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Uganda: Child Victims of Rebels
Uganda: Child Victims of Rebels
Date distributed (ymd): 971009
Document reposted by APIC
Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+
Summary Contents: The Lord's Resistance Army has abducted, raped, and tortured
thousands of children, using them as combatants in its effort to overthrow
the Ugandan government. A new report from Human Rights Watch/Africa details
these atrocities and makes recommendations for action.
For more information, contact:
Human Rights Watch
485 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6104
1522 K Street, NW
Washington D.C. 20005
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Abduction and Killing of Children by Ugandan Rebel Group
(18 September 1997)--Children in Uganda are abducted and frequently
murdered by the Lord's Resistance Army, a heavily-armed rebel group fighting
the Ugandan government, according to The Scars of Death: Children Abducted
by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, released today by Human Rights
Watch. The 137-page report charges that children as young as eight years
old are kidnaped, tortured, raped, virtually enslaved and sometimes killed
by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the name of "the Holy Spirit".
The LRA attacks homes and schools in northern Uganda, and targets children
for use as soldiers in its attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government.
The precise number of children abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army
is unknown, but reliable estimates suggest that over the past two years,
three to five thousand children have escaped from rebel captivity. An equal
number are believed to be still in captivity, and an unknown number of
abducted children are dead.
The captive children are forced to take part in combat, carry heavy
loads, act as personal servants to the rebels, and, in the case of girls,
serve as "wives" to rebel commanders.
The children undergo a brutal initiation into rebel life: they are forced
to participate in acts of extreme violence, often being compelled to help
beat or hack to death fellow child captives who have attempted to escape.
The rebels march their child captives to rebel base camps in neighboring
southern Sudan, and many children die of disease or starvation during the
Those children who survive the journey are given rudimentary military
training, are armed, and then forced into combat against the Ugandan army
and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In combat, children
are forced to the front line and beaten by their commanders if they retreat
or take cover.
The Scars of Death tells the stories of Ugandan children who
have escaped from rebel captivity. In their own words, Ugandan children
tell of their experiences:
One boy tried to escape [from the rebels], but he was caught . . . .
His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill
him with a stick. I felt sick . . . I refused to kill him [but] they pointed
a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, "Why are you
doing this?" I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made
us smear his blood on our arms . . .. They said we had to do this so we
would not fear death and so we would not try to escape. I still dream about
the boy [whom] I killed. I see him in my dreams, and he is talking to me
and saying I killed him for nothing, and I am crying.
I went for several battles in Sudan . . . .The commanders . . . would
tell us to run straight into gunfire. The commanders would stay behind
and would beat those of us who would not run forward . .. . I remember
the first time I was in the front line. The other side started firing,
and the commander ordered us to run towards the bullets. I panicked. I
saw others falling down dead around me. The commanders were beating us
for not running, for trying to crouch down. I don't know why we were fighting
. . . . We were just ordered to fight.
"The human rights abuses of the Lord's Resistance Army shock the
conscience: they violate both the most elementary principles of human morality
and the most fundamental international humanitarian standards," charges
Lois Whitman, the director of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights
Project. In particular, the Lord's Resistance Army's abuses violate the
provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which
lays out the minimum humanitarian rules applicable to internal armed conflicts.
The abduction of children for military purposes also contravenes international
standards established by Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligate states parties
to take all feasible measures to ensure that children under fifteen do
not take part in hostilities and are protected in times of armed conflict.
The roots of the conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army and the
Ugandan government lie in the complex religious traditions of the Acholi
people of northern Uganda, in the history of ethnic violence and mistrust
that has characterized Ugandan politics for much of the past few decades,
and in the troubled relationship between the governments of Uganda and
Sudan. The Lord's Resistance Army has long identified itself with a Christian
religious tradition. It is led by Joseph Kony, who claims to be in communication
with the Holy Spirit. The Lord's Resistance Army receives military assistance
and other support from the militantly Islamic Sudanese government. The
Sudanese government aids the Lord's Resistance Army in return for assistance
in fighting the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and also in
apparent retaliation for Ugandan government support of the SPLA.
Whatever the sources of the conflict, the Ugandan government is failing
to protect Ugandan children from rebel abduction. For eleven years, the
Ugandan army has been unable to combat the rebels effectively through military
means, yet continues to maintain that the rebels are mere "bandits,"
on the verge of permanent defeat. Yet the rebel abductions and attacks
on villages continue unabated.
Children who succeed in escaping from the Lord's Resistance Army find
that their ordeal is far from over. Fearing rebel reprisals against themselves
or their families if they return to their villages, most escaped children
are afraid to go home. And many children literally have nowhere to go:
the conflict has displaced more than 200,000 northern Ugandans from their
rural homes. Tens of thousands of displaced people have set up temporary
homes in the "protected camps" established near army installations
by the Ugandan government, but crowded conditions and lack of food and
sanitation facilities have rendered the camp population vulnerable to malnutrition,
disease and death. Thousands of people die in the camps every month, and
despite the nearby military presence, the camps remain frequent targets
for rebel attacks.
Two nongovernmental organizations (NGO) have set up live-in trauma counseling
centers for children who have escaped from the rebels, but the centers
are stretched thin and cannot possibly take in all of the children in need.
The Ugandan government appears to be doing little to actively provide for
the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of children who have
escaped from rebel captivity. After completing a program at the NGO-run
centers, the children must move on in order to make room for new escapees,
but where they go and how they will support themselves is unknown. Their
prospects are bleak.
The title of the Human Rights Watch report is taken from a proverb current
among the Acholi people of northern Uganda: "Poyo too pe rweny,"
which translates as "Death is a scar that never heals." The effects
of the Lord's Resistance Army's atrocities will haunt Uganda for generations
to come. Children who have escaped from the rebels wake screaming in the
night from dreams of pain and death: their dreams are of deaths feared,
deaths witnessed, and, all too often, deaths participated in. Perhaps some
day, if peace comes, the scars of death will begin to fade. But they will
never fully heal. The Lord's Resistance Army's abduction of children is
part of a troubling world-wide trend towards the increased use of children
as soldiers. Children are more easily coerced and manipulated than adults,
and the proliferation of light-weight automatic weapons makes it possible
for even young children to take part in armed conflicts. Throughout the
world, an estimated quarter of a million children under the age of eighteen
serve as soldiers in government forces or armed opposition groups today.
"Involvement in armed conflict violates every right a child has,"
said Yodon Thonden, counsel to the Human Rights Watch Children's Right's
Project. "The fact that so many children are being used as soldiers
throughout the world demonstrates the failure of the international community
to protect and care for its children, and the abduction of children by
the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda represents a particularly tragic instance
of that failure."
Human Rights Watch takes the position that no one under the age of eighteen
should take part in armed conflicts of any kind, international or internal.
Human Rights Watch supports the efforts of the international community
(through the work of a U.N. working group under the Commission on Human
Rights) to raise the minimum age for involvement in armed conflict to eighteen,
through the creation of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights
of the Child. Human Rights Watch condemns the U.S. government's active
opposition to international efforts to raise that age to eighteen.
In The Scars of Death, Human Rights Watch makes a number of recommendations
to the parties involved in the conflict and to the international community:
To the Lord's Resistance Army:-immediately stop the abduction, killing,
torture, and sexual abuse of children;
-immediately release all children remaining in captivity;
-ensure that Lord's Resistance Army combatants respect the human rights
of civilians in the areas of conflict.
To the Government of Sudan:
-use its influence with the Lord's Resistance Army to ensure that the
above recommendations are followed; cease all military aid and other support
to the Lord's Resistance Army, until they comply with the above recommendations;
To the Government of Uganda:
-take all possible steps to protect children from abduction;
-when fighting against the Lord's Resistance Army, take all possible
steps to minimize child casualties; ensure that all children who escape
or are captured from the Lord's Resistance Army receive prompt and adequate
access to medical attention and counseling while in government custody;
-release children promptly to their families, or if the families' whereabouts
are unknown or the families are unable to receive the children, to arrange
for appropriate alternative care for the children which takes into account
their special needs;
-develop a concrete plan for meeting the long-term needs of former child
-ensure that government soldiers respect the human rights of civilians
in the north;
To the United Nations: -the U.N. special rapporteur for Sudan should
investigate and report on the role of Sudan in supporting the Lord's Resistance
Army, with special attention to the abduction, killing, torture, and rape
-the U.N. Secretary General's special representative on the impact of
armed conflict on children should promptly investigate the abduction, killing,
torture and sexual abuse of children by the Lord's Resistance Army;
-the U.N. Working Group on a Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention
on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts
should seek to raise to eighteen the minimum age at which people can be
recruited into armed forces and participate in hostilities (whether that
recruitment is voluntary or compulsory, and whether it is into government
armies or armed opposition groups). Human Rights Watch calls on the international
community to help further these goals and to take concrete steps to end
the military recruitment of children and the use of child soldiers worldwide.
Amnesty International is also releasing a report today on the same subject
entitled Breaking God's Commands: The Destruction of Childhood by the
Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. For further information, please contact
Amnesty International's press office at (44 171) 413 5729 / 5566.
Ugandan NGOs and UNICEF-Uganda also will be launching a program of action
today to address issues raised in the report. For further information,
call the NGO coordinator at (256 41) 245 526.
Copies of this report are available from the Publications Department
Human Rights Watch 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017 for $13.50 (North
America shipping) and $18 (international shipping). Visa and MasterCard
The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs has produced a
Background Brief on Bundibugyo, the Western Ugandan district where conflict
among rebel forces has displaced 70,000 people since mid-1997. The Brief,
dated 13 August 1997, can be found, with other current documents on the
Great Lakes region, on the UN's ReliefWeb site:
UNICEF's 1996 Information Kit on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children
is available from the UNICEF gopher site:
The kit includes a special report on Child Soldiers:
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington
Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate
in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,
by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and
analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.