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November-December 2010
Vol. 35, No. 6

Uganda: Religious leaders advise U.S. foreign policy

Last May President Obama signed into law the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478). The bill states that the United States will intervene to bring an end to the war caused by the conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government that has caused horrific violence across the region for decades. The LRA conflict is spread over Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Currently, the administration is shaping the bill’s implementation. The following article was written by Jennifer Schutzman, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

In September 2010 the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, in collaboration with the Africa Human Security Working Group, hosted bishops from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) to discuss how this bill should be implemented. The ARLPI consists of Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox leaders working collaboratively for peace and development by promoting dialogue and reconciliation in northern Uganda. The ARLPI met with the State Department, National Security Council, relevant House and Senate members, Department of Defense, and other non-governmental organizations in the D.C. area. In these meetings, they offered prescriptions to chart a way forward that prioritizes peaceful means and creatively explores nonviolent actions to resolving the conflict, based on their experiences on the ground.

From their decades of first-hand exposure to the LRA conflict, the ARLPI emphasizes that this bill must prioritize civilian protection, promote peaceful dialogue, address the root of the conflict to ensure lasting peace, and reintegration for all victims. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns has long advocated that sustainable peace arises from genuinely listening to the affected communities. The potential to neglect root factors of the conflict is great when the civil society is not included in plans for foreign intervention. If neglected, these overlooked variables could later give reason for a return to war.

A statement from the ARLPI visitors noted the two main points conveyed during their meetings in D.C.:

“A negotiated solution is the most likely option for reaching sustainable peace. The Juba Peace talks were both far less expensive and came far closer to success than all three military offensives against the LRA. The Juba Peace talks were crucial in bringing about the peace that Northern Uganda currently enjoys. Due to the complexity of the conflict, even if a military option were successful in apprehending the LRA leadership, the conflict would most likely continue. Additionally, most of those in the LRA ranks have been abducted from their homes and families. Therefore, any military solution is bound to result in the killing of abducted children. Peace talks are the most likely to address the root causes of the LRA conflict and to reach sustainable solutions.

“Civilian protection should be carefully considered. In the past, military operations have severely increased the numbers of displaced people and revenge attacks on the civilian population by the LRA. Any plan that is put in place needs to carefully consider the safety of the civilian population. Finally, military operations and reconstruction do not go hand in hand. It is our hope that if talks resume, reconstruction can begin immediately in LRA affected areas as it did in Northern Uganda during the Juba Peace talks.”

Since the visit to D.C. in September, the ARLPI has continued to advise the administration members with whom they met on how the U.S. bill should be implemented in their country. On September 25 an LRA leader sent out a press release asking for peace talks and referring to the religious leaders’ work. Another press statement by the Justine Labeja Nyeko, who claims to be on the LRA Peace Team, once again asserts the LRA’s will for peace talks. The ARLPI is currently awaiting confirmation that the leader Joseph Kony himself supports these press releases before moving forward.

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