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 started choosing girls. If you were chosen, they told you to stand up. They chose me. They told me to stand up...I was the third to be chosen...
Now, Sister was there with the commander. He said, "these are the girls we have chosen''. Sister came. She could not do anything. She started crying. She said they should at least take her and release all the girls. But they refused. Sister pleaded for us. Even us, when we saw Sister, we started to cry, because we could not do anything. The others, they were going back. But for us, we were remaining. And they started getting some sticks to beat us.
Then Sister came back and kneeled in front of this man, L.O. He said you don't have to kneel before me, I'm not God. Sister was pleading for more girls to be set free. Then our teacher, Mr. B., came to Sister and said, "Sister, I think we have to go". Then they started going. Sister said, "let's pray". So we started praying. When Sister left, we started crying. The commander ordered the rebels to come and beat us. They started beating us, beating us, beating us. And then the commander told them they should jump on our chests with their boots. And even they jumped. For us, we cried."

The group moved back into Gulu District. The day after the abduction, a number of adolescent girls taken from Aboke village were released. Over the weeks that followed the group concentrated on abducting boys and youths. LRA child soldiers told G.O. this had been ordered by the spirit possessing Joseph Kony: "they said Tipu Maleng refused us to capture girls. Only the students from Aboke." In fact, testimony from other children in this group indicates that girls were being taken, but in smaller numbers than boys.

The LRA does not just abduct children. When there is a need for people to carry looted goods or ammunition, adults and older adolescents are also taken as forced labour. Once the raiding party has moved beyond danger of a confrontation with pursuing troops, which can be hours or days later depending on the circumstances, the adults who have survived the journey are sometimes released and the loads redistributed among the newly abducted children and existing child soldiers. In the early hours of 22 May 1997 a residential suburb of Gulu town was attacked by a group of rebels who looted houses and small shops before burning 88 homes. Twenty-three children and young male adults were abducted. A., a 25-year-old man, was one of those taken as a porter:

"When I was asleep, deep asleep, the rebels came... They asked for my property and started beating me. I was forced to come out of the hut with them. They were looting the shops. My hands were tied behind my back. They continued looting and robbing. Then they untied my hands and ordered me to run. I was carrying the loot. Behind us, we saw the flames of the houses burning. When we reached Unyama, we were ordered to sit down and we were divided into two groups: a group of young boys and one of older boys. There were 18 of us in the older boys group. We were all released. I don't know how many young ones there were but they all remained behind."

Induction: terrorizing children

Discipline within the LRA is maintained by extreme and often arbitrary violence. LRA commanders force captured children to take part in the almost ritualized killing of others very soon after their abduction. The intention appears to be to break down resistance to LRA authority, to destroy taboos about killing and to implicate the child in criminal acts. The effect is to terrorize children. For many former child soldiers interviewed by Amnesty International this appeared to be a defining moment in their involvement with the LRA. On 15 August 1996 15 year old J.O. from Gulu District was forced to kill a boy called Oyet, who he knew: