The Senate bill aimed at devising a strategy for stopping the brutal, 24-year insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army passed last night with a record 65 co-sponsors. After weeks of uncertainty when Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) put a hold on the bill, the victory for anti-LRA activists – a contingent of whom camped out in front of Coburn’s office for 11 days – is particularly poignant.
In a statement issued by lead co-sponsors and longtime champions on the LRA issue, Senators Feingold (D-WI), Brownback (R-KS), and Inhofe (R-OK) noted the delay in passing the bill but were enthusiastic about the outcome. Feingold said:
“The passage of this bill sends a message that the United States will no longer stand by and watch the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorize innocent civilians across central Africa, kidnap thousands of children and force them to become child soldiers. This legislation also sends a clear signal that the United States is committed to working with regional stakeholders to change the conditions that have allowed this war to persist for so long."
Brownback expressed his gratitude to Senate colleagues for appreciating the importance and urgency of the bill, and Inhofe called last night’s affirmative vote a “victory for the countless lives destroyed at the hands of [LRA leader] Joseph Kony.”
But even as Enough, along with advocacy partners Resolve Uganda and Invisible Children, celebrate this progress in Congress, new alarming reports have emerged that a dangerous contingent of the LRA has made its way to Darfur. Based on field research and analysis, Enough confirmed today that a group of LRA fighters have found safe haven in areas of Darfur controlled by the Sudanese government. This development – signaling renewed collusion between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and LRA leader Joseph Kony, both wanted war criminals – demands investigation by U.S. policymakers and the international community.
Enough Co-founder John Prendergast reacted to the news in a press release issued this morning:
"The Khartoum regime’s principal tool of war during its 21-year reign has been support for marauding militias such as the Janjaweed, the Murahaliin, and the Lord’s Resistance Army," said Enough Co-founder John Prendergast. “Facing no consequences for this destructive method of governing, it is unsurprising that the regime is again providing safe haven for the LRA. Absent a cost for this, we will likely see the LRA unleashed again later this year to destabilize the referendum in southern Sudan."
Amid news of the passage of the Senate LRA bill and revelations about the insurgency spreading to Darfur, Enough’s LRA researcher Ledio Cakaj published his latest report documenting abuses by both the LRA and the Congolese army on civilians in northeastern Congo. It’s a damning look at how civilians bear the brunt of the violence from both sides, while the U.N. mission remains relatively futile when it comes to protecting civilians. The report is a sobering reminder of what’s likely in store for the already traumatized people of Darfur as the LRA continues its march north. It is also a compelling case for why last night’s passage of the Senate LRA bill couldn’t have come soon enough. Now we must focus attention on pushing the companion bill through the House.