Blog Posts for 2012
Guess who is reporting on the LRA today? Just about every major paper and news outlet.
The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Newsweek, and CNN, among others, all have stories about the efforts of U.S. military advisers to find and capture LRA commanders, including Joseph Kony. The surge in attention on this issue sparked by the Kony 2012 campaign has sent traditional media outlets scrambling to get information about a story that often gets ignored.
The common theme in these articles, not surprisingly, is the difficulty of the mission. With the LRA operating in a densely forested region the size of California, regional militaries and the American advisors don’t have an easy job in finding and tracking the LRA. But despite the challenges, the mission remains a cornerstone of President Obama’s comprehensive strategy to respond to the LRA conflict. Stopping LRA violence is a key first step in allowing displaced families to return to their land and helping communities targeted by the LRA to heal.
Theses articles also mention that Kony and some LRA fighters are believed to be moving between Central African Republic, where the Ugandan military and US advisers can operate, and Sudan’s Darfur region, where they don’t have access. Kony’s possible presence in Darfur highlights the need for US officials to also step up their game on non-military responses to the conflict. Particularly important in the coming months is diplomatic engagement with the Sudanese government in Khartoum to ensure Kony is not given safe haven to rebuild the LRA’s fighting capacity.
* Photo credit: Washington Post
In a major speech yesterday launching a new initiative to prevent mass violence around the world, President Obama announced that he was extending the deployment of U.S. military advisers in central Africa who are working to help capture Joseph Kony and protect civilians from LRA attacks. Here are his words (minute 24:30 in the above video):
When the LRA — led by Joseph Kony — continued its atrocities in central Africa, I ordered a small number of American advisers help Uganda and its neighbors pursue the LRA. When I made that announcement, I directed my National Security Council to review our progress after 150 days. We have done so, and today I can announce that our advisers will continue their efforts to bring this madman to justice and save lives. It is part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.
The U.S. military advisers were deployed to parts of Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic last October, and ensuring they are able to continue pursuing Kony and helping protect civilians was the first goal of the KONY 2012 campaign. In other words: our lobbying has been heard.
In his speech, President Obama also shared moving reflections on the Holocaust and other situations of mass violence:
Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. In this sense, “never again” is a challenge to us all — to pause and to look within.
For the Holocaust may have reached its barbaric climax at Treblinka and Auschwitz and Belzec, but it started in the hearts of ordinary men and women. And we have seen it again — madness that can sweep through peoples, sweep through nations, embed itself. The killings in Cambodia, the killings in Rwanda, the killings in Bosnia, the killings in Darfur — they shock our conscience, but they are the awful extreme of a spectrum of ignorance and intolerance that we see every day; the bigotry that says another person is less than my equal, less than human. These are the seeds of hate that we cannot let take root in our heart.
“Never again” is a challenge to societies. We’re joined today by communities who’ve made it your mission to prevent mass atrocities in our time. This museum’s Committee of Conscience, NGOs, faith groups, college students, you’ve harnessed the tools of the digital age — online maps and satellites and a video and social media campaign seen by millions. You understand that change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots.
Our team had the privilege of attending the speech, as well as discussions with senior Obama Administration officials that took place afterward. Those discussions are now posted online. Highlights include this video with discussion of the U.S. strategy to stop LRA violence from some of the President’s top Africa advisers, this one with the Deputy National Security Adviser relating how President Obama learned about KONY 2012 (hint: it wasn’t the newspaper), and this one with comments from Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey on the impact of the KONY 2012 campaign so far.
Yesterday, we told you about many of the actions Congress has taken to respond to the Kony 2012 campaign. This week, among the LRA-focused activity on Capitol Hill was an official hearing on Joseph Kony and the LRA before the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, chaired by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) who has been major champion on this issue.
Administration officials from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense briefed Senators on the progress of US efforts to help stop LRA violence, bring top LRA commanders to justice, and support the recovery of affected communities. In addition, Invisible Children’s Regional Ambassador, Jolly Okot, and former LRA-abductee — and Kony 2012 film star — Jacob Acaye bravely shared, in detail, about how LRA violence has affected them personally and why they are committed to advocate for those in DR Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic who are currently suffering from LRA violence. You can watch the entire hearing, including Jolly and Jacob’s powerful testimonies, here.
In the mean time, we also want you to know about a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the LRA and other sources of instability in Africa that will be occurring tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10am. What makes this hearing extra special is that you get to participate, right from your own home.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee allows regular folks like you and me to post questions online that we would like to see asked — and answered — at the hearing. The committee will read through all of the questions and seek answers to as many as possible from the testifying witnesses.
Do you have any LRA-related questions for the Obama Administration? Submit them here.
The witnesses testifying at the hearing tomorrow will include:
Donald Y. Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs;
Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State; and
Amanda J. Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense.
Tomorrow’s hearing is a great opportunity to have your questions answered by some of President Obama’s top aides working on the LRA issue — and it’s a chance to show Congress and the Obama Administration that activists like you are serious about this issue and you are paying attention to what our leaders are doing about it.
Here are some questions you might consider asking:
1. What is the Obama Administration doing to help make sure that the regional governments in LRA-affected areas are working together to help apprehend Joseph Kony and stop LRA violence?
2. What is the U.S. government doing to help support the protection of civilians in LRA-affected areas at the same time that it is helping to apprehend top LRA commanders?
3. What is the U.S. doing to help ensure that Joseph Kony is not able to find a safe haven in areas like Darfur?
Those are just some example questions for you, but you may have a few of your own. Take a moment today to submit your questions here and make sure check in with us later this week for an update on how the hearing went — and if your questions got answered.
There was a flurry of activity in Washington D.C. last week as Congressional leaders continued to respond to the Kony 2012 campaign.
- Six senators, led by champion Senator Coons, released an online video highlighting Congressional efforts to address the LRA.
- The Senate and the House held briefings last Thursday with civil society leaders from northern Uganda.
- Both the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committees scheduled official hearings on the LRA for this week.
- Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, went on record with the Huffington Post in support of the campaign.
- And the Senate introduced its own version of the Rewards for Justice program, a bill that would allow the U.S. to offer a reward for information leading to Kony’s arrest.
All of this comes on top of Resolutions in both the House and Senate, introduced a few weeks ago, that call for renewed U.S. efforts to address this issue. Those resolutions already have 108 co-sponsors, and the list of new co-sponsors keeps growing.
Take a deep breath to process this strong response from Congress. Then take a moment to watch the video released by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
With all of this attention, there can be little doubt that the Kony 2012 campaign has succeeded in grabbing the attention of U.S. policy makers. Congress acts when the American public demands it. And the flurry of activity over the past few weeks proves it. Stay tuned for how we turn that attention into real successes for LRA affected communities.
Newsweek has a unique look at the efforts to find and capture senior LRA commanders, offering a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by Ugandan troops and the U.S. military advisers that are helping them. Read the full article here.
The story includes some concrete stories about the vital assistance the U.S. is providing.
When Ugandan soldiers recently crossed a river, a massive crocodile attacked one of them, nearly severing his left calf. It was the Americans who helped evacuate the soldier and treated him. “He could have died,” said Balikuddembe. Similarly, when a Ugandan was wounded by the LRA earlier this year, Americans treated him after Kidega carried him out of the jungle. “In the past we didn’t have helicopters,” says Kidega, “but now when something happens, we know there will be a rescue. We know we have friends.”
The Americans also train the Ugandan soldiers and fly air reconnaissance but haven’t so far gone on patrol. Ugandan officials say the logistical and technical support is crucial, especially the service of a U.S. surveillance aircraft that makes regular sorties over the jungle, looking for traces of enemy fires or any human movement in the thick canopy.
With this critical U.S. support, the Ugandan troops are pursuing LRA leaders in some of densest forests in the world with small, highly-mobile units. Despite the challenges, there are occasional developments that make the capture of LRA leaders more likely:
Another squad operating in the vicinity had killed one LRA soldier and gravely wounded another, a 12-year veteran and high-ranking LRA warrant officer named Patrick Ochan. Over the last two weeks, the Ugandans had been nursing Ochan back to health and then interrogating him for information on LRA movements and, with any luck, Kony’s whereabouts. Minor engagements like these could yield valuable information. Now, armed with that intelligence, the squad returned.
As the article makes clear, tracking down some of the world’s worst criminals is not easy work. But the support of the U.S. military advisers makes it more likely that senior LRA commanders will be captured and the LRA’s reign of terror will finally be ended.
* Photo credit: Trevor Snapp / Pulitzer Center for Newsweek
The gears of the international community are turning after the launch of the Kony 2012 campaign. On the heels of bipartisan U.S. Congressional resolutions about the LRA, the African Union (AU) separately announced two weeks ago that it would be launching a regional initiative and forming a 5,000 person military force to fight the LRA. The AU plans have been in the works for months and there are still a lot of details to be worked out, but the announcement is a welcome sign that the AU is bringing renewed energy and attention to the LRA crisis. Abou Moussa, the UN envoy for the region, sounded a note of urgency while announcing the plan, saying that “the most important thing is that no matter how little the LRA may be, it still constitutes a danger … they continue to attack and create havoc.”
Regional cooperation is essential to capturing Kony and ending the havoc that the LRA produces (see our recent report that explains why), so the AU initiative is a step in the right direction. Right now, Ugandan troops that are pursuing LRA leaders don’t have permission to cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo, thereby creating a potential safe-haven for LRA leadership in the DRC. And some fear that the LRA might also find refuge in the Darfur region of Sudan. The AU efforts will hopefully improve regional cooperation, and make ending Kony’s reign of terror something that governments cooperate on, not squabble over. To boost the AU’s efforts, the Obama Administration should strongly support the work of AU LRA envoy Francisco Madeira, who is leading diplomatic efforts to defrost tensions between regional governments.
As for the troops, at least part of the force will be made-up of Ugandan, Congolese, Central African, and South Sudanese troops who are already deployed in LRA-affected areas. The AU military force will have a headquarterns in Yambio, South Sudan and a political office in Central African Republic.
Some might wonder: Is the Kony 2012 campaign the reason this is happening? In short, not entirely: these plans have been in the works for months. But it seems clear that the Kony 2012 campaign certainly added urgency to the launch of the AU initiative. Indeed, Moussa said international interest in Kony had been “useful, very important”.
If the AU efforts result in increased regional cooperation, we believe they could significantly hasten the day that LRA violence finally ends and Joseph Kony is brought to justice. We will keep you updated as more information about this AU initiative becomes available. Stay tuned.
*Photo credit: Reuters
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Kony 2012 phenomenon has been the way in which young people across the globe are pushing adults to address the issue of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa. The Associated Press published a piece about this a couple of weeks ago, highlighting that several members of Congress increased their engagement on the issue after being confronted by their own children who asked them what they were doing to help bring Joseph Kony to justice and end LRA violence.
From politicians and parents to teachers and administrators, thousands of adults are now learning about LRA violence for the first time — or are being challenged to do something about it for the first time — because of their kids.
Right now, as young activists across the country continue to meet with their elected leaders, urging them to help bring Joseph Kony to justice and end LRA violence, our Resolve team has been receiving story after story from young activists – many of whom had never lobbied their members of Congress before – who are realizing the power they have to affect change in Washington. And along the way, it seems like many adults are realizing the same thing.
Which brings us to our next Kony 2012 story….
Meeting Brianne Blaisdell, a college student from Riverside, CA. Last week, Brianne led a lobby meeting with Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA44), joined by a couple of special guests. As you’ll read below, she came away with some pretty fabulous reflections that made us smile. Check it out:
“The most awesome part of my lobby meeting was the fact that my dad took off an hour of work — on a really busy day — to come to the meeting. And not only did he come, he asked if he could speak to share his own personal reasons for caring about the issue . He took the floor for part of the meeting and was so eloquent and passionate, I couldn’t believe it. The staffer asked him some pretty tough questions and I expected him to re-direct them my way, but he answered them perfectly and with such confidence. It was so cool to see my dad step up like that. My mom also came to the meeting and started to tear up after we showed a video of testimonies from LRA-affected communities in central Africa to Representative Calvert. She kept bringing up those stories on the way home.
I’ve been a Resolve and Invisible Children supporter since I was a teenager. I always remember coming home and ranting to my family about what was going on with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa and what we can be doing about it. Now, it’s so amazing to see that this is no longer something that I believe in alone — it’s now something my whole family believes in.
I know lobby meetings sound scary. And I won’t lie and say I wasn’t nervous leading up to first meeting. I’ll admit, professionalism isn’t something that comes naturally to me as a 20-year-old college student with a casual style and ripped shoes. The idea was nerve-wracking. But once you’re in that meeting, you forget about the nervousness. It really becomes more of a conversation and the fear subsides. Trust me, if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you too!
Lobby meetings really aren’t as frightening as they seem and the benefits are so unique and so rich. All I can say is that it’s worth it. I strongly recommend anyone who feels passionately about an issue to meet with their representative — or their representative’s staff — to discuss what’s important to them. No matter how afraid you are, the experience will leave you feeling confident, knowing you can take a stand for what is right, you can have your voice heard by Washington, and that you can accomplish difficult things.
Do it. So completely worth it.”
- Brianne Blaisdell (pictured above with her father in front of Rep. Calvert’s Riverside office)
We’re so thankful to Brianne, Mr. and Mrs. Blaisdell, and the thousands of other activists across the country who have given their voices and their time — and stepped out of their comfort zones — to move our leaders to help end LRA violence.
Inspired to take action yourself? Click here for 3 things you can do right now. Keep up the great work, advocates.
Stop at nothing.
This Monday kicked off the second phase of the KONY 2012 campaign, during which activists across the U.S. are emailing, calling, and meeting with their members of Congress, urging them to take action to help arrest Joseph Kony, end LRA violence, and seek lasting peace for affected communities in central Africa. More specifically, they are asking representatives to cosponsor the Kony 2012 Congressional Resolution (H. Res. 583 / S. Res. 402) which was introduced in both the House and the Senate following the release of the Kony 2012 film.
So far, 91 members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — have officially cosponsored the resolution and several more, as a result of local lobby meetings with activists, have verbally confirmed that they will be cosponsoring as soon as they return to Washington after the April recess.
Our team continues to receive a stream of wonderful stories from young activists across the country — many of whom have never lobbied their representatives until now — who are now filled with excitement about engaging politically to help end LRA violence. These high school and college students are not only making waves in Washington, they are proving to them themselves and their peers that their voices are powerful.
We’ve been humbled and inspired by the young people we get to work with, and we wanted you to share a few of their stories with you.
Josh Stegmeier, a high school junior from Longmont, CO, accidentally signed up with us to lead a Kony 2012 lobby meeting, thinking that he was simply signing up to attend one. Our lovely fellow, Becky, convinced Josh that he would do a great job leading — and that she would help him every step of the way — so he agreed! This week, Josh and 9 others met with Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO4) and despite being a lobby-meeting rookie, Josh did a fantastic job leading the group (no surprise there) and it went off without a hitch. Here were a few of his thoughts after the meeting:
“We were so happy with how it went, it was hard to put into words. Representative Gardner was really appreciative of us meeting with him (as we were of him). I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rep. Gardner will do. I think we’ve got his vote…… If there’s anything Resolve needs help with in the future, feel free to let me know! I had such a fun time; it was truly a memorable experience.”
College student Sarah Scinto and 9 other activists from Wilkes-Barre, PA, met with Representative Tom Marino (R-PA10) this week. Sarah is a veteran with Resolve but several in the group had never lobbied before. In the picture above, the activists are showing Representative Marino a video of testimonies from communities currently affected by LRA violence, made by our friends at Discovery the Journey. According to Sarah, the Representative was deeply moved by what the activists shared and he even committed on the spot to cosponsor the resolution! Here are some more reflections from Sarah:
“Representative Marino was overwhelmingly supportive of the resolution and spoke about his recent trip to parts of Africa. He said that he tries to be a champion for children all across the world, citing his background as a prosecutor, and assured us that he would fight for this issue to remain in the attention of Congress……I was unbelievably surprised by the Congressman’s amazing response. He actually thanked us for working on this issue, while we were sitting in shock at his display of passion towards bringing Kony to justice. I still can’t believe it went so well, and all of my fellow participants were amazed by the experience. We’re ready for whatever comes next!”
College student Rachel Marie Asaro and the Invisible Children East Coast roadie team met with Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA15) today. The group did a fantastic job sharing their personal stories, updating the Congressman on current LRA activity, and urging him to take action by cosponsoring the Kony 2012 resolution. The Congressman enthusiastically agreed at the meeting to become a cosponsor and went on to say that as a member of the House subcommittee that helps decides the U.S. Foreign aid budget, he would do all he could to help ensure funding for life-saving programs in areas currently affected by LRA violence. That is a major victory, folks! Here are some thoughts from Rachel:
“The successful meeting with Representative Charlie Dent was a huge milestone for our journey to bring this conflict to an end and our lobby team couldn’t have been more happy to be a part of it! It was an amazing experience for both myself and the East Coast roadies. To be in the room when Representative Dent confirmed that he would be a cosponsor on the House resolution and work with his subcommittee to help address LRA violence made all our hard work worth it. We are confident, passionate, and persistent. I believe that as long as we continue, we will see an end to this war.
More stories to come — this is only the beginning! Inspired to contact your representatives? Click here for 3 things you can do right now.
Stop at nothing.
For more than 25 years, Kony’s crimes have devastated communities across central Africa, and international leaders have failed to dedicate the resources needed to stop him. On April 20th, activists around the world who gather to “Cover the Night” will have an unprecedented opportunity to finally change that.
In the short time since KONY 2012 was released, the United Nations and African Union announced that they will launch an ambitious new strategy to stop LRA atrocities and help the communities in central Africa most affected by the violence. But the reality is that without serious new commitments from world leaders, this plan won’t have the resources it needs to succeed where past efforts have fallen short.
That’s where Cover the Night – and you – come in. Through social media, letters, phone calls, and other actions, Cover the Night participants will seek commitments from world leaders to support the new international strategy to bring Kony to justice and restore communities being torn apart by LRA violence.
The joint plan issued by the United Nations and African Union embodies a truly comprehensive approach to addressing the conflict, something activists have long called for. It includes strengthened regional efforts to locate and arrest Kony, protect vulnerable communities, and prevent abuses by military forces themselves. It aims to help people abducted by Kony’s forces to escape and return to their homes and families. And it seeks to address the underlying factors that have allowed this violence to continue for so long by ensuring that governments in affected countries cooperate to solve this problem and by helping communities in LRA-affected areas to rebuild and heal from years of conflict.
Cover the Night participants will ask world leaders to provide increased resources to fund this plan, focusing specifically on a few of its most important – and concrete – components:
1) Building mobile phone towers and early warning networks in the remote areas where the LRA operates to help protect communities from LRA attacks and ensure they are prepared when the threat is highest.
2) Helping the African Union operation succeed in arresting Kony and senior LRA commanders and protecting the communities most vulnerable to LRA attacks and abductions by providing helicopters and logistical support.
3) Encouraging LRA fighters and abductees in the bush to escape peacefully – and helping local communities to receive them – by expanding FM radio towers and “come-home” radio programs.
By pushing for commitments from world leaders to take these simple steps, KONY 2012 aims to help communities across central Africa that are enduring LRA attacks and see Joseph Kony arrested by year’s end.
Already, the campaign is having an impact. In addition to the African Union and United Nations announcing a new plan to address the issue, 91 Members of the U.S. Congress have sponsored a resolution calling for President Obama to increase U.S. efforts since the launch of KONY 2012. Members of Congress have also committed to expand funding for programs that help LRA-affected communities and to pass new U.S. legislation that would authorize a financial reward for information that leads to Kony’s capture.
It’s time for this progress to spread around the globe, so that Kony is brought to justice and LRA violence is ended once and for all. Sign up at www.KONY2012.com, and Cover the Night.
In the past few weeks there has been unprecedented attention around the world on the need to arrest Joseph Kony and end LRA atrocities in central Africa. However, in the coming months, one of the most important tools needed to achieve this goal – Uganda’s Amnesty Act – could be lost. The Act is set to expire in May, and prospects for its renewal are uncertain at best.
Enacted in 2000, the Amnesty Act provides amnesty from prosecution for individuals who take up arms against the Ugandan government but decide to surrender peacefully. The Act also established the Amnesty Commission, which provides small packages of reintegration support – including cash and basic farming tools – to many LRA returnees and others who accept amnesty, helping them rebuild lives disrupted by war. Over the years, the Act has received overwhelming support from civil society leaders in northern Uganda, as most LRA combatants were abducted against their will and military operations alone have never been adequate to stop the group’s attacks.
Through the use of persistent “come home” radio programming and direct outreach to LRA fighters encouraging them to surrender and accept amnesty, over 10,000 LRA members – a number 30 times the group’s current strength – defected and received amnesty between 2000 and 2008. Since 2008, hundreds more Ugandan members of the LRA have taken advantage of amnesty, helping to deplete LRA ranks and diminish their ability to attack communities in their current area of operations in Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. These defectors also provide regional governments with valuable information about where LRA groups are located, helping them anticipate what communities may be most at risk of attack.
As a UN official in Dungu recently explained to me, ongoing initiatives to encourage the defection of the Ugandan fighters and commanders that make up the core of the LRA are wholly dependent on the existence of the Amnesty Act. Without it, many LRA fighters and abductees will fear prosecution if they surrender or are caught, driving them to stay within the rebel ranks and continue attacking civilians.
However, with the LRA no longer active in Uganda, some there are questioning whether the legislation is still relevant and appropriate. Many point out that the Act grants amnesty and provides reintegration support to LRA commanders accused of terrible crimes, while victims of LRA violence often receive little or no assistance or reparations. The Ugandan government also sees the Act as an impediment to their desire to prosecute some LRA commanders accused of war crimes (including Thomas Kwoyelo and has raised the concern that the Act brings Ugandan law out of alignment with international human rights law. Some within the Ugandan government are now discussing whether the Act can be renewed with amendments that allow for the prosecution of the most senior LRA commanders, but many think it should be allowed to simply expire.
That would be a mistake. Allowing the Amnesty Act to expire would cause great concern in northern Uganda and other war-affected areas of the country, and make people who have already received amnesty uneasy about their futures. It would leave dozens of Ugandans who have escaped the LRA or other Ugandan rebel groups over the past six months in legal limbo, as dysfunction within the Amnesty Commission has prevented them from receiving their official amnesty certificates.
But most importantly, and often unrecognized in the current debates within Uganda, the end of the Amnesty Act would severely undermine current efforts to encourage Ugandan LRA fighters and commanders to peacefully surrender. The UN and others are now working to expand ongoing programs that use FM radio broadcasts and aerial leafleting to encourage fighters and abductees in LRA ranks to defect. These programs have already shown success, and hold even greater future promise with their expansion. If the Act expires, these efforts will be back at square one.
As a result, many opportunities to help LRA abductees escape and reduce the group’s capacity to attack civilians would be lost. Civilians in LRA-affected areas of central Africa would bear the worst of the consequences.