DR Congo + 2 more

Historic U.S. Lobby Day builds support for LRA/Uganda legislation

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(Washington, DC; July 2) Nearly two thousand American citizens lobbied US policymakers last week to more quickly and seriously respond to the attacks by Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in central Africa and help achieve lasting peace in areas affected by the conflict. The participants converged on Washington, DC from June 22nd-23rd for a symposium and lobbying event called How It Ends (www.howitends.tv), the largest US lobby day ever focused on Africa.

Participants joined over 400 lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill to request that Congress pass landmark legislation that would provide assistance to war-affected communities and require President Obama to devise an interagency strategy to stop LRA attacks. As a result, 66 Representatives and 17 Senators have now cosponsored the legislation, while dozens also signed a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to make ending the conflict a priority.

"LRA leaders are responsible for some of the highest levels of violence anywhere in the world right now," said Michael Poffenberger, Executive Director of DC-based advocacy group Resolve Uganda, who helped organize the Lobby Day. "For the sake of millions of civilians in the region, this conflict must not be allowed to enter it's 24th year. That's the message these constituents brought to their elected representatives last week."

After abandoning a two-year peace process late last year, LRA commander Joseph Kony, indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, dispatched his fighters to commit a new wave of brutal atrocities against vulnerable civilians in the region. In December 2008, regional governments launched a military offensive that failed to apprehend Kony or protect civilians in the DR Congo and South Sudan from widespread reprisal attacks. Last week senior United Nations officials estimated that LRA rebels have killed 1,200 civilians and abducted as many as 1,500 more, mostly children, in the past six months alone.

"Time and again over the past fifteen months, Kony has rejected opportunities to peacefully end the conflict," Poffenberger added. "However, the UN's new casualty estimates are concrete evidence that poorly planned regional military offensives only stir the hornet's nest and put hundreds of thousands of people at risk from rebel reprisal attacks. The international community has to do better."

Last month, a bipartisan group of US Senators and Representatives introduced the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, legislation that would require the Obama Administration to develop a multilateral, interagency strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from attacks by the LRA and aims to help address the needs of affected communities.

"What's needed now is momentum towards addressing LRA violence in a comprehensive manner, including by developing adequate mechanisms to protect civilians and abductees and facilitate the demobilization of LRA fighters," said Paul Ronan, Senior Policy Analyst for Resolve Uganda."To permanently stop LRA attacks though, a strategy must include a viable, targeted operation to arrest Kony and top LRA leaders should they continue to refuse to take genuine steps to sign and adhere to the final peace agreement."

"The Lobby Day participants are committed to passing this legislation as a crucial first step in attaining the increased US and international leadership needed to realize such a strategy, and prevent yet another repeat of the failures of recent military operations against LRA forces," Ronan added.

The US legislation would also commit the United States to increase support to transitional justice efforts in Uganda, and press the Ugandan government to prioritize recovery of war-affected areas.

"Stopping Kony and top LRA commanders can end the immediate violence, but meaningful national reconciliation and reconstruction in the north are necessary to achieving lasting peace in Uganda. This bill allows the US to play a supporting role in this process, but also recognizes sustainable reconstruction requires improved leadership from the Ugandan government," Ronan said.

Before lobbying their elected leaders, participants in the How It Ends event heard from conflict experts, including Senator Russ Feingold, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, former UN AIDS Envoy Stephen Lewis, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter, and numerous representatives from civil society organizations.