How this happened and why it is still happening.
Many of us likely recall the 2012 Invisible Children campaign against Joseph Kony that was prompted by the documentary “Kony 2012.” We were outraged by his crimes against humanity, specifically those involving the abduction of children for the purpose of creating an army of child soldiers. However, the history of Kony’s human rights violations goes back much further than March 2012 and continues to this day.
Joseph Kony formed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1987 in northern Uganda and has been its leader ever since. Communities of the Acholi, an ethnic group that the Ugandan government mistreated and of which Kony was a part of, made up this organization. Though it was initially a popular cause, LRA’s support dropped as the group began to commit violence acts against the civilians they were purportedly working to help. The violence was brutal, and members did not exclude children from their attacks. Despite a number of military campaigns against the it, the LRA has survived since its founding.
The LRA is no longer motivated by clear political intentions. Kony now leads a radical religious sect fighting in the name of the Ten Commandments, and members believe him to be possessed by spirits that give him prophecies from God. Kony claims that his actions are not truly human rights violations because God’s word ordains them.
As the “Kony 2012” movement made clear, children make up a large majority of the LRA’s targets and victims. Children are more easily taken and subsequently manipulated than adults, so, after their abduction, they are trained to be combatants. Child soldiers’ training consists of mind control, terror tactics and brutality. Their duties include killing those who disobey the LRA, often in ceremonies in which they are forced to participate under threat of death. Abducted girls are forced to military training and are often forced into sexual slavery at the hands of adult LRA fighters. It is estimated that the organization has abducted at least 30,000 children since it began. A small number of the group’s leaders were captured as children and indoctrinated in the above-described ways.
Kony and four other LRA leaders have warrants out for their arrests by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. These men are not easily found. However, one of the LRA’s top commanders, Dominic Ongwen, was captured in the Central African Republic last month after deciding to surrender himself rather than continue following along with Kony’s plans to attack civilians. Ongwen was abducted into the LRA as a child. Once in custody, he described some of the crimes he helped commit while he was a leader. Three of the remaining four who have been indicted are believed to be dead, leaving only Kony still at large.
Officials have said that there are steps that must be taken to stop the continued abuses of the LRA. These include the training and deploying of troops in the region with the specific goal of catching LRA members. Communication and intelligence-gathering attempts should be improved in the affected areas with the help of the United States and other developed nations. Additionally, there are members seeking to defect, but they live under the fear of what will happen to them if they go through with it. Furthermore, if fair trials were assured to be offered for their crimes against humanity, these defectors may be more apt to seek the aid.
The UN, the United States and the ICC are taking action to end the capture and exploitation of child soldiers. A large sector of the nonprofit world is dedicated to this mission as well.