Global Summit on the Lord's Resistance Army
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Thank you for the kind introduction. Let me express my warm welcome to the distinguished ministers, foreign officials, diplomats, civil society leaders, advocates, and activists here today. For those of you visiting, welcome to Washington DC.
I’m inspired to be here with you today. Your presence sends a strong signal that people across the globe, especially young people, will not stand by and be silent as armed groups commit senseless atrocities and terrorize innocent communities. The results may not always be direct or immediate, but know this – your voices make a difference. As the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Great distances and different worldviews often divide us. However, particular events in history break down those barriers and connect us on a personal level, on a human level. They touch our sense of what is fundamentally right and wrong. The Lord’s Resistance Army is one such phenomenon. As President Obama said two years ago, the LRA’s actions are an affront to human dignity. Those abducted must be freed, those wounded must heal, and those responsible must be brought to justice.
Over the last several years, the people and Governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan have worked to bring an end to the threat posed by the LRA. They have endured difficult circumstances and made sacrifices in search of peace. In coordination with the African Union, the United Nations, and other international partners, the United States has provided cross-cutting support to these regional efforts. We believe it is in our collective interest to help our African partners to strengthen their capacity to resolve conflicts and establish lasting security.
When it comes to the LRA, it is tempting to talk about a silver bullet or a ready-made solution. However, history has taught us that it is not that simple or straightforward. Anyone who has spent time in the remote areas where the LRA operates or studied the LRA over the years can testify to that. That is why we are pursuing a comprehensive approach, supporting both military and civilian efforts. Over the past year, the United States has deployed military advisors and increased our logistical support to regional military operations. At the same time, we have deployed civilian officers and expanded programs to promote defections from the LRA, establish communications networks, and empower affected communities.
Despite enormous challenges, the region is making progress in addressing this threat. The LRA has been weakened and pushed out of many areas. Hundreds of abductees have been rescued. There has not been a reported LRA attack in South Sudan for over a year. In May, the Ugandan military captured LRA senior commander Ceasar Acellam, long considered one of the LRA’s top five commanders. In August, the Ugandan military attacked the group led by senior LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, and seized their campsite.
Defections are also on the rise. Since Acellam’s capture, several mid-level officers have left the group. In the last month alone, more than 19 people have defected or escaped from the LRA. We are working with a range of partners in the region, including Invisible Children, to airdrop more leaflets, expand radio broadcasts, and establish safe reporting sites to encourage the remaining LRA to peacefully surrender from the group. We are also supporting communities in establishing new strategies and networks, incorporating High Frequency Radios, to increase their own security. And our delivery of humanitarian relief continues.
This is not to suggest that the situation is resolved or that Joseph Kony will be apprehended tomorrow. Communities remain vulnerable, the top fugitives remain at large, and the LRA continues to have a significant physical and psychological impact across multiple countries. Ending the LRA threat will require more effort, more time, and even a little bit of luck. But as we gather today, I think we can confidently say that we are moving in the right direction. We have come a long way over the last several years and with the support of international partners, the AU, UN, and NGOs, the region is moving closer to turning the page on this tragic chapter.
Achieving that ultimate goal of ending the LRA threat and establishing security will require the sustained resolve and collaboration of all those involved, beginning first and foremost with the governments in the region. Although CAR, the DRC, South Sudan, and Uganda may have their differences, they are bound together by a desire to protect their people from this regional threat. Their troops and their citizens are on the frontlines. Their continued partnership and leadership, more than anything else, will determine the success of this effort. We believe the African Union’s involvement can help to solidify that regional cooperation.
At the same time though, there are many other stakeholders who have critical roles to play. One of the remarkable things about this effort is that it has brought together an unusual, non-traditional coalition – involving UN peacekeepers and civil affairs officers, former abductees, community radio operators, religious leaders, local self-defense groups, aid workers, international diplomats, peace mediators, philanthropists, and not to forget, all of you here today. As we move forward, we must continue to strengthen this coalition and to grow it by reaching out to new groups and forging new partnerships.
The theme of your Summit is “move.” But when you think about it, just moving is not enough. It’s how and where you move that matters. And when we move together, we can have a resounding impact. That is what has made this regional effort, this movement, and this coalition so effective over the past several years, and that’s what is needed to sustain this progress.
So let’s keep moving together. If we continue to do so, I believe we’ll continue to move in the right direction toward a future free of the LRA, and ultimately a future where civilians are protected and such horrific abuses are deterred. Thank you for being here and for your commitment to this important work.