Tens of thousands of people will remain without life-saving aid unless the UN mission in DR Congo steps up its presence in areas brutalized by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). The horrific experiences of the communities in the Great Lakes directly affected by the LRA demand that the UN bear three harsh realities in mind:
1. The Lord's Resistance Army is a regional problem, requiring a concerted regional and international response.
2. The problem is not going to go away: a failure to direct efforts and resources towards it now will only increase the scale of the human catastrophe to be addressed later.
3. Current efforts are ineffective at protecting civilians and can even inadvertently put civilians at greater risk: the protection of the civilians caught up in this crisis cannot be left to chance – or to the communities themselves.
That the US government, the World Bank, the UN, AU and EU have recently moved the issue of the LRA higher up their respective agendas is potentially good news for the many LRA-affected communities. Turning that potential into reality, however, is going to take considerably greater political will, coordination and far-sightedness than has so far characterised the international and regional response to the LRA.
Contact Group members should promote coordinated national and international action to address the threat the LRA poses to civilians across the region.
- Make better use of existing resources: peacekeeping missions must review their strategies in response to the LRA threat and establish effective cross-mission coordination on protecting civilians; coordination with humanitarian actors on security must be improved to enable an expansion of assistance; national armies must be adequately supported and disciplined to offer increased protection to civilians; revive the role of an AU or UN Special Envoy to LRA-affected areas as part of enhanced non-military action to promote disarmament.
- Increase resources commensurate with needs: more international and national protection actors must be deployed to the areas where the civilian population is most at risk; the delivery of humanitarian assistance should be significantly increased; the structural vulnerabilities of the affected areas should be addressed through a targeted road-building/road rehabilitation program, combined with a major expansion of communications infrastructure (mobile phone coverage); early warning systems linked to improved response capacity are needed, with regard for the risks they can pose to civilians.
- Address the risks of any military action: civilian protection should be at the centre of international and regional action to address the threat of the LRA, under a shared strategy involving national armed forces and peacekeeping missions in the region that takes account of the capacities of each.