Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

@Human Rights Violations by the National Resistance Army

1. Introduction

There have been reports of persistent human rights violations in 1991 in the northern Ugandan districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Apac, committed in particular by the Ugandan army, known as the National Resistance Army (NRA). Rebel forces have been active in these districts for many years and have been responsible for abductions, torture and killing of civilians. Human rights violations by the Ugandan authorities include the imprisonment of 18 prisoners of conscience, the detention without charge or trial of civilians suspected of involvement in rebel activities, the administrative sentencing of 1,100 others for "desertion", the ill-treatment of prisoners in military custody, and extrajudicial executions.

In March and April 1991 18 local and national northern political leaders, many of them sympathizers of the Democratic Party (DP), were arrested by the NRA. They were charged with treason on 7 May, after being held without charge for periods ranging from three to six weeks, but the state has proved unable to present details of their alleged treasonable activity to the courts. Amnesty International has adopted the 17 who remain in prison as prisoners of conscience.

These arrests illustrate how the rule of law is being routinely abused in Uganda and how the courts have failed to take action to stop unlawful or arbitrary detention. They also illustrate how Uganda's armed forces are allowed to interfere in the judicial process and sometimes appear to be running an unofficial system for imprisoning and punishing government opponents, which also undermines the rule of law. Although the routine abuse of the rule of law is particularly marked in areas where the government is facing armed insurgency, it is by no means restricted to these areas.

Between March and July 1991 thousands of people in Gulu and Kitgum Districts were detained during a major counter-insurgency operation so that they could be "screened" for involvement in rebel activity. The majority were held for only brief periods but several hundred were held illegally for up to four months without charge or trial in military barracks in Gulu, Kitgum and Lira. Amnesty International is concerned that some of these people remain detained without charge or trial and that they may be prisoners of conscience.

Prisons in Kampala, Kirinya and elsewhere in southern Uganda have received 1,100 prisoners arrested in the north during the counter-insurgency operation and subsequently convicted in Lira and Nebbi of "desertion" from the NRA and allied Local Defence Units (LDUs), as locally recruited militia which support the government are known. There are reports that some of these prisoners had never been members of the NRA or LDUs, and that several were formerly imprisoned as "lodgers" (people detained without charge or trial outside the framework of the law on suspicion of involvement with insurgents) who had been released in 1989 and 1990. It has been reported that the prisoners did not receive fair trials but were summarily sentenced in what appears to have been an administrative hearing. This appears to represent an attempt to perpetuate the phenomenon of "lodgers" in a way that avoids criticisms about violations of human rights, for officially the 1,100 prisoners concerned have been tried, even though in practice they have not.

There are persistent reports that some of those held by the NRA during the counter-insurgency operation were beaten and ill-treated. The 18 northern leaders were beaten by soldiers before they were brought to court on 7 May. Uganda's ombudsman, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), has subsequently carried out an investigation into this incident but details of his conclusions have not been made public. Civilians detained for "screening" in Gulu town in late March 1991 are also reported to have been beaten. There are widespread reports of rape by soldiers in rural areas. Soldiers are also alleged to have looted and destroyed property.