Uganda: Breaking the circle: Protecting human rights in the northern war zone

March 16, 1999

Uganda: Breaking the circle: Protecting human rights in the northern war zone

The second describes the wave of violence in Gulu District unleashed on civilians by the LRA in 1996 that preceded the decision by central government in September 1996 to create camps for internally displaced persons. Although on a lesser scale than abuses by the LRA, UPDF soldiers were also responsible for human rights violations in the period before camps were created. In one particularly infamous incident, a lynching in Gulu town in August 1996, senior army officers were implicated.

The third section describes human rights violations by UPDF forces in Gulu District to enforce movement into camps as they were being created in late 1996 and early 1997. While the authorities may have the right to move people, international humanitarian law and human rights law forbids attacks on unarmed civilians and other forms of human rights violation.

2.1 Control of civilians: insurgency and counter-insurgency

The LRA and the UPDF are competing for control of the civilian population. Statements made by LRA leaders and warnings given to villagers indicate that control is a key overall objective. Through it the LRA aims to acquire recruits or abducted children to replenish losses in their ranks, food and labour to carry supplies and stolen property. In 1996 part of this involved forcing people away from roads in order to give villagers less opportunity to contact the UPDF or civilian authorities and to facilitate ambushes and mine laying. In 1998 it involved forcing people out of camps created by the government (discussed in chapter 3). In addition, attacks are intended to disrupt road communications and to punish individually or collectively villagers suspected of passing information to the authorities or otherwise opposing the LRA.

In response to the evolution in LRA tactics, UPDF tactics in Gulu included, by September 1996, the creation of camps and the removal of people from strategically important areas or places where the army was unable to prevent LRA activity. The decision to create camps was taken at the highest level. On 27 September 1996 President Yoweri Museveni informed members of the Parliamentary Committee on the Offices of the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs that the authorities were going to establish "protected villages". However, from interviews with villagers and others, it appears to Amnesty International that some UPDF units were already moving people out of their homes a number of weeks before the top-level decision to create camps was communicated to the Parliamentary Committee.

Overall UPDF aims appeared to be, and to remain, to prevent the LRA achieving its objectives and to allow the government a freer hand in military action. This was made clear, for example, by the Presidential Advisor on Political Affairs, Major Kakooza Mutale, who in October 1996 deployed in Gulu the Popular Intelligence Network (PIN), an intelligence service that reports to the Office of the President through the Major. One of its early tasks was to persuade people to move into camps. Towards the end of October the Major told journalists that President Yoweri Museveni's idea was that the camps would enable the destruction of the "intelligence centres of insurgency" [16]:

"The depopulation of the villages removes the soft targets and logistics for the survival of the rebels. They will lack food, information, youth to abduct and people to kill. Desperation will drive them to attack the army and the camps. That will be their end". [17].

Reporting President Museveni's decision, The New Vision newspaper said that the President had indicated that the measure would leave the countryside "open for UPDF confrontation with the marauding remnants of the rebels now terrorizing innocent people" [ 18].

2.2 Human rights abuses against civilians in Gulu District in 1996