Democratic Republic of Congo priest-turned-activist Abbé Benoît Kinalegu will take the opportunity during his visit to London to remind the world that the threat to civilians in the DRC from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is far from over.
The Catholic priest, who is in the United Kingdom to receive an award from Human Rights Watch, said: “The message that I bring is that the LRA and Joseph Kony cannot be swept under the carpet. We need to end this humanitarian crisis that has lasted 28 years.”
The Alison Des Forges award-winner heads the Catholic Church’s peace and justice commission in northern DRC’s Haut-Uele district. He helped create an early-warning system enabling social activists to report LRA movements and attacks via high-frequency radio. The network reaches 250 000 people in 48 communities, including locals, United Nations staff and other humanitarian workers.
Kinalegu has also set up a rehabilitation centre to help some of the most traumatised children who have fled from the LRA and now hope to find their families. The centre has helped 186 children since its launch in 2010.
"We offer psychosocial, medical and remedial classes, carpentry, agronomy. It is a positive force for the region," he told the Guardian.
Initially, Kinalegu merely documented the atrocities committed by the LRA, but he quickly realised the child soldiers who escaped the army needed urgent help – many were potential emotional “time bombs” waiting to explode, he said.
The LRA, led by the enigmatic Kony, has committed massacres, mutilations and mass rapes; abducted thousands of adults and children and used kidnapped youths as sex slaves and soldiers. Since 2008 Kony’s fighters have killed more than 2 600 civilians and have abducted more than 4 000. More than 300 000 people have fled their homes since the end of 2008.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He gained worldwide notoriety after the Kony 2012 campaign video, released by the American nongovernmental organisation Invisible Children, went viral.
Kinalegu credits the film, which polarised viewers, with bringing the conflict in the DRC to the world’s attention. "After the video I went to the United States Congress and the UN Security Council, Brussels … everybody referred to this film. Despite all the criticism, [it has] helped to sensitise the public."
Kinalegu said the footage put pressure on regional governments that had downplayed the LRA phenomenon and contributed to UN Security Council backing for an African Union force of 3 000 troops, which has been deployed in the Central African Republic.
He said the LRA had since gone quiet because of the presence of 100 US advisers in the region, disruption of the group’s supply lines and the rainy season. But he warned that the group, estimated to have just 250 fighters left, would remain a threat while their leaders were at large. “You can’t say they are weakened as long you have not seized their leaders,” Kinalegu added.
While the situation in the north of the DRC has calmed down, there has been action in the east, where the DRC government, backed by UN troops, has apparently routed M23 rebels.
The group has declared an end
to its 20-month uprising and has called on its members to disarm. – © Guardian News & Media 2013