Benoit Kinalegu publicly criticized the atrocities of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, thus risking his life. Human Rights Watch invited the Congolese priest to Europe as the 'voice of justice.'
Twice a day Benoit Kinalegu gets on his motorbike and rides through the Haut-Uele region in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is here that he heads a Committee for Peace and Justice, run by the Roman Catholic Church, but for residents, the strong man with the wide smile is just 'Abbe Benoit.'
In Haut-Uele, the priest has a daunting task: he wants to systematically document atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against civilians. The self-proclaimed holy warriors are active in large areas of central Africa and have terrorized the region for 20 years. Kinalegu talks with victims and their families about their fears, losses and trauma. One day Benoit Kinalegu hopes to fly to The Hague in the Netherlands to testify before the International Criminal Court against Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA. Kony is in hiding somewhere in the Central African jungle. Even a specialized multinational search party has not been able to capture him.
Priest turned activist
"I'll only find peace when my fellow countrymen can safely sleep and live again – without being in constant fear of the next day," says Kinalegu. The priest used a dinner in Munich arranged by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday (12.11.2013) as a platform for his plans. The human rights organization awarded Kinalegu the 'Alison des Forges' award in 2012. Every year individuals are honored who put their lives on the line to defend the dignity and rights of others. Now Kinalegu, along with other winners of the award, are traveling through Europe and the world as "Voices of Justice."
The priest, according to HRW, is an activist who has "the courage to speak out when others remain silent." Since 2007, Kinalegu has been fighting for disarmament and education for civil rights activists. One of his biggest successes in the fight against the rebels has been the implementation of an early warning system which provides information about attacks by the LRA. The network reaches more than 250,000 people in the Haut and Bas-Uele districts and along the border with Uganda, including United Nations' and aid agencies' staff. Benoit Kinalegu also established a rehabilitation center in 2010 for 175 traumatized babies and child soldiers. "It's important that at least some children can grow up in a relatively safe, stable environment instead of amongst traumatized families who are constantly on the run," says Kinalegu.
Struggle against barbarism
The LRA is one of the most brutal militias in the world. Their goal: the establishment of a theocracy, based on the Christian Ten Commandments. Founded in 1987, as a resistance movement against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his government, the paramilitary group, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, terrorized the northern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The LRA murdered, raped, hacked off parts of their victims' bodies and then burned them alive. Time and again, the rebels kidnapped children in order to use them as soldiers and slaves. According to HRW, the LRA has killed more than 3,000 people since 2008 and kidnapped more than 4,000. More than 300,000 people have fled the violence.
Benoit Kinalegu says he cannot just sit back and watch this barbarism and wait for international politicians to get involved. He wants to get a special program up and running that convinces LRA rebels to lay down their weapons and return to civilian life.
"We must offer them a perspective, they need to feel they can make something of their lives if they leave the rebel group. If we succeed in that, we can isolate Joseph Kony."
Until that day comes, the Congolese priest will remain a target of the LRA. He's not afraid, he says, and plans to continue with his efforts to bring Kony to justice