Blog Posts for 2012
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 Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) visited Uganda to assess how U.S. and regional efforts to counter LRA violence were coming along. His stop in Uganda was part of a broader trip the Senator is making through East Africa.
Senator Coons, pictured above with Jacob Acaye and Jolly Okot of Invisible Children, is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs, making his visit all the more significant. A trip to the region like this is a good example of how Congress can help keep the Administration accountable for progress in addressing the LRA and to assess what kinds of additional resources and support the U.S. advisors need to succeed in their mission.
While in Uganda this week, the Senator made a point of meeting with some of the key players in the efforts to capture Joseph Kony and disarm the LRA, including General Carter Ham (head of AFRICOM) and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. He also met with commanders in the Ugandan army and the U.S. advisers in the region.
“I was encouraged to hear from commanders on the ground in Uganda about progress that’s being made in the U.S. mission to advise and assist regional militaries in the hunt for Joseph Kony,” Senator Coons said. “Kony represents the worst of mankind, and he and his lieutenants must be held accountable for the war crimes they have committed in Central Africa.”
During his visit he admired the great strides northern Uganda has made in the years since the LRA left the country. He noted that Gulu has a “brighter future ahead.”
We appreciate all that the Senator is doing to support international efforts to bring this conflict to an end so that hopefully LRA-affected communities in Central African Republic, DR Congo, and South Sudan will one day soon also see a brighter future ahead.
Senator Coons continues to be a committed and vocal champion in Congress on this issue and we are tremendously grateful for his leadership. Here’s a brief rundown of some of his contributions to the cause so far, including introducing the Kony 2012 Senate Resolution, which condemns Kony’s atrocities and calls for continued U.S. efforts to help stop LRA violence.
On a personal note, I’d also like to commend Senator Coons for his tech savvy — not something I tend to associate with many members of Congress. This video response to the KONY 2012 campaign from a group of Senators (spear-headed by Coons) and the upkeep of his YouTube channel are impressive enough, and today I found out he even has a Flickr account. What next?
P.S. If you’re from Delaware, we encourage you to take a minute to post a message on the Senator’s Facebook wall or give his office a call to thank him for his leadership on the LRA issue. I mean, who doesn’t like a little positive feedback?
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
When it comes to getting things done in Washington, one of the keys is to have strong champions in Congress. And – as Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) wrote in an editorial this week – it is the actions of young people across the country who have inspired them to take a stand:
“Letters and emails have poured into Washington from students from around the country, each bearing the same message our own children delivered to us: Kony and the LRA must be stopped and brought to justice…. Our challenge as Senators is now the same as our challenge as parents — sustaining this newfound level of engagement and interest.”
“There are moments in history, rare as they are, when millions of Americans galvanize around a crisis far from home and try to find a way to act. This can be one of those once-in-a-generation moments.”
As far as action goes, these two are leading the way. Senator Coons joined with Senator Inhofe (R-OK) to introduce the KONY 2012 Congressional resolution, and spearheaded the creation of a video where he joins seven other Senators in discussing why this issue matters to him.
Senator Landrieu is leading efforts to increase funding for programs in central Africa that help rescue and rehabilitate LRA abductees. She also introduced a Senate resolution supporting leadership from the African Union to help governments in the region protect their people from LRA attacks.
Now we need even more Senators to follow their lead. And to make sure that happens, we need only heed these Senator’s advice: when young people act, Senators listen.
So take a moment right now to act and make sure your representatives join Senator Landrieu and Senator Coons. Take action here.
Go ahead and say it: “You’re a nerd, Becky”
It’s true. I sit in a Washington D.C. office each day where my sole job is to call and email constituents all over the country, encouraging them to participate in lobby meetings with their members of Congress. I have details of legislation memorized, a clock for every US time zone on the wall above my desk, and dozens of Congresspeople’s districts, states, and past action neatly organized in my head – and on GoogleSpreadsheets. So I’ll gladly accept that “nerd” label, because it means I get to work with some truly inspiring activists from coast to coast and beyond (I see you, Hawaii).
My colleagues Eugene and Travis and I have helped to schedule 108 lobby meetings all over the country, and the list keeps growing. We have a stack of letters waiting to be hand-delivered and we’d love for you to add to the pile! We hear about activists who call and email their representatives every day, asking them to cosponsor the bipartisan KONY 2012 resolutions.
And because of those meetings, emails, letters, and calls, 115 members of Congress have already cosponsored the resolutions supporting U.S. efforts to capture LRA commanders and support affected communities.
But beyond seeing these concrete successes, my favorite part of the job is watching lobby meetings take place like a proud parent, collecting stories to hang on my “fridge” (read: wall) and share with friends and family (aka coworkers).
Take for instance Matt Abajian, a high school teacher from Fresno, CA:
“…I felt compelled to do more then just hang a few posters around town. With the public talking about [KONY 2012], it was a desire of mine to rely on the political process to see the talk turn into action. I was nervous signing up to lead two lobby meetings within my area [But] I cannot tell you enough what an amazing experience it was to sit in two representative meetings, being able to share my heart about the issues in central Africa as well as bring others, especially my students, along for the journey.”
Sometimes it’s the staffers who provide the inspiration. That was the case for Lindsey Williams in Denver, CO:
“One really cool moment for me was sitting in the meeting, video conferencing with two staffers from Senator Mark Udall’s Washington DC office, one of whom is from South Sudan and knows intimately about the LRA and their atrocities. He shared some of his story with us, and for me, that served as a reminder that the people I am advocating for DO have a voice and they ARE talking, we just haven’t been too great at listening. I am here to amplify their voices and make them louder so people will start listening, because when we amplify their voices, that elevates them to equals and active participants in solving issues, not just silent recipients of our good will and aid.”
Still a bit nervous about getting involved? First-time lobbyist Danny Porter from Albuquerque, NM has some words of advice after leading two lobby meetings:
“I was stressing myself out more than I should have in the moments before the meeting started, only to find myself incredibly calm once it began. Remember, the Congressmen (and their staffers) are representatives of YOU. They work for the people. So just take a deep breath, shake it off and go in there with confidence, knowing that you’re not alone in this fight and that you’re taking a stand against injustice.”
We’re in this together, and there are still ways you can get involved no matter what your schedule looks like. And hey, it’s my job to answer your questions.
So get in touch. Clearly I love it!
- Becky Dale
Ugandan officials have recently claimed that the Sudanese government has resumed support for the LRA. Military officials say that recently-captured LRA had new uniforms provided by the Sudanese military. Uganda’s foreign affairs minister claims that Khartoum is providing the LRA with guns, medicine, and uniforms, though military officials say they currently do not have concrete evidence of weapons provision.
From 1994-2005, the Sudanese government supported the LRA as a proxy force, providing them with arms, supplies, and safe haven. At the same time, the US and Ugandan governments gave support to the South Sudanese SPLA rebel forces, who are now the national military for the newly-independent South Sudan. Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, who joined Kony on the International Criminal Court’s list of indictees for crimes against humanity in 2009, allowed the LRA to maintain their primary bases in the south of the country, from which they committed attacks on northern Uganda. This Sudanese support allegedly dried up in the mid-2000′s, though since then there have been periodic allegations of resumed support.
LRA leaders reportedly met with the Sudanese military in South Darfur in 2009 soliciting supplies, and Kony was reported to be in Darfur in October 2010. The most recent reports became public last month, including in a press release by Human Rights Watch. Last week Ugandan military officials told reporters that Kony is currently believed to be moving between southeast Central African Republic and Sudan’s Darfur region.
Photo credit: New York Times
There has been a sharp increase in LRA attacks in the Central African Republic (CAR) since the beginning of the year, says Human Rights Watch in a recent press release, reflecting a significant increase over the statistics for 2011. “The increase in LRA attacks shows that the rebel group is not a spent force and remains a serious threat to civilians,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The attacks have newly displaced some 2,000 civilians in 2012, bringing the total number of people displaced in the tri-border region due to LRA violence to over 400,000. As people flee their homes and move to the marginal safety of larger towns, they leave behind their fields, and fear to return to cultivate them because of the threat of LRA attacks. This has led to a growing problem of food insecurity for the civilian populations. A large fraction of recent LRA attacks include looting food supplies and abducting civilians to transport the stolen goods.
A lack of communications infrastructure, such as phone and high-frequency radio networks, makes it difficult for civilians to report LRA attacks. The poor roads and transport capacity of security forces prevents them from responding quickly even once an attack is reported. Just over 100 Central African military forces are spread across the vast forested stretches of southeast CAR, often with only 2-4 soldiers per village. Ugandan military forces, working with US military advisers, have put pressure on LRA groups operating in the vast forests east of the town of Djemah. However, the Ugandan do not have enough troops deployed to protect more than a handful of towns, leaving civililians even more vulnerable to attack.
“The African Union, United Nations, and governments in the region should take urgent steps to implement comprehensive civilian protection measures and put real muscle into making them work,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Find the full press release here.
Last Friday, April 20th, a coalition of civil society leaders representing communities from across LRA-affected parts of central Africa released a call for action from around the world to help end the violence. They wrote,
“We… call on African governments, the African Union, the United Nations, human rights defenders, and other people of good will – from near and far – to demonstrate their solidarity with the populations of central Africa affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). We are decimated; join with us.”
The leaders — who represented sixteen faith-based, human rights, and humanitarian organizations from Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic — first called out political leaders in their own countries, many of whom have sought to downplay the impact LRA violence is having on local populations. “Despite the efforts undertaken by our governments, we deplore the fact that some governments currently minimize the LRA problem, while others are indifferent to it, and still others even refuse to cooperate to put an end to the LRA phenomenon and movement,” the leaders stated.
They also called on the United States and other world leaders to act urgently, echoing the KONY 2012 policy agenda.
“We call on all capable countries and bodies to help improve our regional forces and support them in their mission to put an end to the devastation caused by the LRA… Help ensure that soldiers receive their pay, adequate food, usable and durable equipment, transport, and means of communication, so that their priority remains tracking the LRA, and not assuring their own survival.”
Local activists requested increased international investment in roads and communications infrastructure, as well as programs to support the rehabilitation of former abductees.
The same day as the letter was published, tens of thousands of people around the world gathered to participate in Cover the Night, calling on world leaders to acknowledge the violence being perpetrated by Joseph Kony and the LRA and to act to see its end.