Early on when my brothers and I were captured, the LRA explained to us that all five brothers couldn't serve in the LRA because we would not perform well. So they tied up my two younger brothers and invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until the two of them died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother was nine years old.
-Martin P., age thirteen
I was scared. There were many bullets fired. I dropped down for safety, but could see the tree leaves falling from the bullets. . . . I didn't shoot, but six rebel soldiers and many abducted children were killed. Over twenty children died. I was running for safety and had to jump over many of the bodies. The youngest was about twelve.
-Grace T., age sixteen
Children are abducted in record numbers by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda and subjected to brutal treatment as soldiers, laborers, and sexual slaves. Since June of 2002, an estimated 5,000 children have been abducted from their homes and communities-a larger number than any previous year of the sixteen-year-old conflict and a dramatic increase from the less than 100 children abducted in 2001.
Children have been targets of LRA abductions throughout the conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government in the northern part of Uganda, which began in 1986. Conservative estimates place the total number of children abducted at more than 20,000. The rate of abductions has escalated dramatically since early 2002, when a military offensive launched by the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) resulted in the LRA returning to Uganda from their camps in southern Sudan.
Children are abducted from their homes, schools, and off the streets. They are frequently beaten, and forced to carry out raids, burn houses, beat and kill civilians, and abduct other children. They must carry heavy loads over long distances, and work long hours fetching water, firewood, gathering food and performing domestic duties. Many are given weapons training and some are forced to fight against the UPDF.
The LRA uses brutal tactics to demand obedience from abducted children. Children are forced to beat or trample to death other abducted children who attempt to escape, and are repeatedly told they will be killed if they try to run away. Children who fall behind during long marches or resist orders are also killed. Many others have been killed in battle or have died from mistreatment, disease and hunger.
Girls are used as domestic servants for commanders and their households. At age fourteen or fifteen, many are forced into sexual slavery as "wives" of LRA commanders and subjected to rape, unwanted pregnancies, and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The threat of abduction has made children throughout the region fear for their safety. Each night, thousands of children pour into Gulu town and Lacor hospital from surrounding areas, hoping to avoid abduction. They seek refuge on verandas, in the bus park, on church grounds and in local factories before returning home again each morning.
Children are also recruited as soldiers by the Ugandan government. Boys as young as twelve are lured into joining the Local Defense Units (LDUs, also called "home guards") with promises of money. After training, they may be used to fight with the UPDF against the LRA, in some cases, inside Sudan. Boys who have escaped or been rescued from the LRA are also recruited by the UPDF while in UPDF custody for debriefing.
Human Rights Watch calls on the LRA to immediately stop abducting children and to immediately release all children from its forces. Human Rights Watch also urges the Ugandan government to immediately end all recruitment of children and to identify and demobilize all children in both the LDUs and the UPDF.
Human Rights Watch also calls for action by the international community. We urge the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to request that the Secretary-General appoint a Special Envoy for the abducted children of northern Uganda. Such an envoy should be encouraged to conduct "shuttle diplomacy" between the LRA and the Ugandan government with the aim of securing the release into safety of all those abducted by the LRA as children, and to seek an end to future abductions.
This report is based on field research conducted by Human Rights Watch in northern Uganda in February 2003. During our investigation, we interviewed eighteen children who had been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, and three others who are now young adults but were abducted as children. They ranged in age from ten to twenty and had been abducted from Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, and Lira districts. Their time in LRA captivity ranged from several weeks to ten years, although the large majority of those interviewed had been abducted since early 2002.
Human Rights Watch also conducted numerous interviews with representatives of nongovernmental organizations, religious and civic leaders, UNICEF, local government officials, and representatives of the Ugandan People's Defense Force. The names of all children interviewed for this report have been changed to protect their privacy. Some community leaders and representatives of nongovernmental organizations have also requested anonymity.