UGANDA

Introduction

 Uganda shares a border with Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania, and has simultaneously participated in, and been affected by, its neighbors’ internal and external conflicts.  Internally, most of Uganda has been peaceful since the current president, Yoweri Museveni, took power in 1986, ending twenty years of political instability and frequent coups.  However, Museveni’s takeover also galvanized the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Christianity-inspired cult and rebel group operating out of southern Sudan (BBC: “Timeline: Uganda” 12 Jul 2002).

 The LRA is the greatest and most sustained threat to Ugandan stability.  For over 15 years this group has been raiding towns, killing Ugandans, and kidnapping children to serve as slaves, soldiers, and wives.  The proclaimed intent of their leader, Joseph Kony, is to overthrow the government and rule according to the Ten Commandments.  In practice, however, LRA attacks target the immediate civilian population more than the Ugandan military or government.  Human Rights Watch notes, “the rebels appear to devote most of their time to attacks on the civilian population: they raid villages, loot stores and homes, burn houses and schools, and rape, mutilate and slaughter civilians unlucky enough to be in their path” (“Scars of Death” Sept 1997).  The LRA’s latest incursion into northern Uganda has seriously affected the region’s stability and the safety of its residents as well as the nearly 500,000 refugees based there (IRIN: “Uganda: LRA” 8 Jul 2002).

 

Key Players

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

 The LRA began as a group of ethnic Acholi supporters of former head of state Tito Okello, who was forced out of office by Museveni (BBC: “Timeline: Uganda”).  In 1987, a young Acholi woman named Alice Lakwena organized Okello’s supporters into the Holy Spirit Mobile Force and led them against Museveni’s National Resistance Army, which later became the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF).  Lakwena, who considered herself a prophet and claimed to be possessed by the Holy Spirit, assured her soldiers that, after she anointed them with shea butter oil, bullets would “bounce harmlessly off their chests” (HRW: “Scars of Death”).  The miracle failed: armed with rifles and stones, Lakwena’s followers were easily killed by the UPDF, and Lakwena fled to Kenya.

Claiming to be Lakwena’s “spiritual heir,” her nephew, Joseph Kony, gathered the remnants of her army to form the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In 1991 they started a campaign of “large-scale attacks on civilian targets, including schools and clinics. Abductions, especially of children,” increased (HRW: “Scars of Death”).  In 1995, Sudanese government support dramatically strengthened LRA offensives.  Although this aid was withdrawn in 1999 and Sudan now officially supports the Ugandan offensive against the rebels, the past few months have seen a renewed LRA campaign of violence.  In June 2002, Kony commissioned about 400LRA members to enter northern Uganda. The contingent of fighters broke into smaller groups and proceeded to attack, loot, and terrorize villages (IRIN: “Uganda: Army” 14 June 2002).

As a result of LRA abductions, killings, and attacks on villages, up to 400,000 internally displaced persons now live in Uganda.  Approximately 12,000 children have been abducted since 1986; some have been rescued or returned, but more than 5,500 are still unaccounted for (IRIN: “Uganda: Army”).

 

Government of Uganda: Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF)

In April 2002, President Museveni committed 10,000 troops to “Operation Iron Fist,” a sustained offensive in southern Sudan. As of late July, the campaign has had limited success in preventing or defeating LRA attacks.  While the UPDF claims to have captured or killed over 300rebels, LRA forces have continued to abduct and kill civilians (BBC: “Uganda: Army” 21 Jul 2002).  Museveni recently yielded to pressure from Ugandan religious groups and gave permission for “a group of bishops representing the main Christian communities in Uganda to hold peace talks with the LRA”; however, neither the UPDF nor the LRA has stopped their offensives (BBC: “Ugandan Army” 15 Jul 2002).

Another issue facing the UPDF is their response to the use of child soldiers by the LRA. These children are abducted, forcibly indoctrinated, and sent into battle in the front lines of LRA attacks.  The Ugandan government recently signed the UN Treaty forbidding the recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18 in armed conflicts; however, this treaty has not altered LRA practices (Asia Intelligence Wire: “Uganda ratifies” 12 Mar 2002).

 

Government of Sudan (GOS)

The government of Sudan supported the LRA from 1995-1999 for several reasons: Uganda cut diplomatic ties to Sudan in 1995; the LRA was fighting the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA); and the Sudanese government accused the Ugandan government of aiding the SPLA (Daily Trust: “Khartoum” 3 Jul 2002).  In retaliation, the Sudanese Government continued to tolerate the LRA’s home base in southern Sudan and began providing the LRA with land mines and machine guns (HRW: “Scars of Death”).  However, the governments of Uganda and Sudan restored diplomatic relations in 2000 and the Sudanese Government has recently reversed its policies concerning the LRA.  In March 2002 it cooperated with the UPDF’s “Operation Iron Fist” and permitted the UPDF to enter Sudan in search of the LRA.  As of 1 July 2002, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced that Sudanese forces would actively cooperate with the UPDF in a joint military operation against the LRA (Daily Trust: “Khartoum”).

 

Acholi People

Comprising 4 percent of the Ugandan population, the Acholi are both perpetrators and victims of LRA attacks.  Most of Lakwena’s original followers were both Acholi and supporters of Acholi army officer Okello, and this ethnic group continues to dominate the LRA.  However, as the dominant ethnic group in the volatile northern provinces of Gulu and Kitgum, the Acholi are also the majority of the victims of LRA attacks (BBC:  “Timeline: Uganda”). The Acholi comprise this majority due to their geographic proximity to the LRA’s base in southern Sudan, not due to a targeted LRA campaign against their ethnic group.  According to Human Rights Watch, over 200,000 Acholi have been displaced by LRA violence and instability (“Scars of Death”).

Recent LRA attacks have focused on refugee camps and “protected villages,” which were created in 1997 “to provide protection to the local population” against LRA attacks (MISNA: “LRA Rebels” 1 Jul 2002).  However, in the face of the UPDF’s failure to protect these supposed havens, even more Acholi are losing their homes, their property, and their lives.

 

Nature of the Violence

Despite Kony’s professed goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government, the LRA’s tactics have engendered a systematic campaign of terror more than a politically motivated rebellion.  Rape, looting, and destruction characterize most LRA attacks, along with civilian murders and child abductions.  The UPDF’s inability to effectively counter these guerilla tactics has hindered their “Operation Iron Fist” offensive (IRIN: “Five Refugees” 10 Jul 2002).

 

Killing

In addition to killing some of the children they abduct, LRA forces frequently kill adult civilians as part of their raids on northern Uganda towns and refugee camps.  Road ambushes have led to the deaths of 26 people.  The main purpose behind these killings seems to be sustaining a “climate of crisis” and instability in the region (IRIN: “Army says” 5 Jul 2002).   The random character of the killings is indicated by the fact that most of the victims are Acholi, which is also the ethnicity of Kony and most of the LRA.  As of 2 July 2002, approximately 66 people, including UPDF soldiers, have been killed by the LRA’s new offensive (Ojwee 2 Jul 2002).

 

Abduction, Torture, Rape, and Killing of Children

The abduction of children to fill its ranks has always been a main goal of the LRA.  UNICEF estimates that 12,000 children have been abducted by the LRA over the past 15 years.  Many LRA raids on schools and villages are carried out for the purpose of kidnapping more children, preferably “children of fourteen to sixteen … [although] at times [the LRA abducts] children as young as eight or nine, boys and girls alike.”  After kidnapping the children, the LRA forces them to kill fellow weak, wounded, or resistant children as a rite of initiation.  These mass killings are brutal, usually committed “with clubs or machetes. Any child who refuses to participate in the killing may also be beaten or killed” (HRW: “Scars of Death”). 

Once indoctrinated, the children are incorporated into the LRA forces and compelled to participate in raids against Ugandan villages and UDPF troops.  According to Human Rights Watch, “When the rebels fight against the Ugandan government army, they force the captive children to the front; children who hang back or refuse to fire are beaten or killed by the rebels, while those who run forward may be mown down by government bullets” (“Scars of Death”).  According to the Ugandan-government-owned newspaper, The New Vision, the LRA has abducted at least 100 people in the offensive that began in (“6 abducted” 12 Jul 2002).

In addition, abducted women and girls as young as 12 are presented as wives to LRA officers.  They are beaten or killed if they refuse to comply with the soldiers (HRW: “Scars of Death”).

 

Attacks on Villages and “Protected Camps

Attacks on villages have caused thousands of civilian homes to be destroyed and have contributed to the large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda.  Attacks in the most recent LRA offensive have concentrated on some “protected villages” and refugee camps that the UDPF claims it can no longer defend.  Most of the attacks are concentrated in the northern districts of Gulu, Pader, and Kitgum, where 490,000 IDPs live.  Attacks on IDP camps like Alero (in Gulu), refugee camps like the Maaji Settlement (in the Adjumani district), and “protected villages” like Purongo (in Gulu) “have severe humanitarian implications” (IRIN: “LRA attacks” 8 Jul 2002).  Not only are hundreds of people losing their homes in attacks, but road safety, food security, and the ability to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees in the area are an increasing concern for aid agencies like the UN’s World Food Program.

 

Recent Attacks

The LRA has attacked villages and kidnapped and killed people with varying levels of intensity for the past fifteen years.  The following are statistics of the most recent LRA attacks.

 

Date:               25 February 2002
Location:        Gulu district, northern Uganda
Victims:          2 civilians, one soldier killed

Two civilians and a soldier were killed when LRA fighters attacked UPDF forces stationed in northern Uganda. One hundred rebels crossed the Sudanese border and attacked a military unit in Lamwo. The rebels also looted stores and then fled back into Sudan (Agence France Presse: “Three killed” 25 Feb 2002).

 

Date:                 4 March 2002
Location:        Gulu district, northern Uganda
Victims:           3 people killed

LRA rebels killed three people at a funeral service in Gulu district. The rebels were believed to be part of an LRA splinter group and had been roaming the area targeting civilians (Agence France Presse: “Rebels kill” 4 Mar 2002).

 

Date:                  28 April 2002
Location:        Southern Sudan
Victims:          60 Sudanese civilians killed

LRA rebels attacked a funeral gathering in southern Sudan, forcing the mourners to eat the person they were about to bury before 60 of the mourners were shot dead. The rebels reportedly killed the civilians after they failed to garner support from the local population (Agence France Presse: “Ugandan Rebels” 28 Apr 2002).

 

Date:               13 May 2002
Location:        Southern Sudan
Victims:          500 Sudanese civilians

The Lord’s Resistance Army reportedly massacred nearly 500 Sudanese civilians in southern Sudan over three weeks. The killings happened in the Imotong Mountains, where the LRA was attacking villages. A Ugandan army spokesperson said the killings began in mid-April, when a Ugandan military offensive into southern Sudan pushed the rebels into the mountains. The Sudanese Catholic Church described the killings in the town of Katire, where they say villagers were hacked to death with pangas and machetes (Panafrican News Agency: “Ugandan rebels” 13 May 2002).

 

Date:                   22 June 2002
Location:          Burcoro and Agweng, northern Uganda
Victims:            4 people killed

Rebels ambushed two vehicles in northern Uganda in two separate incidents, killing four people in the two attacks (BBC: “Rebels kill” 22 Jun 2002).

 

Date:               23 June 2002
Location:        Lacechot village, Pader district, northern Uganda
Victims:          45 people abducted

LRA rebels attacked Lacechot village in the Pader district of northern Uganda, abducting 45 people who were forced to carry away the rebels’ loot. Thirty shops and fifteen kiosks were burned down (Panafrican News Agency: “Ugandan rebels” 23 Jun 2002).

 

Date:               24 June 2002
Location:        Kitgum, northern Uganda
Victims:          4 people killed

LRA rebels attacked Hill Top, a suburb of the town of Kitgum in northern Uganda, and killed four people before being repelled by UPDF troops in the area (BBC: “Uganda: LRA” 26 Jun 2002).


Date:               25 June 2002
Location:        Apac district, northern Uganda
Victims:          14 people abducted

A vehicle was set ablaze and 14 people were abducted at Icerne trading center in northern Uganda. This attack followed a previous raid on a primary school in the town of Lalogi, in which several students were abducted (BBC: “Uganda: LRA” 25 Jun 2002).


Date:               27 June 2002
Location:        Aswa County
Victims:          3 people abducted

LRA rebels broke into shops and looted food stores in Aswa County. Three people, ages 15, 18, and 30, were abducted shortly afterwards (The Monitor: “Rebels attack” 27 Jun 2002).

 

Date:               28 June 2002
Location:        Angagura, Pader district, northern Uganda
Victims:          one civilian, one soldier killed

LRA rebels ambushed a pick-up taxi and shot dead two of the occupants. One of the victims was a Ugandan soldier. The remaining occupants fled after the initial gunfire erupted. The rebels set the vehicle on fire before retreating (The Monitor: “Two killed” 28 Jun 2002).


Date:               30 June 2002
Location:        Gulu district, northern Uganda
Victims:          10 killed, 50 abducted

LRA rebels attacked Purongo camp, setting 50 huts on fire and abducting 50 people.  Nine civilians were killed, along with one soldier who was visiting relatives in the camp at the time of the attack (Agence France Presse: “Rebels kill” 30 Jun 2002).

 

Date:               2 July 2002
Location:        Patongo, Pader district, northern Uganda
Victims:          16 people killed


A firefight in the town of Patongo resulted in the deaths of fourteen civilians and two soldiers. The Ugandan army engaged the LRA rebels after the insurgents attacked the town. The rebels numbered between 80-100 troops. Several people were abducted, although the exact number has not been confirmed (Panafrican News Agency: “Rebels kill” 2 Jul 2002).

 


Date:               3 July 2002
Location:        Alero Refugee Camp, northern Uganda
Victims:          11 civilians, one soldier killed, 50 abducted


LRA rebels killed two people in an attack on Alero Refugee Camp, which houses 15,000 people.  Several people were abducted, although the exact number is unknown, and the rebels set more than 1,000 huts on fire. In a separate incident southwest of Gulu, ten civilians were killed and 50 were abducted after LRA rebels entered the town of Purongo (Agence France Presse: “Rebels kill” 3 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               7 July 2002
Location:        Northern Uganda
Victims:          4 civilians, 4 Ugandan officers killed


A group of fifty LRA rebels ambushed a military vehicle and killed four UPDF officers who were heading to Gulu to attend a security meeting.  In a later attack in Corner Alango, four civilians were killed (Agence France Presse: “Rebels kill” 7 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               9 July 2002
Location:        Northern Uganda
Victims:          5 civilians, one soldier killed

LRA fighters reportedly killed five refugees and a UPDF soldier in an attack on the Maaji Refugee Camp. A group of over 150 rebels participated in the attack, burning down 127 houses and five classrooms. They also destroyed a grinding mill and looted drugs from a nearby pharmacy (Agence France Presse: “Seven killed” 9 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               10 July 2002
Location:        Gulu district, northern Uganda
Victims:          56 people abducted


LRA rebels abducted 56 people in their attacks on two refugee camps in the Gulu district. A group of 150-200 rebels ransacked food stores after sending the 20,000 residents of Wiya Nono camp fleeing into the bushes (Panafrican News Agency: “Uganda rebels” 10 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               12 July 2002
Location:        Gulu district, northern Uganda.
Victims:          20 youths abducted
Lord’s Resistance Army rebels abducted 20 youths from a village in the Gulu district of northern Uganda. The rebels demanded all villagers evacuate their residencies before burning down forty houses and destroying other property (Panafrican News Agency: “Ugandan rebels” 12 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               15 July 2002
Location:        Northern Uganda
Victims:          6 missing

The LRA ambushed a lorry going to Pakwach in northern Uganda. The lorry was disabled after the rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at it, and the six passengers are unaccounted for. The rebels fled when UPDF soldiers arrived at the scene shortly after the incident (BBC: “Uganda: LRA” 16 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               17 July 2002
Location:        Gulu, northern Uganda
Victims:          1 killed, 11 abducted

LRA forces killed a local leader in Gulu and abducted 11 other people. The area was home to several senior-level government officials (Agence France Presse: “Rebels raid” 17 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               18 July 2002
Location:        Agago county, Pader district, northern Uganda
Victims:          12 secondary school students abducted

About 50 LRA rebels abducted 12 secondary school children in northern Uganda on the evening of 18 July. The rebels used torches to find students who had hidden in the bushes. After the attack on the school, the rebels looted nearby shops (BBC: “Uganda: Lord’s” 21 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               20 July 2002
Location:        Northern Uganda
Victims:          8 people killed

LRA rebels attacked a refugee camp in northern Uganda, killing eight people.  The army responded and further civilian casualties were avoided (Agence France Presse: “Eight killed” 20 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               22 July 2002
Location:        Te-got Village, northern Uganda|
Victims:          2 soldiers killed, 7 people abducted

LRA rebels attacked the village of Te-got, abducting seven people and killing two soldiers in a confrontation with the army.  Fourteen rebels were killed in the fighting.  The LRA burned more than 80 huts and several small shops in the village before retreating (Associated Press Worldstream: “At least” 23 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               23 July 2002
Location:        Namokora village, Kitgum district, northern Uganda
Victims:          Several people abducted

LRA rebels attacked the village of Namokora, abducting a group of boys and Erisanweri Opira, who was the brother of the late General Tito Okello.  Opira was released after being held captive overnight.  In a separate raid, LRA forces attacked the town of Gulu, looting shops and abducting ten children between the ages of 10 and 15 (Agence France Presse: “Ugandan rebels” 25 Jul 2002).

 

Date:               25 July 2002
Location:        Akol village, Kitgum district, northern Uganda
Victims:          50 killed

LRA rebels attacked the village of Akol and massacred 50 civilians, using spears and machetes (Agence France Presse: “Death toll” 26 Jul 2002).

 

Applicable International Law

The following are major abuses committed by the LRA in northern Uganda and southern Sudan in light of applicable international treaties.

According to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the LRA has committed the following crimes against humanity in Uganda:

1)      Murder

2)      Enslavement

3)      Torture

4)      Rape/sexual slavery

 

As established and cited by Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the following violations have been committed:

            1) Violence to Life and Person: Murder, Mutilation, Cruel Treatment, Torture

            2) Taking of Hostages

 

Furthermore, according to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) June 8, 1977 articles, the following violations have been committed:

            1) Violence to life and health (Article 4)

            2) Taking of hostages (Article 4)

            3) Acts of terrorism (Article 4)

            4) Outrages upon personal dignity including rape (Article 4)

            5) Slavery (Article 4)

            6) Pillage (Article 4)

            7) Threats (Article 4)

            8) Children under the age of 15 being forced to take part in hostilities (Article 4)

            9) Failure to respect and protect the wounded and sick (Article 7)

            10) Failure to respect and protect religious personnel (Article 9)

            11) Targeting civilian populations for attack (Article 13)

            12) Attacks, destruction, and removal of foodstuffs (Article 14)

            13) Failure to respect places of worship (Article 16)

 

In regards to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (which was ratified by Uganda on 6 May 2002) the LRA has committed the following violations:

            1) Persons under the age of 18 recruited or used in hostilities by armed groups distinct from a state (Article 4)

 

Is this Genocide?

Does the killing fit the UN definition of genocide?

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

The majority of LRA victims are members of the Acholi ethnic group; however, Kony’s overall intent does not seem to be the destruction of the Acholi.  As evidenced by his forces’ hit-and-run attacks, looting and kidnapping raids, and forced conversions, megalomania rather than genocidal intent motivates LRA actions.  The Acholi, who comprise the majority of the LRA soldiers as well as the majority of the LRA’s victims, are being persecuted not for their ethnicity but for their geographic location.  The LRA is attempting to increase its power, influence, size, and wealth by attacking the areas in Uganda closest to its base in Sudan; those convenient areas just happen to be the villages and towns where the Acholi people are concentrated.  Because there is no intent to destroy the Acholi due to their ethnicity, the killing does not currently fit the UN definition of genocide.

 

Is the killing intentional?

The killing is intentional, although there is no intent to commit genocide. Whether out of frustration at an inability to convert civilians to the LRA agenda or a desire to create an atmosphere of chaos, killing civilians has been one of the primary characteristics of LRA attacks in northern Uganda.  Most killings occur as a by-product of raids where looting or abducting children are the primary goals.  Attacks like the 25 July 2002 massacre in Akol seem to be perpetrated for a more explicit goal of killing civilians; however, even these killings do not indicate an intent to destroy a particular group.

 

Is the killing habitual?

Yes: the LRA has been killing civilians for over 10 years.  Their latest offensive alone has resulted in the death of over 120 people in the past two months.

 

Is genocide the primary characteristic of the abuse?

Kidnapping, slavery, rape, torture, and destruction of property are the primary characteristics.  While the killing is also intentional and habitual, the LRA uses killing mostly as a means of destabilizing the region.  The recent massacre in Akol presents the possibility of a shift toward genocide, however unlikely.  A UPDF spokesperson characterized the deliberate murders of 50 civilians as “punishment killings,” indicating that Joseph Kony was becoming “frustrated and desperate” with his inability to gain support in northern Uganda (IRIN: “Uganda: Northern” 26 Jul 2002).  If Kony’s increasing desperation leads him to order more deliberate massacres of those who question or doubt his beliefs, instead of raids with the primary intent of abduction or looting, then ideologically-motivated politicide, if not genocide, could possibly become a characteristic of the LRA human rights’ abuse.  However, there have been no other indications of a long-term shift in LRA intent since the attack on Akol, and the LRA has gone so far as to release captives as a precursor to peace negotiations.  Therefore genocide is not currently and is not likely to become the primary characteristic of the abuse.

 

Conclusion

While the Lord’s Resistance Army is currently committing massive human rights abuses, at this time those abuses cannot be classified as genocide.   For over ten years the LRA has been systematically attacking villages, kidnapping and enslaving children, raping girls and women, and looting and destroying property.  They have also intentionally and habitually killed civilians, most of whom are ethnic Acholi.  The Acholi are targets due to their geographic proximity to the LRA, not due to their ethnicity, and thus the genocide definition fails at this time.  Only after a significant shift in LRA intent and targets would genocide become a possibility.

 

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