A member of the U.S.-based Enough Project, which seeks to end genocide and crimes against humanity, said the surrender of a top Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander is a significant development in the effort to bring LRA leader Joseph Kony and others to justice.
A man Uganda has identified as Dominic Ongwen turned himself in to U.S. forces helping the Joint African Union Regional Task Force in Central African Republic (C.A.R).
Ongwen, Kony and other senior LRA commanders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
Enough Project’s Holly Dranginis, policy analyst on the LRA and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Ongwen’s defection will have a major psychological impact on other LRA commanders.
“It really signals a further weakening of the Lord’s Resistance Army and also really signals and triggers an opportunity for justice. The victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s brutality throughout northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Central African Republic really deserve to see justice, and Ongwen’s surrender means an opportunity for that,” Dranginis said.
She said Ongwen, Kony and other senior LRA commanders were indicted by the ICC in 2005 for multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the widespread murder of civilians, enslavement of civilians, including children, as well as the pillaging of personal property, especially in IDP (internally displaced people) camps.
“We know that he (Ongwen) and his forces oversaw some of the brutal acts, especially against some of the most vulnerable population in the region,” she said.
Dranginis said Enough Project also accuses the LRA of illicit trafficking in ivory, diamonds, and gold.
“We’ve done extensive interviews with defectors who were once within the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Congo, Central African Republic and northern Uganda who said that, when they were in the ranks of the LRA, they had been involved in illegal trafficking of diamonds, gold, as well as ivory," she said.
"And, the order to traffic those natural resources came from Kony himself. We know from multiple sources that this is a group that uses natural resources to fund their activities and atrocities," Dranginis said.
Earlier this year, the Ugandan army said it had captured Caesar Achellam, another senior LRA commander who was arrested and detained while crossing the border between DRC and CAR.
Dranginis said these events prove that the mission of the Joint African Union Regional Task Force is working, but that the international community must keep the pressure on the LRA.
“It’s a really comprehensive action, by multiple governments in the region, along with the United States, and that cooperation is really proving to weaken the group,” she said.
She urged the international community to deepen its support for the regional task force involved in the hunt for the LRA, which seems to have found a haven in C.A.R. and South Sudan.
“For logistical and political reasons, a lot of those areas are hard to reach. So, more progress is needed to give that mission the mandate and capacity to reach those safe havens where Joseph Kony and his forces are hiding,” Dranginis said.