March 28, 2010

VIII. Responsibility of LRA Leaders

Since the failed attack on the main LRA camp in Garamba National Park in December 2008, the LRA has split into multiple smaller groups operating between Congo, Sudan and CAR. The rebel group is still believed to operate under the leadership of Joseph Kony. According to interviews with witnesses, and Ugandan and Congolese military personnel, a group of between 80 to 120 LRA combatants continues to operate in Congo,[101] though these figures are difficult to confirm. Since the LRA also holds hundreds of abductees, including children who are being trained as combatants, their numbers could be higher and might grow in the future.

Ugandan and Congolese military sources told Human Rights Watch that the LRA who operate in Congo are under the leadership of Gen. Dominic Ongwen,[102] one of the LRA’s top leaders wanted on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court. According to the same sources, Lt. Col. Binansio Okumu (also known as Binany),[103] is one of the commanders who reports to Ongwen and operates in Congo, in the area north of the Uele River.[104] Children abducted by the LRA who later managed to escape, especially those who had spent many months with the LRA and had learned the names of LRA commanders in whose groups they were held, confirmed the presence of Ongwen, Binany, and a commander known as Obol, whom they called “One-Eye.”[105] These same children also confirmed that Ongwen, Binany, and other commanders held a meeting during the 2009 Christmas period, indicating that Ongwen’s leadership of the Congo LRA group remains intact.[106]

According to both children and adults captured by the LRA during the Makombo massacre who later escaped, the leader of the group who conducted the four-day operation in the Makombo area was a man about 50 years old who wore a black beret and told the abductees to call him “Captain Joseph.”[107] This leader was the first to select which girls he wanted among the abductees and was the commander whom other LRA combatants saluted during the military parades held daily in the days following the attack at Makombo. Children who had been held for many months by the LRA told Human Rights Watch that Binany was the only commander who wore a black beret.[108] Congolese military sources also told Human Rights Watch that the LRA commander who operated in the area north of Niangara was Binany and that they believed he was responsible for the killings at Makombo.[109] This information indicates Binany may have both led and participated directly in the Makombo operation. Criminal investigations, whether by national jurisdictions or the ICC, should be conducted to determine his role in ordering and participating in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity for the Makombo massacre.

Following the Makombo massacre, the LRA combatants who carried out the operation, together with some 250 abductees, joined other LRA groups over the 2009 Christmas period in a meeting led by Ongwen. According to witnesses, the LRA commanders celebrated the “success” of the Makombo operation, conducted training for children captured by the LRA, and later split the abductees between various LRA groups.[110] Ongwen’s leadership at this meeting strongly indicates he knew, or should have known, about the massacre at Makombo and the widespread abduction of civilians, including children. Human Rights Watch believes there is sufficient information linking Ongwen to the massacre at Makombo in which widespread abuses occurred that he should be investigated for his role in ordering alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those who were captured during the Makombo massacre by the LRA and others who were present described in detail to Human Rights Watch one of the commanders directly involved in the Makombo operation: a 60-year-old tall, large, very dark-skinned man with rasta-like hair, with only one eye, known as Obol.[111] Witnesses repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that “One-Eye” gave orders to kill people and also frequently killed people by himself. Human Rights Watch believes there is sufficient information linking Obol directly to the massacre at Makombo that he should be investigated for his role in ordering and participating in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

[101] Human Rights Watch interviews with Ugandan and Congolese military experts, Haut Uele, February 21 , 22 and 23, 2010; Human Rights Watch interviews with children and adults held by the LRA who later escaped, Tapili, February 20; Bangadi, February 22; and Dungu, February 24, 2010.

[102] Human Rights Watch interviews with Ugandan and Congolese military experts, Haut Uele, February 21, 22 and 23, 2010. Official communications between Human Rights Watch and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Kampala, March 17, 2010.

[103] He may also be called Lt. Col. Vincent Okumu.

[104]The same sources also reported that the following commanders continue to operate in DRC: Major Ocen, Major David Lakwo, and Commander Kidega, amongst others. Human Rights Watch interviews with Ugandan and Congolese military experts, Haut Uele, February 21, 22 and 23, 2010. Children held by the LRA abducted at Makombo and Tapili also described another commander who they called “Bukwara.” Human Rights Watch interviews with children abducted by the LRA who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[105] Human Rights Watch interviews with children held by the LRA who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, Bangadi, February 22, Dungu, February 24, 2010.

[106] Human Rights Watch interviews with children and adults held by the LRA who later escaped, Bangadi, February 22, and Dungu, February 24, 2010.

[107] Human Rights Watch interviews with children and adults held by the LRA who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, and Bangadi, February 22, 2010.

[108] Human Rights Watch interviews with children and adults held by the LRA who later escaped, Tapili, February 20; Bangadi, February 22; and Dungu, February 24, 2010.

[109] Human Rights Watch interviews with Congolese military experts, Haut Uele, February 21 and 23, 2010.

[110] Human Rights Watch interviews with children and adults held by the LRA who later escaped, Bangadi, February 22, and Dungu, February 24, 2010. Human Rights Watch interviews with Ugandan military officers, Haut Uele, February, 2010.

[111] Human Rights Watch interviews with dozens of witnesses and abductees taken during the Makombo operation, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.