Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

On 29 March 1991 the NRA began "cordon-and-search" operations in Gulu District by rounding up several thousand people in Gulu town. There were reports that some were taken to a compound owned by the Ministry of Agriculture where people found without proper papers, NRA deserters and those suspected of being rebels were made to run a gauntlet of soldiers who clubbed them with rifle butts. The suspected rebels were apparently identified for the NRA by former insurgents. Approximately 2,000 people were confined overnight in the town's football stadium. There are allegations that some of those held were beaten.

Local political leaders, notably a number associated with the Democratic Party, were among those arrested. Okwonga Latigo, Chairman of Gulu District Resistance Committee Five (known locally as RC V),(1) Tadeo Omal, a Prisons officer, Mayor of Gulu town and Chairman of Gulu Municipality Resistance Committee Four (RC IV), Yovan Ojok, an agricultural officer from Gulu, Jacob Okello Orach, Chairman of Gulu Town Bazaar Ward Resistance Committee One (RC I), and Aldo Okello, a member of Gulu RC V for Awach sub-county, were among those arrested. Okwonga Latigo and Tadeo Omal are reported to have been arrested as they protested in the stadium about the conduct of soldiers during the "screening" operation. They, together with Yovan Ojok, Jacob Okello Orach and Aldo Okello, were among those charged with treason on 7 May. Other Resistance Committee members arrested around the same time who were not charged but appeared also to be prisoners of conscience included William Thomas Otto, representative on Gulu RC V of Purongo Sub-County, who is still detained without charge or trial, and Ayoli Akot and Julio Joe Odur, who were both released uncharged in late July after being held for four months in Gulu barracks.

In late 1990 Okwonga Latigo and other Gulu Resistance Committee officials, among them William Thomas Otto and Julio Joe Odur, had established a "Task Force" to investigate allegations that district funds had been embezzled. Amnesty International is concerned that the progress of these investigations may be the real reason behind their arrest. The organization is further concerned that the immediate cause of the arrest of Okwonga Latigo and Tadeo Omal appears to have been an attempt to fulfil their roles as elected representatives of the community by protesting about the behaviour of NRA soldiers towards civilians.

3.2 Prisoners of Conscience from Kitgum

Among those charged with treason on 7 May were also a number of prominent citizens from Kitgum, the District bordering Gulu to the east. Kitgum District Resistance Committee Five (RC V) had been the focus of a power struggle between members sympathetic to the Democratic Party and others who were formerly members of the Uganda People's Congress (UPC). The Democratic Party, founded in 1956, and the Uganda People's Congress (UPC), founded in 1958, are historically the two major political parties in Uganda. Although the parties themselves have not been banned, party political activities have been suspended since the NRM came to power in 1986. The DP receives its strongest support from members of the Roman Catholic community, which is most numerous in the densely populated area of Buganda in the south and among the Acholi people of Gulu and Kitgum Districts. The UPC is traditionally associated with the Anglican community which is particularly strong in northern Uganda. The Acholi supporters of the DP, which was in opposition during the second UPC government of Milton Obote between 1980 and 1985, a government responsible for gross abuses of human rights, have continued to represent a powerful political force in northern Uganda up until the present. They have been critical of the NRM government's policies in relation to the north and have frequently spoken out about human rights abuses.