International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Protecting Africa’s children from Joseph Kony and the LRA [Behind the Headlines]

Who are Joseph Kony and the LRA?

Ugandan Joseph Kony leads a rebel group called the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army) that has terrorized villagers in four countries in central Africa for over 20 years. While the LRA has roots in Ugandan government mistreatment and neglect of the Acholi people of northern Uganda in the 1980s, today it has no clear political agenda and its soldiers survive by attacking and looting villages and communities in remote areas.   

What did the LRA do?

From 1987 to 2006, the LRA attacked and murdered civilians and abducted children in northern Uganda. More than 2 million people were uprooted from their homes and most ended up living in camps that lacked food, clean water, and sanitation.

Tens of thousands of children were abducted over the course of the conflict and turned into soldiers, porters, cooks or sex slaves.  Many were killed or forced to harm or kill others, including their own relatives.

Fearing abduction by the LRA, children in the countryside left their homes at night and traveled miles on foot to sleep in bus stations, churches, storefronts and on the streets of towns before returning home the next morning. Called “night commuters,” the children made this trip every evening even though it put them at risk of harassment and rape. 

In 2006, a ceasefire agreement between the LRA and the government brought relative peace to northern Uganda. The vast majority of people living in camps went to their home villages where they have begun to support themselves again. 

Are Kony and the LRA still a threat to children and others in Uganda?

Kony and the LRA have left Uganda and have been on the move in remote areas of neighboring countries, including northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The LRA continues to terrorize villages, abduct children and massacre innocent people.
The legacy of the war continues to be felt in northern Uganda, where communities that were decimated during the conflict have not fully recovered.  

What has the International Rescue Committee (IRC) done to support the LRA’s victims?
Beginning in 1998, the IRC supported health services and provided safe water and sanitation for hundreds of thousands of displaced Ugandans in camps in three of the four districts plagued by the LRA: Kitgum, Pader and Lira. We also helped formerly abducted children, including girls who had given birth to babies, and other survivors of atrocities.  

In 2002, the Ugandan Amnesty Commission designated the IRC a lead agency in receiving and reintegrating into society formerly abducted children and young adults. IRC staff members included former child soldiers who had managed to escape and restart their lives.

In addition to our work in the field, the IRC has worked for years to inform politicians and diplomats around the world about the crisis wrought by the LRA and to speak up on behalf of the people the LRA has harmed.

Members of the IRC’s board and staff have issued statements, briefed policy makers and journalists, lobbied for action, supported and spoken at rallies, and helped documentary film makers. 

In recognition of everything the IRC has done to help the victims of the LRA and bring attention to this crisis, IRC President George Rupp was invited to the Oval Office of the White House to see President Obama sign into law the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009

What is the IRC doing for Ugandans today?
Today the IRC works closely with local government and groups in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, with a special focus on the unique needs of women and girls. These local organizations need our support for vital healthcare, psycho-social and jobs programs.
The IRC has:
  • trained health workers to provide clinical care to survivors of sexual assault. We’ve also taught health workers how to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. 
  • worked with a local organization to start an innovative telephone hotline in northern Uganda where survivors could call to learn what services were available.
  • rehabilitated health centers and taught local community members to diagnose and treat common childhood illnesses.
  • helped farmers who have recently returned to their fields to increase their harvests and market their crops.      
The IRC continues to work in the three countries that are threatened by the small numbers of remaining LRA troops, but we are not located in the extremely hard-to-reach areas where the LRA has continued to perpetrate attacks.

What can concerned Americans do to help? 

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