Urgent action needed to prevent another Christmas massacre by Africa’s most brutal rebel group
The international community needs to act to prevent another Christmas massacre and the almost daily killing sprees by the most brutal and long-running rebel group in Africa, aid agencies say in a new report.
Massacres meted out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) against remote communities in Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past year have been among the worst in the LRA’s 20-year bloody history.
New figures show that over the past two years the LRA has become the most deadly militia in the DRC. In the last year alone more than 1,000 people have been killed or abducted in nearly 200 separate attacks in two remote districts of DRC – almost four attacks a week across an area approximately the size of the United Kingdom.
On Christmas Eve 2008 and over the following three weeks, 865 women, men and children were savagely beaten to death and hundreds more abducted by the LRA in north-eastern DRC and southern Sudan. Last Christmas, between 14 and 17 December 2009, LRA commanders oversaw the killing of more than 300 people. These attacks have largely gone unnoticed by the outside world.
“It is unbelievable that world leaders continue to tolerate brutal violence against some of the most isolated villages in central Africa and that this has been allowed to continue for more than 20 years,” said Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in DRC. “This Christmas families in north-eastern Congo will live in fear of yet another massacre, despite the presence of the world’s largest peacekeeping mission.”
The LRA is highly mobile and attacks women as they perform their daily tasks – fetching water or tending to their fields – and children as they return from school. The LRA abducts, mutilates, rapes and kills women, men and children, using extreme violence against the most vulnerable.
A new report, ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ launched today by 19 humanitarian and human rights organizations says the safety and welfare of women, men and children across the vast LRA-affected area must finally be given the decisive attention it demands.
“The LRA is mostly comprised of abducted or coerced adults and children who have been forced to commit horrific acts against their community, making it impossible for them to return home,” said Mark Waddington CEO of War Child UK. “Children are forced to kill and rape, and many are used as ‘sex slaves’.
“This must not be allowed to continue. The international community must work harder to implement the recommendations in the report and promote the safe release of LRA abductees and support their reintegration back into their families and daily life, particularly girls, who are often neglected in such processes.”
Previous efforts to apprehend the LRA have failed, the report says. In December 2008 Operation “Lightning Thunder”, a military offensive against the LRA, failed to capture any senior rebel commanders. The offensive only prompted brutal retaliations against communities and pushed the LRA further from their native Uganda across an area 20 times larger than before.
Recent signs of diplomatic commitment from the African Union and United States must provide tangible answers that protect the population from violence and find peaceful solutions, agencies say. That should include focusing on the realities of national armies’ capacity to keep civilians safe from the LRA, one of the major weaknesses in strategies to date.
“As a regional problem the LRA is no one government’s responsibility,” said Stoessel. “The United Nations Security Council has long neglected to put the LRA as a specific agenda item and has failed to respond seriously to atrocities.
“The international community and regional governments must work together so that families can finally tend to their fields and sleep in their homes free from fear.”