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UC Berkeley Press Release

Damning report on Uganda war crimes

– A report released today (Friday, June 15) by the University of California, Berkeley, and Tulane University provides hard data on forced conscription into the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group accused of kidnapping tens of thousands of women and children to serve as soldiers, servants or sex slaves in northern Uganda.

Uganda child
A boy soldier in the Lord's Resistance Army (Thomas W. Morley, Exile Images)

The report documents rising violence in the 20-year-long conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Ugandan government forces, which have been negotiating a ceasefire. Data was collected from rehabilitation centers in the war-torn, eastern African republic by members of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative for Vulnerable Populations. The group is made up of faculty and researchers from UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center and Tulane University's Payson Center for International Development.

The International Criminal Court, a permanent tribunal that prosecutes individuals for war crimes and handles situations referred to it by the United Nations Security Council, has issued indictments against LRA leader Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, and four other commanders. The Berkeley-Tulane report, "Abduction: The Lord's Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda," could be made available to the court's Office of the Prosecutor if the rebel leaders are brought to trial, the researchers said.

"Our research shows that Kony and his henchmen abducted as many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults into his rebel army over the past 11 years," said Eric Stover, coauthor of the report and faculty director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "These conscripted civilians were forced to commit horrible crimes, including the mutilation and killing of fellow villagers and even family members."

Stover and Tulane coauthors Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck presented their findings today at a press conference at 10:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. PDT) in Gulu, Uganda. The event, hosted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), marks the International Day of the African Child.

"One of our most alarming findings is that young women between the ages of 19 and 30 were held the longest in rebel captivity, averaging about four and a half years," said Pham, assistant professor at the Payson Center for International Development. "Many, if not most, of these women were forced to serve as 'wives' and domestic servants to top rebel commanders."

Among the report's findings:

  • As many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army since 1986.
  • Nearly one in four of the abductees is female and, on average, women remain enslaved by the LRA three and a half years longer than men.
  • Young women are often used by LRA commanders as "wives," and up to 10 percent become pregnant while in captivity, contributing to the length of their stay.
  • In some LRA-occupied regions, as many as 10 percent of the inhabitants were abducted. While some eventually returned to their communities, others died in captivity.

"Many of these children and adults are still unaccounted for, and more work is needed to identify the whereabouts of those still missing," said Vinck, director of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative.

Kony formed the Lord's Resistance Army after the 1986 overthrow of Ugandan president Tito Okello. His guerilla army operates mainly in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center has undertaken two research projects in northern Uganda in recent years - one on the impact of the war on children and youth, and the other on attitudes toward peace and justice in the region. For this latest report on forced conscription, the center joined forces with Tulane University researchers trained in epidemiology and development "to expand our capacity for data collection and analysis," said Camille Crittenden, executive director of the UC Berkeley center.

Much of the data for the report came from reception centers for former child soldiers and other abductees in northern Uganda. These centers were established in the 1990s to rehabilitate children who had escaped the LRA or were captured by the Ugandan army. In addition to collecting and analyzing data from the centers, the research team helped the centers improve their capacity to amass and study data on LRA escapees. The centers can now provide a more accurate picture of the escapees' experiences and needs as they reintegrate into their communities.

The report recommends that UNICEF and other international and national child welfare organizations develop community-based programs to help former child soldiers in northern Uganda and other war-torn countries recover from abuse and trauma, and establish livelihoods. Such programs would offer educational and career opportunities, including job and leadership training.

It also proposes that the United Nations establish a standardized system for collecting and analyzing data on former child soldiers and missing people for rehabilitation centers and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs. A systematic collection of data on child soldiers would reveal patterns of abduction and captivity that can be helpful to commissions, tribunals and criminal courts that investigate or prosecute war crimes, including the forced conscription of children, Stover said.