(New York, January 6, 2009) - Human Rights Watch today asked the Ugandan government to honor its international obligations to rehabilitate child soldiers in the case of Bushobozi Irumba, who was abducted by the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) rebel forces at the age of 9. Arrested at the age of 15, Bushobozi was charged with treason and is due to face a court in Uganda on January 8, 2009. Withdrawing charges against Bushobozi would be consistent with Ugandan obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Bushobozi was abducted in 2000 by rebel forces and was required to provide transport and other services to ADF combatants. He was taken into custody by Ugandan army soldiers during fighting at a rebel camp in Bundibugyo in 2006. Wounded by crossfire, he was held first in Mbarara barracks and then spent over a year in Mbuya Military Hospital. He was charged with plotting to overthrow the government in 2007. He was released on bail on October 15, 2008.
"The Ugandan government has a great opportunity to show its commitment to the rehabilitation of a child abducted into rebel military service," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Bushobozi Irumba was a child when abducted and a child when captured, and his treatment should reflect that."
In a letter sent to the minister of justice on January 6, 2009, Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that throughout Bushobozi's lengthy detention, Uganda had 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.
The withdrawal of the treason charge against Bushobozi would be consistent with Uganda's international legal obligations. Uganda acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict on May 6, 2002. The protocol prohibits the forced recruitment of anyone under age 18 or their use in hostilities by both governmental and nongovernmental armed groups. Under the protocol, the government of Uganda is obliged to provide former child soldiers with assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.
Human Rights Watch has documented previous instances in which the government of Uganda has brought treason charges against formerly abducted child soldiers. In February 2003, Human Rights Watch wrote to the minister of justice to express concern regarding treason charges against two boys, ages 14 and 16, abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and charged with treason. The charges were dropped in April 2003.
The ADF is a Ugandan rebel movement based in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo. The Uganda army and the ADF have engaged in skirmishes along the western border of Uganda over the last decade.