Could the US Prosecute Ugandan Military Officials for Using Child Soldiers?
The Daily Monitor Online, the web presence of one of Uganda’s leading independent newspapers, has an interesting article today suggesting that the newly-enacted Child Soldiers Accountabilty Act could be used against senior officials in the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) — the armed forces of Uganda — if they traveled to the US:
While no senior officer in the UPDF has hitherto been charged over the use of child soldiers in any court, international or local, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his 2003 -2006 reports to the Security Council, cited the LRA, UPDF, and local defence as groups that have violated the international law prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Mr Annan told the Security Council that more than 1,000 children were mobilised into local defence units in Kitgum, Pader and parts of Teso region in 2004, and as of late 2007 had not been released.
Already, at least one senior UPDF officer is believed to have been banned from traveling to the United States over the UPDF’s role in the plunder of mineral resources from the DR Congo in the late 1990s.
Daily Monitor could not reach Defence Minister, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, or the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima for comment on the latest developments as their known telephones were switched off. However, Defence State Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said UPDF officers could not be shaken by the new law.
“We are not bothered by the new developments because no one has ascertained that we recruit child soldiers,” she said.
“These accusations are not new and we have challenged our accusers each time they make such allegations to come and we ascertain together whether there are child soldiers in our army but they have failed to show up. We challenge them once again to come and establish,” Ms Nankabirwa said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Ms Nankabirwa said the UPDF has instead been rescuing abductees who had been turned into child soldiers by the LRA and rehabilitating them.
Ms Nankabirwa has an interesting conception of “rehabilitation.” According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the UPDF is deeply involved in the child-soldier business:
Child recruitment and deployment
The UPDF continued to hold children captured from the LRA for longer than the 48-hour limit specified by UPDF regulations, and to use children for intelligence-gathering or to identify weapons caches. In 2005, children who escaped or were captured or released from the LRA were reportedly pressured by the UPDF to join their forces and fight the LRA. The Ugandan government said in March 2005 that the UPDF had never knowingly recruited a child, but admitted that age verification could be difficult and that sometimes under-18s were recruited.
Local Defence Units
The LDUs were established in the late 1990s to provide protection for IDP camps and the roads in northern Uganda. While administered and paid for by the Interior Ministry, they operated under UPDF command. Children below the age of 15 continued to serve in LDUs throughout 2007.Local government officials said that under-18s were often drawn to enlist by the promise of pay and because of a lack of alternative educational or employment opportunities. Some 1,000 children who were reported to have been enrolled into LDUs in late 2004 in Kitgum, Pader and parts of Teso had apparently not been demobilized by October 2007.
I don’t know how often UPDF officials visit the US, or how likely a US Attorney would be to arrest a UPDF official who did. But it would be deeply ironic if a UPDF official was ever prosecuted in a US court, given that the ICC has charged Joseph Kony and the other LRA leaders with (inter alia) conscripting child soldiers but ignored crimes committed by the Ugandan government. The US has already protected the ICC against its ostensible supporters; is it possible that it may soon step in and do its job, as well?