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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One of the first acts of Uganda's new parliament elected in 1996 was to set up a parliamentary inquiry by the Sessional Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs "into all aspects of the war currently taking place in Northern Uganda with a view to bringing it to a speedy end". Although the terms of reference did not explicitly mention the abuse of human rights, the committee received a considerable quantity of testimony about abuses. The committee's report paints a devastating picture of the impact of the war on the north but stops short of making recommendations about human rights, other than to call on the Uganda Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints. So far, therefore, there has not been a focused, public confrontation of the human rights experience of people in northern Uganda during the 11-year long war.

Investigations by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, established in 1996 under the terms of the October 1995 constitution, are indeed vital, and Amnesty International endorses the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs' recommendation. The commission's constitutional status (independent of both government and civil society, it reports to parliament) and its wide-ranging investigative, reporting and educational powers give it real teeth. It is a fledgling institution, and with a wide brief and finite resources it is still working out its agenda and priorities. In Amnesty International's view there is an urgent need for the Human Rights Commission to establish a regional office in Gulu (and other outlying Ugandan towns) in order to make itself accessible to the general public. By being a vigorous, independent monitor of both government and armed opposition in the north, the commission would prove itself a dynamic institution prepared to use the powers at its disposal and would contribute to the process of building trust between government and the people.

Unfortunately, this would still leave several years of human rights abuse publicly unacknowledged. Under the terms of the commission's founding statute, it is barred from investigating human rights abuses that took place before the new constitution came into effect, in other words abuses that took place before October 1995. However, for the alienation of the Acholi people to be overcome, persons who experienced human rights abuses at the hands of both armed opposition and government between 1986 and 1995 must also be able to bring their cases before a public inquiry or truth commission. Amnesty International intends to discuss this recommendation more fully in a report dealing with human rights violations by government forces as well as abuses by the LRA, to be published in late 1997.

As this report has documented, the rape of women and girls in forced marriages within the LRA and rape of villagers during attacks is an integral and formative part of the dynamic of abuse in the north. Rape constitutes a crime against the physical integrity of the victim. Amnesty International believes that this abuse of women's human rights in Uganda deserves special attention, in part because studies by the government suggest that sexual violence in northern Uganda is an extreme manifestation of behaviour which arises from more widely shared attitudes towards women. Addressing rape and sexual abuse in the north might therefore be well addressed as part of a wider national campaign on rape and sexual violence in Uganda, a campaign that brings together government and civil society.

International action

Despite growing international concern about children in armed conflict, the situation of children in northern Uganda has received only limited attention. Amnesty International believes that Ugandan initiatives to improve the human rights of children in the north should be complemented by international awareness, engagement and support.