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29 September 2022
North-Eastern Uganda’s Karamoja region has been riddled with conflict for decades. Clashes between the mainly pastoralists communities, who are mainly dependent on cattle farming, and cattle rustlers have led to injuries and deaths.
A government-led disarmament campaign in the region has added to the insecurity, with civilians facing increasingly violent encounters with soldiers. This has led to feelings of immense mistrust between residents and the military.
Lokong Lobatio was with a group of friends, when their encounter with members of the country’s armed forces turned deadly.
“Four soldiers followed us to the grass thatched house/hut from the western side of the road,” Lobatio,30, said. “The armed soldiers ordered us to get out of the hut, and led us northwards, a short distance away walking in a line, then ordered us to sit down on the Western part of the road, stretching our legs and facing Eastern direction. After a short moment, they began shooting. One young man died on the spot. He was my nephew called Lokong Emed. The soldiers took off after the shooting.”
The group raised the alarm and other civilians found them at the scene, Labatio said. Later, different soldiers arrived and arrested one of the survivors, leaving him with his sister and the body of his nephew.
The community of Nadomeo Village was unhappy with the army’s handling of the issue. Joseph Logira, a local council official of the village, said the State’s disarmament campaign was actually putting more civilians in danger. He said any disarmament campaign should put people first.
“The Government is the one killing these people,” Logira said.
To find common ground between the communities and security forces, the UN Human Rights Office in Uganda established the Karamoja Regional Protection Meeting. The meeting is a forum where different groups involved in protection and security issues in the region can discuss concerns and assess human rights issues. It brings together the different parties involved including the police, the military (Uganda’s Peoples Defense Force), Uganda Police Force, other UN agencies, civil society, and the communities. The meeting is held quarterly and there have been 47 so far since its start in 2010.
The forum is a safe space for dialogue on human rights concerns and efforts at ensuring accountability, said Robert Kotchani, UN Human Rights representative in Uganda
“The meeting reveals cases of human rights violations attributable to the UPDF, to the police, to anti-stock theft units and others,” he said.
The meetings have also helped security forces learn more about their own protection and human rights obligations, said Moses Akena, Assistant Superintendent of Police in Kotido in the Karamoja region.
“It enlightened our personnel on the protection and promotion of human rights and assisted in bridging the gap between our stakeholders and ourselves as we perform our duties,” he said.
The meetings also address human rights violations such as arbitrary killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as torture, ill-treatment, and deprivation of property. Logira said such a concerted effort between the government forces and the community are necessary to address insecurity in the region.
“The soldiers and the civilians should work together to stop the killings,” he said.
“Meetings should be held to advise both soldiers and civilians on how to live in peace.”
The meetings have had some successes. For example, in response to allegations of human rights violations, the Uganda security agencies have taken disciplinary actions against perpetrators within its ranks, including prosecutions in court. In another example, discussions during the meetings has led to the release of more than 500 people who had been detained during security force sweeps.
Learn more about how UN Human Rights assists on peace and security issues in northern-eastern Uganda in the video below.