"We have been forgotten. It’s as if we don’t exist. The government says the LRA are no longer a problem, but I know that’s not true. I beg of you, please talk to others about what has happened to us."
On December 24th, 2008 and December 14, 2009, the LRA launched two of the most brutal massacres in its history, targeting Congolese communities left vulnerable as they celebrated the Christmas season. Hundreds of people were killed and abducted. Churches were sought out and burned down. Entire communities – places once home to warmth and laughter – were devastated.
Taking time to pause and remember the lives lost and dreams dashed by the Christmas massacres is an act of resistance against the workings of a world that seems determined to forget. To honor and uphold their memories is inextricable from the commitment to preventing it from happening again.
Above: Daniel Kpakana 14 years old was taken at PK12 in January 2010. He was with the LRA for 3 months and escaped after an attack on the FARDC. His commander was Dix Metre.
What We Remember: The Christmas Massacres
In December 2008, following a failed peace effort, regional military forces launched an offensive against LRA hideouts in northeastern Congo with the aim of ending the group’s two-decade reign of terror across central Africa. Instead, the operation backfired. On Christmas Eve, the LRA retaliated against communities left unprotected and celebrating the holiday together.
LRA fighters attacked with brutal efficiency, killing more than 865 civilians and abducting at least 160 children in a matter of days. Tens of thousands of civilians fled for their lives, seeking shelter in nearby towns and sparking a new humanitarian crisis.
LRA fighters warned local communities of their intent to repeat the massacre the following year to demonstrate their continued ability to wreak terror. As promised, from December 14th to 18th of 2009, LRA fighters entered four villages in the Makombo area of northeastern Congo and systematically murdered more than 300 residents and abducted at least 250 others, leaving a trail of bodies that followed their path back into hiding. Tragically, because of the remoteness of the communities targeted, news of the scale of the Makombo massacre did not reach the outside world for more than three months after it occurred.
Researchers from Human Rights Watch disclosed the full scale of what transpired. One man they interviewed said,
"[When I came out] on Wednesday [December 16], I found bodies everywhere, all along the road..., including those of my older brother and uncle. I buried 22 bodies that day....I saw at least another 40 bodies that I didn’t have time to bury because I was scared and wanted to get to Niangara. Some of the victims were tied together in groups of three or four. They were all killed with four blows of the axe on the back of the head....Some of the bodies had pieces of wood stuck in the side or the chest."
Today, much of the world remains unaware of these massacres. This reality is an injustice to the memories of victims and survivors alike. Even more, it undermines action to prevent a recurrence.
Above: Masua Abaneru 22 fisherman and father of 3 children was abducted by the LRA and used as a porter. When he became too tired to continue he was taken into the bush and the LRA commanders forced the children to hit him with sticks until he was dead. He woke up several days later and crawled to find help. He was found by villagers who came to bury the dead after they heard of the attack. He has not been able to work for over one year due to the attack. Photo courtesy of Marcus Bleasdale.
How We Remember: About the vigil
One Voice: Resolved to Remember began as a way for our staff to commemorate the massacres and re-commit ourselves to preventing them from happening again this year or in the future. This is the second year that we have extended an invitation to all of our supporters to do the same.
Our friends and partners are invited to hold their own vigil – individually or in a group – any time between December 14th and December 24th. We invite you to stand in solidarity with us and with the communities affected by LRA violence by participating right where you are. Our hope is that over the course of these 10 days, people across the country will join together to remember and pray for the families disrupted by LRA violence.
We remember because every life lost or harmed in the Christmas Massacres deserves to be remembered. We believe that our acts will recognize the inherent value and dignity of every human life affected by this crisis, in order to make ending it a true priority.
Visit the Join the Vigil page for more information on how you can participate.
Above: An abandoned church on the outskirts of Ango, North Eastern Congo. People have fled due to recent activity and abductions and killings by the Lords Resistance Army. Photo courtesy of Marcus Bleasdale.
Who We Remember: Each individual name
We remember the individuals killed and abducted in the Christmas massacres of 2008 and 2009, and the families that lost them. Every life taken had a personality, a family, friendships, and dreams for the future that will go unrealized. We wish we knew each of their stories, but we do know each of their names.
In a humble effort to recognize the humanity of life disrupted, each vigil participant will be invited to select one name---one life--- from the list of those killed and abducted in this unimaginable tragedy. As you join us in One Voice: Resolved to Remember, we ask you to honor and mourn the life of that one individual and pray for the family and community left behind.
Indeed, we remember with the awareness that the LRA may be planning to conduct this gruesome ritual yet again, inviting us to strengthen our resolve for peace.
Above: Savilia Mbwoniwia 14 years old. She was forced to be the wife of the commander Dix Metre for many months. She was his fifth wife and the youngest. She was forced to carry and beaten and raped. She was released when she was injured and could not walk. The LRA took her to a road and left her there.