Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

Amnesty International also notes that in the past the authorities have announced investigations into a number of serious incidents reported in other parts of Uganda, notably the killing of 69 prisoners at Okungulo railway station in Kumi District in July 1989, incidents in Pallisa District in April and May 1990 in which 12 civilians are reported to have died, and various incidents in Soroti District in 1990, including the burning to death of 16 people in Bugondo Sub-County on 10 August and the extrajudicial execution of 20 people near Soroti town on 6 September 1990. These investigations are not known to have been concluded or to have resulted in any reports being made public and, despite reports of arrests in some cases, no NRA soldiers alleged to have been responsible for these incidents are known to have been brought to justice. Because no public reports have emerged, it is impossible to assess the nature and scope of the investigations - or even, in some cases, whether they ever took place. It seems that when they did occur they were internal investigations by the NRA's Military Intelligence service, rather than an independent and impartial body. Investigations by the military of itself, especially in the absence of public reports, the continuing occurrence of extrajudicial executions and the failure to bring those responsible to justice do not provide reassurance that incidents are being taken seriously and are not simply being covered up. Confidential investigations which do not produce reports and which fail to make their conclusions or working methods public evidently do not meet the international requirement for effective investigation laid down in the United Nation's ECOSOC Principles.

The government's failure to carry out prompt and independent investigations of killings in which the NRA is implicated, particularly incidents in the course of counter-insurgency operations, stands in marked contrast to the speed with which inquiries have been set up in other circumstances. A Commission of Inquiry was set up into the circumstances surrounding the abduction by insurgents on 9 July 1991 of 43 schoolgirls from the Sacred Heart School near Gulu. The Commission was hearing evidence in Gulu by 15 August 1991. In December 1990 a judicial Commission of Inquiry was set up promptly after two students were shot dead by police at Makerere University. This inconsistency certainly raises questions about the government's commitment to dealing with the problem of human rights violations committed by the NRA.

There is one recent example from eastern Uganda of an alleged extrajudicial execution by NRA soldiers where the authorities moved promptly to try those suspected of being responsible. Bernard Wanzala, a Resistance Committee official from Buwalasi Sub-County in Mbale District was allegedly tortured to death by soldiers on 30 July 1991, the day after the government-owned New Vision newspaper published a story in which he had accused soldiers in the area of ill-treating people. His comments to the press came after a prolonged period in which the local authorities failed to respond to complaints by Resistance Committee officials about continuing human rights violations by soldiers. The case received publicity in the Ugandan press, and two officers and a sergeant were subsequently arrested and tried by the General Court Martial in late August and early September 1991. While the authorities moved promptly once Bernard Wanzala was killed, their failure to act over preceding months was almost certainly interpreted by the soldiers involved as a sign that they could act with impunity.

7. Killings, Abductions and other Abuses Committed by Insurgent Groups in Northern Uganda