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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
The legacy of the LRA: Your questions answered
March 26, 2012
By The IRC
In the weeks since the release of Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” video, we’ve gotten the sense that many of you would like to know more about the situation in Uganda and other countries impacted by Joseph Kony and the LRA. We recently posted a q&a with background information about the conflict and our work in the region. We also put out a call for questions via social media and passed those on to Cristine Betters, the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s country director in Uganda, and Anne C. Richard, the IRC’s vice president for government relations and advocacy. Here are their responses to a selection of the ones we received.
Q: Have people fleeing from the LRA ever become refugees?
A: This is a question of semantics. To become a refugee, a person must flee his or her home country. People who are uprooted from their homes but stay within their country’s borders are referred to as internally displaced persons, or IDPs. In northern Uganda, the conflict created a massive number of IDPs -- virtually 100% of the population in some places -- but very few refugees. The fact that the great majority of people stayed within Uganda does not diminish the hardship they suffered.
Q - Have atrocities committed by the Ugandan military been ignored?
A - In our role as an advocate for the displaced and vulnerable, the IRC regularly spoke up to people in power during the height of the crisis in northern Uganda. We made recommendations for changes to the Ugandan military's approach, including sending military monitors to northern and eastern Uganda to investigate allegations of human rights violations by Uganda’s armed forces. In June 2004, IRC president George Rupp joined with other aid agency leaders to ask U.S. President Bush to discuss our recommendations with Ugandan President Museveni. In April 2005, the IRC’s Anne C. Richard gave testimony to the Human Rights Commission in the U.S. House of Representatives, pointing out that child soldiers were being used by both the Ugandan military and the LRA. A year later, the IRC's Washington office arranged for IRC Overseer and Columbia University epidemiologist Dr. Ron Waldman to discuss conditions in the camps for people displaced by the conflict, as part of an official hearing on the crisis in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For more detail about abuses against the Ugandan people during this period, we recommend a Human Rights Watch report from September 2005.
Q: How has the IRC addressed the needs of former LRA child soldiers?
A: The IRC has provided aid and support to former child soldiers and other children who escaped or left the LRA, including girls who had given birth while in captivity. In 2002, the Ugandan Amnesty Commission designated the IRC a lead agency in receiving and reintegrating formerly abducted children and young adults into society. Programs targeting the unique needs of former child soldiers have included skills training to teach them new trades, as well as counseling and other support to help them rejoin their communities.
Q: What is the relationship of oil to the conflict?
A: While the existence of substantial oil reserves in far western Uganda was announced in late 2006, to date there has not been a link established between the actions of the LRA (or the international community's response to it) and oil.
Q: What is being done about nodding disease, which has affected children in some of the same areas as the LRA has operated?
A: Nodding disease -- named for the seizures that cause the heads of affected children to nod violently -- affects approximately 3,000 children between the ages of five and 15 in northern Uganda and thousands more in South Sudan. The fatal disease progressively debilitates the body’s mental and physical functioning, and there is no known cure or effective treatment. The Ugandan Ministry of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have been actively engaged in researching nodding disease’s cause and trying to find a cure. The IRC is assisting by providing operational support to the CDC when they are on missions to northern Uganda.
Q: What is the situation in Uganda today? What do people there need most?
A: While a 2006 ceasefire agreement between the LRA and the government brought relative peace to northern Uganda, the legacy of the conflict is still being strongly felt. Families who were displaced into camps, some for decades, have now returned home, but their communities are still recovering. Families were broken apart. An entire generation was effectively denied their childhood. Schools that once provided education, clinics that once offered health services, and farms and markets that once powered local economies were destroyed or dismantled and are not yet back in place. Services for women and girls, so many of whom were forced to serve the LRA, are particularly lacking. They remain vulnerable to sexual violence, have few opportunities to own land or control resources, and they continue to be affected by the stigma that results from surviving violence.
The IRC has been working in the communities affected by the conflict since 1998. Our staff members have strong local knowledge -- many of them hail from this region -- and we are well respected by the government and the communities we serve. We act as a bridge between our Ugandan partners -- small, local organizations that have deep roots in their communities -- and governments and individuals who want to help but are far removed from the affected areas.
Today the IRC is working closely with local government and organizations in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, with a special focus on the needs of women and girls. These local organizations need the IRC’s support for vital health care, psycho-social and jobs programs.
Q: What can concerned people do to help?
I would ask that concerned people consider making a financial contribution to programs like ours. Rebuilding from a war takes time, money and long-term commitment that endures even when the world’s attention has moved on.
On the ground in some of the world's most troubled places, the IRC helps people at their moment of greatest need -- providing shelter, medical care, and safety. And we stay for as long as we are able to help in the rebuilding of lives and livelihoods. Donate Now. >>