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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July 2003, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Uganda army in 'rights abuses'
By Will Ross
BBC, Kampala, Uganda

Uganda troops
The Ugandan president has admitted the army is not made up of angels
The Ugandan army has been accused of carrying out severe human rights abuses on the civilian population in the north of the country.

A report by a group of human rights organisations says the atrocities of the rebels of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) on the civilian population are well documented.

But it says the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) and officials of other government-related military security agencies have committed multiple abuses including summary execution, torture, rape and child recruitment.

The report - entitled "Abducted and Abused: Renewed Conflict in Northern Uganda" - paints a grim picture of the lives of civilians in northern Uganda.

There are two young girls who were returning from the garden and they found soldiers who intercepted and raped them. Both were tested for HIV and the result was positive
Samuel Tindifa
Makerere University
"There are two young girls, one 12 years old and the other 17, who were returning from the garden and they found soldiers who intercepted and raped them," says Samuel Tindifa, the director of the human rights and peace centre at Makerere University, which contributed to the report.

"Both girls were tested for HIV and the result was positive".

The report concludes that the presence of Ugandan soldiers has increased the HIV-Aids infection rate in the north of the country.

Data proves that while in general Uganda has taken great strides in tackling the Aids pandemic, with government claiming the HIV infection rate is around 6%, in northern Uganda the rates are higher.

When I visited Kitgum District hospital recently I learnt that 9% of pregnant mothers are HIV-positive, while 29% of people who voluntarily get tested are HIV-positive.

'Torture rampant'

The report also alleges that, often against their will, former LRA child soldiers are recruited into the Ugandan army.

It cites an example of one boy who was badly tortured under interrogation by the Ugandan army about his LRA activities.

The report says when asked if he wanted to join the army he was threatened: "If not you will stay in this prison forever."

The report also claims the UPDF arrests civilians on suspicion of rebel collaboration with little or no evidence and alleges the torture and ill treatment of suspects has been rampant.

In response to the report, the Ugandan army spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, commented: "I am not saying that no Ugandan soldier can kill a civilian."

But he called on human rights organisations to come up with detailed allegations that can then be followed up rather than accusations which he described as "rain in the desert".

'Hidden agenda'

The army spokesman accused the New York-based Human Rights Watch of relying on information from organisations and individuals whose reliability and credibility are questionable.

He accused Human Rights Focus, an organisation based in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu, of having a hidden agenda and not reflecting the real situation on the ground.

It does not come as a surprise that the government would dismiss it as impartial information
Jeffrey Scott
Human Rights Watch
Jeffrey Scott, of Human Rights Watch, defended his organisation's method of research.

"Our information is very carefully gathered based on first hand information that is very carefully cross checked and collaborated and, frankly, it does not come as a surprise that the government would dismiss it as impartial information," says Mr Scott.

This is not the first time the Ugandan army has come under heavy criticism for its behaviour.

The Ugandan president has admitted that the army is not entirely made up of angels.

But the report challenges the government to investigate these claims and to improve its human rights record.

What this report underlines is the multiple suffering that the civilian population is facing during this war and the urgent need to end it.




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