Students lobby Congress to get involved.
By Guthrie Gray-Lobe
Thursday October 12, 2006
Activists dressed in bright yellow T-shirts dotted Capitol Hill on Oct. 10 as they met with legislators and congressional staffers in an attempt to encourage the United States to take a proactive role in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Northern Uganda, where a 20-year conflict has driven 1.3 million people into refugee camps.
Students from around the country comprised the bulk of the 700 activists at Uganda Lobby Day, pushing legislators from their home states to appropriate more resources for humanitarian and development assistance in the region, and to make the United States a more outspoken advocate at ongoing peace talks in Juba, Sudan. The day before, the activists attended an informational event at George Washington University to prepare.
The Juba talks are a major landmark in the 20-year conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that employs mostly child soldiers that formed in 1989 as a fight for members of the Acholi ethnic group against the Ugandan government that took power in 1986. Still, many people who are working in the region are afraid that the talks lack the international support to keep the participants at the table.
“This is a part of the world where the U.S. government is still well respected,” Brian Grzelkowski, senior policy advisor for Mercy Corps, told Campus Progress. “But I think there’s also a sense that U.S. support would add credibility to the talks, and help keep both parties at the table.”
International attention on the Ugandan crisis has not always facilitated the peace talks. President Yoweri Museveni’s offer of amnesty to Josephy Kony, the leader of the LRA, caused considerable controversy. Kony and other leaders of the LRA are currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, and Kony has refused to come out of hiding so long as he is wanted by the court. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Museveni would prefer a traditional reconciliation ceremony in which Kony would drink sheep’s blood mixed with a bitter root with the victims of his crimes. On Wednesday, a LRA spokesman announced they would sign a peace deal if all criminal indictments were dropped. ” We are not going to negotiate with ropes around our necks,” the spokesman said.