Findings in a report by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) indicate the Ugandan Army UPDF has committed numerous human rights violations during the ongoing disarmament operations in Karamoja.
According to the UHRC report, their findings are based on 83 complaints of alleged human rights violations filed with the commission since the time when disarmament operations were launched across Karamoja Sub-region in 2021. A
The findings by UHRC indicate that 58 complaints against security involving allegations of torture were received, with 39 alleged violations of the right o personal liberty, 13 allegations of murder, 07 complaints of alleged theft, while 04 complaints involve alleged violation of the right to security of a person.
The report followed investigations into recent media reports of juveniles from Karamoja Sub-Region who were allegedly starved while they were detained at Gulu Remand Home. It was presented to the parliamentary committee on Human Rights by UHRC Commissioners on Thursday 20 April 2023, led by its chairperson Mariam Wangadya.
The UHRC report highlights the cordon and search operations by the UPDF and Uganda Police Force on 24 September 2022, in which over 300 hundred persons including children were arrested in Lobanya and Lotanyat farming areas in Kapeta Sub County, Kotido District.
The children who were 21 in number were first detained in Kotido and later taken to Gulu Remand Home in the distant Acholi Sub-region where they experienced untold suffering. In detention, the children testified how they were used to be taken to dig for long hours, fed on little food leading to malnutrition while one child by the name of Lokomolo Lomiat unfortunately died in custody.
During the course of their investigations, UHRC found out that the juveniles from Karamoja were fed on little food and forced to drink a lot of water, and most of whom suffered from malnuitrition due to the insufficient food. They were also taken to dig for long hours in the Shamba even when they were too weak and beaten with bamboo sticks when they failed to dig as required.
The findings also showed the children were detained with adults in Kotido before they were transferred to Gulu Remand Home which is a violation of children’s rights. More so, they were not able to get proper medical treatment at the Remand Home Clinic in Gulu.
The resurgence of insecurity in Karamoja Sub-region in 2021 led to a launch of the 3rd phase of disarmament starting on July 2021 which has yielded positive results the human rights violations withstanding.
According to the report, the security situation on roads in the northern part of Karamoja (Kotido, Kaabong, Abim and Karenga) has improved with no incidents of ambush or shooting reported for a period of January 2023 to date. However, the southern part especially between Lokapel junction and Nabilatuk recently had isolated attacks on motorists by suspected warriors. Cattle raids on the other hand have continued across the Karamoja Sub-region -according to UHRC with most incidents reported in Karenga and Abim Districts.
In their report, the UHRC recommends that the UPDF in Karamoja should work with probation officers in the sub-region on the management and care of children involved in alleged possession of firearms and ammunitions.
UHRC also recommends that security agencies involved in the cordon and search operations should respect human rights in the conduct of their duties as provided in Article 221 of the Constitution and guided by the standard operation procedures; errant officers found culpable for violations of human rights should be held accountable for their actions.
UHRC says it;s funding should be increased to facilitate impromptu inspections of prisons and remand homes but also the Ministry of Gender should improve allocation for remand homes to enable provision of adequate and nutritious food for children but also expedite completion of the Childrens Remand Home in Karamoja so that juveniles in conflict with the law do not have to be transported to other regions away from their homes.