“We have been forgotten. It’s as if we don’t exist.”
– Congolese local chief after an LRA massacre (Dec 2009)*
On December 14, 2009, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel fighters entered a remote area of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), armed with machetes, guns, and clubs. Over the course of four days, the LRA attacked a series of ten villages, ultimately killing 321 civilians and abducting more than 250 others, including at least 80 children, forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves. In what became known as the Makombo Massacre, the LRA killed and abducted the equivalent of an entire U.S. suburban neighborhood. And yet, despite its scale and brutality, news of the massacre didn’t reach the outside world for almost three months.
The communities targeted in the Makombo Massacre, like thousands of others across central Africa, had no government protection, no way to warn each other, and no way to contact the outside world for help. This remote and neglected region was (and still is) far from the eyes and interests of any regional governments, and even farther from the radar screen of the rest of the world. The leaders of the LRA knew that their fighters could loot, kill, and abduct civilians — and poach endangered wildlife as a way to fund their crimes — and the world would never know or respond. Tragically, the LRA are now one of several armed groups exploiting the severe isolation of these communities, and banking on the ability to get away with their crimes.
In the absence of basic infrastructure and reliable means of communication, communities cannot effectively protect themselves, each other, or their environment when threatened with predatory violence. Leaders at every level (local, national and international) are unable to rapidly document and share critical information about the violence facing communities, which hinders their ability to plan and implement life-saving interventions. Furthermore, the effects of severe isolation on communities, including economic poverty, fear and mistrust, and a lack of access to their own governments, are often what motivate individuals to join violent armed groups and engage in illicit activity in the first place.
For vulnerable communities to have the safety they deserve and need to thrive, we must work together with them to break down the barriers of severe isolation that attract and enable violence and exploitation. We must support community-led solutions that help connected them to each other and the outside world, and enable them to be the central agents in their own protection.
WHAT WE’RE DOING ABOUT IT
We are ending the extreme isolation that enables violence. Here’s how:
+ We build, expand, and improve local communication systems to ensure every community in central Africa has access to lifesaving information and the ability to call for help in the face of violence
+ We train communities on how to collect and share security information with each other and with international humanitarian and protection actors
+ We organize workshops that connect local and international experts, so that they can collaborate and develop the most effective solutions to violence and exploitation
+ We provide international practitioners and policymakers with rapid, reliable security information and analysis, and mobilize targeted political advocacy campaigns, to both catalyze and guide effective policies that can help ensure the longterm protection of vulnerable communities.
Check out some of our programs that are breaking down the barriers of severe isolation:
*Source of quote: Human Rights Watch, March 2010.