Vol. 36, No. 2
Uganda: Faith leaders renew call for negotiations
On May 24, 2010 President Obama signed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament (LRA) and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 "to support stabilization and lasting peace in northern Uganda and areas affected by the [LRA]." As required by the law, in November 2010 the administration issued a strategic plan for its implementation.
As the world was celebrating the achievement of a peaceful and well-run referendum that declared the independence of South Sudan, religious leaders in areas vulnerable to the LRA called again for international efforts to bring the LRA back to the negotiating table.
Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of the diocese of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan, wrote in an open letter: "The situation of the LRA has not improved since before, during and after the referendum. [In January,] we lost a religious nun into the hands of LRA in northern Congo [and] from 22nd to 25th December over 17 people [were] … abducted in Maridi and Ibba counties, as well as around Yambio county … with nine dead and seven wounded in the same counties. From 13th to 18th January to 7th February there [have]… been sporadic appearance[s] and killings, abduction[s], wounding and displacement of the people in Western Equatoria [Sudan] by the LRA. Our worries continue to increase as the rain season is getting closer and people are preparing to cultivate their fields this year. …
"After a long history of suffering, finally the people of South Sudan are in the process of achieving their self-determination … We hope, as we have opted for independence, that we will … choose democracy over repression, embrace diversity over division, defend human rights and justice over abuses, empower transparency and accountability over corruption and nepotism, and promote equality between men and women over discrimination. Above all choose peace over war.
"Already, the LRA has brutally killed more than 2,700 of our family members and abducted over 3,500 others since they began their latest wave of killings in September 2008. Many of our children are still in the hands of the LRA. We do not know if they are alive or dead. Those who have managed to escape the LRA bear the physical and mental scars of what they have suffered and will never be the same again. We have few means to help them re-adjust and integrate back into our communities, but we are trying to do what we can.
"With over 500,000 people displaced from their homes, our lives are not easy. We no longer have access to our fields, our schools are not functioning, and we struggle to fight off diseases and to find enough food to feed our families."
The bishop called for the urgent implementation of the new strategy the U.S. government released for dealing with the LRA, stating that he fully agreed with the plan's four objectives to: a) increase protection of civilians; b) apprehend or remove from the battlefield LRA leader Joseph Kony and senior commanders; c) promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of remaining LRA fighters; and d) increase humanitarian access and provide continued relief to affected communities. "But," he said, "I also add the strategy of peace negotiation initiative as a genuine option."
According to Sudan analyst John Ashworth, the bishop asks for Kony's removal "by putting pressure on him; it is not military operation but really pressure which can make him come to [the] negotiation table and also give up this endless war." The bishop stresses "professional law enforcement" and "pressure to make [Kony] come to the negotiation table," along with protection and assistance for affected communities.
According to the BBC's Mike Wooldridge, Archbishop John Baptist Odama from the Acholi Religious Leaders Network, who "played a key role in efforts to bring an end to the conflict involving the LRA, has said military strategies are not the answer" and that "efforts were needed to 'touch the humanity' of … Kony."
Wooldridge continues, "The archbishop is also involved in a regional and more broad-based task force working for an alternative to military strategies for ending the conflict now that it affects four countries.
"His message is that the track record of military offensives against the LRA demonstrates that force is not the answer - and that even though a negotiated peace settlement ultimately failed in 2008, it is still worth striving for."
Faith in action:
The Enough! Project will issue periodic report cards on the Obama administration's efforts to implement its strategy. The first report card is available here. Urge President Obama to follow the repeated recommendations of regional religious leaders, implementing critical non-military strategies to protect civilians and promote a negotiated end to the violence.