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 trained all of us. For those people who were in the sickbay, they were trained in the sickbay. L. trained me and another woman. L. had stayed in the bush for nine years. She had been abducted. She changed her behaviour all the time. Sometimes, she would be rude. Sometimes, she'd just stay like that, quiet. She trained us how to lay an ambush, how to fire a gun. If she felt like training me, she'd call me, so I'd go."

Almost from the moment they are abducted, both boy and girl children are at risk of being exposed to combat with the UPDF. With the exception of those who manage to escape soon after their abduction, all children interviewed by Amnesty International, including girls, had participated in military operations in Uganda or Sudan. However, it appears that boys and men are more likely to be sent to fight on a frequent and regular basis. This appears to be a result of there being a higher number of abducted boys and the sexual slavery (with resulting pregnancy) of girls.

There are two myths about military activity in northern Uganda. The first is that the UPDF does not confront the LRA; the second is that the LRA only attacks civilians and not the army. Neither is true. Many former child soldiers report battles between the UPDF and the LRA. The LRA group that abducted J. in August 1996 was attacked a few days after he was "arrested":

"At mid-day, as we were cooking, an helicopter arrived. It started moving far off and hit woods with bombs and then disappeared. The rebels said, "let's go, no more cooking". We were told that four lines of UPDF soldiers were coming up. It meant we would have to fight, but we, the new recruits, did not have any guns. The commander told us, "even if you don't have a gun, you must go and take part in the fighting by making noise". I was picked to be among the boys to make noise. A., the deputy commander, was speaking on the radio to check whether it was really the UPDF. Then the fight began. Those of us without guns we started shrieking. We were being caned too".

The number of the children who have died in military operations is unknown. J. reported that in the fight described above around 40 LRA and over 70 UPDF soldiers were killed. The New Vision and The Monitor newspapers carried reports of military engagements between 8 February 1996 and 30 April 1997 which, added together, give a total of 748 LRA soldiers killed by the UPDF and the SPLA. It is difficult to assess the accuracy of these figures, which draw heavily on official announcements by the army, because the UPDF on occasion seeks to play down the scale of fighting and on other occasions is anxious to demonstrate that it is on top of the situation. Interview testimony suggests that the figure is on the low side.

UPDF casualties are also difficult to establish. What is clear is that the LRA does not take UPDF prisoners; wounded and captured soldiers are killed. J.O. was made to kill soldiers shortly after his abduction:

"Later on, the new recruits were asked to finish off all the wounded UPDF soldiers. One officer was stabbed with a bayonet...Two UPDF soldiers were captured. The commander said, "the new recruits can now feed themselves on these two soldiers". Three of us were instructed to hit these two soldiers, twice each. This was my second day with the rebels."

T. also reports that UPDF soldiers were killed after being captured: