Freedom from Fear: Regional action to protect civilians in LRA affected areas | Lord's Resistance Army | Democratic Republic Of The Congo

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Tens of thousands of people will remain without life-saving aid unless the UN mission in DR Congo steps up its presence in areas brutalized by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). The horrific experiences of the communities in the Great Lakes directly affected by the LRA demand that the UN bear three harsh realities in mind: 1. The Lord's Resistance Army is a regional problem, requiring a concerted regional and international response. 2. The problem is not going to go away: a failure to direct efforts and resources towards it now will only increase the scale of the human catastrophe to be addressed later. 3. Current efforts are ineffective at protecting civilians and can even inadvertently put civilians at greater risk: the protection of the civilians caught up in this crisis cannot be left to chance – or to the communities themselves. That the US government, the World Bank, the UN, AU and EU have recently moved the issue of the LRA higher up their respective agendas is potentially good news for the many LRA-affected communities. Turning that potential into reality, however, is going to take considerably greater political will, coordination and far-sightedness than has so far characterised the international and regional response to the LRA.
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  Oxfam, October 2010 1 Freedom from fear    – regional action to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas   One community in Niangara territory in Haut-Uélé, north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), described in July 2010 how three children aged between 12 and 14 were forced by the LRA to beat their own father to death with sticks ‘to free them from fear.’   As the Contact Group of donors to the Great Lakes region prepares to discuss the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on 7 October 2010, the horrific experiences of the communities directly affected demand that delegates bear three harsh realities in mind: 1. The LRA is a regional problem, requiring a concerted regional and international response. 2. The problem is not going to go away: a failure to direct efforts and resources towards it now will only increase the scale of the human catastrophe to be addressed later. 3. Current efforts are ineffective at protecting civilians and can even inadvertently put civilians at greater risk: the protection of the civilians caught up in this crisis cannot be left to chance – or to the communities themselves.  That the US government, the World Bank, the UN, AU and EU have recently moved the issue of the LRA higher up their respective agendas is potentially good news for the many LRA-affected communities. Turning that potential into reality, however, is going to take considerably greater political will, coordination and far-sightedness than has so far characterised the international and regional response to the LRA. Wreaking mayhem and violence across the region Since September 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,000 people, abducted more than 2,500 and displaced over 400,000 others. The UN has recorded over 200 attacks in the districts of Haut and Bas-Uélé in north-east DRC since the start of 2010, and a further 21 in southern Sudan. There are currently some 260,000 people displaced by LRA-related violence in DRC and a further 20,000 Congolese civilians have fled to Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR). An estimated 15,000 people have fled LRA attacks in CAR this year alone and at least 1,500 have crossed into DRC. Over 80,000 southern Sudanese were displaced by the LRA over the course of 2009, and a further 42,400 so far this year. Yet even such numbers (which are probably underestimates) cannot capture the scale or impact of LRA activity. The extreme brutality of the LRA and their targeting of the most vulnerable, isolated villages mean that even small-scale attacks send waves of terror throughout communities, causing mass displacement for miles around and leaving individuals traumatised for years to come. Hundreds of thousands of civilians live in daily fear of the LRA, but their suffering has been largely forgotten by the outside world. The LRA as a regional issue: the case for coordination The LRA’s presence has long been treated as an issue of less strategic significance for regional stability than, for instance, the presence of the FDLR ( Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda  ) elsewhere in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan. Yet the mass population displacement the LRA has generated across a vast geographical area straddling four international borders, the group’s impact on regional food security (particularly in the fertile Western Equatoria region of  Oxfam, October 2010 2 southern Sudan), recent reports of arms trafficking, and its potential to create instability at a critical time ahead of the upcoming Sudanese referenda are just some of the reasons why the LRA represents a threat to regional peace and security and why regional solutions are urgently needed. A number of recent policy pronouncements from the UN Security Council, the African Union and the US, Congolese and Ugandan governments 1  suggest that there is now some recognition of the regional dimensions of the problem, and the need for a regionally coordinated response. On the ground, however, there is little evidence of these good intentions being put into effect:  Lack of coordinated and robust peacekeeping efforts ã Efforts initiated in June 2010 by MONUSCO to develop a common strategic framework for the peacekeeping missions in the region  (MONUSCO, BINUCA, MINURCAT, UNAMID and UNMIS) to respond to the threat of the LRA have elicited slow and limited response ; three months later the strategy has still not been adopted, let alone implemented. ã MONUSCO forces departed Bas-Uélé in August 2010 despite a relentless series of attacks on communities in the district since March of this year  and resources – peacekeepers, civilian personnel and transport equipment – remain disproportionately under-deployed in the LRA-affected areas compared to the more internationally visible crisis in the Kivus. ã Although UNMIS’s mandate includes responding to the threat from the LRA, it is unclear if the forthcoming UNMIS strategy for the protection of civilians will make a significant difference in practice to address the threats posed by the LRA in Western Equatoria . Meanwhile, MINURCAT forces, present in Chad and CAR, have already begun a process of drawdown and are due to exit before the end of 2010. Weak national level efforts Across the region, national governments are not prioritising civilian protection in LRA-affected areas: ã At a national level, so far only the Ugandan government  has prioritised the deployment of troops to the LRA-affected areas, and then essentially for offensive rather than protective purposes 2 . ã Information sharing and coordination between the UPDF and other national and international forces in the region remains limited , according to international observers, and a planned joint operations centre with the Congolese army (FARDC) in Dungu has not materialised. ã The Central African armed forces  have deployed in the remote south-eastern region but are overstretched and more preoccupied with the multitude of other rebel groups further north. ã In southern Sudan, the priorities of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) currently hinge on the forthcoming referendum, meaning LRA-affected areas are deprioritised . 1  In April 2009, the UN Security Council urged increased cooperation between the UN missions in the region, expressing its ‘deep concern at the direct and serious threat the activities of the LRA pose to the civilian population, the conduct of humanitarian operations, and regional stability’ (Security Council Press Statement SC/979). On 24 May 2010, US President Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which provides for the US to take leadership on developing a regional strategy to respond to the threat from the LRA. In September 2010, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council was instructed to consult with countries in the region on coordinating responses to the LRA. The Congolese and Ugandan governments have held a series of meetings in recent months on cross-border military cooperation on the LRA and ADF-NALU. 2  However, some communities consulted by Oxfam in Haut-Uélé district of DRC and in the Western Equatoria region of southern Sudan reported protective action by the UPDF.   ‘The LRA come rom the bush and attack silently at night. The police can’ rotect us against that. We won’t return until it’s safe.’ IDPs in Mundri,  Western Equatoria, southern Sudan, uly 2010.    Oxfam, October 2010 3 ã In northern DRC, FARDC troops are deployed across a wide area and have become increasingly engaged in repelling rebel attacks and securing the release of abductees over the past year. However, often deployed in small numbers, ill-equipped and poorly supported, FARDC troops have largely not been given the capacity to offer effective protection against the LRA and in very many cases have themselves been responsible for violence and abuse directed at civilians. A coherent response requires concerted action by all the national and international duty-bearers concerned, focused on the protection of civilians and applying non-military as well as peacekeeping resources to that end. Contact Group members should promote coordinated action to address the threat the LRA poses to civilians across the region: ã Peacekeeping missions must review their strategies in response to the LRA threat, establish effective cross-mission coordination on protecting civilians and deploy more resources to the areas where the civilian population is most at risk . The balance of opportunity costs with other mission priorities should be considered in the light of the missions’ mandates to protect civilians, and without underestimating the LRA’s longer-term risks to broader regional stability. The hard truth is that effective protection of civilians in LRA-affected areas will require more resources for peacekeeping, not less, and this must be taken into account in any discussion of reconfiguration or drawdown of MONUSCO forces and in the mandate renewals and mandate implementation of UNMIS and MONUSCO. Drawing on best practices from established protection responses, these resources should include civilian staff with relevant human rights and protection experience to support peacekeepers, together with the necessary logistical means for them to function. Civilian staff are essential for ensuring liaison with the local population, supporting the establishment of effective early warning mechanisms, deploying as part of joint protection teams, and conducting the required monitoring and reporting for appropriate UN protection responses 3 . Peacekeeping missions that border LRA-affected areas, such as UNAMID and MINURCAT, should also be involved in cross-mission coordination and information sharing.   ã Coordinated non-military action to promote disarmament should also be stepped up, including through reviving the role of an AU or UN Special Envoy to LRA-affected areas  to enable non-military engagement with the LRA, with an expanded mandate including issues related to protection of civilians. Reviving this role would serve to keep the issue on the international agenda, open space for potential engagement around voluntary defections and provide an avenue for coordination of international engagement. The Special Envoy should have close links to the existing Special Envoys for the Great Lakes region and work in coordination with the Great Lakes Contact Group. Effective strategies for demobilisation and community-based reintegration of combatants will be needed, drawing on existing information about the militia and best practice on child demobilisation in particular. ã Non-military action should also include establishment of a mechanism to improve understanding and monitoring  of the LRA such as a Panel of Experts. Neither the Panel of Experts on Sudan nor the Group of Experts on DRC has the mandate or the capacity to investigate the LRA effectively. The remit of the monitoring mechanism should extend to identifying the leaders, motivations, communications, composition and location of LRA elements to promote disarmament and improve protection responses. 3  MONUSCO estimates that an additional 76 dedicated civilian staff are needed to ensure adequate coverage for multidisciplinary joint protection teams, and a further 20 community liaison interpreters to support all company-level deployments.  Oxfam, October 2010 4 Poor conditions for national soldiers increase the risks to civilians: In August 2010, Congolese soldiers in the LRA-affected Dungu area received two of the four months’ arrears of pay due to them. The banknotes delivered to the local military command were in such poor condition – torn, soiled, defaced or out of date – as to be no longer legal tender. Individual soldiers had the choice of either negotiating with local traders to accept the notes at less than face value, or threatening force against anyone trying to refuse them. Over 120 communities surveyed by Oxfam across eastern DRC since 2007 have consistently stated that ensuring soldiers are paid and provided for would have a significant impact on the safety of local residents. The problem that won’t go away: the case for more resources OCHA in DRC registered an average of 23 LRA attacks a month in Province Orientale from January to September 2010 – 212 in total; 215 civilians were killed in the process, and a further 154 abducted, 102 of them children. The trend is upward: more than half of those attacks took place in the past three months. Poor access and communication make it likely that the actual figures are even higher. Over 400,000 people are currently displaced by violence and fear of the LRA across the region – many of them experiencing food insecurity and vulnerable to disease and abuse as a result. Yet, despite an increase in the past year,  a lack of security and under-funding of emergency assistance has resulted in a woefully inadequate humanitarian response to their needs across the region.   Insecurity severely limits essential aid getting through: In southern Sudan, the LRA have killed and ambushed along main roads, most recently in July 2010. Significant security restrictions, including the mandatory use of armed escorts by UN agencies and frequent travel restrictions to the most affected areas, interrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance and severely limit the time humanitarian actors can spend in the field with affected communities. Providing long-term humanitarian services to both displaced people and local communities is therefore a constant struggle. Two years into the current crisis, there is little prospect of improvement for the hundreds of thousands of people affected unless there is decisive international action. The status quo is not an acceptable option. Contact Group members should seek to change it by helping to move the situation of the affected populations up the priority lists of governments, peacekeeping forces and humanitarian agencies: ã Coordinated national and international efforts should be made to secure a significant increase in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need . Urgent action is needed to prevent and combat disease, promote food security and reduce malnutrition, and provide sustained psychosocial support to those attacked and abducted by the LRA. Priority areas for a stepped-up humanitarian response would be Bas-Uélé and northern Haut-Uélé in DRC, and Tambura, Ezo and Nzara in Sudan. In line with their mandates, peacekeeping missions in the region should be deployed to help secure access to vulnerable communities, in coordination with humanitarian actors. Response in the affected areas should become a high-priority issue for donors and implementing agencies alike: UN agencies and NGOs should deploy experienced senior staff to the area to develop and coordinate a response commensurate with the scale of need and the complexities of the environment, and donors should accept the proportionate increase in overhead costs that will imply. ã Improved security is essential for a major expansion of humanitarian access and civilian protection : few agencies can operate in the conditions of rampant insecurity that characterise the worst-affected areas. Decisions on the resourcing and deployment of peacekeeping missions in the region must give due weight to the scale of needs. More resources are certainly needed: the under-resourcing of MONUSCO Ituri Brigade at all levels – troop numbers, experienced civilian staff and helicopter access – presents a serious obstacle to effective implementation of the force’s protection mandate. Yet more could also be done with the
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