On February 22, 2004, members of the Lords Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, attacked a camp of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Lira, Northern Uganda, killing an estimated 192 civilians. The northern region of Uganda has been ravaged by conflict that has included the systematic abduction and use of children as soldiers, attacks against unarmed civilians, rape, torture, extra judicial executions and destruction of villages. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), estimated to be 80% comprised by child soldiers, has committed the vast majority of abuses. The Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) have also inflicted abuses leaving civilians, including children, at risk of indiscriminate attacks and displacement based on suspicion of their belonging to the LRA. The international community led by the United States must play an aggressive role to end the abuses and stop the slaughter.
The conflict between the LRA and the UPDF began in 1986. In the last five years the LRA abducted an estimated 20,000 children; between June 2002 and May 2003 UNICEF estimates that at least 8,400 children were abducted. The increased abductions and related acts of violence were in response to Operation Iron Fist, a UPDF military campaign aimed at eradicating the LRA. In the wake of Operation Iron Fist the region suffered escalated violence and decreased security. The situation deteriorated after June 2003, when LRA forces spread into previously unoccupied areas, including Teso, Soroti and Lango. There are also reports of children within UPDF forces.
Children abducted by the LRA are used for forced labor, sexual slavery, and forced armed combat. Children are treated cruelly, live in constant fear for their lives, are drugged, and forced to commit acts of violence in combat and within their ranks such as beating, hacking off limbs, maiming and even killing other children who disobey orders.
Fear of abduction has caused many children from rural areas to flee their homes at night and travel miles by foot to town and city centers to sleep in bus stations, churches, storefronts and on the streets. Adults also flee to populated areas to avoid LRA attacks. An estimated 50,000 "night commuters" make this journey nightly and return home at dawn. The journey is especially perilous for women and girls who are vulnerable to harassment and rape. Beyond "night commuters" at least 1.2 million people have been displaced, forced to go to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) that lack food, clean water, sanitation and basic care. IDP camps are also targets for LRA attacks.
A recent massacre in Lira underscores the LRA's ability to commit shocking human rights abuses and emphasizes the lack of security for millions of Ugandans. According to a senior U.N. official the situation in northern Uganda has become "the world's biggest, neglected, ignored humanitarian crisis." This nightmare must not be allowed to continue. Amnesty International urges the United States to act urgently to help resolve the crisis and bring an end to 18 years of horrifying abuse. The children and all in northern Uganda deserve nothing less.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA RECOMMENDATIONS:
- The United States should take the lead in mobilizing the international community to provide adequate protection for civilians and other internally displaced persons in northern Uganda
- The United States should encourage efforts to press the LRA to stop abducting children, release all children currently in their custody or serving in their forces, and end all attacks on civilians and noncombatants.
- The United States should urge to the Ugandan Government to protect civilians throughout Uganda, particularly in northern Uganda, by considering all options to resolve the crisis, including non-military initiatives, and by ensuring that no children are recruited or enlisted in UPDF forces and that all enlisted children are released.
- The United States should press for the deployment of independent monitors along the Sudan-Uganda border.