April 7, 2003
President Yoweri Museveni
Dear Mr. President,
Human Rights Watch is writing to express our serious concern about the widespread killings of civilians and other abuses being committed in the areas controlled by the Uganda military (UPDF) in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We therefore urge you to ensure that your military forces and those of all your allies in Ituri respect international humanitarian law and protect civilian lives.
The recent killings of civilians in the Drodro, Blukwa and Largo areas on April 3, 2003 is the latest in a pattern of killings and other serious human rights abuses that have taken place in Ituri. The Drodro attacks allegedly included Lendu militias, and may also have included elements of the UPDF who attacked the remnants of the Union des Patriots Congolese (UPC) which are Hema forces in the Drodro and Blukwa areas. This military operation apparently degenerated into attacks against civilians, targeting primarily Hema; hundreds were reportedly killed.
This recent massacre is not an isolated incident. According to Human Rights Watch research recently conducted in the region, at least 4,000 people have lost their lives in ethnic killings over the past 8 months. This has included massacres against civilians from the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups, as well as others, by a range of armed groups including the UPC's Hema militias and Lendu and Ngiti militias. Uganda's volatile sponsorship of all these groups has enflamed the situation; after initially supporting the UPC, Uganda switched allegiance to the Front for Peace and Integration in Ituri (FIPI) made up of Lendu, Alur and dissatisfied Hema.
As a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocol I, Uganda has the responsibility to prevent violations of international humanitarian law by its own troops as well as forces over whom it exercises effective control. The Ugandans currently have a close relationship with the Lendu militias and others from the FIPI coalition, reportedly having armed and trained these groups. Uganda should use its influence to insist that these groups immediately cease violations of international humanitarian law. Furthermore, no military assistance should be provided to armed groups or commanders with a known record of human rights abuses. The massacres and other serious human rights abuses carried out by both the Lendu and UPC militias, documented in a number of independent human rights reports as well as United Nations reports, should preclude any military assistance by the Ugandans or any other military force.
As an Occupying Power in Ituri, the Ugandan army has a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety in the territory under your authority. This means using the UPDF to secure public order in Ituri and to leave no security vacuum that might give rise to reprisals and revenge killings. It is therefore Uganda's responsibility to ensure security in Drodro and Blukwa and elsewhere under Ugandan control and to prevent civilian killings. The UPDF must proactively defend vulnerable populations, both Hema and Lendu.
Ituri is a humanitarian catastrophe with over 500,000 people displaced from their homes most of whom do not currently have access to humanitarian assistance. Under the Geneva conventions, Uganda has a responsibility to provide secure and unimpeded access for humanitarian agencies to vulnerable populations and to respect the independence and impartiality of humanitarian personnel. We therefore urge the Ugandan government to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to go to areas outside of the town of Bunia and that roads north and south are opened for access to populations in need. Any restrictions of movement should not be excessive in impact or duration, should be subject to regular review and should be imposed only when it is absolutely necessary.
Human Rights Watch urges you to immediately take the following actions:
1. Give clear instructions to your commanders and to those armed groups in Ituri over whom Uganda exercises effective control, specifically the Lendu militias and other FIPI elements, to respect fully the provisions of international humanitarian law. In particular, the absolute prohibition on launching attacks against civilians, the duty to provide security for civilians in the territory you or your proxy forces occupy and the duty to prove and allow access to humanitarian supplies and services.
2. Launch investigations into any violations of international humanitarian law that may have been committed by your troops or those of your allies in Ituri since 1999, including the recent Drodro massacre and the attacks on Bunia on 6 March 2003 and 9 August 2002 and hold those responsible accountable.
3. Allow full access to independent human rights investigators looking into the allegations of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
Human Rights Watch will continue to closely monitor the situation in Ituri and to bring to public attention our concerns. We appreciate your attention to these important matters.
Alison Des Forges
cc: Minister of Defense, Amama Mbabazi
Brigadier Kale Kayihura, Commander of UPDF forces in Ituri