The widely lauded bipartisan May 2010 law that made way for President Obama’s recent decision to send troops to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) must be fully enacted to include the promised full range of non-military strategies to demobilize the LRA, protect civilians and develop the region the humanitarian organization Oxfam said earlier this week.
“The law makes it the policy of the US to work with regional governments towards lasting solutions to the conflict which are comprehensive and include non-military strategies not just to defeat senior leadership of the LRA but also to peacefully demobilize low-level fighters, often unwillingly conscripted as children,” Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, said.
Gottschalk said Oxfam welcomed US attention to the issue but said it is crucial that lessons are learned from past mistakes such as the disastrous December 2008 Operation Lightening Thunder, a joint military campaign by the Congolese, Ugandan, and South Sudanese armies, supported by the US.
“Not only did Operation Lightning Thunder fail to capture or kill LRA leaders, but it led to devastating reprisal attacks by the LRA. Approximately 865 women, men and children were killed and thousands were displaced from their homes. Earlier military attempts before US engagement also caused widespread human suffering but barely dented the LRA itself.”
Today, isolated and vulnerable communities lack proper protection through Congolese police, military or international peacekeepers in the area and are attractive targets for the LRA because of this. In keeping with the spirit of “The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009” the US should be reducing these vulnerabilities by improving roads and communication networks, and helping to make Congolese security forces more accountable to the people they serve.
The US should prioritize security sector reforms like supporting the Congolese government to ensure soldiers’ pay and welfare, assisting in the establishment of army garrisons and helping to train soldiers in human rights.
Oxfam is one of only a handful of groups providing humanitarian aid in LRA-affected areas of DRC where 335,000 people remain displaced because of the armed group. Even more are caught in a cycle of fleeing and returning, an instable situation that contributes to the area’s poverty. The situation continues to worsen: a 2011 survey by Oxfam in LRA-affected communities found that 62 percent of 322 interviewees said they felt less safe this year than last.