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

Impunity on operations: the killings at Ogole

This incident -- and the direct denial of children being killed -- makes clear the necessity for independent investigation of reported killings. At the very least, the killings raise serious questions about the rules of engagement followed by UPDF soldiers encountering LRA units holding abducted children. For example, do soldiers take steps to try and discriminate between captives and combatants?

While it is clear that by abducting children the LRA exposes them to almost certain military assault, why in this particular incident, when the fact that so many of the children were captives appears to have been clear, did the army engage in the manner that it did?

So far there have neither been official independent investigations nor effective criminal investigations into the incidents listed in this and the previous section. In the absence of investigations it is not possible for human rights violators to be brought to justice. Neither is it easy for procedures to be assessed to work out how such incidents can be prevented.

Above all, the limited action gives a message to people in northern Uganda that justice is not a priority. In the case of villagers killed, raped or beaten when found in areas cleared of population this may be deliberate. The army does not want civilians in these areas; those that go into them can expect the worst.

3.4 Human rights violations by UPDF soldiers in camps

Many, but not all, camps are close to UPDF detaches. Three categories of troops are deployed in the camps; regular UPDF, Local Defence Units (LDUs) and home guards. All are under the overall umbrella of the 4th Division and are subject to the same disciplinary regime. LDUs and home guards are generally locally recruited as irregular soldiers. Many are former members of the UPDF. Often they are known to the people in the camps around them, even if they do not come from the same immediate neighbourhood. When Amnesty International representatives visited Gulu in mid-1998 no camps had a permanent police presence. The police, who are LRA targets, are neither sufficiently numerous nor sufficiently strong to protect themselves and so tend only to pay visits to camps in response to specific demands. Camp leaders and elected local councillors (LCs) provide civilian administration. They are an important but limited channel through which camp residents can raise complaints about their treatment, including about the violation of human rights. This is discussed more fully in chapter 5.

Camp residents are vulnerable to abuse by soldiers -- especially in camps in remoter areas and those which are difficult to leave. Amnesty International has collected information from both official and unofficial sources about human rights violations by soldiers in camps between September 1996 and July 1998. The information mainly relates to accessible camps and locations from which people have been able to journey to Gulu to take complaints to local LCs or the police. In other words, the information collected does not provide an exhaustive account of the human rights situation but goes some way towards demonstrating the ubiquity of problems confronting civilians.

Women who spoke to Amnesty International about rape had left camps and villages for Gulu and were only prepared to talk after being introduced by trusted friends. Their testimony is convincing evidence that there is an extensive pattern of rape that has remained largely hidden.

In many of the incidents described below soldiers were arrested. However, hardly any have been brought to justice. There remains, therefore, a serious problem of impunity for soldiers who commit human rights violations. This is not only manifested in incidents that largely involved low ranking soldiers but also in events, such as the August 1996 lynching in Gulu town described in chapter 2, in which senior officers played a role.

Human rights violations in Opit