African Women Win Promise of U.S. Protection

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Obama earlier this week signed the most widely co-sponsored Africa-specific law in U.S. history. Supporters hope it will defend women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan from further atrocities.

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A family in an LRA-impacted community in the Central African Republic.(WOMENSENEWS)--The Lord's Resistance Army has displaced an estimated 300,000 people in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo since leaving Uganda in 2005 and abducted and killed hundreds of people, according to the United Nations.

Women are disproportionately burdened by the displacement, forced to take care of their families without access to their farms and businesses.

The 23-year-old extremist northern Ugandan Christian rebel group originated from tension between northern and southern Uganda, the latter where the Ugandan government is based. However, the group has not had a coherent political ideology for years and largely preys upon civilian communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic now, according to Resolve Uganda, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization.

At a May 25 signing, President Barack Obama promised to vigorously implement the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which increases humanitarian aid for communities afflicted by the group's violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

Lydia Lakwonyero, a 24-year-old journalist working for a radio station in northern Uganda, welcomes the law. She fears that the region's governments will not be able to protect people in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the kind of menace the Lord's Resistance inflicted on Uganda from 1987 to 2005, when it was forced out by the Ugandan military.

"Sometimes I can't even sleep at night. I fear for the DRC very much," Lakwonyero said about the eastern Congo region in a phone interview. She spoke from Uganda a day before Obama signed the bill into law. "I can assure you that the same thing my people suffered, they will. I definitely support the new bill. I do not trust that our government can do it alone."

Terrorizing Ugandan Communities

Lakwonyero remembers when the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, terrorized communities in northern Uganda. Five years after the group's departure, women still remain in camps for the displaced.

"The LRA used sexual violence, rape as a weapon," she said. "During the war period, the LRA rebels particularly targeted girls in schools, abducting many. Some managed to return, but their lives were never the same."

Rights groups say that since its ouster from Uganda five years ago, the Lord's Resistance Army has been abducting women, conscripting children and killing countless civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan, and the attacks have been escalating.

Now the group faces a potential crackdown. The legislation signed by Obama earlier this week requires him to produce within 180 days a detailed strategy to permanently end the group's atrocities.

The new law also allocates $10 million a year to support reconciliation and justice processes in Uganda, where historical regional tensions between northern and southern Uganda created an incubator for violent groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army.

The law is the most widely co-sponsored Africa-specific legislation in U.S. history, according to Resolve Uganda.

Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Russell D. Feingold, chair of the U.S. Senate's Africa Subcommittee, introduced the bill, which picked up 64 co-sponsors. Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern, co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, introduced the bill in the House, where it gained a staggering 201 co-sponsors across party lines, according to a Library of Congress legislative-tracking site.

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