Vol. 35, No. 5
Uganda: Pursuing peaceful means
The following article was written by Jennifer Schutzman, intern at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
In mid-July the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Catholic diocese of Dungu-Doruma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Conciliation Resources sponsored a Diocesan Congress on Peace where religious leaders met with NGOs and civil society representatives from communities affected by violence perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The Congress was made up of high-level religious and community leaders, including Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu; Rev. Benoit Kinalegu, president of the diocesan justice and peace commission; and Bishop Richard Domba of Uvira. Participants drafted observations, formulated recommendations to both specific governments and humanitarian agencies, and agreed to an action plan for grassroots implementation.
On May 24 President Obama signed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009” (S.1067/HR 2478): “To support stabilization and lasting peace in northern Uganda and areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army through development of a regional strategy to support multilateral efforts to successfully protect civilians and eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army and to authorize funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction, reconciliation, and transitional justice, and for other purposes.” The bill provides $40 million for implementation over the course of three years; up to $10 million will be appropriated to the Department of State and foreign operations for humanitarian assistance for areas outside Uganda affected by the LRA (DRC, Sudan, and Central Africa Republic, CAR) in fiscal year 2011, and up to $10 million can be appropriated each fiscal year from 2011 to 2013 towards the assistance for reconciliation and transitional justice in northern Uganda. Within 180 days of the signing, the administration is obligated to produce a strategy of implementation.
With the goal of sustainable peace, affected groups in Uganda, DRC, CAR, and Sudan are asking President Obama to emphasize humanitarian reconstruction over military action. Not only would this be more likely to create pathways for peace and reintegration, but as Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) pointed out in a hearing on May 25, almost 90 percent of the LRA is made up of child soldiers who were themselves kidnapped and brainwashed to fight for LRA leader Joseph Kony. The youth of both the LRA and displaced communities need and deserve hope for a future with respect to human life.
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), consisting of Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox leaders working collaboratively for peace and development in Northern Uganda, recently initiated a letter to the Obama administration which was signed by organizations working in LRA-affected regions. The letter stated: “Military action has time and time again not only failed to end the conflict but caused it to spread into regions once immune to LRA violence resulting in further suffering of civilians. We therefore strongly implore you to prioritize and creatively explore nonviolent actions to resolving the conflict. We believe this is the only way to bring a lasting solution that will foster healing and reconciliation in a region of the world that longs for and deserves peace. Mr. President, we look forward to continued dialogue with you and your administration. May God guide and grant you and your administration wisdom as you discern how to effectively achieve the mandate of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478).”
The communiqué released by the Dungu Congress includes a concrete action plan for tackling violence in the affected region. It advises that peace initiatives must:
- Communicate with the LRA and give its members incentives to come out of the bush
- Support the creation of retrieval centers for LRA victims and ex-combatants
- Organize and pursue inter-community exchange and dialogues
- Establish without further delay rehabilitation centers
- Take into account the needs and concerns of those undergoing reintegration processes
Community leaders within the relevant affected regions, such as the ARLPI and the Dungu-Doruma diocese’s Commission on Justice and Peace are advising outsiders what they want and need for peace. Now they must be heard.