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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This report is addressed to the LRA and its foreign backer, the Sudan Government. Amnesty International does not take any position on the political program of government or armed opposition. However, the LRA's systematic abuse of human rights as its method of operation undermines its claim to represent a way forward for northern Uganda. The Sudan Government provides the LRA with food, weapons and communications. It uses the LRA as a militia to attack the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), an armed opposition movement fighting the Sudan Government. The Sudanese authorities allege that the SPLA is supported by the Uganda Government. Many of the human rights abuses described in this report took place in military bases inside Sudan where Sudanese troops mix freely with LRA soldiers. It is within the power of the Sudan Government to prevent human rights abuses taking place and to ensure that abducted children are returned to Uganda.

The report is addressed to Ugandans living abroad. A minority of exiles claim that it is government forces that are responsible for abduction and other gross human rights abuses against children in northern Uganda. Such people are either badly misinformed or are knowingly ignoring gross abuses of human rights by the LRA.

It is addressed to the Ugandan authorities and Ugandans from all parts of the country. While this report does not address human rights violations by government forces, they do take place. Whatever the level of human rights abuses by forces fighting the government, under international human rights law the government has the main responsibility to protect human rights. There is no room for official complacency. This is doubly the situation in northern Uganda where many citizens regard the government with grave suspicion despite a general rejection of the methods of the LRA.(4) In this context, violations of human rights by government forces are perceived as evidence of official hostility to the Acholi, giving each incident a special political significance.

Further, for the past year the government has, in public at least, emphasized a military approach to ending the war and has downplayed the possibility of dialogue. There are signs that at a district level the civil authorities in Gulu recognize the need for dialogue and reconciliation. However, seeking methods of reconciliation based on respect for human rights is more than a local challenge to be left to the Acholi themselves. It requires the active engagement of the entire nation. There is need for vigilance on the part of the media and organizations from all parts of the country concerned about human rights, including those of women and children.

The report is addressed to member states of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. Uganda may be an oasis of stability compared to surrounding countries like the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, each in different states of political turmoil, but continuing mass human rights abuses in the north are damaging regional conflict resolution and Uganda's long term future.

The report is based primarily on fieldwork by two teams of Amnesty International researchers in Gulu and Apac in May and July 1997. The organization conducted over 170 interviews with a wide range of persons from different walks of life, including 35 interviews with former LRA soldiers.(5)

War in Gulu, Kitgum and neighbouring districts