The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—a rebel group fighting the government of Uganda—is estimated to have abducted over 60,000 Ugandan children and youth. Within the war-affected region of northern Uganda, the LRA has abducted one in three male adolescents and one in six female adolescents. While in captivity, thousands of abducted women and girls—most of whom are from the Acholi and Langi peoples—fought, cooked, carried supplies, fetched water, and cleaned for LRA fighters and commanders, including those who organized and carried out their abductions. Many of those abducted also served as forced wives to male members of the group, with half of them bearing children to their captor husbands.
“Forced Marriage within the Lord’s Resistance Army, Uganda” demonstrates that forced marriage includes acts codified as crimes in international customary and human rights law. These crimes include rape, sexual slavery, enforced pregnancy, forced labor, enslavement, and torture. However, the crime of forced marriage is unique from the above mentioned crimes, as it contains the element of forced conjugality.
The crime of forced marriage committed against Ugandan women and girls is not haphazard but instead methodically organized by the LRA’s top leadership. Evidence collected from former forced wives and presented in this report illustrates how forced marriages support the perpetuation of LRA cycles of raiding, looting, killing, and abduction.
As momentum builds to end this tragic episode in the history of Uganda, it is vitally important to document and analyze—as this report does—the pattern of command responsibility within the LRA for the crime of forced marriage. Within this it is important to understand the long-term physical and psychological effects and how the experiences of abducted women and girls affect their reception by families and communities as they return home and hope to realize their rights as Ugandan citizens.
These forced marriages are not recognized or binding as formal marriages by any international or Ugandan legal standard nor within northern Ugandan customary law. The national and international community is told by the LRA’s top leadership, the President of Uganda, and a small group of religious and traditional leaders that the traditional and customary practices of the Acholi and Langi are able to deal with the harms committed during the conflict. Our research finds no evidence that traditional and customary practices can be expected to address the violent and widespread crimes carried out during the northern Ugandan conflict, in particular forced marriage—for they have not evolved to contend with such protracted, systematic, and widespread brutality.
At the international level, Carlson and Mazurana find that the indictments issued by the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court fail to recognize the breadth of the crimes committed by the LRA. Unless current indictments are amended or new indictments issued to include the crime of forced marriage, the Prosecutor’s office will fail to perform its duty of upholding the standards of international justice as they pertain to crimes against humanity.
The authors also focus on how the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation signed in July 2007 by the Ugandan government and the LRA may offer avenues for addressing the crime of forced marriage within Uganda itself.
This report is based on in-depth investigation, primarily drawing on the testimony of over 100 women and girls who were abducted and forced into marriage with LRA combatants. The authors also interviewed parents and family members of abducted females; ex-LRA fighters; religious, clan, and community leaders; local government officials; Acholi and Langi clan leaders and people responsible for customary law; lawyers; and local, national, and international NGOs working in northern Uganda.
This project is generously supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canadian International Development Agency, Unicef – Uganda, AVSI – Uganda, and the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University.