As we celebrate the peaceful referendum in Sudan, it is important to remember the underexposed war being waged against civilians across central Africa by the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. The group has targeted southern Sudan at various times over the past two decades and today continues to devastate communities in Sudan’s southwestern corner.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting recently hosted an event to highlight the LRA insurgency that has persisted for over 20 years and has claimed countless innocent lives across Uganda, Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic.
Through storytelling and a selection of powerful photos and videos, Pulitzer Center journalists Joe Bavier and Marcus Bleasdale, and Human Rights Watch researchers Ida Sawyer and Anneke Van Woudenberg described the atrocities that the LRA has committed against the people of central Africa.
Sawyer and Van Woudenberg highlighted the 2009 LRA attacks in eastern Congo where they discovered that a group of only 20 LRA combatants massacred over 345 civilians and abducted another 250 (mostly teenage children) to join their ranks. Bleasdale and Bavier shared the striking portraits of Congolese civilians who bear the scars of LRA brutality. Bleasdale’s portraits attempt to engage the international community by focusing on the individuality of the victims. Bavier also spoke of the challenges they faced as journalists in telling the story of these individuals and drawing attention to a forgotten crisis.
The Pulitzer Center panelists were hopeful that the comprehensive strategy released by the U.S. government would ignite a new energy and commitment on the part of the Obama administration to put an end to the LRA threat. They noted the importance of an effective disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for LRA fighters – many of whom are abductees who have been forced to commit heinous crimes as part of their induction – and the need for increased protection for civilians who are isolated and exposed to LRA attacks, despite the relative proximity of the Congolese army, the Ugandan army, and U.N. peacekeepers. The speakers also emphasized the importance of continuing to pressure the Khartoum government to not use the LRA as a destabilizing proxy force during this fragile time in Sudan and the surrounding region.
Without a driving ideology or support base, the LRA remains vulnerable to a targeted strategy aimed at apprehending the top tier commanders, encouraging defection, and increasing civilian protection in the region. The commitment of the Pulitzer Center reporters and the HRW researchers to finding out details of what is unfolding on the ground and sharing the stories of individual victims is inspiring and will remain an important part of ending the LRA threat. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting posted a video of highlights from the event.
To learn more about what the U.S. government could do to stop the LRA, read Enough and Resolve’s outline of the six steps the Obama administration should take to kick-start implementation of its new strategy.
Photo: Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale presents photos of survivors in eastern Congo (Pulitzer Center)