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Sen. Russ Feingold

Sen. Russ Feingold

Posted: July 7, 2009 10:27 AM

Since the late 1980s, the people of northern Uganda have lived a nightmare. Over the years, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by the brutal Joseph Kony, forcibly abducted tens of thousands of children to fill their ranks as soldiers and sex slaves. Sadly, this nightmare went mostly unnoticed by the world community. Thankfully, that has started to change. Last month, nearly two thousand young people from across America came to Washington D.C to advocate for action to stop the LRA, a far cry from just a few years ago when the tragedy in Uganda was called the world's worst neglected humanitarian crisis. For a long time, the international community paid little attention and the Ugandan government did even less to protect its citizens living in the northern part of the country. Thanks in part to these young people, those days of neglect are over.

Yet the end of neglect has not meant the end of the LRA. First, in late 2005, the rebel commanders moved their base of operations into northeastern Congo. And since then, a series of new efforts have failed to resolve the crisis. From 2006 to early 2008, representatives of the rebels and Ugandan government negotiated a series of agreements in southern Sudan. These negotiations were not perfect, but they did achieve a cessation of hostilities and provided a framework to address the larger issues that enabled the conflict to exist for so long, including the grievances of northern Ugandans. Unfortunately, Kony repeatedly refused to sign the agreement and instead his forces launched new attacks in Congo, Sudan and, for the first time, Central African Republic.

Last December, the violence and bloodshed escalated significantly. The Ugandan military, with its regional counterparts, launched a coordinated offensive against the LRA's new bases in northeastern Congo, but it failed. Those planning the operation were unable to anticipate contingencies and did not take adequate precautions to protect civilians. When the operation failed to apprehend Kony and his top commanders, they retaliated against Congolese civilians. In the six months since, the UN estimates the LRA has killed an estimated 1200 Congolese civilians and abducted another 1500. Time and time again, rash military operations that are poorly designed and poorly carried out have inflamed this crisis rather than resolved it.

The United States provided support for both these efforts. In 2007, at the urging of Congress, the State Department appointed a senior diplomat to observe and assist the ongoing peace negotiations. And last year, at the request of regional governments, the Bush Administration provided non-operational, non-lethal assistance for the military offensive. But the twin failure of peace talks and military operations has shown that there is no simple solution to this crisis and that we can not just throw our support behind the single most promising initiative of the day. Advocates have tended to back either peace talks or military operations, but both those efforts in isolation have failed. It's time for a new, multifaceted strategy to confront the LRA.

That is why I joined with Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) in authoring the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act (S. 1067). Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) has introduced the same proposal in the House (H.R. 2478). With the help of the thousands of young people, momentum for our legislation is gaining. If passed, the measure would require the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive strategy to help protect civilians while seeking to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA. This legislation leaves it up to the discretion of the Administration to determine the specifics, but it seeks to ensure a multifaceted approach that includes all elements of U.S. policy -- economic, political, intelligence and military -- and coordinates our efforts across the four affected countries.

Our bill does not, however, encourage a new Ugandan-led military offensive against the LRA and does not sanction any specific military operation. Instead, it seeks to push a comprehensive approach in which military activity would be one component within a larger framework. Such an approach, though, should also include humanitarian components and support for credible diplomatic efforts to press for a viable political solution.

A comprehensive approach also requires attention to rebuilding the lives and communities of those most affected by the violence. The U.S. and other international donors have already contributed substantial funds to help recovery efforts in northern Uganda. But, we also need to ensure that the government of Uganda is upholding its end of the deal and that complementary steps are being taken to address the original causes of the war. To that end, the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act also includes support for transitional justice and reconciliation efforts. Ultimately, as we have seen with so many other conflicts, our success may depend less on how we end the violence and more on how we build the peace.

Senator Feingold is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

 

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