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

At the start of 1996 most of Gulu District was militarily relatively quiet. In February 1996, however, new LRA units crossed into Uganda from Sudan. They issued an edict banning settlement within two miles (three kilometres) of roads and prohibiting the use of bicycles. The units split into smaller groups and fanned out through Gulu District to enforce the edict through ruthless attacks on villages and trading centres and the murder of villagers using roads.

For example, on 19 February 1996, Pupwonya near Atiak in Kilak County was attacked; 10 civilians were deliberately and arbitrarily killed. In the week starting 27 February over 520 houses were burnt down in Pabo south of Atiak. On 17 March villages on the Gulu-Moroto road in Paicho Sub-County, Aswa County, were raided after the LRA warned people in the area not to ride bicycles. Between 17 and 20 March 48 civilians were deliberately and arbitrarily killed in villages north west of Pabo and around Pawel to the south of Atiak. On 22 March the LRA burnt down 30 houses at Lukome, some 12 kilometres north of Gulu town, and attacked Atiak trading centre, scene of a major massacre in April 1995.

In another incident, Ojara James was among several men beaten unconscious by mobile troops near Cam Cam close to Kitgum town on 31 December 1997. The motive for the beating is not known. Ojara James reported the incident to the police, who sent him for medical treatment, but no arrests were made.

The shooting of abducted children

One of the most serious incidents involving UPDF troops in Kitgum District took place on 1 March 1998 at Ogole, eight kilometres west of Wol in Agago County. The LRA sent about 80 children, many of them such recent captives that they were bound together, to collect water under the guard of approximately 20 LRA soldiers (many of them also children). Many captives were carrying jerrycans. UPDF soldiers waiting in ambush opened fire. Villagers from nearby reported that at least 30 child captives were killed.

According to persons who visited the site afterwards, the distribution of cartridge cases indicated that the soldiers' positions were within 10 metres of the nearest bound children -- in other words, there can be little doubt that the soldiers knew they were opening fire on persons held captive. Abducted children who escaped described being chased by UPDF soldiers firing at them as they ran. Some of those bound became tangled up with each other and were unable to flee. On or around 9 March 1998 military sources said that "19 LRA rebels were killed" in the incident [39]. However, on 11 March Rupiny, a Luo-language weekly newspaper, broke the story about children being shot [40]. A spokesman for the 4th Division responded with a blanket denial that any children had been killed [41].