The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been active since 1986, making it one of Africa’s oldest, most violent, and persistent armed groups. The LRA was formed in northern Uganda to fight against the Government of Uganda, and operated there from 1986 to 2006. At the height of the conflict, nearly two million people in northern Uganda were displaced.
Lacking public support, the LRA resorted to forcible recruitment to fill its ranks. A 2006 study funded by UNICEF estimated that at least 66,000 children and youth had been abducted by the LRA between 1986 and 2005. According to that study, most of these children were only held for a brief period of time and then released or escaped, but others were forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves and commit unspeakable acts.
Under increasing pressure, LRA’s leader Joseph Kony ordered the LRA to withdraw completely from Uganda in 2005 and 2006 and move west into the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and what would become the Republic of South Sudan. The LRA has continued to operate in this border region to date.
With the LRA’s departure, northern Uganda has undergone a significant positive transformation. More than 95% of the people who once lived in displacement camps have left to rebuild their lives. The United States has played a leading role, among donors, in supporting this Uganda-led recovery process.
Since 2000, more than 12,000 former LRA fighters and abductees have left the group and been reintegrated through Uganda’s Amnesty Commission. Many more have escaped and returned to their communities without going through reception centers.
From 2006 to 2008, representatives of the Government of Uganda and the LRA participated in negotiations in Juba, South Sudan, mediated by Southern Sudan officials. The U.S. State Department sent a senior official to support the talks. The negotiators finalized a peace agreement, but Joseph Kony refused on multiple occasions to sign. During 2008, the LRA increased attacks and abductions in the DRC and CAR. In late 2008, regional leaders agreed to undertake new military operations against the LRA. Since then, the Ugandan military has continued to pursue LRA groups across the region, in coordination with the other militaries.
As a result of military pressure and defections, the LRA’s core fighters have been reduced to an estimated 150-200, in addition to an unknown number of accompanying abductees, women and children. However, the LRA retains the capacity to cast a wide shadow across the region because of its brutality and the fear it arouses in local populations. According to the UN, there were 278 reported attacks attributed to the LRA in 2011. The UN estimates that more than 465,000 people in CAR, the DRC, and South Sudan were displaced or living as refugees during 2011 as a result of the LRA threat.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the LRA’s top leader Joseph Kony and four other top commanders – Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and Raska Lukwiya – for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Otti and Lukwiya are now believed to be dead, but the others remain at large.
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly condemned ongoing attacks carried out by the LRA and commended the important efforts undertaken by militaries in the region to address the threat posed by the LRA. The UN has peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and the DRC whose mandates include helping to address the LRA.
On November 22, 2011, the African Union formally designated the LRA as a terrorist group and authorized an initiative to enhance regional cooperation toward the elimination of the LRA. The U.S. State Department has included the LRA on its “Terrorist Exclusion List” since 2001. In 2008, Joseph Kony was designated by the State Department as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” under Executive Order 13324.
Over the past decade (FY 2002-FY 2011), the United States has provided more than $560 million in humanitarian assistance specifically benefiting LRA-affected populations in Uganda, CAR, the DRC, and Sudan, in addition to countrywide assistance in the affected countries that could benefit individuals affected by LRA violence.
Click herefor more details on current U.S. support to regional efforts to mitigate and eliminate the LRA threat.
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