The Ugandan army has rolled out a programme to detect, investigate, document and ultimately eliminate cases of sexual violence and exploitation in conflict areas.
The training programme launched last week is being conducted by Refugee Law Project, a department of Makerere University and will, according to the forces’ spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire, target “every soldier in the country.”
“With this training we shall become advocates against sexual exploitation,” said Brig Karemire.
Chris Dolan, the Refugee Law Project director, said the training targets the Uganda People’s Defence Forces due to its participation in different conflicts in Uganda and across the continent. Among them is the 20-year war against the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda.
In this conflict for example, a picture taken in the late 1990s of men in what looked like the UPDF uniform appearing to shave a woman’s private parts caused outrage both domestically and internationally.
The Ugandan army has also been deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Central African Republic where allegations of sexual violence followed the force. When the army deployed to pursue rebels of the Allied Democratic Front in DR Congo, not only were allegations of sexual violence levelled against it but scores of women followed returning troops as their wives.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused UPDF soldiers in the Central African Republic of engaging in acts of sexual violence against local women and intimidating victims not to talk about their ordeal.
In Somalia, where the UPDF has been since 2007, HRW alleges that individual African Union soldiers used money, the power of their uniform, water in the compound and healthcare services to coerce sexual favours from Somali women. However, the army has consistently denied these allegations.
True or not, Mr Dolan said that given this history, it is important that the UPDF is equipped to identify and deal with sexual exploitation and violence whenever they encounter it.
Sexual violence can in the long run cause or aggravate ethnic and sectarian divisions in communities, which then perpetuate further conflict.
By training UPDF to identify sexual violence, when it is encountered, it is hoped that the Ugandan soldiers can then support efforts of ending this vice that leads to further conflict.
While sexual violence is perpetuated as a strategy of war where soldiers and their commanders rape women en masse, exploitation is when abuse is by individuals in the army.
Brig Karemire says that currently the UPDF is in the process of prosecuting two soldiers accused of sexually exploiting women and girls in the Central African Republic.
The UPDF is also investigating 13 cases of sexual exploitation that were reported by HRW in May. This was just as the Ugandan army was on its way out of Central African Republic, where it had been on the hunt for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army since 2009.
According to HRW, Ugandan soldiers in the Central African Republic have sexually exploited or abused at least 13 women and girls since 2015, including at least one rape. The Ugandan soldiers also threatened the victims, telling them not to speak out.
With this kind of history, Brig Karemire says this training will become an integral part of skills provided to Ugandan soldiers.