In a 10-month rampage of killings, rape and mutilation in neighbouring countries that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the rebel Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has killed some 1,300 civilians, abducted 1,400 more, including hundreds of children and women, and displaced nearly 300,000 others, the United Nations reported today.
The dozens of attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan by the LRA, notorious for two decades of murderous rampages in its homeland, were detailed in two joint reports by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) respectively, both calling for international action to help halt the slaughter and bring those accountable to trial.
“The brutality employed during the attacks was consistent, deliberate and egregious,” the report on Sudan said, stressing that machetes, axes, knives and hoes were often the preferred weapon and even babies were killed. It cited gruesome witness accounts, including that of a man who “reported discovering the mutilated body of a fellow villager. The villager’s leg had been chopped off, his jaws had been dislocated and his teeth had been pulled out,” it added.
In DRC, where the LRA killed at least 1,200 people, abducted 1,400 and displaced some 230,000 others, dozens of attacks on towns and villages in Orientale province from September 2008 to June 2009, involved mutilations, torture and multiple rapes. Women and girls were often raped before being killed, and many of those who were abducted “were forced to marry LRA members, subjected to sexual slavery, or both,” the report on the DRC said.
People who helped bury the dead in the town of Batande testified to UN human rights staff that a dozen women had been found “their hands tied, clothes torn and legs apart.” In the most devastating wave of synchronized attacks over a period of 24 hours on Christmas Day 2008, in two clusters of locations some 400 kilometres apart, two groups of between 100 and 150 LRA fighters killed at least 477 civilians and abducted hundreds of others.
The LRA was formed in the late 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels, who then exported their rampage to Uganda’s neighbours. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for LRA Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Kony, and other senior officers on 33 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Christmas massacre followed a MONUC-supported joint military involving the Congolese army (FARDC), Ugandan and Sudanese troops, and the report noted that the terror inflicted by the LRA was compounded by FARDC troops. “Displaced persons were also subjected to harassment, extortion, rape and summary executions committed by the Congolese security forces,” it said, adding that camps sheltering displaced people were also attacked by the LRA, causing further displacement.
The report urges the Congolese Government and its foreign military allies to “conduct a realistic assessment of their capacities to defend and protect civilian populations” and, with assistance from the international community, to implement “a military operation that takes into account the duty to protect civilians.”
It calls on the world community to “assist the DRC to establish a vetting system to improve the quality of its security forces and their ability to protect civilians” and to “cooperate with the ICC in investigating, arresting, and transferring all LRA leaders accused of international crimes.”
According to the report on Sudan, covering the period between December 2008 and March this year, at least 81 civilians were killed, with many others injured, mutilated, raped and abducted, including women and at least 18 children forced to work as child soldiers, sex slaves, porters and spies.
Villages were pillaged, often partly or entirely destroyed, and than 38,000 people were reported to have been displaced within southern Sudan’s Western and Central Equatoria states, near the border with the DRC. LRA groups entered southern Sudan and neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR), after December’s joint offensive against them in DRC, and a further 17,000 people fled into Sudan.
In southern Sudan, numerous witnesses described to UN investigators how the LRA is operating in groups of between five and 20 individuals armed with “bladed weapons” – including machetes, axes, bayonets, knives, hoes, clubs and spears – as well as AK–47 automatic rifles and machine guns.
“In many attacks, they preferred the use of bladed weapons over firearms,” the report said, citing the example of attacks on two villages where “attackers used pangas [machetes], axes, bayonets, hoes and knives on the majority of the victims. They reserved their firearms for those who attempted to escape.”
The LRA attackers “targeted civilians, killing many and causing serious injury without regard for sex, age or ethnicity,” it added, noting that even babies were killed.
The report calls on the international community, including regional governments, to cooperate with the ICC to search for, arrest and hand over the accused LRA leaders. It recommends that UNMIS exercise its protection of civilians mandate to prevent further loss of life and continue monitoring the situation. It also calls on the Government of Southern Sudan to take steps to tackle LRA crimes, as well as to devote adequate resources to ensure effective judicial processes to bring perpetrators to justice.