As world awaits ICC’s verdict on Dominic Ongwen, 108 children and youth abducted by the LRA since 2018 remain missing and presumed in captivity.

Atrocities by rebel group led by Joseph Kony documented by early warning system in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eastern Central African Republic (CAR)

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Washington, DC (1 February 2021) – On February 4th, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is scheduled to issue a verdict on Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. While the world awaits the verdict, an early warning system (EWS) managed by international aid organization Invisible Children and its local partners has documented a spree of abductions by remaining LRA commanders in eastern CAR and northern DRC, including indicted LRA leader Joseph Kony. The rebel group has abducted at least 138 children and youth since January 2018, including 27 since January 2020. 108 of the children and youth are still missing and presumed in captivity, including 20 of those abducted since January 2020.

“Dominic Ongwen defected from the LRA in 2014, but the rebel group has continued to abduct children and youth, including 27 since 2020,” said Camille Marie-Regnault, Invisible Children’s Deputy Country Director in CAR. “As the world awaits the ICC’s verdict on Ongwen, more efforts are urgently needed to prevent further abductions and assist women, children, and youth who have escaped captivity.”

Dominic Ongwen during the Juba Peace Talks in 2008.

The information was documented as part of Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker project, which has been recording attacks, abductions, and killings of civilians in the region for 11 years. Recent expansions of the project have improved its ability to track individual abductions by the LRA and compare them with records of returnees, allowing for unprecedented tracking of which individual abductees remain missing and which have escaped. In addition to the 20 missing children and youth from 2020, the Crisis Tracker has documented the identities of an additional 88 missing children and youth abducted by the LRA from 2018 and 2019. In total, the Crisis Tracker has documented 236 attacks by LRA groups since 2018, including dozens by commanders formerly aligned with Ongwen, such as Achaye Doctor. Both the Crisis Tracker and the Early Warning Network are primarily supported through the USAID-funded Community Resilience in Central Africa (CRCA) Activity, with additional support from other donors.

Community-based organizations (CBOs), including Bria Londo, Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies (SAIPED), and the Dungu-Doruma Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix (CDJP), play a leading role in reducing the risk of LRA violence against civilians the High Frequency radio EWS, which is operational in more than 140 communities in the border region. CBOs are also on the frontlines of assisting LRA escapees, many of whom escape captivity hundreds of miles from where they were abducted. Invisible Children and it’s CBO partners have helped reunify 112 escapees with their families, including 73 children, since January 2018. However, little programming is available for reintegration assistance once they return home to their families.

“The early warning system is vital to efforts to document LRA abductions and assist in the reunification of escapees,” said Matar Chaib of Bria Londo, a community organization in CAR. “However, reunification is only the first step in rebuilding a life interrupted by abduction. More resources are needed to support community-based reintegration and education programs to assist those who risked their lives to escape captivity.” 

Since 2017, international actors have also largely stopped funding the once robust “Come Home” defection messaging campaigns that encouraged hundreds of LRA combatants and captive women and children to escape. Since then, the number of LRA defections has slowed considerably.“Previous ‘Come Home’ defection campaigns provide an effective blueprint for weakening the LRA and freeing abductees from captivity,” said Paul Ronan, Invisible Children’s Director of Policy and Research. “Rejuvenating such campaigns is the best opportunity available for ending LRA violence.”

As we continue to work alongside our local partners to equip Central African communities with the tools to prevent LRA abductions, our work to bring LRA escapees home continues. By signing up to give monthly to Invisible Children, you can help ensure that every child, woman, or man who escapes LRA activity has access to immediate care and help locating and reuniting with their families.

Some programs described in this blog are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.