An update on January 15th, 2015 from our Director of International Programs and Policy Advisor, Lisa Dougan:
The U.S. military in Obo, Central African Republic (CAR), have handed Ongwen over the the African Union forces in Obo (aka the Ugandan military). It has been reported that Ongwen will be taken to the ICC for trial, with the help of the CAR government.
Details on how Ongwen left the battlefield are still being clarified. We have contacts who were closely involved with the whole process, and we’re working hard to put the pieces together and decipher how things played out. As we can confirm details, we’ll let you know. We are constantly receiving lots of information from our national staff and community partners in central Africa, and we’re sifting through all of it.
At the same time, our Invisible Children teams in the US, Uganda, and CAR are working round-the-clock with our partners in the region to prepare a strong ‘Come Home’ defection campaign with FM and shortwave radio messages, fliers, and helicopter speaker messages, to help capitalize on this huge development by encouraging more peaceful defections by LRA fighters.
Our team is CAR is also doing a phenomenal job ensuring that local communities are kept informed of this whole situation though community meetings, radio announcements, etc, and that local partners and communities are prepared to help facilitate a potential new wave of LRA defectors that may come out of the bush after learning (through ‘Come Home‘ messages) that Ongwen is safe and off the battlefield.
Lastly, as the world watches and waits to see how Dominic Ongwen’s situation plays out, we strongly encourage Invisible Children activists to read this article from LRA expert Ledio Cajak. It’s incredibly informative, balanced, and insightful. As activists on the LRA issue, it’s really important for us to learn and engage in the complexities of this crisis and the people it has affected.
Dominic Ongwen’s story is a complicated and tragic one. We owe it to ourselves, to him (as someone who has been at the center of our advocacy efforts), and the people whose lives he has affected, to better understand his story.
January 7th, 2015 at 12:30pm PST
Earlier today, Uganda’s military spokesperson confirmed that U.S. forces in Central African Republic (CAR) do indeed have Dominic Ongwen in custody. However, U.S. officials have not yet confirmed that this is, in fact, Ongwen.
We will keep this blog updated with any new details and analysis we have.
January 6th, 2015 at 12:00pm PST
Our Invisible Children team has received major news that Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and International Criminal Court (ICC) indictee, is reportedly in the custody of U.S. military advisors in the Central African Republic (CAR), with some information suggesting that he may have surrendered voluntarily.
While these reports have not yet been confirmed, our team in CAR is currently investigating the situation, and we will keep this blog updated with any new details and analysis we have.
If confirmed, Ongwen’s surrender or capture would mean a significant and historic blow to Joseph Kony’s forces. It would also mean that, in the last three years alone, four of the top five LRA commanders would have been removed from the battlefield, leaving only Kony as the final ICC-indicted LRA leader left to be captured.
As we wait for confirmation and additional details about this situation, our dedicated staff and community partners in CAR and DR Congo will continue to create and broadcast ‘Come Home’ defection messages across central Africa, in an effort to encourage other LRA fighters to peacefully leave the battlefield. Learn more about our defection programs here.
Read Dominic Ongwen’s full bio from the LRA Crisis Tracker:
The tragic story of Dominic Ongwen encapsulates many of the complexities surrounding the LRA conflict. It is a story of a child, like many in the LRA, forced to grow up in the image of their oppressors (for more, see this article). Abducted as a 10 year old while on his way to school – he was reportedly ‘too little to walk long distances’ – Ongwen nonetheless rose through the LRA ranks quickly, becoming a Major at 18 and a Brigadier in his late 20s. Kony himself promoted Ongwen, who became known for his courage on the battlefield and for carrying out brutal attacks against civilians. In 2005, the International Criminal Court indicted Ongwen on 7 counts, including enslavement, making him the first person to be charged by the court for committing the same crime committed against him.
After his abduction in 1990, Ongwen was placed in the ‘household’ of Vincent Otti, a senior LRA commander. Ongwen grew close to Otti, who eventually rose to be Kony’s chief deputy before Kony ordered his execution in October 2007. LRA defectors report that Ongwen was the only commander who pleaded with Kony to spare Otti’s life, a move that weakened his influence within the LRA. However, Kony spared Ongwen from the subsequent purge of Otti loyalists due to Ongwen’s value to the LRA, particularly his ability to lead troops on daring missions. Ongwen proved his worth soon after, leading a raid on a South Sudanese military garrison in Nabanga in June 2008 in which LRA forces killed 14 soldiers.
Ongwen is known as much for his volatile nature as his bravery, and some former LRA fighters testify he has risked Kony’s wrath several times. Not only did he openly oppose Otti’s execution, Ongwen also publicly stated during the Juba negotiations that he would kill Kony if the LRA leader failed to secure favorable provisions for his commanders and fighters in the negotiation table. Ongwen reportedly also refused to join other senior LRA commanders in CAR for most of 2009 and 2010 despite being frequently ordered to do so by Kony.
Though Kony has spared Ongwen’s life, he has taken action to punish Ongwen. In May 2009, Kony received reports that Ongwen was communicating with Ugandan officials with the intention of surrendering alongside his 60 fighters. Kony sent a large force of loyal troops to intercept Ongwen’s group, which at that time operated alongside the Duru River in Congo, while frequently crossing into southern Sudan to raid civilians there. They split up Ongwen’s group and replaced key members with fighters from Kony’s loyalist Central Brigade. Kony reportedly also demoted Ongwen and gave Lt. Col. Binany command of LRA forces in Congo, though Ongwen remained an influential commander.
Despite all the reported insubordination – which would have likely resulted in execution for any other commander – Kony persisted in trying to convince Ongwen to join him in CAR. By the summer of 2011 Ongwen’s force had reportedly dwindled to half a dozen fighters, and he then joined Kony and Odhiambo in CAR. Recent reports state that Ongwen was injured and had difficulty walking and that Kony gave Major John Bosco Kibwola many of Ongwen’s command responsibilities. Ugandan military forces reported attacking Ongwen’s group southwest of the CAR town of Djemah in August and September 2012, but his location as of late 2012 was unknown.
We’ll keep you updated as more details about Ongwens reported surrender become available.
When a well-known commander like Ongwen surrenders, it can empower even more LRA members to come home. You can help us capitalize on this incredible news by encouraging more LRA members to surrender. Contribute to our defection messaging efforts.