CALLING ON GOVERNMENT OF UGANDA AND LORD'S RESISTANCE ARMY TO RECOMMIT TO POLITICAL SOLUTION IN NORTHERN UGANDA -- (House of Representatives - June 18, 2007)
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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H. Con. Res. 80, which calls on the government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, the LRA, to recommit to a political solution to the conflict in northern Uganda by engaging in good faith negotiations, and it urges support for the ongoing peace process from the United States and the international community.
As my good friend from California, Ambassador Watson, has pointed out, since 1986, northern Uganda has been embroiled in a vicious conflict which pits the forces of Uganda President Museveni against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, of Joseph Kony. Kony claims to hold mystical powers and asserts that he has been guided by God to protect the Acholi people of northern Uganda who have been marginalized by Museveni's government. However, it is the Acholi themselves who have suffered disproportionately at the hands of the LRA.
The LRA, which has been designated as a terrorist group subject to the State Department Terrorist Exclusion List, moves in small, well-coordinated groups from bases in southern Sudan and more recently in eastern Congo. They hold no clear political agenda and make no attempt to hold territory, but they mutilate, torture, murder, rape and loot with impunity.
The LRA has abducted more than 20,000 people, mostly children, Mr. Speaker, to work as laborers, soldiers and sex slaves. Children are forced to the front lines, and those who do manage to escape from the LRA find it difficult, if not impossible, to return to their villages after having been forced to commit atrocities in front of their families.
One of the most visible signs of the collective trauma suffered by the people of northern Uganda was pointed out by Ambassador Watson, and this is the ``night commuter'' phenomenon. At the peak of the conflict, over 20,000 children would walk up to 15 kilometers from their village to the relative safety of the towns each and every night. They would spend the night under grossly overcrowded tents, sleeping on concrete floors, before getting up at dawn to make the return journey to their villages. It was not for food, nor for the promise of social services that drew these children to these towns, but it was fear of abduction by the LRA.
While security conditions in northern Uganda have improved and the number of ``night commuters'' has decreased over the past years, roughly 90 percent, 90 percent, Mr. Speaker, of the local population remains homeless.
These 1.4 million people have been forced from their homes and herded by the Government of Uganda into camps for internally displaced persons. Despite attempts to ``decongest,'' the conditions in these camps are abysmal.
A health survey conducted by the Ugandan Ministry of Health in 2005 asserts that up to 1,000 people have died in the camps each week due to treatable illnesses such as diarrhea and malaria. The HIV/AIDS rate in the camps is more than double the national average. Sexual violence and domestic violence against women has increased dramatically, and the IDPs complain that camp life has all but destroyed the social fabric of the region.
For its own part, the Ugandan Government has failed in its efforts to defeat the LRA militarily, and to provide adequate protection for the citizens of northern Uganda. Instead, the government has embraced a highly questionable three-pronged approach towards resolving the conflict, and this includes: number one, pursuing a military campaign against the LRA; two, supporting indictments by the International Criminal Court, the ICC, against the LRA's top leaders; while, three, participating in peace talks while offering amnesty to LRA rebels.
It should come as no surprise that these mutually incompatible efforts have complicated matters and have failed to yield lasting results. Ill-timed military campaigns have undermined numerous mediation efforts, and the ICC indictments have led the LRA to question the sincerity of the amnesty deal offered by the government leaders.
Further, both the Government of Sudan and the LRA have routinely violated the agreement that is called the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which has now expired without ever having been fully implemented. These actions have prompted skeptics to warn that both sides may be using the pretext of talks to rearm and replenish their forces.
If this is in fact the case, both the LRA and the Ugandan Government should be reminded of the fact that a military solution has alluded them for over 20 years. It is unlikely that a military solution will be any more viable now.
Thankfully, peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA have resumed in Juba, Southern Sudan, and appear to be gaining momentum. Despite numerous challenges, not the least of which is the fact that delegations allegedly representing the two parties have questionable credibility, the Juba process is being hailed as the best chance yet to ending the conflict by political means.
H. Con. Res. 80 serves as an expression of support for this political dialogue. It expresses disapproval of the LRA leadership and its inconsistent commitment to resolving the conflict and it urges both the LRA and the Government of Uganda to engage in good-faith negotiations. It encourages all parties to immediately stop human rights violations and address the issues of accountability, and it calls on both the LRA and the Government of Uganda to renounce any intentions and halt any preparations to resume this violence.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the resolution calls on the State Department, on the United States Agency for International Development, and other similar government and nongovernment organizations within the international community to continue and to augment efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda and to support a peaceful resolution to this humanitarian crisis.
According to the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict of northern Uganda is characterized by a level of cruelty seldom seen, and few conflicts rival it for its sheer brutality.
Despite all of this, Mr. Speaker, it remains one of the most overlooked humanitarian and human rights crises in the world today. H. Con. Res. 80 seeks to shed some well-deserved attention on the crisis in northern Uganda. It affirms the resolve of this Congress that the victims of this atrocious conflict shall not be forgotten.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for bringing this important resolution to the floor. I urge support by all of our Members.
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