/ 21 December 2009

UN decries ‘brutality’ of Uganda’s LRA rebels

The United Nations human rights chief has called for the elusive leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) be brought to justice for crimes against humanity after two new reports on Monday catalogued an orgy of killings and torture.

In two reports, Navi Pillay urged countries to bring LRA leaders to the International Criminal Court (ICC) after about 1 300 civilians were butchered in dozens of attacks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) until June.

The reports documented harrowing accounts of often ”carefully synchronised” attacks on villages where civilians were slaughtered with a variety of balded weapons or guns, mutilated, tortured and raped.

At least 1 400 people, including 600 women and children, were also abducted in DRC alone, to serve as sex slaves or porters, said the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

”These attacks and systematic and widespread human rights violations carried out by the LRA … may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Pillay’s report on DRC said, echoing a similar statement on crimes against humanity in her report on Sudan.

”The international community, including governments in the region, should cooperate with the International Criminal Court to search for, arrest and surrender the LRA leaders accused of crimes against humanity,” the report said.

The LRA guerrilla group first appeared in northern Uganda in 1988.

LRA chief Joseph Kony and two other leaders are wanted by the ICC since 2005 on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to the UN rights office.

The reports said that about 230 000 people fled the attacks in DRC’s northern Orientale province, as well as another 38 000 in south Sudan.

In southern Sudan’s Western and Central Equatoria states, close to the border with DRC, at least 81 civilians were killed and many more wounded, raped or abducted between December 2008 and March 2009, the report said.

”The brutality employed during the attacks was consistent, deliberate and egregious,” it said, saying they ”may amount to crimes against humanity”.

Witnesses told UN investigators that the LRA operated in groups of five to 20, armed with a variety of bladed weapons, axes, clubs and spears, as well as AK-47 assault rifles and machine guns.

The report said that in attacks on two villages ”attackers used pangas, axes, bayonets, hoes and knives on the majority of victims”.

”They reserved their firearms for those who attempted to escape,” it added.

One witness reported discovering the mutilated body of a neighbour.

”The villager’s leg had been chopped off, his jaws had been dislocated and his teeth had been pulled out,” it said.

A similar but more extensive pattern was reported between September 2008 and June 2009 in DRC.

Women and girls were raped before being killed, and many of those seized were subjected to sexual slavery, forced to marry LRA members and act as porters for the rebel group, according to the report. — AFP