"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
The Sudan government is responsible for terrible abuses of Ugandan children through its support for the LRA, which kidnaps Ugandan children and takes them to its base camps inside government-controlled Sudan.
Human Rights Watch's 1997 report, The Scars of Death: Children Abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, documents the abduction, enslavement, rape, torture and killing of an estimated six to ten thousand Ugandan children by the LRA. In addition to being forced to serve as rebel soldiers and to participate in acts of extreme violence, as the boys do, girls are given as wives to rebel soldiers and live as sexual slaves. For all abducted children, their labor, their bodies, and their lives are at their commanders' complete disposal.
According to independent sources, between 1,200 and 1,500 abductions were reported in Kitgum district between August 1997 and February 1998 alone. They also report that the LRA has begun abducting very young girls in the belief that such young girls will be free of the HIV virus and will thus be more suitable for (forced) sexual relations with LRA commanders once they reach puberty.
Testimonies of LRA abuse of children abound. Charles, age thirteen, was abducted by the LRA on Christmas day, 1996 and escaped in early 1998. A few hours after being abducted, the rebels told Charles to lie down and said they would kill him because he was too slow: "They told me to lie down and said they would kill me because I was too slow. I lay down and expected to die. They started laughing, saying they just wanted to scare me."
A few days later, Charles was forced to participate in the killing of a boy who tried to escape, an experience which became a regular part of his young life.
If the rebels caught the escapees, they would send us to kill them. They would tie the hands and they would make us kill. Sometimes they would give us pangas [machetes] and make us cut them to pieces. I felt a lot of pain and started seeing images of those people visiting me. I would start feeling dizzy and they would scare me saying that if I behaved that way, they would kill me. We were forced to kill in a group. The boys we had to kill would cry and tell us we were killing them for nothing. It was very bad. There are many times when I think about those kids and my conscience tells me that I was too young, that I was forced to do the killing.
Finally, he was sent back to Uganda to fight in Kitgum district: "Kony told us to kill and abductpeople. He instructed us that we were coming to take over, that he would follow as President." Just before Charles managed to escape, he was instructed to kill an older boy by himself, with a bayonet.
The story of Charles is told a hundred fold in the testimonies gathered by Human Rights Watch. When one mother pleaded with the LRA not to take her child, she was given the choice between losing her child or having her hand cut off. One girl told us how she was "given" to a rebel commander as a "wife," and beaten with a machete put in fire when she refused to have sex with the older man. She also received daily beatings from the commander.
The abuses by the LRA are not limited to abductions of children. Many civilians described incidents of abuse by the LRA, including mutilations and amputations. One man described the condition of his brother's body which he found after an LRA attack: "He was killed using an axe, his head was cut open, they removed all his teeth and he was cut all over the body." Human Rights Watch met a four year old girl whose whole family was put in a hut and burned to death. Out of twelve people put in the hut, eight died. The girl was pulled out, but the rebels put her hands back in the fire and burned off the hands. She was one and a half years old at the time. One woman described how the rebels cut her lips off because they suspected that her husband was a soldier.
A man in a "protected camp" said they were not allowed by the Ugandan authorities to go work on our farms. "But it is the rebels who make our life difficult. We cannot go home even if the army lets us because of Kony. Kony should come back for peace talks because the fighting is killing many civilians. The insurgency has now gone on for eleven years and there have been no changes and no winners."
Other LRA abuses include disruption of humanitarian relief work in the north. This work addresses three separate populations: the Sudanese refugees in Uganda (an estimated 170,000 who are fleeing government or SPLA abuses, or both); Uganda civilians forced into or willingly in "protected camps" created by the Ugandan army, the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF); and the OLS cross-border relief operation, which uses Ugandan roads to deliver relief into southern Sudan for the internally displaced Sudanese there. All three programs have been jeopardized by LRA ambushes and land mines, another area in which the two countries' conflicts overlap.
In 1994 life began to be difficult for these relief efforts and for ordinary people living in northern Uganda. The two districts most affected by the LRA are Gulu (population 338,427) and Kitgum (population 357,184). The LRA placed land mines in the roads, looted relief trucks, and attacked ordinary Ugandan civilians.
The LRA recently informed NGOs in northern Uganda that they would be considered legitimate military targets; it accuses them of materially supporting the Museveni government (aiding the internally displaced in protected camps created by the UPDF). This legal conclusion is erroneous; the activities described do not make NGOs legitimate military targets under international law.
On several occasions, the LRA has physically threatened the lives of NGO workers in the north, and most NGOs have withdrawn from the Kitgum district during April to July, 1998 out of concern for the safety of their workers. Minimal teams of humanitarian workers have now returned to Kitgum, but their activities are confined to Kitgum town because of continuing instability. Several attacks on humanitarian food convoys by suspected LRA rebels have taken place in recent months, some causing a loss of life. There are also increasing reports of the use of anti-personnel and anti-tank land mines in Kitgum district, further complicating the work of humanitarian organizations and endangering civilians.
The suspension of many humanitarian operations in the north, because of LRA attacks and threats, aggravated an already severe situation, as most people living in the "protected camps" created by the government in 1996 and 1997 are highly dependent on humanitarian relief for nutrition and other basic requirements. In Gulu district, the majority of the civilian population is living in the fifteen "protected camps" created by the UPDF, according to a 1997 U.N. assessment mission.
According to UPDF spokespersons, the camps were created to protect the civilian population from further LRA abuses, although many believe that another reason for the camps was to isolate the LRA and deny them civilian support, a familiar counterinsurgency tactic. A significant number of civilians moved to the camps on their own initiative, but those who chose to remain behind were ordered to move to the camps by UPDF officers, and in some cases were beaten if they refused to move. A number of witnesses claimed that the UPDF shelled near reluctant villages in order to create fear and force the civilians to move.
Under the Geneva Conventions, a government which displaces civilian populations must take all possible measures to ensure that the displaced population is received under satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety and nutrition. (Article 14, Protocol II) However, UPDF officials admitted that little had been done to prepare the infrastructure of the "protected camps." Living conditions in the camps are harsh, with insufficient access to clean water, insufficient food, non-existent educational facilities, and significant levels of diseases associated with overcrowding and malnutrition. Residents of the camps complained of inadequate security against LRA attacks. Several witnesses complained about cases of indiscriminate shooting by UPDF or local defense units during LRA attacks, sometimes resulting in civilian casualties.
Apart from the situation in the protected camps, the abuses by the UPDF fall into two categories, namely abuses against civilians, mostly committed by off-duty soldiers, and abuses against suspected rebel sympathizers by on-duty soldiers. Human Rights Watch documented a number of cases of rape, beating and looting of civilians by UPDF troops which seemingly went unpunished.
Some suspected rebel sympathizers have been detained and tortured by the UPDF. Such cases occur in the west and north, and Human Rights Watch found such suspects who had been subjected to severe canings, various forms of physical torture, and mock executions and burials. Such brutal tactics are often used to extract confessions or identify other rebel suspects. More than one thousand persons are currently in Ugandan prisons on remand for treason charges oftenbased on such coerced evidence. They usually remain in jail without trial for a mandatory one-year period, after which bail is available. Many are detained for years on treason charges without trial, in violation of the constitutional limits on pre-trial detention.
Sudan's support for the LRA is a principal source of external support for the LRA. The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch and other independent sources clearly establishes the extent of Sudanese support for and collaboration with the LRA. The Sudanese government's denial that it supports and has long supported the LRA is simply not credible in light of consistent evidence to the contrary.
A number of LRA abductees who escaped told about the names, locations, and infrastructure of the LRA camps in Sudan. The interviews clearly establish that the camps are located in territory controlled by the Sudan authorities, near Sudanese army outposts, and that the Sudan government actively provides support for the LRA by supplying the camps with weapons and food. According to the testimonies of the former abductees, the LRA conducts joint operations against the SPLA together with the Sudanese army.
The current LRA camps in Sudan include Jebellin, Kit II and Musito. Jebellin is located at kilometer 38 near Juba. According to one thirteen-year-old former abductee who spent two years in LRA captivity at Jebellin (sometimes spelled Jabalayn or Jebelen), approximately thirty miles south of Juba:
In the camps, we were together with the Arabs [Sudan government army]. The Sudan government gave food to the commanders, but we had to find our own food. I saw Sudanese Arab soldiers deliver weapons to the commanders of the LRA. The guns were brought to the LRA camp by airplane, and the soldiers unloading the guns were Arabs. They were big guns, machine guns. Other times, the guns were brought by lorries. The camp was called Jebellin, near Juba. [LRA leader Joseph] Kony was stationed there.
The LRA also operates other camps inside Sudan, similarly placed in close proximity to Sudanese garrisons. These camps include Kit II, located near a prominent bridge on one of the tributaries of Kit river between Pageri and Juba, and a camp called Musito [Nisito]. Both camps were described by a thirty-four-year-old former abductee:
We went to Kit II, near Juba. It is about twenty-five kilometers north of Zabular. There were about four brigades [of LRA] there, about 6,500 people. The camp was very large, and some were taken to Nisito, where the sick were kept. Those are the LRA camps I know: Kit II and Nisito. The main supplies always came from Juba, but the main base is Kit II. Kony was staying at Kit II when I was there. The Arabs had a camp about two kilometers away. The Arabs brought uniforms and ammunition, which they exchanged for marijuana. I stayed at Kit II for eight months. We of older age were just used to dig in the gardens like slaves. We were not used as soldiers.
A seventeen-year-old girl who had spent two years in LRA captivity gave a similar picture of the Biroka camp in which she stayed, which has since been attacked and dispersed by the SPLA and Uganda People's Defense Force:
In Sudan, we went to a place called Biroka, which was an LRA camp. It is near a place called Pageo, but the rebels are no longer there. The UPDF fought against the rebels together with the Dinka [SPLA] at the end of October 1995 and closed the Biroka camp. From Biroka, we went to a camp called Pajok, which is near the junction of the road to Juba and Torit. There were very many people at Pajok, probably 6,000 with all the children. The Sudanese army camp is just nearby, less than one hundred yards away.
Another camp, located approximately forty-seven miles south of Juba, was called Aru, but was disbanded by a combined UPDF/SPLA attack on April 9-10, 1997. Again, former abductees described the proximity of the Aru camp to a Sudanese garrison:
In Sudan, we went to Aru. Aru was next to the main road and there are many trees and grasses. There are many hills in the distance, and one nearby. It is on a slope, and the camp is on a very large area. The children were uncountable. The Arabs were less than a mile away, and there were about ten Arab defense positions near the camp. In April, we were attacked by the NRA [sic, referring to the UPDF]. They scattered the whole camp, even the Arabs. The rebels at first pushed back the NRA, but then they came with big bombs and we were forced to run away. Many people died and we were scattered all over, but Kony communicated by radio and gathered us together. From there, we walked for two days to Jebellin. We were divided in two, some in Jebellin and others to Nisito.
One of the main activities of the LRA was to fight against the SPLA, suggesting that one reason for Sudanese support for the LRA is to use the LRA to fight the SPLA. One young former abductee said:
After the training, we were given guns and right away went to fight the SPLA. We fought many times against the SPLA, especially laying ambushes for the SPLA. We would wait along the road for the SPLA to collect the food which was brought from Uganda and then attack them. Kony told us that the Ugandan government is assisting the SPLA. We often fought the SPLA and UPDF together.
This was confirmed by other abductees, including a thirteen-year-old:
We fought many times against the SPLA. We would go for raids and fight the SPLA. If you remain behind, you do not get food. Many times, when we went to raid the SPLA would fight us. The SPLA has mambas [armored personnel carriers]. We would get defeated most of the time because the SPLA is very tough. Sometimes, we would lay ambushes for them.
According to the testimonies of former abductees, the UPDF repeatedly entered Sudanese territory to attack LRA camps inside Sudan. For example, former abductees told Human Rights Watch that the UPDF had attacked the LRA camp at Palataka, on the east bank of the White Nile south of Juba, in late 1996 or early 1997, dispersing the population of the camp and causing many casualties among the children.
Sudan's own actions betray its support for the LRA. After the mass abductions from St. Mary's School for girls in Aboke, Uganda, the Sudanese government permitted a Ugandan delegation which included the deputy headmistress of St. Mary's School and a representative of the Concerned Parents Association of Aboke to visit three LRA camps (which it said were refugee camps) in June 1997. According to an abductees who had been at one of the camps during the delegation's visit:
When Sister Rachele [of St. Mary's School] came, we were told to go hide in the bush. Some of those who tried to talk to her were later killed. I remember one girl who was put in front of a firing squad for talking to the nun.
This confirms earlier reports that two captive girls who spoke to members of the visiting delegation were killed soon thereafter.
The circumstances surrounding the March 30, 1998 repatriation of fourteen Ugandan children and three adults from Sudan to Uganda, which was facilitated by UNICEF, further show the existence of the LRA camps in Sudan and the Sudan government's cooperation with the LRA. All seventeen were abducted by the LRA in Uganda and managed to escape LRA captivity in Sudan and find refuge at the UNICEF offices in Juba. They were repatriated to Uganda through Khartoum. Human Rights Watch interviewed two of the repatriated children . One said he escaped from Jebellin camp but was caught and imprisoned in a Sudanese jail by Sudan government soldiers in Juba, from where he was later escorted by a prison guard directly back to the LRA camp. The boy managed to escape again and this time made it to the UNICEF office in Juba. The other LRA escapees in jail with him may remain in captivity in Sudanese prisons.
The Sudan government handed over an additional three abducted Ugandan children to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, during his visit to Khartoum in June 1998. The government has pledged to assist with ongoing efforts to obtain the release of children abducted by the LRA. Its efforts so far are negligible. Several thousand abducted Ugandan children are still in LRA captivity, most of them inside Sudan.
Without the active support of Sudan, it would be much more difficult for the LRA to continue its abusive campaign. Sudan not only grants sanctuary to the LRA: it actively supports and collaborates with the LRA by providing them with weapons and food, basing military detachments near LRA camps, working with the LRA in military maneuvers, and even returning escaped captives to LRA camps. These abuses of Ugandan children cannot be justified by the fact that Uganda supports the SPLA; if it wants to engage in tit-for-tat, the Sudan government must find a way to do so that does not trample the rights of children.
Human Rights Watch