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

In May 1997 Amnesty International met many people from Opit who were then in Gulu. They reported a series of incidents in late 1996 and early 1997 in which soldiers in Opit were responsible for cases of illegal detention, rape and other forms of torture. In October 1996 a man named Otima was arrested in Opit trading centre, which is the focus of a camp, on suspicion of being an member of the LRA. He was taken to a nearby detach where he was beaten and held underground in a pit. Local councillors tried to intervene with the unit commander but were denied access to the detach. They then told the police in Opit about the arrest but they are reported to have refused to take action. After three days Otima was released uncharged. He died in December 1996, reportedly as a result of his injuries.

Between August 1996 and April 1997 soldiers raped at least 13 women in and around Opit trading centre and nearby Lujorongole parish, an alleged LRA stronghold. After one of them, A.M., was raped in August, her husband tried to report the case to the unit commander in Opit but was turned away. Local councillors got no further pursuing the cases of three women raped later in the month. The rape of a 17-year old girl, N.A., on 8 October was reported to the police but no arrest was made. LCs pursued the case of a woman, A., raped in Lujorongole on 17 October, but again the authorities took no action.

K.A. was raped by a soldier from Opit on 4 November. Her husband went to the detach to complain and was detained for 24 hours. A. was raped shortly afterwards in Opit trading centre. She wished to pursue her case with the military but her husband refused to allow it because he feared that the soldiers would retaliate. This demonstrates both the consequences of impunity and the social obstacles facing women seeking to report rape. Other rapes attributed to soldiers stationed at Opit took place in December 1996, February 1997 and March 1997. On 20 April 1997 15 year-old H.A. was raped by a soldier. Even though she knew the man's name and took the case to the police and the RDC in Gulu no action was reportedly taken. When Amnesty International representatives inspected record books in Gulu District police headquarters in May 1998 nothing had been entered about the incident.

Two soldiers were arrested, however, after the extrajudicial execution of Okello Jimmy Peter in Opit on 28 November 1996. Soldiers from a unit patrolling the camp shot the youth in his hut at around 11.30 pm. Hearing the shooting, the unit commander sent out a second patrol to find out what was happening. They found Okello Jimmy Peter still conscious but badly injured and took him to the health centre where he died. In the morning LCs, police officers and the UPDF unit commander conducted an on-site investigation. It emerged that he had been shot from point blank range while lying, probably asleep, on a grass bed. The police officers are reported to have attempted to charge Okello Jimmy Peter's father and an LC with the murder. The UPDF intervened and secured the transfer of the policemen back to Gulu. Four days later the army arrested two soldiers who were taken to Gulu, handed over to the police and charged with murder.

A month after Okello Jimmy Peter was killed, in December 1996, soldiers in Opit were reportedly responsible for torturing a man named Otto by melting a plastic jerrycan onto his buttocks. Badly burned, he was transferred to Gulu Barracks. From there he was taken to Gulu police station to be charged. The police refused to accept him and he was taken to Gulu Hospital where he died in February 1997. His family was reportedly reluctant to make a formal complaint to either the UPDF or the police. However, an NGO based in Gulu wrote to the commander of the 4th Division. No reply was received.

Human rights violations in other parts of Gulu District