A Tragedy in Northern Uganda

First, let me take the opportunity to thank The Hill for providing this forum for my colleagues and I to help keep the public up to speed on what is going on Capitol Hill. Much of what we do up here flies under the radar, so I would like to take a moment to highlight one such event that perhaps should have garnered more interest than it did. Yesterday, the House International Relations Africa and Global Human Rights Subcommittee held a hearing on the tragedy in Northern Uganda. This is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, and has been for some time, yet few people know what is quietly going on in east Africa nation of Uganda.



For nearly two decades, the terrorist Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - which strives to overthrow the current government and replace it with one based on the Ten Commandments - has attacked civilians in northern Uganda killing tens of thousands, abducting more than 20,000 children and resulting in 1.4 million displaced people. Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, has kept hisgrip of terror on the region by abducting children from the northern villages and forcing them into bondage as soldiers, sex slaves and weapons-runners. As a result of Kony's acts of terror, children flee their homes at night and travel miles by foot to towns and city centers, to sleep in bus stations, churches, storefronts and on the street. Known as "night commuters," some estimates put their number at 50,000 children. They leave their villages each night, many without a blanket, only to trek back each morning at dusk.

Most of the children point to education as their hope for a better life, but as you can imagine, getting one is hard when you live in constant fear.

Last year, I traveled to Uganda as part of a Congressional delegation trip to three east African nations. While we were in Uganda, we went to a WorldVision rehabilitation center in the northern Ugadan town of Gulu. At this center, humanitarian workers help children who escape or are freed from Kony's clutches to reassimilate into their communities. What you will see there would literally break your heart.

At the hearing, we heard from a handful of witnesses, but the most stirring testimony came from Ms. Grace Grall Akallo, a former captive of the LRA.

She talked about the seven months she spent in the LRA's capitivity and how her fellow captives that tried to escape were brutally murdered in front of her as a warning.

Ms. Akallo's horrific story is not unique. The LRA has abducted over 20,000 children in the past twenty years. We have to do more to stop this and yesterday's hearing gave us plenty of information to work from.