Former Child-Soldiers in Northern Uganda
The rehabilitation of former child-soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda is an issue that the FI is closely monitoring at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and at the UN Security Council in New York.
In December, Brig. Fred O. Tolit, the Military Adviser of Uganda Mission to the UN, met with FI advocates at the Ugandan Permanent Mission in New York. He shared an overview of the civil war in Uganda and his work with the country’s government to bring down LRA leader, Joseph Kony.
In the late 1980s, Kony formed the rebel group LRA and began attacking local war-weary civilians who did not respond to his call to address the grievances and marginalisation of the Acholi people in the North (an ethnic group living in the districts of Gulu in Northern Uganda).
To date, Kony and the LRA continue to fill its ranks by abducting children from ages of eight to seventeen, and using them as child soldiers. Commanders of LRA use psychological warfare and manipulate children to commit unspeakable atrocities.
In response to the inhumane conditions that the children are subject to, the Government of Uganda formed a Child Protection Unit (CPU) to help escaped and rescued survivors. The CPU is a contact point between the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in the region as well as relatives of the abductees.
FI International Advocacy Director, Francesca Restifo, inquired about the former abductees who are recruited into the UPDF for long periods of time and sometimes used as informants to gather information on the LRA. Brig. Tolit said that the lack of resources available to the UPDF, such as roads and transportation, make it difficult to safely and quickly release the survivors back into society.
He further criticised some NGOs who do rehabilitation and reintegration work as they lack the necessary skills needed to help the survivors and sometimes release them too early. For example, an eight year old boy was released too soon from a rehabilitation center and raped his sister because he did not recognize who she was.
Fr. Mike Lasky OFM Conv., who holds FI’s seat on the NGO Working Group on the Security Council in NY asked Brig. Tolit about the recent reports of LRA stirring in Northern Uganda. He replied that it would be a mistake for the LRA to return to the region; the UPDF is better prepared to capture Joseph Kony and there are no more hiding places for the rebels. He shared that Kony has no political agenda and is only fighting for survival and against capture.
The people living in areas affected by the LRA, particularly the Acholi people, have been among the most neglected populations by regional and international leaders. A lasting peace to this conflict is only possible if steps are taken to both end LRA violence and improve the Government’s governance in the region.