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 are violating human rights, they are breaking God's commands. This movement is for destruction''.
T., a 17-year-old former child soldier, interviewed in Gulu three months after escaping the LRA.

The LRA has institutionalized physical and psychological violence, including killings, rape and other forms of torture. The effect on civilians is to breed fear and force acquiescence; the consequence of being found to have informed the authorities about LRA activity is simple and brutal. However, the violence is not just directed "outwards" at the civilian population or captured UPDF soldiers. It is also used in a calculated and deliberate way to enforce discipline within the LRA itself. The abuses described below are a fundamental method of organization aimed at the destruction of individual will and morality. It begins with forcible abduction to be a soldier or porter.

An army that feeds on children

Without abducted children the LRA would have few soldiers. Since 1994 child abduction has become the main method of recruitment. According to World Vision Uganda, which since March 1995 has provided psycho-social counselling for over 3,000 former LRA soldiers, approximately 47% were aged between 11 and 16 when taken. A further 36% were between 17 and 22 years old. Approximately 30% of abducted people seen by World Vision have been female; of these 54% have been aged between 11 and 16.(12)

Abducted children embark on a journey in hell. Abduction is itself an act of violence, ripping terrified children from the security of their families. It is often accompanied by killings, rape and severe beatings. B., a 14-year-old girl, was abducted in February 1997:

"I had gone to the garden to collect tomatoes at around eight or nine in the morning. Suddenly, I was surrounded by about 50 rebels. They started picking tomatoes and eating them. They arrested me and started beating me terribly. They wanted me to walk them to my home but I was refusing. Finally, I walked them to my home. We went there and collected my clothes. There, they killed my mother.
They made me go, leaving behind my little brother and two little sisters. They are still very young. I was trying to explain to them that I could not leave behind the children because they were too young to fend for themselves. I was resisting. Then they started beating me until I became unconscious. Life was leaving me but I was thinking of the children. They stopped beating me."

R., a 45-year-old woman, described what happened when her children were taken from Paicho near Gulu in 1996:

"The rebels came and asked for my two children, a boy and a girl. My daughter was 14 years old, she had developed breasts. My son was 13. My daughter stayed with the rebels for two days. During an ambush she was shot in the leg and then rescued by UPDF soldiers. My son was in the bush for two months before he was rescued after an ambush as well. The day the rebels captured the children they beat me and raped me. There were many of them. I was left unconscious outside my house...My daughter was raped as well. The commander took her as his wife the same day she was abducted."

"Mother, get out of the hut and let the boy show us the way" by A.

O.J., 15 years old, was abducted from a village south of Gulu in November 1996: