Amid faltering efforts to end the violence caused by the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, the United Nations Security Council met last month to discuss the LRA issue. The meeting referenced many of the critical issues stymieing current efforts, and some specific plans were agreed to. However, much more will be needed to address these challenges, including greater commitment and additional resources from LRA-affected countries and the international community.
To keep the Security Council abreast of efforts connected to the U.N.'s strategy to address the LRA threat, the secretary-general submitted a report in which he said he is "encouraged by progress made in tackling the threat and impact of the LRA" since June. The report cites the identification of priority activities by the U.N., the African Union, or A.U., and LRA-affected countries and the strengthening of coordination within the U.N. as well as between the U.N. and other actors as some positive trends. Here are some of the other key points that emerged from the Security Council's recent engagement on the issue:
LRA Activity and Status of the LRA: According to the secretary-general's report, communities and humanitarian organizations reported 180 LRA attacks last year, 138 of which occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 42 in the Central African Republic, or CAR. During these attacks, the LRA abducted 193 people, about a third of which are children. As a result of LRA violence, 39 civilians died in 2012. Approximately 443,000 people are currently displaced due to the violence perpetrated by the LRA.
Although many of these numbers are lower than in past years, the context here is critical. In 2011, there were 278 reported LRA attacks, 302 abductions, and 120 deaths. Following the deployment of the U.S. military advisors in late 2011 and the genesis of a regional initiative led by the A.U., LRA activity has decreased significantly. The group's strategy appears to be to keep a low profile while the advisors are deployed and while the spotlight on the LRA is relatively bright—in order to outlast them.
Regardless of the stats, the LRA retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks (we've seen small LRA groups carry out large massacres in the past) and displace hundreds of thousands of people. Fortunately, the LRA has minimized their activity for now. But it would be a mistake to conclude from the trend of decreased LRA activity that they are no longer a threat. In fact, the Enough Project remains concerned that their strategy will be successful and that they will indeed outlast the U.S. advisors and the current international attention—a likely scenario if the status quo of limited commitment from affected countries and the international community continues and if the U.S. advisors are withdrawn before they can succeed in meeting their objectives.
Also noteworthy is the inclusion in the report of the "growing concern" regarding the reported LRA presence in the Kafia Kingi area that straddles the disputed Sudan-South Sudan border. Enough and our friends at Resolve and Invisible Children have been monitoring the reports of LRA presence in Kafia Kingi and South Darfur for many months, concerned that efforts to apprehend the LRA's senior leadership could become nearly impossible and that the development could reignite conflict between the two Sudans if true. The secretary-general cites descriptions from both Sudanese refugees in Sam Ouandja in northeastern CAR and recent LRA defectors about a LRA base in Kafia Kingi. The council requested that the U.N. missions in the area and the A.U. collaborate to monitor reported LRA activity.
The A.U. Initiative: The report provides an update on the current status of the A.U. Regional Cooperation Initiative to end the LRA, including the still-aspirational A.U. Regional Task Force, or RTF. It notes that affected countries have provided only about half of the 5,000 troops they agreed to, among the many other resources also needed to make the RTF operational. The affected countries have not yet reached agreement on cross-border hot pursuit of LRA groups, an issue greatly complicated by the reports of Ugandan support to the M23 rebellion in Congo and that has resulted in a security vacuum in LRA-affected areas of Congo. The report also notes that the core documents for the RTF are still being reviewed for approval. In late December, at a meeting convened by the A.U., the affected countries' chiefs of defense staff agreed on all of the documents except the standard operating procedures for the treatment of former LRA. The secretary-general and the Security Council encouraged the regional governments to provide the resources necessary to operationalize the force, with assistance from the international community. The A.U. Commission is planning to convene a meeting on January 14 and 15 for defense ministers to review the core RTF documents.
Illicit Sources of Funding for the LRA: The council members requested that the U.N. and A.U. "jointly investigate" the LRA's possible sources of illicit financing, including reported LRA involvement in the ivory trade. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told fellow members that "there are credible reports of the LRA poaching elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and illegally trafficking ivory." If such reports (also covered by The New York Times) are true, the LRA would have a very lucrative source of funding which would enable it to become a greater threat to civilians and regional stability.
The secretary-general and Security Council have an important role to play in ensuring that the U.N. strategy is effectively implemented and done so in a timely way, as Enough and other NGOs argued in a joint report last month. Importantly, the council requested that Secretary-General Ban submit a plan before February 28 for implementing the strategy.The council and the secretary-general should continue to press for and enable implementation of the strategy, including operationalization of the RTF.
The U.S. government should play a key role in addressing the main obstacles limiting current efforts. The top priorities of the new Obama administration should be: keeping the advisors deployed until they can achieve their objectives; pressing the affected countries to commit more troops and other resources to apprehending the LRA's senior leaders and protecting civilians, including through the creation of a special A.U. unit with access to all LRA safe havens and that is tasked with arresting the top commanders; securing real-time intelligence about the LRA; and fully maximizing opportunities to promote defections from the LRA.
Photo: UN Security Council in session (UN Multimedia).