As the International Criminal Court (ICC) today delivers its verdict on former Lord’s Resistance Army commander, Dominic Ongwen, at least 108 children remain missing since 2018.
According to a statement issued by three non-governmental organisations which have been tracking LRA activities in the DR Congo and the Central African Republic since 2012, the children are presumed to be in the LRA captivity.
The Invisible Children, Bria Londo, Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies (SAIPED), and the Dungu-Doruma Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix (CDJP) based in DR Congo and CAR say 20 of the 108 children were abducted in the last one year.
“108 of the children and youth are still missing and presumed in captivity, including 20 of those abducted since January 2020,” the organisations said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
Mr Ongwen, who is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity is the first LRA commander to be tried alone after being indicted by the ICC in 2005 for war crimes.
The ICC dropped the arrest warrants for Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo after the court’s investigations confirmed that they were dead.
But the court has maintained the arrest warrant for the former LRA deputy commander, Vincent Otti who was reportedly killed on the orders of LRA leader Joseph Kony in 2007 because there is no confirmation of his death.
Kony, according to the report is still hiding in Kafia King, a disputed enclave between CAR and South Sudan.
His group reportedly survives primarily via subsistence farming and bartering goods, such as honey, in local markets.
There were reports from Central African Republic last week that the Kony had died of Covid-19 but Mr Paul Ronan, the Director of Research with Invisible Children doubts the reports.
“I don’t think it would be very easy for Kony to contract Covid-19 in his isolated camp. Finally, the reports that his last words were “Forgive me” seemed too good to be true,” he told Daily Monitor.
The Invisible Children CAR deputy country director, Ms Camille Marie-Regnault, says the LRA abductions have significantly reduced but they must be stopped.
“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,” she said.
According the Crisis Tracker, a geospatial database run by the Invisible Children in DR Congo and CAR to track LRA activities, has documented 236 attacks since 2018.
Some of the attacks were commanded by Acaye Doctor, one of the LRA commanders who was formerly aligned to Mr Ongwen who defected in 2014.
Several LRA splinter groups led by Ugandan commanders that no longer report to Kony are operating along the border between eastern CAR and northern DRC.