis.
The CDJP has produced its own first-hand accounts of human rights abuses committed by the LRA and has contributed directly to research by international human rights organizations. In addition, Father Kinalegu and the CDJP have helped mobilize local civil society groups from other LRA-affected countries to participate in regional peace-building activities. These efforts have allowed civil society leaders to share experiences of LRA violence, engage in cross-border dialogue on local community responses, and make recommendations to regional and international policymakers on how to end the conflict.
Sister Angelique Namaika
Sister Angelique runs Dynamic Women for Peace (DWP), in Dungu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2008, she has been helping young girls recover from the trauma of being abducted by the LRA. DWP promotes reintegration and reconciliation by encouraging communities to welcome the return of escapees. It also provides a wide range of vocational training programs and income-generation activities to promote their economic and social reintegration. Sister Angelique also oversees a micro-credit program that helps graduates of the vocational training courses start small businessesand runs basic literacy classes in the Lingala, the local language. .
Sister Angelique has been a prominent voice advocating for victims of LRA violence in DR Congo and across the region. She has worked in coalition with UNHCR and others and has been profiled on the UNHCR website.
This week, Resolve called on Congress to provide increased funds for U.S.-led programs that help pinpoint the locations of LRA fighters attacking civilians in central Africa. In a letter circulated to members of the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee, Resolve and partner groups acknowledged the importance of such efforts:
“Disparate groups of LRA fighters are currently operating in remote and largely inaccessible areas of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Their attacks against civilians have spanned a geographic area the size of California. Regional governments lack the capabilities needed to locate and track LRA groups in such difficult terrain. Timely information about the locations and movements of LRA groups can help prevent LRA attacks on civilians, enable early warning for civilians at greatest risk, and increase the prospects for bringing Kony and other top LRA commanders to justice.”
The U.S. is helping gather information on the locations of LRA leaders and groups by flying airplanes outfitted with advanced surveillance technology over areas of suspected LRA activity. This information can be shared with governments and local community leaders to prevent LRA attacks. However, because the terrain where the LRA operates is so vast, current efforts have not been adequate.
Last week, we reported that a Senate committee had authorized $50 million to expand existing surveillance efforts. However, for those funds to be used, they have to now be included in budget legislation overseen by the defense appropriations subcommittee in Congress.
We’re going to be doing all we can to help secure that $50 million in next year’s budget – but we’re going to need help. If one of your senators is on the defense appropriations subcommittee, you may be hearing from us! (Of course, you have our permission to call your senator’s office in the meantime.)
Photo credit: Finbarr O’Reilly
Last month, Evelyn Apoko, a former LRA abductee who is currently living in the United States as part of the Strongheart Fellows program, wrote a personal letter to leaders in Congress asking that a resolution on the LRA now before Congress be amended. She specifically requested that Members of Congress add a provision to the resolution calling for increased precautions to be taken to avoid endangering children within the LRA during military operations.
On Thursday, when the House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to pass the resolution, they also accepted Evelyn’s suggestion and adopted her amendment. In her letter, Evelyn shared from her own personal experience:
One day when I was still with [the LRA], I was with a group of other abducted children when we heard the loud noise of helicopters and then explosions as bombs dropped all around us. It was the Ugandan Army, trying to kill the rebels. After the bombing, children lay all around me, dead and dying. Two little children that I was helping care for died, along with their young mother and many others. Sadly, it was the children who were killed, while the commanders all escaped[…]
I do believe that Kony – and all like him – must be stopped. I want him to face consequences for his actions, for the many many lives he has destroyed… However, I do have one very important request as you consider what you will collectively do on behalf of the children of Africa: I ask that you keep the faces of the abducted children in your hearts, not the face of Joseph Kony[…]
My main concern is these children don’t have any way to get out at the moment, and they will suffer when the military attacks Kony. The bomb that almost took my life was an air bomb attack meant for the LRA. It’s a thin line between the lives of the children and the life of Joseph Kony.
We were grateful for the chance to help Evelyn deliver her letter to Members of Congress, and celebrate this success with her. As a result of Evelyn’s advocacy, the text of the resolution now includes a provision calling on the U.S. to help regional governments “incorporate precautions to protect abductees within LRA ranks, especially children and women, when carrying out operations against the LRA.”
We thank Representatives McGovern (D-MA), Royce (R-CA), and Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) for their leadership in adopting this important amendment. Soon, the Senate will take up their version of the resolution, and we’ll be asking them to do the same.
Thursday, a key committee in the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for increased action by the Obama Administration to stop LRA atrocities. H.Res 583, known as the “KONY 2012 Resolution” and drafted with Resolve’s support in the wake of the KONY 2012 campaign, was passed unanimously in the committee. It now awaits a full vote in the House of Representatives.
H.Res 583 demonstrates that Congress remains far ahead of the President in seeking action to address the LRA crisis. The text of the resolution welcomes the deployment of U.S. military advisers to help protect civilians and bring top LRA commanders to justice, and calls for additional measures to ensure the effort can succeed.
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), the original sponsor, shared his excitement with our team. “The Foreign Affairs Committee’s approval of this measure is a great step forward for human rights. The LRA resolution sends a strong message that the United States remains determined to end the LRA’s reign of terror.”
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs that passed the resolution, acknowledged the important role of activist voices. “I want to especially thank all of the young student activists in my District and throughout the country for their continued and tireless efforts to raise awareness about Kony’s atrocities… H.Res. 583 echoes current law and continues the momentum ignited by so many young people across the country and I am pleased to support this resolution.”
Since March, when the resolution was introduced, thousands of activists across the country have sent e-mails, made phone calls, and attended meetings with their elected representatives to show support for the resolution. As a result, it has accumulated 70 bipartisan cosponsors.
Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), who introduced the resolution alongside Representative McGovern, expressed confidence the effort would succeed.
“The LRA continues its reign of terror in central Africa – abducting, killing and mutilating. It is long past time that Joseph Kony and his commanders be stopped once and for all… Months ago, many did not know the name Joseph Kony – now millions do. A large spotlight has been cast on his evil. He will be found. He will get justice,” Royce said.
Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the Committee, emphasized the need for U.S. efforts to end LRA atrocities to adopt a comprehensive approach. “This resolution underscores our support for U.S. and international efforts to stop the LRA and bring Joseph Kony to justice. It also emphasizes the importance of regional cooperation, local capacity building, civilian protection, and recovery programs, which will be necessary even after Kony and his allies are removed from the battlefield.”
A companion resolution, S.Res.402, awaits action in the Senate as well.
In a troubling move, the Ugandan government opted last week not to renew the long-standing policy of providing amnesty to former rebels, creating uncertainty around the legal status for LRA fighters and abductees who surrender or are captured in combat. Debate about the Amnesty Act was recently reignited after Caesar Achellam, a former LRA commander, was taken into custody by the Ugandan army, with many calling for his prosecution given his long history and high rank within the LRA.
Uganda’s Amnesty Act was enacted in 2000 with widespread support from civil society organizations in northern Uganda, many of whom advocated for the use of alternative traditional justice processes to address crimes committed during the war. The Act granted legal pardon to all former insurgents who renounce rebellion. Over the years, it has been a critical tool in helping convince LRA fighters and abductees to escape from the group and return home, reducing the LRA’s capacity to perpetrate atrocities against civilians and helping many who were abducted by the LRA to reunite with their families and reintegrate with their communities peacefully. The Amnesty Commission, created by the Act, has issued amnesty certificates and reintegration assistance to some 13,000 former LRA rebels, including a number of high-ranking commanders.
However, in recent years, the Amnesty Act has been under review by the Ugandan government. With the LRA no longer operating in Uganda, some think the Act is no longer relevant. There are also concerns about the constitutionality of the law, as well as whether it conflicts with established international law relating to the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity and other Ugandan domestic laws. The Ugandan government’s intentions regarding the Act were further complicated by the case of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former LRA commander captured by the Ugandan military in 2009. The government has argued that Kwoyelo should not receive amnesty due to his command role in the LRA and his alleged responsibility for the killing of a number of Ugandan soldiers just before he was captured. Although Ugandan courts ruled that Kwoyelo should receive amnesty in accordance with the Amnesty Act, he remains in prison and his future, along with that of other recent defectors, remains uncertain.
While there is legitimate discussion about how to replace the Amnesty Act with laws that would allow for individuals most guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity to face justice, the Ugandan government’s last-minute decision not to renew the amnesty provision, without a great deal of consultation with local civil society groups, nonetheless complicates matters enormously. There is now no clarity regarding which members of the LRA the government would choose to prosecute if given the opportunity. This ambiguity will deter LRA abductees and fighters from escaping the group and returning home. Without a clear legal framework in place, there is also increased risk that the application of justice will be selective and biased by the political interests of the Ugandan government.
The implications of this decision are grave for those in areas of Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic currently suffering LRA violence. The impact is already beginning to show. Plans were in the works to capitalize on Caesar Achellam’s departure from the LRA by using aerial leaflet distributions and radio broadcast campaigns featuring Achellam to encourage fighters to come out of the bush. Some of those plans – which used the Amnesty Act to show that LRA who escape have nothing to fear – have now been disrupted, and with the amnesty no longer in effect, even lower-level fighters will be deterred from heeding these messages and attempting escape for fear of prosecution on their return.
This could mean a major missed opportunity to diminish the LRA’s fighting strength, and the continuation of the threat of LRA violence against communities across Central Africa. The government should reinstate the Act until an updated legal framework is prepared and in place to ensure that the majority of LRA fighters and abductees know that if they escape, they will be free to go home.
Photo credit: Marc Ellison, The Vancouver Sun
Last week, a key Senate committee authorized significant new funding for efforts that help pinpoint locations of LRA fighters attacking civilians in central Africa. The move represents yet another way that leaders in Congress are working to end LRA atrocities, spurred to action by the KONY 2012 campaign.
According to a press release from Senator Carl Levin, the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes up to $50 million “to enhance and expand intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to Operation Observant Compass – [the U.S.'] ongoing operation to support central African forces conducting operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army.”
LRA groups are currently operating in remote and largely inaccessible areas of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Governments in the region lack the tools to track LRA movements and anticipate where they may attack. As we wrote to President Obama in the KONY 2012 campaign manifesto, expanding surveillance efforts are a critical way the U.S. can help protect people from LRA violence and apprehend Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders.
For security reasons, the specific ways that the U.S. uses such funds are not made public, so it is not possible to know exactly how these funds would be implemented. In Resolve’s latest policy report, “Peace Can Be: President Obama’s Chance to Help End LRA Violence in 2012,” my teammate Paul reported that the U.S. is currently flying airplanes with advanced sensing technology over areas of central Africa where the LRA is operating. Information gathered from these surveillance efforts is channeled to regional forces working to protect civilians and pursue the LRA. It is also shared with civilians themselves to help prepare for the risk of an attack.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is chaired by Senators Levin (D-MI) and McCain (R-AZ). We applaud their leadership, as well as the support of Senator Inhofe (R-OK), who is a member of the Committee and a longtime champion for an end to LRA atrocities.
It’s important to note that there are still a few steps before the funding can be implemented. This $50 million authorization needs to make it into the final version of the bill, and be passed by both the House and Senate. Then we need to make sure that this funding is included in the 2013 Defense Budget. In the coming weeks, we’ll be working hard to make sure this happens, but we’re thrilled that the Senate Armed Services Committee has taken this first major step.
This week, we received some big news as the committees in Congress that set America’s foreign aid budget released their proposals for 2013. Thanks to the committed activism of young people across the U.S. and support from a few key champions in Congress, we’re now very close to securing $10 million for life-saving programs in communities targeted by LRA violence.
At a time when the U.S. foreign aid budget faces the constant threat of major cuts, it is a remarkable achievement to have both houses of Congress in agreement that the U.S. should be investing new funds to help stop LRA violence and support affected communities in their recovery. Our team has been working with activists across the country who have been calling, writing and meeting with their members of Congress as part of the KONY 2012 campaign that launched in March. This week’s news provides further evidence that their voices are making an impact here in Washington.
The Senate and House of Representatives released separate versions of the foreign aid bill, and later this year both houses of Congress will negotiate a final version before voting it into law. The version released by the House of Representatives, drafted by committee leaders Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), includes language that would guarantee that the U.S. continues to make it a priority to fund programs that help protect civilians and rescue and rehabilitate LRA abductees. This very encouraging progress was pushed forward, in large part, by the hard work and lobbying efforts of young activists. In fact, Representative Granger recently wrote a letter to students she met with for a KONY 2012 lobby meeting, saying,
“I really enjoyed our discussion and was encouraged by your commitment to end these atrocities. It is refreshing to see how informed and engaged you are… Rest assured, I will continue to ensure that we provide funding to help protect the citizens in LRA-affected areas, assist them as they rebuild their lives, and finally bring Kony and his leaders to justice.”
Congrats to all of the students who have been lobbying Representative Granger and many thanks to the Congresswoman for listening and responding to the voices of her constituents.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to that good news from the House side, the version of the foreign aid budget approved yesterday by the Senate committee, led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), takes things a step further by allocating a firm $10 million for life-saving programs in LRA-affected communities. Here is the full language of the Senate budget bill.
Huge thanks are in order for Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Graham (R-SC) for their leadership, as well as for Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) who championed the allocation on the committee.
And of course, to all our advocates — particularly you lobby meeting leaders out there — we can’t thank you enough for the hard work you’ve done and we hope this news serves as an encouraging reminder that all of your efforts are working.
Our Resolve team will continue to work with activists this summer and into the fall to help ensure that the $10 million in the Senate budget is included in the final version of the foreign aid bill. Stay tuned with us if you want to help make that happen.
Stop at nothing.
Last week saw a major boost to regional counter-LRA efforts when Ugandan forces took one of Joseph Kony’s top commanders, Caesar Achellam, into custody. While the Ugandan government has been keen to parade him in front of reporters as proof of their military successes, it has so far deferred on one crucial question: Will Achellam be prosecuted for crimes committed during his time with the LRA, or will he be granted amnesty?
At first glance it may seem simple. Under the terms of Uganda’s 2000 Amnesty Act, Achellam is clearly eligible to be granted amnesty as long as he applies for it once he returns to Uganda. A Ugandan government legal adviser confirmed this last week, saying “There’s absolutely nothing that prevents Achellam from being considered for amnesty. He’s eligible.” As we wrote last week, there’s good reason for him to be granted amnesty despite the crimes he’s accused of, particularly because it will weaken the LRA by encouraging commanders and fighters who remain in the bush to defect.
Granting Achellam amnesty won’t be that simple, however. The Amnesty Act is set to expire on May 24, just three days from now. If the Ugandan government doesn’t move to renew it, this would throw into jeopardy not only Achellam’s future, but also that of the remaining LRA fighters in the bush who want amnesty. This could severely undermine efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict by encouraging LRA members to defect, and would likely prolong the LRA’s reign of terror against civilians in central Africa.
Even if Uganda renews the Amnesty Act, they could still attempt to prosecute Achellam, as they did with his fellow LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo, a former abductee who rose in the ranks and was captured in 2009. Kwoyelo applied for amnesty, but the Ugandan government denied his application and put him on trial for his alleged crimes. Even after several Ugandan courts upheld his right to amnesty and ordered his release, the Ugandan government has refused to release him.
The Ugandan government lawyers attempting to prosecute Kwoyelo argue that the Act is unconstitutional in the first place, that it runs counter to international law, and that he should be punished because of the severity of his crimes. Already the UN’s Radhika Coomaraswamy has used similar arguments to call for Achellam’s prosecution.
Conspicuously absent from the debates about Achellam’s future have been the perspectives of people who have been directly affected by LRA violence. More consultations are needed to understand the views of communities who have been affected by Achellam’s actions in Uganda, Congo, CAR, and South Sudan.
The debates over amnesty v. prosecution, or peace v. justice, are extremely contentious. Yet they need not be mutually exclusive–a possible compromise might be reached if Achellam agreed to participate in truth-telling mechanisms and traditional Acholi reconciliation ceremonies in lieu of formal sentencing. This might provide for Achellam to face some measure of justice for crimes while mitigating the negative effects on defection efforts.
On Sunday, news spread that Caesar Achellam, one of Joseph Kony’s top commanders in the LRA, was captured by or defected to Ugandan forces in southeast Central African Republic. Achellam is the first high-level commander to be captured or killed in over two years and his removal provides a major boost of confidence in the ongoing Ugandan-led efforts to end LRA violence in the region. But whether Achellam’s exit is the “beginning of the end” — as some news agencies have reported — or just a blip on the radar is yet to be seen. The coming weeks will be crucial to watch.
Who is Achellam?
Caesar Achellam was one of the oldest and most respected commanders within the LRA. He was one of the few left in the LRA who joined the group voluntarily after fighting for the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), a rebellion that also formed in northern Uganda but preceded the LRA. Before joining the UPDA, Achellam was reportedly part of Uganda’s national army, but was forced out when Uganda’s current President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986.
After joining the LRA in the late 1980′s, Achellam played a key role within the group as a military strategist, and was responsible for overseeing military training for LRA abductees. He was an important liaison between Kony and the Sudanese army, and even reportedly speaks fluent Arabic (in addition to Acholi and English). Recent LRA defectors have reported that in 2009 Achellam led a delegation of LRA fighters that met with Sudanese army officials in South Darfur – where Kony has reportedly sought refuge in recent months.
Achellam was long thought to be interested in defecting from the LRA. Nonetheless, his removal is a huge blow to the group, particularly to the morale of mid-level commanders and fighters who greatly respected him. If he is willing to share information with the Ugandan government – which he may be doing in a bid to avoid prosecution for war crimes – he could provide regional governments with an up-to-date analysis of where specific LRA groups and commanders are now located, what their future plans and strategies are, and exactly how the LRA command structure has evolved in the past year.
So what next?
Whether or not the information that Achellam shares leads to further success in dismantling the LRA’s command structure over the coming weeks will be an important test for ongoing efforts to decisively defeat the LRA. And whether Achellam was captured or whether he defected at the last minute, it’s clear that persistent military pressure by Ugandan forces played a key role in his exit from the LRA. Achellam’s removal demonstrates that targeted military operations against the LRA that focus on apprehending senior LRA commanders can have an impact.
These operations have been boosted in recent months with the deployment of US military advisers and political authorization from the African Union. However, as we have said before, they also suffer from a sharp decrease in the number of Ugandan forces deployed, inadequate helicopter capacity, political squabbles amongst regional governments, and inadequate measures to protect civilians from LRA reprisal attacks.
Achellam’s exit also highlights the need for renewed efforts to encourage other senior LRA commanders and rank-and-file fighters to defect. In accordance with Ugandan law, and because he is not one of the three LRA commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court, Achellam is eligible for amnesty should he apply for it. If he is granted amnesty, this would greatly incentivize the defection of LRA fighters who remain in the bush, thus weakening the group’s capacity to commit further atrocities. Some have called for Achellam to instead be brought to trial for crimes committed in the LRA, but doing so would deter other LRA fighters from leaving the bush.
Ugandan forces and US military advisers deployed in the region should move quickly to get the message to remaining LRA commanders and fighters that Achellam is safe and is being treated well in Ugandan custody. Achellam was reportedly traveling north from Democratic Republic of Congo into Central African Republic with a group of 65 LRA combatants. If US advisers assist the Ugandan military in conducting aerial leaflet drops in the areas where that group remains there is a strong chance that more fighters, abductees, and associated women and children can be convinced to come out peacefully.
Photo credit: James Akena/Reuters