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Letter to Ugandan Minister of Justice Regarding Abducted Child

Hon. Kiddhu Makubuya

Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs

Kampala, Uganda

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch writes to urge the Ugandan government to honor its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict by ensuring the rehabilitation and reintegration of Bushobozi Irumba, who was abducted at nine years of age by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). He now faces charges of treason in a case to be heard on January 8. Withdrawing the charges against him would be consistent with that obligation to facilitate his reintegration into society.

According to information received by Human Rights Watch, Bushobozi Irumba, from Kikonda village, Kibale district, was abducted by the ADF in 2000 and was required to provide transport and other services to ADF combatants. He claims not to have carried a weapon. Ugandan army soldiers arrested him during combat at an ADF camp in Bundibugyo in 2006, when he was 15 years old. He had been wounded. He was held first in Mbarara barracks and then spent over a year in Mbuya Military Hospital.

Charged with treason at the Buganda Road Court (Case number BUGCO-2198-07), Bushobozi Irumba is accused of having "contrived a plot to overthrow the government of Uganda by force of arms" - contravention of Section 23 (1) C and D of the Penal Code Act. He was released on bail on October 15, 2008, appeared in court on December 9, and is due in court again on January 8, 2009.

Throughout Bushobozi Irumba's lengthy detention, Uganda has not complied with international juvenile justice standards that provide for children to be treated consistent with their unique vulnerability, capacity for rehabilitation, and lower degree of culpability Uganda should not compound these violations by prosecuting Bushobozi Irumba before a court that is not equipped to meet juvenile justice standards, such as are set out in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which Uganda is a party, prohibits the forced recruitment of anyone under age 18 or their use in hostilities by both governmental and nongovernmental armed groups. It also 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)

Given the January 8 hearing set for Bushobozi Irumba's case, we ask you to act urgently to see that the Ugandan government meets its obligations under international law to provide appropriate assistance for the rehabilitation of this child and his reintegration into society.

We also raise our concern that the government failed to properly treat Bushobozi Irumba as a child in detention in violation of Uganda's legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and international juvenile justice standards. International standards allow for detention of juveniles only as a last resort and require prompt determination of juvenile cases; however, Bushobozi Irumba was detained for more than a year before being charged with an offense.

With many thanks for your attention to this pressing matter and good wishes for the New Year.

Georgette Gagnon

Africa Director

Human Rights Watch

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