A damning new Human Rights Watch reports implicate several Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers in the Central African Republic have sexually exploited or abused at least 13 women and girls since 2015, including at least one rape, and threatened some victims to remain silent.
This follows the Commander-in-Chief Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s orders to United States and UPDF commandoes to end their search for Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in late April, abandoning the international effort to bring him to justice.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a total of 13 women and 3 girls in early 2017, who described exploitation or abuse since 2010 by Ugandan soldiers in the southeastern town of Obo, where Ugandan forces were based, and heard credible accounts of other cases. Two of the women were girls when the exploitation or abuse took place. Two women and one girl said that soldiers threatened reprisals if they told Ugandan and United Nations investigators about the abuse.
“They (Human Rights Watch) have not woken us up, we (UPDF) carried out our own investigations using own team and have taken action on some of the soldiers,” the army spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire reacted to questions from TheUgandan on Monday.
Brig. Karemire acknowledged that some Ugandan troops had misbehaved and pursued relationships with some women in the southeastern town of Obo, where Ugandan forces were based.
“There could be some bad apples, but be assured they will not dent our military’s good works,” Brigadier Karemire said. “The suspects will face the military court martial once we are done but that has to has to involve rehabilitating them” he added. “If it is true they committed sexual crimes, they will be charged and prosecuted.”
In one of the cases, Jolie Nadia Ipangba said she was 16 when a Ugandan soldier pursued a relationship with her. Ms. Ipangba, who is now 18, said the soldier told her he was looking for a woman to have a child for him and promised to take care of the mother. However, a month after she got pregnant, he was back home in Uganda.
A 31-year-old woman said she had been impregnated by a Ugandan soldier deployed to Obo. He promised that he would marry her and that they would all live together in Uganda. He hasn’t contacted her since he left the country about a month into her pregnancy.
Same old story
The current sexual exploitation claims follow similar allegations by published by the British Broadcasting Corporation early this year to which Brigadier Karemire Uganda’s own investigations tagged as unfounded.
BBC in January aired and published on its platforms stories of a one, 13-year-old Eloise, who claims she is mothering a nine-month-old child allegedly sired by a Ugandan soldier, and another 14-year-old Mirie, also from CAR, who dreads to recall the day she was allegedly raped by a UPDF soldier.
Eloise told the BBC that when she was 12, a Ugandan soldier, deployed to protect her town, Obo ironically attacked her.
“My mother sent me to the market to buy something,” she said. “On the way, a Ugandan soldier grabbed me. He dragged me to a nearby lodge [hotel] and raped me.”
On the other account, Mirie has this to say: “I was going to the field to work and on my way, I was grabbed by a Ugandan. He was violent, he attacked me and he raped me. When I think about this, it hurts me. I didn’t expect it at all. “If I had a knife or machete I would have tried to attack him.”
That all UPDF soldiers set be back home from the Central African Republic within a few weeks, Brigadier Karemire says this Human Rights Watch report has no significant bearing with the withdrawal. “We could not control the timing ofcourse. Everybody knows the role UPDF has played in CAR, keeping peace, protecting the civilians and weakening the Lord’s Resistance Army.”