I’ll begin by thanking the Secretary-General and the Department of Political Affairs for their report. I also thank the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Abou Moussa, for his briefing. I would like to welcome the Secretary General of the Economic Community of Central African States, the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the UN, and our colleagues from the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Mr. President, the Lord’s Resistance Army is one of the most brutal terrorist organizations on the planet. Its leaders, including Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen – all under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity—continue to hold hundreds of abductees hostage, forcing them to kill, loot, and rape. There is no ambiguity here. The LRA’s continued activity is an affront to human dignity and a stain on our collective conscience.
The U.S. Congress and President Obama have responded. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, and graciously mentioned by the ambassador of Gabon this morning, President Obama announced last month the United Nations* would deploy a small number of military personnel to the LRA-affected region, in consultation with host governments, to act as advisors to regional militaries pursuing the LRA. This deployment is in line with the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which was passed last year by our Congress with widespread bipartisan support. Sending American personnel in a non-combat capacity crystallizes U.S. commitment to supporting regional partners in ending this threat. Our advisors will work to enhance the capacity of regional militaries to coordinate and fuse intelligence with effective operational planning. U.S. forces will not engage in direct action against the LRA, but they will be equipped for self-defense.
The United States notes the importance of the continued leadership and cooperation of the regional governments in this effort. Over recent years, regional militaries have worked together to pursue the LRA across a vast area of dense jungle. They have had some success in reducing the LRA’s numbers and keeping them from regrouping. The United States is committed to working with the governments of Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of South Sudan, and Uganda, as well as the African Union and United Nations, to end the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. With our enhanced support, we hope they will be able to make a final push to bring an end to this longstanding problem.
We will be working to ensure that protection of civilians is incorporated into operational planning. We are encouraged to hear that once again MONUSCO will be taking proactive steps, as it did last year, to ensure civilian protection over the Christmas period, given that massacres have occurred previously at that time.
Mr. President, as we work together to increase military pressure on the LRA, we also believe there should be a renewed push to get LRA fighters and abductees to escape and defect. In the last month, some 30 women and children have left the organization’s ranks in the DRC. They are receiving food, medical attention, and transportation assistance to return home and unite with their families. Several of them are already at rehabilitation centers in Uganda where they are receiving support to reintegrate into society.
MONUSCO has done excellent work in the DRC to encourage and facilitate LRA defections, but no organization is yet playing a similar role across the border in Central African Republic and South Sudan. We encourage the UN to work with regional governments and other relevant UN missions to address these gaps and develop a coordinated regional approach to encourage LRA defections. The AU, through its Special Envoy, can also play an important role in this area.
The United States fully supports the important work of UNOCA in the Central Africa sub-region. We commend SRSG Moussa for his efforts in standing up UNOCA’s operations and embarking on a very ambitious and substantive diplomatic agenda. We encourage UNOCA’s continued efforts to enhance coordination of UN missions working in the region and advance cooperation with regional organizations, including ECCAS and the AU. We hope that UNOCA will work to establish a clear structure with focal points in all of the UN missions in the LRA-affected area, as well as the UN Office to the African Union to help ensure better coordination and information-sharing.
Mr. President, we join regional governments in calling on the remaining members of the LRA to disarm peacefully, come home and take advantage of offers of reintegration support. As President Obama said a year ago upon signing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, “We mourn those killed. We pray for those abducted to be freed. We call on the ranks of the LRA to disarm and surrender.”
Finally, Mr. President, we support the draft presidential statement which we hope will be adopted shortly. I thank you.