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

First, as this report has described, those who commit human rights violations in remote or rural areas are rarely arrested. Secondly, the weaknesses within the criminal justice system and the military's response to it mean that there are serious delays in dealing with soldiers that have been arrested.

Out of the 82 soldiers arrested between January 1996 and April 1998 facing criminal charges relating to human rights abuse, it is only those charged with offences that can be tried in the Chief Magistrate's Court that have been brought to trial. In February 1997 three soldiers were acquitted of assault charges. In October 1997 the four home guards who beat up 18 civilians in a detach at Awer camp were fined 10,000 Ugandan shillings ($US10) for actual bodily harm. Two soldiers were convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to periods in jail.

As is their internationally recognised right, arrested soldiers awaiting trial are eventually released on bail. What the public sees is soldiers they suspect of violating human rights walking apparently free. Releasing soldiers on bail, however, is not the problem. The issue is that few soldiers are being brought to trial.

Further, although the army denies it categorically, soldiers released on bail are reabsorbed into their units and sent back on active service. When Amnesty International brought the detention and torture of three men by soldiers at Paicho to the attention of the UPDF in May 1997, the army's Public Relations Office cited the incident as a good example of the prompt reaction of the UPDF to problems brought to it by human rights organizations [69]. Amnesty International also welcomed the rapid action taken. However, when Amnesty International representatives visited Gulu in May 1998 they found that in the intervening period the detach commander had been restored to the Paicho detach in his former position, with still no sign of a trial.

(15) See Uganda: The death penalty: a barrier to improving human rights (AFR 59/03/93), published by Amnesty International in May 1993.
(16) Major Kakooza Mutale, quoted in The Monitor, 30 October-1 November 1996.
(17) The New Vision, 13 November 1996.
(18) The New Vision, 29 September 1996.
(19) The LRA held many rallies at this time urging people to vote for Paul Ssemogerere, the main rival to Yoweri Museveni.
(20) In early July 1996 Major General Salim Saleh, who at this stage was overall coordinator of the government's war effort in the north, announced that civilians who provided information leading to the discovery of LRA arms or landmines would receive financial rewards.
(21) J.O., Gulu, May 1997.
(22) The Monitor, 16-18 August 1996.
(23) Panda gari can be loosely translated from kiswahili as "get on the truck".
(24) Interview with R.R.O., Gulu, 25 May 1997.
(25) Incidents were documented by Amnesty International in the report Uganda: The failure to safeguard human rights (AFR 59/05/92), published in September 1992.
(26) Acholi members of the Parliamentary Committee on the Offices of the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs protested to the President that government had not made provision for the infrastructure and supply of camps. They were also concerned at the possibility of forcible removals (interview with Okumu Ronald Reagan MP and Okello Kolo MP, Kampala, 26 May 1998).
(27) The New Vision, 13 November 1996.
(28) The New Vision, 27 February 1997.
(29) Press release from Major General Salim Saleh dated 21 October 1997, reported in The Monitor, 26 October 1997.
(30) The Monitor, 29 April 1998.
(31) Gersony ibid, p53.
(32) Major General Salim Saleh, quoted in The Monitor, 26 October 1997.
(33) The New Vision, 3 October 1996.
(34) Uganda Humanitarian Situation Report, UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, 15 March 1997.
(35) Interview with J.J. Odur, Chairman Gulu District Disaster Management Committee, Gulu, 23 May 1997.
(36) World Food Program Emergency Report 49 of 1998: East and Central Africa, December 1998.
(37) p16, United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Uganda, December 1998.