March 28, 2010

VII. Atrocities during Captivity

Interviews by Human Rights Watch with children and adults who managed to escape the LRA provide an insight into the extreme brutality they endured. Every person captured by the LRA quickly learned the two rules of survival: 1) if you walk too slowly or appear tired, you are killed; and 2) if you try to escape, you are killed. To ensure that no one had any doubt about what the consequences would be for those who broke these rules, the abductees were forced to watch the LRA kill those who disobeyed or were themselves forced to carry out the killings.

Teaching Children to Kill

The LRA usually separated children from the adult abductees soon after capture and forced them to undergo “military training.” Through mind-control methods, instilling fear, and sheer brutality, the LRA has been able to turn nine to 15-year-old boys and girls into killers. The children are dabbed with “magic” oils, which they are told make them a member of the LRA and will prevent them from being harmed by bullets. In many of the attacks documented by Human Rights Watch, such as the case of the mutilations near Bangadi (see above), the Ugandan LRA combatants forced the young, newly abducted Congolese boys to carry out the killings, mutilations, or other attacks.[95]

One of the most brutal forms of violence used by the LRA is to force children to kill other children. Usually the victim is a child who has disobeyed the rules. Other children are then ordered to surround the victim in a circle and take turns beating the child on the head with a large wooden stick until the child is dead.[96] Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of such cruel killings.

In late October 2009, an 11-year-old boy from Kapanga, near Nambia, was captured by the LRA when he was with his father at their farm. After killing his father in front of him, the LRA combatants took the young boy into the forest with them. The boy managed to escape captivity one month later and told Human Rights Watch what happened to him:

After they captured me, they told me they wanted me to be a soldier. When I protested and told them that I was too young, they stabbed me under my eyes with a bayonet. Then they took me to their camp. While I was there, they gave military training to all the children. We were in teams, and each team had to come in at certain times for training, and to kill people. They treated their victims like animals and told us, “When you kill someone, it’s like killing an animal.”
They often asked the children to kill people in the bush. I saw this myself, and they even asked me to kill someone. They first tied the person up, and then they asked me to kill him with a large wooden stick. It was a Congolese Zande boy. I saw 10 people killed like this–girls and boys. Each time they were killed by other children who had been abducted. They chose the victims randomly and then would give us the order: “Take your bat. Kill this animal.”[97]

Sexual Slavery

Girls abducted by the LRA are often forced to become the “wives,” or sexual slaves, of LRA combatants.[98] They usually stay with the same combatant during their entire time in captivity. Regular LRA combatants are allowed one “wife,” while commanders have numerous “wives” and are given first pick after an abduction operation, such as the one in Makombo.

A 17-year-old girl from a village near Bangadi was abducted by the LRA in January 2009 and held as a sexual slave for the commander of her group until she managed to escape in early June 2009:

There were more than 20 combatants in my group and 40 girls. I was given to one combatant and stayed with him the whole time. He was a commander named “Wila” who had two Ugandan wives, plus me. He took turns sleeping with me and his other two wives. During the five months, we moved around all the time to different camps. We always moved together, except when they went to get food, we stayed in the camp. They beat us a lot, and sometimes we were tied together. I escaped when they were trying to mix us with another group. After I ran away, I met a man named Michel who took me here [to Bangadi] on a bike.[99] 

Adults in Captivity

Adults abducted by the LRA are often used as porters, with adult women also used as sexual slaves. They are also forced to cook and clean. Adults are rarely, if ever, forced to undergo military training, but they too endure extreme brutality.

A 27-year-old woman who was abducted by the LRA in January 2009 witnessed, or was forced to participate in, the killing of 55 other abductees during her nine months in captivity. She later described her ordeal to Human Rights Watch. She said:

I was at my house in Diagbe when the LRA came and started calling the population together, telling us they were Ugandan soldiers who had come to protect the population. Once we were all together, they started to grab us. Four people were killed. Then they captured 30 of us and took us into the bush. Soon after we left Diagbe, they killed 15 of the abductees—including three boys aged 10, 13, and 15. The others were older men. The rest of us—14 men and me—walked for two days before we arrived at the LRA camp. I was tied around the waist, and an LRA combatant pulled me along with the loose end of the rope. When we got to the camp, we were divided into small groups. I was given as a “wife” to the commander of the group. There were about 30 people in our group, including seven women. All seven of us were for the chief. We would spend one day in one place and then go on to a new place. I had to prepare the food and do laundry.
The combatants were all Ugandan. They only spoke their mother tongue. In the beginning, we communicated by gestures, but then we started to learn their language. They didn’t speak any Lingala. It was prohibited to speak with the other abductees. They beat us if we tried. The LRA killed lots of abductees while I was with them.[100]

[95] Human Rights Watch interviews with former abductees, in Niangara, Tapili, Bangadi, and Dungu, February 18-24, 2010.

[96] Human Rights Watch interviews with former abductees, in Niangara, Tapili, Bangadi, and Dungu, February 18-24, 2010.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with former abductee, Niangara, February 18, 2010.

[98] See Feinstein Institute, “Forced Marriage within the Lord’s Resistance Army,” May 2008,,+Uganda

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with former abductee, Bangadi, February 22, 2010.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with former abductee, Bangadi, February 22, 2010.