Four thousand children still missing in Uganda

At least 4 000 children who were among some of the tens of thousands abducted by the Ugandan rebels from the north of the country cannot be traced, a Ugandan human rights group said in a report obtained on Wednesday.

The report by Uganda Human Rights Commmission (UHRC) also accuses the government’s forces of torturing civilians in the war-ravaged region, using methods that included suspending weights on genitals for extracting information or instilling discipline.

The war is waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerillas who have displaced over 1,5-million people and abducted nearly 30 000 children and youth whom they have forced into their army.

The LRA has also forced abducted girls into sex slavery.

Many of the children had come back home after escaping from the LRA or being rescued by government forces but according to UHRC, “by the end of 2004, out of the 26 000 children abducted by the LRA, 4 000 were still unaccounted for in northern Uganda”.

UHRC says the military establishment tortured suspected civilians and soldiers in the northern region and other parts of Uganda to extract information or force a confession from them.

“In one complaint, a wife of a soldier who was around seven months pregnant was subjected to corporal punishment because she had a quarrel in the barracks with a wife of another soldier.
Five army men held the woman down while another enforced corporal punishment,” the report said.

“Other methods of torture in the war zone included rubbing eyes with red pepper to obtain an admission, beating using gun butts, fracturing of limbs, piercing of victims with bayonets, suspending weights on genitals,” it added.

This is the first report by UHRC which has launched a scathing attack against a state agency. The UHRC, a government body, was set up seven years ago to investigate cases of human rights abuses.

The report follows a recent attack on the Ugandan army by a United States rights body, Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said the military was carrying out wanton human rights abuses in northern Uganda, harrassing and torturing civilians and raping women.

The US organisation also said that over 1,5-million people displaced by the war in northern Uganda were left exposed to both the army which harrassed people and raped women and to the LRA which killed or abducted them.

The Ugandan human rights body however contradicts HRW allegations of neglect of the war-displaced saying instead that “the camps are better protected than before. Attempts to attack the camps by the LRA had all been repulsed”.

Investigating 108 alleged cases of torture by the army during the year, UHRC said other means employed included “subjecting a victim to humiliation by ordering him to hold back the foreskin of his penis for others to see, referred to as video show and ordering victims to carry jerrycans of human excreta.” - Sapa-DPA