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UGANDA: Stop using excessive force during disarmament, govt urged

KAMPALA, 20 April 2007 (IRIN) - Uganda should review the forced disarmament of pastoralists in the northeastern Karamoja region because the army is using indiscriminate, excessive force during the controversial exercise, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.

The disarmament, OHCHR said in a report on Thursday, had been marred by torture, beatings, degrading treatment and arbitrary arrests during ‘cordon and search’ operations, despite a government review following previous allegations made last November.

"I call on the government of Uganda to respect its obligations to protect the human rights of all individuals under its jurisdiction at all times and cease the use of indiscriminate and excessive use of force against men, women and children," the High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, said in the report.

The report cites one operation against a ‘kraal’ cattle camp in Lokitelaebu, Kotido District, on 12 February that left 34 Karamojong pastoralists dead, including 16 children. It rejected controversial findings from NGO Save the Children that Ugandan soldiers had been responsible for the deaths of 66 children in one operation.

"Commitments made then were in the right direction but regrettably they were not implemented," said Maarit Kohonen, OHCHR country director in Uganda. "We are still seeing indiscriminate and excessive use of force."

Asked for a comment, Uganda Army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayige angrily asked: "Do they really think we are horrible monsters happy to butcher children? We are not monsters – far from it."

The disarmament is part of a broader Ugandan government effort to remove guns from the Karamojong and end the culture of cattle-raiding and gun violence, which has left the eastern region the poorest and least developed in the country.

"[The] government has targeted the kraals rather than manyattas [homesteads] where people were living, but people are increasingly moving to kraals because they don’t see the manyattas as safe," Kohonen said. "So they are continuing to be killed."

While the military leadership had a much improved relationship with the local population, she added, lives were continuing to be lost. There was therefore a need to shift from a military to a criminal justice solution to cattle raiding.

"The first line of response should not be a military response. These are criminal elements and so people should be arrested and brought to trial," Kohonen noted. "We also need to look at the situation more comprehensively – there are no institutions of protection there for the people," she added, referring to the fear that many Karamojong have that they will be vulnerable to raids by other groups if they give up their weapons.

Kulayige said soldiers would be court martialled if they were found to have broken the army code of conduct. The problem of cattle-raiding, he insisted however, was too urgent and serious for the army to let up, and the best way to deal with it was to target manyattas known to keep guns, and launch dawn raids with local leaders acting as intermediaries.

"The UN is talking about a 10-year programme, but when people are constantly being raided and killed how can we wait that long?" Kulayige said. "These operations are intelligence-led. We only cordon off an area when we hear there are guns there."

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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