February 19, 2003

Mrs. Janat Mukwaya

Minister of Justice

Government of Uganda

Parliament Building

P.O. Box 7183, Kampala

Uganda


Fax: 256 41 230 802

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch is concerned about the Government of Uganda's bringing charges of treason against two boys, ages fourteen and sixteen, who were forcibly abducted into the Lord's Resistance Army and are currently released on bail pending their hearing. We urge you to immediately drop the treason charges against these boys, and to assist them in their rehabilitation.

According to documents received by Human Rights Watch, the two boys, fourteen-year old I.G.*, from Padiga Metu Parish, and sixteen-year old O.D.*, from Pukile Amuru Division, were charged with treason in late 2002 in criminal cases JA004 and JA006 respectively. After their initial court hearing on January 31 was postponed, they are now due to return to court on February 20, 2003.

A representative of Human Rights Watch met with both boys on February 6, 2003. According to their testimony, the two -like thousands of other children in Northern Uganda- were forcibly abducted by the LRA and forced to fight against the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF). Both reported to Human Rights Watch that they voluntarily surrendered to the UPDF and have not been told the basis for the treason charges against them.

Treason is a capital offense under Ugandan law, although the death penalty may not be imposed upon those below the age of eighteen at the time of the offense (Trial on Indictments Decree 26 of 1971, Section 104(1).) Nevertheless, treason is a serious charge and should not be imposed against children. Children are inherently different from adults, and lack an adult's maturity and judgment. In the context of the Northern Uganda conflict, where children are routinely forcibly abducted, severely brutalized and compelled to participate in acts of violence, they are rarely autonomous actors.

Human Rights Watch notes that I.C. and O.D. may qualify for amnesty under the Amnesty Act of 2000, and further notes that under the principles of international humanitarian law, it is recommended that authorities grant the broadest possible amnesty to persons who have participated in armed conflict.

Uganda is also a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The protocol prohibits the forced recruitment of children or their use in hostilities by both governmental and non-governmental armed groups. It obliges states parties to "take all feasible measures to ensure that persons within their jurisdiction recruited or used in hostilities contrary to the present Protocol are demobilized or otherwise released from service. States Parties shall, when necessary, accord to such persons all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration." (Article 6)

The imposition of treason charges runs contrary to Uganda's obligations under the protocol. In addition, the charge of treason in these cases appear to be arbitrarily imposed, since thousands of children with similar experiences have not been similarly charged, and have been able to receive rehabilitation assistance and to return to their communities.

Human Rights Watch urges that the government of Uganda:

  • Immediately drop treason charges against Igama Charles and Oyoo David;
  • Release them to World Vision or GUSCO, to enable both boys to receive rehabilitation and reintegration assistance.
  • Issue public statements that children will not be subject to treason charges, and ensure that such statements are broadly disseminated throughout Northern Uganda.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Lois Whitman

Executive Director

* Names of the boys are withheld because of their status as children and to protect their privacy.