A report released by the University of California, Berkeley, and Tulane University has found that as many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since 1986. The rebel group has been accused of kidnapping tens of thousands of women and children to serve as soldiers, servants or sex slaves in northern Uganda.
The Berkeley-Tulane report, “Abduction: The Lord’s Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda,” says that nearly one in four of the abductees is female and, on average, women remain enslaved by the LRA three and a half years longer than men. Young women are often used by LRA commanders as “wives,” and up to 10 percent become pregnant while in captivity, contributing to the length of their stay.
The report documents rising violence in the 20-year-long conflict between the LRA and Ugandan government forces, which have been negotiating a ceasefire. The International Criminal Court has issued indictments against LRA leader Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, and four other commanders and the report could be made available to the court’s Office of the Prosecutor if the rebel leaders are brought to trial, the researchers said.
“Our research shows that Kony and his henchmen abducted as many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults into his rebel army over the past 11 years,” said Eric Stover, coauthor of the report and faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. “These conscripted civilians were forced to commit horrible crimes, including the mutilation and killing of fellow villagers and even family members.”
Stover and Tulane coauthors Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck presented their findings today in Gulu, Uganda. The event, hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), marks the International Day of the African Child.
“One of our most alarming findings is that young women between the ages of 19 and 30 were held the longest in rebel captivity, averaging about four and a half years,” said Pham, assistant professor at the Payson Center for International Development. “Many, if not most, of these women were forced to serve as ‘wives’ and domestic servants to top rebel commanders.”
In some LRA-occupied regions, as many as 10 percent of the inhabitants were abducted. While some eventually returned to their communities, others died in captivity.
“Many of these children and adults are still unaccounted for, and more work is needed to identify the whereabouts of those still missing,” said Vinck, director of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative.
UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center has undertaken two research projects in northern Uganda in recent years – one on the impact of the war on children and youth, and the other on attitudes toward peace and justice in the region. For this latest report on forced conscription, the center joined forces with Tulane University researchers trained in epidemiology and development “to expand our capacity for data collection and analysis,” said Camille Crittenden, executive director of the UC Berkeley center.
The report recommends that UNICEF and other international and national child welfare organizations develop community-based programs to help former child soldiers in northern Uganda and other war-torn countries recover from abuse and trauma, and establish livelihoods. Such programs would offer educational and career opportunities, including job and leadership training.
It also proposes that the United Nations establish a standardized system for collecting and analyzing data on former child soldiers and missing people for rehabilitation centers and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs.
– Diverse Staff Reports
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