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

Report
September 17, 1997

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

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"We knew there were rebels around, so I hid in the bush. Some children had run away. A small group was chasing them and they found me. They asked me which way the children had run, but I did not know. They took me to the big group. The commander said I should be recruited. So they beat me on the back. Three of us were taken, one was let go. I was made to carry cassava. I was getting tired. When we reached a certain place I was given 30 strokes again so that I would keep on carrying".

As the World Vision statistics suggest and O.J.'s testimony describes, the LRA does not take every child it encounters to be a child soldier. Those that are too small are set free; they are not strong enough to carry looted goods or to use weapons. It also seems that LRA units are given conscription targets that change according to need and objective. In relation to girls, age and "beauty" are selection criteria - one of the main purposes of taking girls is to use them for forced marriage to more senior male LRA soldiers. According to B., abducted in February 1997, "the ones taken are supposed to create a new clan". One child interviewed in May 1997 claimed that "rebels who had captured girls who were not beautiful or smart were beaten by the others for shaming them".

On 10 October 1996 139 girls from St. Mary's School, Aboke in Apac District were abducted. One hundred and nine were subsequently freed after the extraordinary intervention of teachers from the school who chased the rebel group and then pleaded for their release. According to selected girls, the 30 that remained were picked by the LRA commander using the criteria of "beauty" and area of origin. This is 17 year old G.O.'s description of what happened:

"I was sleeping in the dormitory. I did not hear when they first came. Only when they started banging on the door. I knew then that rebels had come. We all hid under our beds. They told us to open the door. They threatened to bomb the dormitory. But none of us opened the door. Then they broke open the window. One came in. He opened the door for the others. They went looking for us under our beds. They tied us [at the waist in groups of five] and we left the dormitory...
We walked, walked, walked. We reached a corner and we sat. The rebels started looting and capturing people in Aboke. Then we started moving again until morning. We crossed a swamp. The rebels had a big thing they used to communicate with their people. It looked like a telephone. But we were too far away and we could not hear what they were saying...
Then Sister Rachele arrived. It was about mid-day. We all cried when we saw her. We kept on moving. An air plane came. The rebels told us to remove all white shirts and asked Sister to take off her veil. We took cover. The plane shot, but far from us. "You take cover, you take cover" they were saying. We hid in the bush, together with the rebels. After, we kept on moving. Later on there was a UPDF ambush. We hid in the bush. The plane came back but did not see us.
In the evening, the girl rebels prepared tea. There were about thirty of them. The rebels gathered us and started choosing people. "Kony sent us to choose beautiful girls - 30 of them", they said. We soon realised we'll be left behind."

Fifteen year old A. was also one of those selected to remain with the LRA: