Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

The human rights violations committed by Uganda's army in northern Uganda in recent years have been paralleled by a series of atrocities against villagers committed by rebels. Although the NRA evidently sees the local population in much of northern Uganda as a hostile recruiting ground for rebels, many villagers have agreed to take part in vigilante groups or other activities organized by the NRA or the government and have been perceived as "enemies" by the insurgents, who have also carried out apparently gratuitous attacks on civilians. The civilian population as a whole, and villagers in areas where rebels are active in particular, have been the victims of both sides, effectively caught in the cross-fire.

Rebels have executed prisoners and deliberately killed civilians who they perceive as collaborating with the authorities. They have inflicted terrible mutilations, such as cutting off prisoners' hands, noses or ears. They have abducted numerous people, particularly travellers caught in isolated vehicles and school girls. In many cases women abducted have been raped.

The reports of abuses by insurgent groups received by Amnesty International in 1991 mainly concern Acholi-inhabited areas in Gulu and Kitgum Districts. However, in the past the Uganda People's Army (UPA), an insurgent group active in northeastern Uganda since 1987, has also been responsible for the killing and mutilation of civilians and other abuses. Members of Resistance Committees have been at particular risk. For example, in late February 1990 Mzee James Otiono, RC II Vice-Chairman of Tank Parish in Kumi town was abducted from a taxi on the road to Kumi and shot dead by UPA rebels. In late March 1990, UPA insurgents captured and then killed John Simon Otim, RC I Chairman of Kutekei village in Pallisa District. On 22 July 1990, UPA members hacked to death Adoa, a medical assistant at Serere Health Centre in Soroti, at his home. On 20 October 1990, William Apungia, RC V Vice-Chairman of Kumi District was abducted from a vehicle and then killed by UPA rebels near Ngora in Kumi District. A school girl who was in the same vehicle was reported to have been released by rebels after being held for a short period during which she was tortured.

During 1991, as in previous years, insurgents in the north belonging to the United Democratic Christian Army (UDCA), a group previously known as the Holy Spirit Movement whose most prominent leader is Joseph Kony, have been responsible for the killing, rape, abduction and mutilation of civilians. Attacks on civilians in Kitgum and Gulu appear to have intensified since April 1991 when the government formed young and middle-aged men into informal vigilante groups, popularly known as "Arrow Groups", to work with the NRA. The rebel response has been to consider those suspected of being members of "Arrow Groups" as targets to be attacked or killed. Evidently, many civilians are coerced into joining an "Arrow Group" because they fear that failure to do so would be construed as by the authorities as indicating sympathy for the rebels.
On 20 May 1991 UDCA rebels are alleged to have herded 20 people into a hut in the village of Angole-Awere in Kitgum District and the set it alight. Fourteen people are reported to have died as a result, among them William Odonga, Harold Obonyo, and Martin Olobo. Six girls were also killed, including Harold Obonyo's daughter Akwero. Six people survived the attack with serious injuries. During May 1991 more than 20 other Angole-Awere villagers are also reported to have been killed by rebels in separate attacks. On 4 July 1991 rebels are reported to have murdered 43 civilians at Pacilo north of Gulu.