U.S. Efforts to Reunite Victims of LRA Violence with Their Families

April 10, 2017
Read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal details the work to reunite victims of LRA kidnappings with their families.

We found an article recent article in the Wall Street Journal worth highlighting on our website. The article written by Michael M. Phillips is titled “Pizzas, Loudspeakers and Moms: The U.S. Military’s Unorthodox Mission Against Joseph Kony.” The article details the rise of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), started by Joseph Kony, that began as an ethnic war between various ethnic groups in Uganda, Africa.

Under Joseph Kony, the LRA became one of the most violent terrorist groups worldwide. Phillips’ article describes the LRA as a cult-like group notorious for hacking innocents to death. The LRA would go from village to village kidnapping children—often killing loved ones right in front of them. The LRA forced the children to come with them and join the group under threat of being maimed, dismembered, or killed. Boys, some less than ten years old, were forced to be soldiers and partake in the pillaging and killing rampages of the LRA. Girls ended up in forced “marriages” with LRA soldiers.

The LRA is still in existence today. It is still a terrorist group responsible in the past year, according to this article, for 160 attacks, 14 murders, and 539 kidnappings. However, inroads have advanced to dismantle the LRA. Hunting for Mr. Kony and LRA members has always been difficult. They are adept at being nomadic and moving from place to place. They hide in an area, according to the article, roughly the size of California. So, the Military is employing a new tactic to eviscerate this group.

Eloise, the name of a psychological operations officer in the United States Army, convinced some of the families of the captured children (now-adult LRA soldiers) to make recordings of messages begging their children to come home. United States helicopter pilots fly over areas believed to harbor LRA soldiers and blast the voice messages; they also send messages out over radio waves. The helicopters drop literature that shows pictures and messages from the families. This method is making a difference. One by one, the LRA soldiers captured as children and made to serve Joseph Kony’s terrorist organization are escaping and finding their way home.

Some LRA soldiers have been missing for 15-20+ years. They were taken as children and made to do horrific deeds as LRA soldiers. Beyond the fear that an escape would cost them their lives, these soldiers also feared that their home communities would not accept them due to the awful deeds the LRA forced them to complete. The shame of their lives and fear of facing their families held (and continue to hold) many paralyzed. Hearing recordings from their families or seeing their families in literature has helped liberate many. The soldiers who defect receive amnesty as many feel they are not responsible for the LRA’s grotesque actions since they were victims of kidnapping in the first place.

The article highlights some of the individual stories worth reading. One, in particular, is Mr. Ocitti, who was kidnapped by the LRA when he was 15 years old. He saw the LRA beat his father to death. As he was taken away by the LRA, they used him as a human pack mule to carry stolen spoils. What he saw was ghastly and horrific, but he ended up overcoming fear and escaping. Upon returning home, his mother was afraid that Joseph Kony and his soldiers would come back, so Mr. Ocitti left home to move to Gulu on his own. He is 30 years old now but has never forgotten his experience. He founded Pathways to Peace Uganda and has helped locate more than thirty LRA families. Additionally, he has encouraged them to record messages to their children. “[Eloise] gives me the names,” Mr. Ocetti said, “and I give her the voices.”

The St. Kizito Foundation serves some of the children who have been victims of Joseph Kony and the LRA. Throughout our history, we have provided a path forward for these precious lives who have had so much taken from them: their youth, innocence, families, and self-respect. We invite you to learn more about the child victims by reading the Wall Street Journal article referred to herein. Or, by reading Fr. Donald Dunson’s book Child, Victim, Soldier: The Loss of Innocence in Uganda, available from Amazon.com.

Blog Image Credit: Malaika Overcomer, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


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