/ 30 November 2007

Amnesty: Uganda is failing war’s rape victims

Courts in Uganda’s war-ravaged north are tacitly condoning rape and other sexual abuses against women and girls, even protecting rapists from prosecution, rights group Amnesty International said on Friday.

Sexual abuses against women have become commonplace in northern Uganda during two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced two million into squalid camps.

”Amnesty International today [Friday] accused the criminal justice system in northern Uganda of ignoring, denying and tacitly condoning violence against women and girls, while it protects suspected perpetrators,” the group said in a statement.

The Lord’s Resistance Army rebels are notorious for raiding schools and abducting girls and forcing them to become ”wives” of rebel commanders, while boys are forced to fight.

Aid agencies say Uganda’s congested refugee camps also leave girls vulnerable to being sexually molested by security forces.

Most victims of sexual violence in northern Uganda do not report it because they lose hope in the justice system.

”The utter lack of justice faced by women and girls who are the victims of sexual violence requires the immediate attention of the Ugandan government,” said Godfrey Odongo, Amnesty International’s researcher in Kampala.

The group said it visited five districts in northern Uganda and spoke to scores of women, discovering a ”culture of impunity” surrounding cases of rape and sexual violence.

”Violence against women and girls reported to Amnesty International researchers includes rape, child sexual abuse and physical assault — especially in camps for the displaced, where most of the population of northern Uganda still live,” the group said.

Amnesty said the army and other government security forces often perpetrated the violence, making it especially hard to report the crimes.

”The horrific violence committed during the … conflict … continues to aggravate discrimination against women and girls,” it said. ”The justice system … in northern Uganda is grossly inadequate in ensuring [their] protection.” — Reuters