BACKGROUND: Started by Joseph Kony in northern Uganda during 1987 as a religiously-inspired militia group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has perpetrated crimes against humanity across central Africa. The UN Secretary-General released a report on 20 May asserting that between 1987 and 2012 the LRA was "responsible for more than 100,000 deaths, that from 60,000 to 100,000 children are believed to have been abducted by the rebel group and that 2.5 million civilians have been displaced as a result of its incursions."
No attacks have been reported in Uganda since 2006 or in South Sudan since 2011, but the group remains an active threat to civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR). The organization The Resolve has utilized satellite imagery to demonstrate that the LRA established camps within the Kafia Kingi enclave in Sudan with Sudanese government support from 2009 until March 2013.
The Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that between 1 January and 31 June 2013 the LRA carried out 104 attacks, resulting in 54 deaths and 154 abductions. According to OCHA, 30 of these attacks occurred in the DRC during March, the largest spike in LRA activity since January 2012.
ANALYSIS: Although its numbers are estimated at fewer than 250 combatants, the LRA remains a serious concern for populations as it operates across remote regions that lack a significant presence of security personnel. The lack of early warning capabilities undermines attempts to protect civilians in such a vast region since the LRA can attack and flee before local authorities respond.
CAR and the DRC are burdened by other internal conflicts and protecting civilians from the LRA is often a low priority. The recent coup in CAR resulted in several actors, including the United States, Uganda and the African Union (AU), suspending their anti-LRA activities in that country. This leaves populations in CAR at elevated risk of attack by the LRA and may allow the group to widen its operations.
The cross-border movement of the LRA has hampered attempts to halt its activity. The governments of Uganda and the DRC have failed to form agreements for the movement of troops across borders in pursuit of the LRA, allowing combatants to maintain safe havens within the DRC.
The governments of LRA-affected countries require ongoing international assistance to uphold their Responsibility to Protect.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Over the past two years there has been unprecedented regional and international commitment to defeating the LRA. However, the UN has a limited number of peacekeepers from the UN stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) stationed in LRA-affected areas. MONUSCO has previously enticed some LRA fighters to leave the group through its Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) program and announced on 23 May that it has been enhancing this program by broadcasting new "return home" messages from helicopters.
The AU-led Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the LRA (RCI-LRA) launched its operational phase during March 2012. Since then, governments from all four LRA-affected countries have contributed troops towards the initiative's Regional Task Force (RTF).
The UN Security Council (UNSC) issued Presidential Statements on 29 June and 19 December 2012 and 29 May 2013 supporting the UN's Regional Strategy for the LRA and emphasizing the "primary responsibility of States in LRA-affected regions to protect civilians." The 29 May statement also urged greater regional coordination to stabilize CAR and reinstate counter-LRA initiatives.
NECESSARY ACTION: The AU needs to ensure that troops deployed under the RTF receive adequate training in mass atrocity prevention and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The UN and AU need to ensure that the UN Regional Strategy is fully implemented. This is of particular importance with regard to the protection of civilians, the expansion of DDRRR efforts and the enhancement of the rule of law and human rights in LRA-affected countries.
The UN, AU and donors should ensure that all elements of the RCI-LRA are adequately resourced in order to fulfill their mandate. Donors should also provide further assistance to provide communities with broadcasting capacity and radios so that locals can issue both warning messages of LRA attacks as well as "return home" calls to LRA members.
Anti-LRA initiatives in CAR need to be reinstated as soon as possible and must include an expanded DDRRR component. Sudan must cooperate with the AU and apprehend members of the group.
Last Updated: 15 September 2013