Human Rights Defenders on the Front Line: Voices from the Congo
The Program on Human Rights at CDDRL, the Center for African Studies and its Africa Table Lecture Series and Student Anti-Genocide Coalition STAND are honored to host Abbé Benoît Kinalegu and Ida Sawyer for this special seminar.
Congolese activist Abbé Benoît Kinalegu works to document and expose abuses by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and rehabilitate its victims.
The LRA is a rebel armed group that has terrorized civilians for years, first in Uganda and now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. It is known for extreme brutality, and stands accused of killings, rapes, cutting off people’s lips and limbs, and looting. But it’s perhaps most notorious for abductions of adults and children to serve as soldiers, laborers, or sex slaves. Since 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,600 civilians and abducted more than 4,000 others.
As head of the Catholic Church’s Peace and Justice Commission in northern Congo’s Haut-Uele District, Kinalegu helped create an Early Warning Network in which local activists report LRA attacks and movements by high-frequency radio. These offer advance warning to UN workers, humanitarians, and local communities in the LRA’s path. Kinalegu is also setting up a rehabilitation center to help some of the most traumatized children who escaped from the LRA and who now need to find their families and try to restore a normal life.
Kinalegu was one of the main advocates for the adoption in 2010 of the Obama administration’s LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, and he has become a powerful voice urging the international community to bring LRA commanders to justice.
Human Rights Watch has worked with Kinalegu on numerous joint research and advocacy projects, and his organization is a steering committee member of the Congo Advocacy Coalition, which Human Rights Watch coordinates. In October 2011, Kinalegu’s organization and Human Rights Watch co-led a workshop in Dungu, northern Congo, with more than 30 civil society activists from across the LRA-affected regions of central Africa. Participants shared experiences and developed a common position on mobilizing regional and international pressure to end LRA depredations.
Human Rights Watch honors Abbé Benoît Kinalegu for his commitment to protecting civilians and ending the threat posed by the LRA.
Ida Sawyer is Congo researcher and advocate in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch in Kinshasa, Congo's capital, where she has been based since October 2011. Hired as Goma-based Congo researcher in January 2008, Ida has conducted research across Congo and in areas of northern Congo and neighboring countries affected by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She is one of the main researchers and authors of six Human Rights Watch reports and dozens of press releases and public letters. Ida also conducts outreach with local civil society groups. Ida came to Human Rights Watch from Cairo, where she worked as a freelance journalist. Her previous Great Lakes experience includes work for Care International and the Charity for Peace Foundation in Northern Uganda, as well as research in Congo on the cross-border dynamics of natural resource exploitation. She holds a master's in International Affairs, specializing in Human Rights, from Columbia University.