Human Rights Watch has released a report revealing that the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Uganda has abducted over 697 people in the Central African Republic (CAR) and northern region of Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the report, the army typically attacks and loots villages, grabbing civilians and tying them together to form human chains. The captured are made to work for long hours preparing food, and are not allowed to eat, drink or speak without an officer’s permission. While some are released, others are made to march with the looted goods, and those who cannot keep up are beaten to death.
Almost a third of the abductees are children. They are usually separated from adults and kept close to the LRA commanders, who expose them to extreme violence and brutality in order to integrate them into the group. HRW contends that as part of their indoctrination, many children are forced to kill their parents or other children who try to escape or disobey the rules. They are trained early on in combat, and as young as 10 or 11 they are armed with guns and participating in attacks. Girls are used primarily for sex, and refusal can result in death.
Described as being a “messianic cult,” the LRA was pushed out of the country by the Ugandan military in 2005. In the same year, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of the army’s leader Joseph Kony for crimes against humanity. In 2008 the Ugandan army launched a military campaign against the LAR with the help of U.S. intelligence, but has failed to end the violence or capture the group’s leaders. Soon after the campaign, the LRA carried out a “revenge massacre” in northern Congo, leaving 345 people dead. The group now operates in the border region between southern Sudan, DR Congo and CAR.
LRA attacks have been largely underreported in part because the majority of the villages attacked are remote, with few mediums of communication. However its mark is evident in the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled to larger towns for fear of attack, leaving entire villages empty. In addition, HRW’s report consists of hundreds of interviews with survivors, including children, who now have their voices heard by the world.
HRW is calling on the respective countries’ governments “to strengthen their protection of civilians and to put greater emphasis on efforts to rescue the abducted children and others.” In addition, the U.S. should act quickly to carry out the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which was signed by President Obama in May, and involves a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians from LRA attacks, end the violence and bring the leaders to justice.