HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH "Crises in Sudan and Northern Uganda"
Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch Before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Africa July 29, 1998
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Background To The War In Uganda

The ethnic composition of Uganda, a land-locked state only a fraction the size of Sudan with a population of about 20.6 million, is quite different from Sudan. Most Ugandans are Africans who are Protestants or Catholics, and political and regional differences have often paralleled these religious divisions. Muslims are only about 10 percent of the population, and they are not Arabs but a religious minority that has suffered discrimination. The notorious dictator Idi Amin expelled Uganda's substantial Asian population in 1971.

The Museveni government took power in 1986 through the armed rebel group the National Resistance Army (NRA). His government followed a series of brutal military dictatorships and is credited by some governments and relief agencies with bringing stability to Uganda. Uganda, like Sudan, is a "no-party" state, but elections nevertheless produced some antigovernment parliamentarians, particularly in northern Uganda.

The movement or "no-party" political system which the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is trying to implement in Uganda places severe restrictions on political and civil rights, however, allowing political parties to exist only in name but not allowing them to hold public rallies, sponsor candidates for elections, or hold delegate conferences. In the past month, a nongovernment organization, the Foundation for African Development (closely aligned with the Democratic Party, one of the leading opposition parties),, suspended operations after the security services dispersed three seminars held by the group on the topic of "Human Rights and Democracy," on the grounds that the seminars had a political content. The National Resistance Movement of President Museveni has also transformed itself into a state-funded body, headed by President Museveni and administered by a National Political Commissarresponsible for the political education of the population. It would be hypocritical to criticize violations of political rights elsewhere on the continent, such as Sudan, but to ignore similar abuses in Uganda. A Human Rights Watch report on civil and political rights in Uganda is forthcoming.

There has always been armed internal resistance to the Museveni government, and there are rebel groups operating in the west and north of Uganda today. Northern soldiers were dominant in the Amin and Obote armies which preceded Museveni's NRM, and when he won, many northern soldiers fled to Sudan, partly in fear of retaliation by the NRA. Much of the population of the northern districts of Kitgum and Gulu, which are most affected by the LRA, is Acholi, a tribe that straddles the Sudan/Uganda border.

In Sudan these northern soldiers formed the Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA) which soon took on a millenarian dimension as the Holy Spirit Movement under the leadership of Alice Lakwena. This ultimately developed into the Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The LRA and the Ugandan government came close to a negotiated peace in 1994 but in that year the Sudan government stepped up its support for the LRA, providing sanctuary and bases inside government-controlled south Sudan and effectively reigniting the conflict. This seems an obvious tit-for-tat for Museveni's support for the SPLA.

What the LRA is best known for is its abduction of thousands of Acholi Ugandan children to serve as involuntary soldiers and, in the case of girls, "wives" or concubines for the LRA officers. Extreme brutality is used to keep the children in line, including torture and forcing children to participate in the killing of other children who try to escape. Whenever there is a successful escape (of the 10,000 estimated to have been abducted, some 2,000 may have escaped), those who remain behind are punished. It is in this brutal treatment of children that the LRA has distinguished itself among all the abusive rebel armies of the world.

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July 1998

Human Rights Watch