Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

September 17, 1997

Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

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"They arrested a boy called Oyet who had tried to raise the alarm. They tied him and stabbed him in the back. That night the new group of captured people was addressed and distributed to various commanders. I was sent to commander O. At two am they clapped in their hands, which meant we had to wake up. They placed a mat on the floor with three lamps and brought in Oyet. The commander told us that Oyet will be hit three times and then "sent home" [in other words, he would be killed]. All the new recruits were surrounding the mat.
Then the commander picked one boy. This boy made a small noise because he did not want to be picked. The commander got angry and called for a panga [a heavy broad-bladed machete]. His escorts started beating the boy until he was spitting blood and could not cry anymore. He was then asked to go back to his place and sit down. Then the commander chose another boy. He was given an axe and Oyet was told to lie down. The boy was told to hit Oyet once. Then he was told to hand over the axe to another boy who hit Oyet a second time. And then I was given the axe as the third person. I hit Oyet a third time. I know that it is my blow that sent him home'."

There is no discrimination on gender grounds when it comes to making abducted children kill those who try to escape. G.O. was one of a group of children forced to kill a girl one week after they were taken in October 1996:

"One of the village girls tried to escape three times. The first time, they forgave her. The second time, they tied her to a tree and beat her. The third time she went to a house for protection from the owners, a man and a woman. The rebel girl who was keeping her told the commander she was missing. They went looking for her. They entered the house and found the girl.
Then they called us. They had already beaten her. They asked us to beat her with stones and sticks until she died. We had to do it. The rebels also killed the man of the house. The commander said: "if one of you tries to escape, I'll kill all of you". The rebels were told to cane us 15 strokes each."

The "family" - forced labour, forced marriage and sexual slavery

The testimony of children describes a strictly hierarchical structure within the LRA founded on a macabre re-ordering of experiences familiar to children. The bedrock of internal organization is what the children describe as the "family". This relies, in the end, on the abduction of girls for forced marriage -- without forced marriage the ''families'' would not exist.

Persons within the LRA appear to recognize four categories of member. Young children below the age of 13 are reportedly known as "siblings". Newly abducted children who have not received military training are known as "recruits". Children who have received military training are "soldiers". At the top are "commanders", also known as "teachers" (Acholi: lapwony). Joseph Kony is reported to style himself a major general and other senior commanders are ranked lieutenant colonel. Interviewed former child soldiers also used the word commander to describe ranks including corporal, sergeant, regimental sergeant major and lieutenant. Boy child soldiers who show enthusiasm for soldiering soon become commanders.

Each abducted child is allocated to a "family" headed by a commander:

"It's organized like a family. There is a man, his wife or wives and the children. At the start I was with B.M. family. His wife was called A. In the family there were six girls from Aboke school and boys with guns."

B. was part of a group based at a "sickbay", a relatively secure location where rudimentary medical attention is given to the wounded: