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Rescued Child Soldiers
At the age of seven, Judith became an accomplice to a murder. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided her village and forced Judith to participate in the killing of her mother. The LRA then kidnapped Judith and her siblings and forced them to serve Joseph Kony. Thousands of children share Judith’s story. Today, the rescued child soldiers in Africa are finding healing and restoration through art.

The Rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The World Economic Forum found that poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement were fertilizers for extremist groups to take root and grow. In the 1980s, poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement hit Uganda hard. Estimates determined that one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Uganda government officials did little to improve the dire situation. As a result, rebel groups and organizations began to pop up throughout the country. The Holy Spirit Movement, a militaristic and spiritual rebel group, formed to fight against the oppression of the people in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony joined the movement in the mid-1980s. After the Holy Spirit Movement’s defeat in 1988, Kony kept the organization. He renamed the group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony used religion and traditional beliefs to continue the support of the people living in northern Uganda. His operation expanded to the nearby countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The tactics Kony and the LRA used became more violent over time.

Kony and the LRA caused the displacement of more than 1.9 million people. Authorities issued a number of arrest warrants for Kony and leaders of the LRA on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA raided villages, burned down homes and murdered or mutilated thousands of people.

Child Soldiers in Africa

Kony lacked support for his cause and army. As a result, he abducted children and forced them into his service. Estimates state that the LRA kidnapped between 30,000 and 60,000 children. The LRA trained males to be child soldiers and females to be sex slaves. Fear was a major driver for children to remain in the LRA. Many children, like Judith, had to kill their parents and other loved ones for survival.

Art Is Restoring Peace to Rescued Child Soldiers

The U.N. called the LRA crisis the “most forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.” A 29-minute film became the most effective tool in mobilizing the world into taking action against Kony and the LRA.

Art and social media were the key components of the success of the film “KONY 2012.” The U.S. advocacy group, Invisible Children, launched a digital campaign with the release of the film. The campaign’s goal was to make the infamous warlord famous in order to mobilize world leaders to stop him. The film garnered over 100 million views in six days. Public outcry and celebrity support increased the pressure for global leaders to take action against Kony. Eventually, authorities sanctioned a universal manhunt to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA. People have rescued many of the child soldiers in Africa but Kony still remains at-large. Today, the LRA has reduced to a group of fewer than 300 members.

Art has also been an effective tool for healing and restoration for the child victims of the LRA crisis. For many of the rescued child soldiers in Africa, there were some elements in their story that were too painful to put into words. Art became an avenue for those children to confront the past and face the future. Exile International, a nonprofit organization, has been providing healing to war-affected children through art-focused trauma care since 2008.

Recently, Exile International partnered with award-winning photographer and artist Jeremy Cowart to share the faces and powerful stories of child survivors. The Poza Project utilized the children’s art and Cowart’s talent to create a healing opportunity for the children to tell their own story of survival. Unique photographs and mixed art media created by the children were available for purchase. All the proceeds helped provide art therapy and holistic rehabilitation to children survivors of war. The Poza Project showcased a dozen children including Judith.

Judith spent nearly two years in captivity before being rescued. Today, she is back in school and working to become a psychiatric doctor. With the help of The Poza Project, Judith is one step closer to her dream of helping the other victims of Kony and the LRA.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Uganda
Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa that currently holds a relatively stable political environment and a steadily developing economy; however, before this hard-earned progress, the country had to endure several coups and a seemingly formidable military dictatorship following its independence from Great Britain in 1962. One of the most well-known dictators of that era was Idi Amin Dada, who took the drastic action of expelling all Asians in the nation in the 1980s. In addition, Uganda has a vast political history marked by longstanding effects of continuous instability which includes more than four coups since the nation’s independence.

The article below illuminates the top 10 facts about child soldiers in Uganda and displays how this population interacts with the nation’s historical emergence.

Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Uganda

  1. Uganda’s volatile political atmosphere paved the way for a brutal 20-year rebel insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that began in the nation’s northern region. This organization became notorious for child abductions that were done to fill its ranks, in addition to its brutal crimes.
  2. According to a UNICEF report, almost 20,000 children have been forcefully recruited in the 19-year conflict.
  3. The emergence of the LRA rebel group — initially called the Holy Spirit Movement — is one of the major attributes of the country’s instability. This organization is known as one of the world’s most brutal and inhumane terroristic organizations.
  4. Lord’s Resistance Army demands that Uganda is governed according to the Biblical 10 Commandments, and has also directed its forces to fight against President Yoweri’s oppression of Northern Uganda.
  5. The LRA was founded by a member of the Acholi Ethnolinguistic Group, Alice Auma (later known as Alice Lawkena), who declared herself as a messenger of the spirits. She led the first army of rebels against President Yoweri Museveni and was exiled in 1987 after being defeated.
  6. The LRA is currently headed by Joseph Kony who took control of the rebel group after Lawkena, who is rumored to be his cousin and gave the group its current name and tried to sustain the army to no avail.
  7. During this transition period, the LRA lost significant regional support and resources and resorted to a series of lethal rebellious actions that included stealing supplies and abducting children to serve as soldiers. The abductions came to mark the beginning of child soldiers in Uganda when the practice began occurring in earnest in 1994.
  8. Following this strategy shift, the LRA became made up mostly of child soldiers. Ninety percent of the forces abducted into the army disrupted the northern part of the country to the point that the population had to disperse in IDP camps — disease-infested areas that lacked resources and appropriate treatment.
  9. A major part of LRA’ s method of aligning new recruits with the rebel group’s overarching agenda is to reaffirm a notion of hopelessness. Spreading such ideological perspectives included heinous instruction i.e. forcing members to kill their parents and anyone deemed close to the child. If a child refused to perform these tasks, he or she would then face death in front of the other recruits so as to instill fear in other new recruits.
  10. Thirty percent of child soldiers recruited by the LRA are women whose main roles in the army include cooking for soldiers and serving as sex slaves. One of the most infamous abduction incidents occurred in 2005 when 200 girls were abducted from a Catholic school.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The LRA seems to be a shadow of what it used to be after being pushed out of the country following a major expedition in the mid-2000s. Governmental and nongovernmental international forces — such as the U.S. — played important roles in creating global awareness of the destruction and inhumane methods of the group. However, Kony and some army members remain elusive and are reported to roam untraced around fragile nations in central Africa.

While efforts to catch the leading forces of this group and bring them to justice remains significant, the rehabilitation and reintegration of those individuals who endured traumas at the hands of the LRA is a pressing issue that requires all hands on deck.

– Bilen Kassie
Photo: Flickr


Since 1987, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony have caused conflict throughout Central Africa. Differing from typical anti-government insurgencies, the LRA has targeted citizens rather than the military. Ending LRA violence has been a goal of the Ugandan government since the 1990s, but attempts were initially unsuccessful.

In 2010, the U.S. became actively involved in ending LRA violence after grassroots advocacy movements brought the issue to the attention of Congress. In October 2011, President Obama deployed 100 U.S. Army Special Forces members to serve as advisory personnel and to aid the African Union Task Force, comprised of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Congress has four objectives for ending LRA violence in Central Africa:

  1. Protect of Central Africans from LRA attacks

    There has been a 92 percent reduction in LRA-related killings since 2012, partly due to the establishment of communication networks across the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These networks have allowed for the establishment of the LRA Crisis Tracker project, which provides timely updates on LRA attacks and abductions. The communication networks have also allowed for the establishment of an Early Warning Radio Network, which ensures that communities are warned if LRA troops are in a nearby area. This network has ensured that no large-scale massacres, such as the Christmas Massacre in 2008 that left over 600 dead, could occur in the last five years.

  2. Apprehend Joseph Kony and his senior LRA commanders

    Joseph Kony is believed to be hiding in Kafa Kingi in southern Darfur, and the Ugandan military has reported capturing or killing several senior LRA commanders between 2011 and 2014. In 2014, LRA commander Dominic Ongwen was arrested and placed on trial at the International Criminal Court. Court proceedings began last December.

  3. Encourage defection and reintegration among LRA soldiers

    Between 2010 and 2013, the number of LRA combatants dropped from approximately 400 to 250; in 2014, 80 percent of Ugandan male soldiers who left or defected from the LRA did so voluntarily. An innovative way in which the African Union Task force and U.S. government have promoted defections is through the “Come Home” program. By collecting information on known remaining militants from their communities, the U.S. military has been able to record personal messages for soldiers, which they broadcast through loudspeakers from helicopters and personalized leaflet drops. These personalized messages, along with other messages telling soldiers they will be welcomed back, have had a tremendous impact. In the last six months alone, at least 44 soldiers have defected after receiving personalized messages asking them to return home.

  4. Provide humanitarian aid to communities affected by LRA violence

    USAID focuses on providing resources that assist in early recovery following attacks, including healthcare services and food security resources for displaced persons. They have formed 94 community protection committees in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two countries currently most affected by LRA violence. International NGOs have focused their efforts on community-based programs that reintegrate former soldiers into communities and aid with the effects of post-traumatic stress and experienced trauma.

The innovative strategies of the U.S. and the African Union Task Force have had a positive impact, weakening the grip of the movement in the region and improving the lives of those in Central Africa. While Joseph Kony is still at large, with the continued support of aid groups and the U.S. government, ending LRA violence in Central Africa and restoring safe communities is closer to being achieved.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

search_for_kony
President Obama has ordered an increase in U.S. involvement in the search for warlord Joseph Kony and members of his organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This course of action follows the 2009 legislation that mandated the “support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”

Kony is infamous for his years of attacking central African villages, mutilating civilians and abducting children. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, but has not been sighted for “some time.” He is believed to be in the Central African Republic, where conflict and the absence of an effective government make it easy for him to hide.

The new aid package includes four CV-22 Ospreys, a type of tilt rotor aircraft with short takeoff and landing capabilities. They will be effective in taking quick action should Kony be sighted in central Africa. This marks the first incidence of military aircraft being deployed in the effort to find Kony. About 150 Air Force Special Operations forces will be in charge of flying and maintaining the aircraft.

U.S. officers will be in central Africa to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the African Union military task force that is already looking for Kony. The search spans across Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo.

As with the troops that Obama sent to support the search for Kony in 2011, the new batch of U.S. personnel will be combat-equipped, but prohibited from engaging LRA forces except in cases of self-defense. The addition of these troops brings the total of all U.S. forces in Uganda to 300.

Although the LRA poses no direct threat to the U.S., the Obama administration sees this mission as a helpful way to build partnerships with African governments in a region that is ripe for the development of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.

— Madisson Barnett

Sources: The Washington Post, USA Today

impact_invisible_children
2012 was a year with several attention-grabbing events: Whitney Houston passed away, Barack Obama was reelected President of the United States, and an American athlete publicly confessed his sexual preferences. However, despite all of these large-scale events, one eclipsed all of these. The crimes committed by Joseph Kony and his group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, were exposed to the entire world through the efforts of the Invisible Children program. The impact is still being felt today, even after the fervor exited the public spectrum.

The record setting video, found here, reached 100 million views in six days, making it the fastest growing viral video in history. As most people know, the Kony 2012 video is a call to arms, an informational lecture about the crimes Kony and the LRA have committed for over 25 years. The video urges people to join the cause by making Kony internationally known, and never letting the world forget his name until he is brought into justice.

While the primary cause behind the video–to bring Kony and the LRA to justice–has not been achieved, significant progress has been made. Whereas Kony himself has not been captured, two of his top military officials, Major General Caesar Acellam and Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Binansio (Binani) Okuma, have been removed from the battlefield.

Progress has been made in several areas outside of the removal of major military officials. LRA killings have decreased by 67 percent since the release of the 2012 video. Additionally, five LRA members have surrendered with an Invisible Children-made flier in hand. 690,000 of such fliers have been printed in hopes of others joining the surrender. The fliers have had a hand in 89 percent of the escapes from the LRA, citing the flier as the final beacon to disband from the group and seek safety elsewhere.

Invisible Children has also provided funds to employ 44 radio operators to work the Early Warning Radio Network, a radio system implanted to warn nearby villages of approaching LRA action. Three of these towers have been built, and they can deliver messages over a 37,000 sq/km range. Thirty seven different villages rely on the Early Warning Radio Network for news on the whereabouts of the LRA, and the Early Warning system has saved several lives by evacuating villages before danger can approach.

Additionally, Invisible Children established a safe haven for children who have escaped from the LRA. These children are brought to shelters in safe villages, where the friendly shelter workers can help assimilate the children back into a healthy environment. Many of the children had to withstand extreme, unimaginable scenarios; the shelters can provide a stable community for these children to rediscover themselves.

Invisible Children has accomplished much since the release of the video, but the primary goal remains: Kony must be brought to justice. While his reign of terror is now weaker than any time in the past 20 years, he is still at large and very capable of causing extraordinary pain. To join the fight to save the African children from Kony’s presence, visit the Invisible Children website to see how anyone can join the fight.

– Zachary Wright

Sources: Invisible Children, Kony 2012, LRA Crisis Tracker
Photo: Border7

Top Ten Most Searched People Google Morgan Freeman
Who is the world intrigued with? Look no further than the top searches on Google. The top 10 searched for people provides a very interesting sampling of who represents humanity.

1. Whitney Houston. She became a beloved artist, actress, producer, and model. Guinness world records called her the most awarded female of all time. In later years she had a drug problem but recovered. She was posed to become the next judge on the show “The X-Factor” and revive her career right before she died.

2. Kate Middleton. She is a modern day Cinderella. Now Kate has been voted number one on the Vanity Fair’s best dressed list for three years in a row. Before she won the prince’s heart, she was considered simply “a beautiful commoner.” Today she works closely with five charities which mainly work with children.

3. Amanda Todd. Released a YouTube video about how she was bullied before she committed suicide. The video went viral and is now used to support anti-bullying movements.

4. Michael Clarke Duncan. Became famous when appearing in “The Green Mile” which won him an Academy Award nomination. He was an avid advocate for PETA. Michael died at age 54.

5. One Direction. Popularized by the show “The X-Factor,” the boy band has sold over seven million records. The teenage heart throbs are avid advocates for the organization Comic Relief.

6. Felix Baumgartner. Broke the world record height for sky diving. During his decent, he became the first person to break the sound barrier without using mechanical power.

7. Jeremy Lin. A lesser known professional basketball player until he led a winning streak for the New York Knicks.

8. Morgan Freeman. He acts, directs, and narrates. Some of his recent films include Oblivion, Now You See Me, and The Dark Knight Rises.

9. Joseph Kony. Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. He was made famous by an Invisible Children documentary that went viral.

10. Donna Summer. Known as the “undisputed queen of the Seventies disco boom.” Four of her singles topped the billboard chart within a thirteen month period. She held five Grammy Awards.

How can this diverse group of people be summarized? They usually come from the entertainment business. The good outnumber the bad. They are overwhelmingly represented in the media. When given power or influence most chose to represent the underprivileged and fight for inequality. Many gain a following in the wake of their death. Their lives read like a very dramatic story. The kind of story that gets them on the top ten Google searched list.

– Nicole Yancy
Sources: Biography, Wonder’s List, Fox News, E Online
Photo: LoL Forum

LRA2_opt
The Lord’s Resistance Army is a rebel group led by Joseph Kony that was formed in 1989 in Northern Uganda to fight the Ugandan government. The LRA is widely regarded as one of the most violent and brutal groups in the world as it regularly, murders, rapes and plunders villages. At the very height of the group’s power, 2 million people in northern Uganda were displaced.

The Lord’s Resistance Army began as a religious movement led by Alice Lakwena. Lakwena claimed the Holy Spirit was leading her to overthrow the Ugandan government. At the time, popular resentment of the government helped to intensify support for her Holy Spirit Movement. However, soon the government was able to depose of Lakwena and push back the rebel group into the bush.

However, the movement did not end with Lakwena. A man named Joseph Kony, who claimed to be Lakwena’s cousin, revitalized the group and unleashed a new reign of terror. Kony rechristened the group as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Claiming to follow the 10 commandments, Kony’s LRA gained a cult-like following and pursued its original goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government. However, Kony quickly began to lose support for his rebel group so he was forced to resort to abducting thousands of children to serve as soldiers.

The LRA has become notorious for utilizing child soldiers. Rebels often disguise themselves as Ugandan military forces and attack villagers. The LRA has slaughtered thousands. Others they mutilate to serve as warnings to the government and villages. Any captives, many of which are children, are violently indoctrinated and forced into slavery as soldiers, cooks, or sex slaves. To keep captives from escaping, the LRA often forces them to kill their own family members. Those who do not do so are killed off.

Today the LRA continues to dwindle in size due to military pressure and defection.

The UN Security Council has condemned the LRA repeatedly. In 2005, the International Criminal Court also issued arrest warrants for the LRA’s top leaders for crimes against humanity, including Joseph Kony. Many attempts have been made to reach a peace agreement between the LRA and the Ugandan government. However, Joseph Kony has avoided such meetings each time. Thus today the Ugandan government continues to battle the LRA. In October 2011, the 100 U.S. military advisors from Army Special Forces were deployed to Uganda with the intention of  providing training and assistance to fight the LRA.

Currently, the LRA remains one of the most elusive and least understood rebel groups in the world. Yet its crimes hardly go unnoticed. However, with increasing foreign pressure and foreign aid, the LRA faces a bleaker future.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: LRA Crisis tracker, FAS, Department of State, Enough Project
Photo: TCON

War_Crimes_Poverty
For hundreds of years, humans have been developing the modern-day laws of war to determine what is legal in the context of armed conflict. For the most part, such laws have been set to govern international armed conflict, such as the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, the Internet, traditional media sources, and social media connect us to daily atrocities, carried out under the guise of war that continue to violate international humanitarian law and prey on the extreme poor. As a result of violations that inhibit domestic and international aid, millions of people face hunger and disease in association with extreme poverty that goes unaddressed by international courts.

In 1945, when WWII was won by the Allied Forces, with 6 million dead in concentration camps, the responsible Nazi officers were tried for war crimes. All of the Allied nations, though not initially supporting the format of the trials themselves, backed the justice meted out by the Allied courts as a response. Some of the officers faced death, while others were sentenced to prison.

Today, the international body charged with bringing justice to war-torn nations, the International Criminal Court, fails to be recognized by the United States and many other influential countries that affect the global-political environment of the United Nations. Without having all countries as signatories, the ICC struggles to address atrocities being committed in some of the world’s poorest and most disenfranchised communities.

Because the ICC depends on participation from countries hosting alleged criminals to assert jurisdiction over the criminals within that host country’s borders, a lack of participation effectively cripples the ability of the Court to perform its duties in upholding international humanitarian law. In some cases, domestic courts are left to deliver justice, which, in the context of Syria, becomes all but impossible, seeing as the target of charges is the country’s president.

Because the poorest communities are often targeted by the perpetrators of war crimes, such as leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army Jospeh Kony, it may be all the more necessary that international courts acquire jurisdiction over these otherwise ungoverned warlords. The most impoverished are often the first casualties of war and feel the effects of a diminished food supply, lacking sanitation, and inadequate first aid facilities. Refugees of war in Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable in the face of natural disasters and the long-term effects of climate change.

– Herman Watson

Source: USHMM, International Criminal Court, WarChild UK
Photo: Save the Children

joseph-kony-satellite-tracker
If your name is Joseph Kony, the next time you go outside you might try waving at the sky. Someone might be looking at you via satellite imagery.

Resolve — an advocacy initiative to draw attention to the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) violence — has recently used satellite imagery to identify probable locations of LRA camps and its leader Joseph Kony. Using UN reports, LRA defector testimonies, and imagery analysis, The Resolve published an extensive report titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave, 2009-2013.”

The LRA first emerged in the late 1980s under the leadership of Joseph Kony. Its use of guerrilla tactics has terrorized people in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. The country of Sudan has supported the LRA in the past, though this support officially ended in 2005.

The report was commissioned by Amnesty International USA and co-produced by the Enough Project and Invisible Children. The report carries a number of implications for both foreign policy and the use of remote sensing to further humanitarian goals.

Primarily, Kony’s presence in Sudan implies continued Sudanese governmental support for the LRA. “We will be turning our attention toward galvanizing international action to ensure Sudan’s support to the LRA is now definitively ended,” Michael Poffenberger of The Resolve writes. What of finding Joseph Kony? Amnesty International’s Christoph Koettl urges US citizens to contact President Obama in support of reaffirming the US signature to the International Criminal Court: “It is crucial the US reaffirms its commitment to the rule of law and a strong global system for accountability.”

Furthermore, as remote sensing technology advances by leaps and bounds, so does the opportunity to use these technologies in nontraditional ways. Progress has been made even in the years since Francesco Pisano wrote on using satellite imagery for disaster relief in 2005 for the Humanitarian Exchange Magazine: “We should not underestimate the value of geographic information systems and satellite imagery in helping to fill the gap between relief and development…. These efforts need support from across the humanitarian community.”

The support is widely increasing. The Satellite Sentinel Project is one such initiative, a nonprofit that reports on conflict in Sudan and South Sudan by tracking satellite imagery. While some criticism exists against the use of satellite technology to track atrocities, the increasing amount of information about regions in crisis can only improve awareness and advocacy. For those still affected by the violence of the LRA, Resolve is committed to tracking down Joseph Kony and contributing to the restoration of peace to these wartorn regions.

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Humanitarian Practice Network, The Resolve
Photo: Time