DR Congo: New Round of LRA Killing Campaign

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DR Congo: New Round of LRA Killing Campaign

US Should Urgently Implement New Law to Help End Attacks

WASHINGTON -  The Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) slaughtered 96
civilians and abducted dozens more between January and early April 2010
in a brutal killing campaign in northeastern Democratic Republic of
Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. There has been no letup of LRA
atrocities since Human Rights Watch reported on a deadly LRA rampage that took place in December 2009.

Human Rights Watch urged the US government to swiftly implement the
new legislation to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect
civilians in Central Africa from LRA attacks, to ensure the rule of
law, and, together with regional governments, to take steps to end
violence by the rebel group. Last week, the US Congress passed the
bill, the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, with broad bipartisan support. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it soon.

"The LRA is killing civilians and abducting children at an alarming
rate," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human
Rights Watch. "President Obama can play a crucial role by moving
quickly on the new US law to help find solutions that will end LRA
violence once and for all."

A recent Human Rights Watch research mission to the LRA-affected
areas of northeastern Congo found that from February 1 to13, a group of
about 20 LRA combatants killed at least 74 civilians during a series of
organized attacks on the small fishing and farming communities of
Munuku, Kpanga, Mapi, and Kpuru in Manziga chieftaincy of Niangara
territory. Many of those killed were elderly people who had been unable
to flee, and 14 were children.

One of the first communities attacked was the village of Munuku, 50
kilometers from the town of Niangara, where at least 24 civilians were
killed on February 1, including 15 elderly men and women. Witnesses
interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the LRA killed most of their
victims by crushing their skulls with large wooden sticks. Others were
shot, including a 70-year-old man who was shot and then stabbed to
death in the chest with a bayonet.

The LRA then moved on to the neighboring village of Kpanga,
attacking it on February 2, and continued toward Mapi and Kpuru in the
days that followed. In each village the LRA killed civilians, abducted
children and adults, and then looted and burned down homes. A young man
interviewed by Human Rights Watch who arrived in Kpanga just after the
attack found his grandmother and grandfather tied up and shot dead
outside his home. Nearby, another 70-year-old woman had been tied up
and beaten to death with a wooden bat.

During the same series of attacks, the LRA abducted at least 75
civilians, many of them children. As they did in the mid-December
massacres in the Makombo area, the LRA tied their captives at the waist
in human chains and forced them to carry looted goods back to camps in
the forest, killing anyone who appeared tired or who was deemed to be
too old to be useful.

In addition to the series of attacks in early February, the LRA killed 22 civilians
during smaller attacks throughout the Manziga area this year. On
January 20, for example, in the village of Nabo, the LRA tied up a
74-year-old man, then crushed his skull and stabbed him in the back
with a large wooden stick. His brother found his body a few days later
with the stick still stuck in his back.

On April 13, the LRA abducted and mutilated a 31-year-old woman from
Quartier Zande, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Niangara. After
clasping her lips together with pliers, the LRA combatants forced a
16-year-old Congolese boy, abducted during a previous attack, to slice
off her lips and her right ear with a knife.

Human Rights Watch research, including interviews with those
abducted who later escaped, found that the killings and other
atrocities were carried out by LRA commanders who report to Gen.
Dominic Ongwen, one of the LRA's top commanders. Ongwen, along with two
other LRA leaders, is sought by the International Criminal Court under
an arrest warrant issued in July 2005 for previous crimes committed in
northern Uganda. All three remain at large.

"The arrest warrants for LRA leaders have been outstanding for
nearly five years," Van Woudenberg said. "Meanwhile, heinous abuses
continue to be committed."

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) has a base
in the town of Niangara, just south of the Manziga chieftaincy. With
few troops and poor roads in the area, the UN peacekeepers rarely leave
the town and have been unable to prevent or respond to the recent
attacks.

The Congolese and Ugandan armed forces also have a presence in the
town and the surrounding area but with poor logistics and
communications capabilities, they too have been unable to provide
adequate security for civilians. In recent weeks, Congolese officials
have been more active in documenting LRA atrocities. In April, a
high-level team from Kinshasa was sent to Niangara to investigate and
report on LRA crimes against Congolese civilians.

"Both the peacekeepers and the Congolese government need to increase
their presence in northeastern Congo with forces equipped to protect
civilians and to respond quickly to LRA attacks," Van Woudenberg said.
"Increased humanitarian assistance to victims and civilians forced to
flee the attacks is also urgently needed."

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration and other
donor governments to work with Congolese authorities to improve
communication systems in LRA-affected areas to permit UN peacekeepers
and others to respond quickly to attacks and to find out where LRA
leaders are hiding. This could include funding the expansion of cell
phone networks and community radio stations.

The killings in the Manziga chieftaincy followed a four-day massacre
in the nearby Makombo area in December 2009. LRA combatants, also
operating under Ongwen's command, attacked numerous villages, in one of
the single largest massacres by the LRA in its 23-year history. Local
leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported they have recently
uncovered another 24 bodies from this LRA attack, bringing the death
toll to at least 345.

The recent killings are part of a longstanding practice of
atrocities and abuse by the LRA. Pushed out of northern Uganda in 2005,
the LRA now operates in the remote border area between southern Sudan,
Congo, and the Central African Republic.

In December 2008, the governments of the region, led by the Ugandan
armed forces and with intelligence and logistical support from the
United States, opened a military campaign against the LRA in
northeastern Congo, Operation Lightning Thunder. But the military
campaign has failed to end the violence or to apprehend the LRA's
leaders.

"The US government has depended on the Ugandan army to end the
threat of the LRA, but this strategy is not working," Van Woudenberg
said. "The Obama administration, together with governments in the
region and other concerned states, should go back to the drawing board
and develop new policy options to end the LRA's violence, including a
more effective strategy to apprehend LRA leaders implicated in
atrocities."

On May 19, human rights defenders in Niangara issued a public appeal
to President Obama: "We live each day in fear that there will be more
attacks by the LRA...We know that you alone can bring a concrete,
rapid, and decisive response before our women and children are wiped
out."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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