Government challenged to confront human rights violations

Amnesty International today (Thursday) challenged the government of Uganda to confront its own “largely hidden” pattern of human rights violations to break the vicious circle of violence in the country’s northern war zone. In a news release, the organisation said that over the last three years it had documented scores of killings of unarmed civilians including children, dozens of rapes and hundreds of beatings by government forces. While some soldiers have been arrested for these crimes, few have been brought to court as weaknesses in the criminal justice system delay trials of soldiers almost indefinitely.

“The extreme violence of the [rebel] Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has so far been allowed to obscure the government’s failure to prevent its own soldiers from committing serious human rights violations,” director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme Maina Kiai told the press in Kampala. “We therefore urge President Yoweri Museveni to make human rights protection in northern Uganda a national priority.”

In the last three years, approximately 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in this area. In Gulu, 80 percent of the rural population live in displaced persons’ camps, and are dependent on humanitarian aid. Once in camps they are vulnerable to ill-disciplined government soldiers, who sometimes suspect them of being LRA supporters. For its part, the LRA has attacked camps to abduct children and loot food, the report says.

Human rights violations have taken place in the context of combat too. The report cites an incident on 30 March 1998 when 30 children, who had been abducted by the LRA, were shot dead by government soldiers at Ogole in Kitgum district. There has been no investigation and the army has denied that the children were killed, Amnesty says.