June 15, 2007
A new report released today by the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative on Vulnerable Populations, a joint project of the University of California, Berkeley, and Tulane University, provides the first hard data on the use of forced conscription by the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group operating in northern Uganda which has been accused of kidnapping tens of thousands of women and children to serve as soldiers, servants, and "wives."
Authors Phuong Pham, Patrick Vinck, and Eric Stover released the report, entitled "Abducted: The Lord's Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda," at a press conference today in Gulu, Uganda, hosted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"Our research shows that LRA leader Joseph Kony and his henchmen abducted as many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults into his rebel army over the past eleven years," said Eric Stover, a co-author of the report and Faculty Director of the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. "These civilians were forced to commit horrible crimes, including the mutilation and killing of fellow villagers and even family members."
"One of our most alarming findings is that young women between the age of 19 and 30 were held the longest in rebel captivity, averaging about four-and-a-half years," said Phuong Pham, Assistant Professor at the Payson Center for International Development, Tulane University. "Many--if not most--of these women were forced to serve as 'wives' and domestic servants to top rebel commanders."
"Many of these children and adults are still unaccounted for and more work is needed to identify the whereabouts of those still missing," said co-author Patrick Vinck, director of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is currently negotiating a peace agreement with the Ugandan government, formed after the 1986 overthrow of Ugandan president Tito Okello. LRA leader Joseph Kony is a self-proclaimed spirit medium who seeks to establish a state based on his spiritual belief system. His guerilla army operates mainly in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.
Much of the data for the report came from reception centers for former child soldiers in northern Uganda. The centers were established in the 1990s to rehabilitate children who had escaped the LRA or were captured in gun battles with Uganda soldiers. In addition to aggregating and analyzing the data from the centers, the research team helped the centers improve their capacity to collect and analyze data on former LRA returnees to provide a more accurate picture of their experiences and needs as they are re-integrated back into their communities.
The researchers recommended that the United Nations and other international and national child welfare organizations develop integrated, community-based programs aimed at improving the wellbeing of all children, including former child soldiers, in northern Uganda and other war-torn countries. Such programs should provide children and youth with educational opportunities, vocational training, meaningful jobs, and leadership training.
They also recommended that the United Nations create a standardized system for collecting and analyzing data on former child soldiers and missing people to assist the work of reception centers and Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs for child soldiers worldwide. Among other things, the analysis of aggregate data on child soldiers can reveal patterns of abduction and captivity that could be useful for commissions of inquiry and criminal courts seeking to establish the truth about war crimes, including cases of forced conscription of children.
NOTE: Contact Phuong Pham or Eric Stover by cell phone at 011-256-774-745-740. Contact Patrick Vinck at 011-256-782-741-029. An electronic file of the report is available at hrcberkeley.org.
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