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Reports confirm estimates of Uganda child atrocities

Thursday, 18 September 1977: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today new information on atrocities against children by a rebel faction in Uganda confirmed earlier UNICEF estimates that up to 10,000 children have been victimized.

"The evidence of these unspeakable acts is overwhelming," she said, following the publication earlier today of reports by Amnesty International in London and Human Rights Watch in New York. Both reports describe in horrifying detail how the rebels, members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), have abducted, tortured and -- in many cases -- killed thousands of mostly teenaged children.

Unable to enlist adults to their cause, the rebel commanders round up children seized during raids on villages and schools. They break the spirit of their young captives with brutal initiation rites such as forcing them to murder other children with axes and sticks. Children have formed the backbone of the LRA since 1994.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports confirm previous UNICEF estimates that between 6,000 and 10,000 children have been kidnapped from their homes and schools in Gulu, Kitgum and other districts in northern Uganda. Many of the children are between 11 and 16 years of age when they are captured, according to Amnesty International.

Both the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch reports state categorically that the LRA receive support from the Government of the Sudan, whose armed forces allegedly provide arms, food and refuge to the Ugandan rebels. In return, the LRA forces girl and boy child soldiers to fight in the conflict in the southern Sudan, as well as putting them in the front line in engagements against the Ugandan army.

"The facts, as laid out by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are very disturbing," Ms. Bellamy said. "The Government of the Sudan should separate itself from the allegations by immediately denouncing the LRA publicly and dissociating itself from their activities in a way that will be clear to the entire international community. If the Government of the Sudan cannot bring itself to do this, then the United Nations and the international community will draw conclusions that will be extremely incriminating."

UNICEF is joining Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling on the recently appointed UN Special Representative on children and armed conflict to investigate, independently, the abuses against children by the Lord's Resistance Army, and in appealing to governments to support the draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would raise the minimum age of military recruitment from 15 to 18.

The new reports contain scores of first-hand accounts from children who have escaped captivity. They document how the children are made to serve as foot soldiers, sexual slaves and porters. Their descriptions of the brutality are stark.

"One time, a girl who was abducted tried to escape, but was caught by the rebels. The girl was brought in front of us and the rebels told us to stomp (her) to death. If we did not kill the girl we were going to be shot by guns. We prayed for that girl in our hearts, silently, and asked God to pardon us and forgive us because it was not of our will to kill her," said a 17-year-old student in the wake of the abduction of 139 girls from a school run by nuns.

Children who manage to escape are usually debriefed by the Ugandan army and then passed on to a rehabilitation centre that is supported by UNICEF and run by World Vision. UNICEF is assisting local government authorities in working with communities to gather reliable data on children who have been abducted. UNICEF has also established a coordination group, consisting of government authorities and NGOs, to improve the psychosocial support offered to children who have escaped their LRA captors, and to all children who are caught up in the conflict.

"There is never just cause for the death or torture of a child -- so why is the world silent about the abuses in northern Uganda?" Ms. Bellamy asked. "Just as there are calls for an investigation into the alleged human rights violations in the Great Lakes Region, so the international community must exercise the same conscience towards the children in Uganda and demand with one voice that every child still held by the Lord's Resistance Army be freed immediately."

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Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1997-38.

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