This 10-year-old boy was abducted by the LRA in northern DRC

This 10-year-old boy was abducted by the LRA in northern DRC

August 11, 2010

(Washington, DC) – The Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted more than 697 adults and children in a largely unreported campaign in the Central African Republic and the neighboring Bas Uele district of northern Democratic Republic of Congo over the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch said today. Nearly one-third of those abducted have been children, many of whom are being forced to serve as soldiers or are being used for sex by the group’s fighters.

During the abduction campaign, the LRA has brutally killed adults and children who tried to escape, walked too slowly, or were unable to bear the heavy loads they were forced to carry, Human Rights Watch found in its investigations in the region. The LRA has killed at least 255 adults and children, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. In dozens of cases, the LRA forced captive children to kill other children and adults.

“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign.”
Human Rights Watch called on the affected governments and their allies to strengthen their protection of civilians and to put greater emphasis on efforts to rescue the abducted children and others.

A month-long Human Rights Watch research mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Bas Uele district of northern Congo from July 12 to August 11, 2010, in which over 520 civilians were interviewed, including 90 former abductees, in individual and focus group interviews, found that the LRA’s abduction campaign was similar in both countries and is having a devastating impact on affected communities.

In southeastern CAR, the LRA began large-scale abductions on July 21, 2009, and to date has abducted 304 people, including many children. The LRA first attacked the villages surrounding Obo, before moving west toward Rafai, Guérékindo, Gouyanga, Kitessa and Mboki, along the Congolese border, and north toward Djema, Baroua, and Derbissaka. Most recently, on June 12 and 13, 2010, the LRA abducted 16 people in farms surrounding the town of Rafai, including a mother and her 2-year-old daughter, both of whom the rebels later killed.

A similar LRA abduction campaign is under way in the remote Bas Uele district of Congo. On March 15, 2009, the LRA attacked the town of Banda, abducting some 80 people. In the months that followed, the LRA progressed westward, conducting raids on the towns and villages of Dakwa, Bayule, Disolo, Esse, and further north in Digba, Sukadi, and Gwane, among others.

On May 27, 2010, the LRA attacked numerous villages near Ango, the territorial capital, abducting 23 people, including 16 children. Some abductees who later escaped told Human Rigths Watch that the LRA questioned them about the location of schools in Ango, indicating the rebels may have been seeking specifically to abduct children. The LRA advance was halted when they encountered Congolese soldiers less than 15 kilometers from Ango, forcing them to change direction.

During the LRA’s campaign in Bas Uele between March 2009 and June 2010, the rebels abducted at least 375 people, at least 127 of them children, most ages 10 to 15. More recent information indicates that there have been more LRA attacks.

There has been very little reporting of the LRA’s numerous abuses in the region because it is so remote and communications are so poor. Few humanitarian agencies are working there, and there is only a small United Nations presence.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the area. In southeastern CAR an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people have sought refuge in the main towns, leaving entire villages abandoned. In the last few months, the government has deployed about 200 troops to the area to help protect civilians, too few to provide adequate protection. The Ugandan army has made some troops available to help protect civilians in the area.

Civilian protection concerns in Bas Uele district are even greater. An estimated 54,000 civilians have been displaced in the district or have sought refuge across the border in CAR. The Congolese army has deployed an army battalion to the area, but it is ill-equipped and has little or no transportation and communications equipment.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, with 19,000 peacekeepers across the country, has only 1,000 in the LRA-affected areas of northeastern Congo – far too few for the scale and geographical breadth of the problem. No peacekeepers are based in Bas Uele district. In the past two months, the MONUSCO base in Dingila, Bas Uele district, was closed and new MONUSCO bases expected to open in Dakwa and Digba have not yet been established.

“The protection of civilians under LRA attack across central Africa is woefully inadequate, with some communities receiving no protection or humanitarian aid at all,” Van Woudenberg said. “National governments, the Ugandan army, and the UN need to take urgent steps to protect people from these LRA attacks.”

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