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CRSV: LRA Resistance in Uganda

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Insurgency is an ongoing guerrilla insurgency campaign waged by the LRA since 1987 (McKinley, 1996). The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who calls himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium, and aims at overthrowing the Ugandan government under Yoweri Museveni, and in its place, installing a theocratic state based on a version of the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition (Doom and Vlassenroot, 1999). In January 1986, President Tito Okello, an ethnic Acholi, was overthrown by the National Resistance Army (NRA) under Yoweri Museveni. The NRA committed significant atrocities targeting the Acholi. By August 1986, there was a full-blown popular insurgency in the northern regions occupied by the new government forces. In January 1987, Joseph Kony made his first appearance as a spirit medium, and then began adopting guerrilla tactics following advice from a former Uganda People’s Democratic Army commander.

A truce was signed by the government and the LRA on August 26, 2006, under which LRA forces were to leave Uganda and gather in two assemblies protected by the government of Sudan, which the government agreed not to attack. Attacks resumed in 2008. In May 2010, US President Barack Obama deployed troops and aid to the country. In 2012, the LRA was reported to be in Djema, the East Central African Republic.

By 2022, the LRA appears to comprise less than 2,000 combatants, and is under intense pressure from the Ugandan military (Dorsey and Opeitum, 2022). However, the insurgency continues unabated, even as peace negotiations and a trial preparation by the International Criminal Court are underway (Dorsey and Opeitum, 2022). This conflict is one of the longest-running ones in Africa, and has created a major humanitarian crisis. It has slowed down Uganda's development efforts, and has cost the country's economy a total of at least USD 1.33 billion (Dorsey and Opeitum, 2022).

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

The LRA insurgency involved a significant amount of brutality and sexual violence and rape targeting women and girls (ICG 2006). Perpetrators included both the government and police forces, and rebel groups. Women and girls were targeted with sexual abuse, abduction, forced marriage, sexual slavery, incest, and rape (Isis-WICCE, 2002). LRA rebels also treated schools as recruiting grounds for child soldiers and sex slaves, and prevented children from seeking education for over a decade at minimum (Mischkowski, 2005). Several child soldiers were either forced to commit or watch sexual violence against other children or adults – sometimes their own relatives.

According to the UNFPA (2004), in 1999-2000, in Apac and Mbale, as many as 53.5 per cent of the 1,165 respondents reported that members of their family had suffered from at least one form of sexual violence. In the Humanitarian Action Report, UNICEF (2007) stated that since the late 1980s, as many as 25,000 children had been abducted for use as child soldiers and sex slaves, including almost 7,500 girls, 1,000 of whom returned from LRA captivity after having given birth to children.

Basis for the use of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence and rape were used as an instrument of terror and a means for intimidating populations into submission. The LRA insurgency used brutality deliberately to create a sense of fear. In several instances, sexual assault and rape were used to humiliate men, women, girls, and boys alike – especially when it came to forced incest and forcing children to watch or perform sexual violence against their own family members.

Sexual violence and rape were also carried out as a means of exploitation where girls and women were sexually exploited in exchange for food, shelter, and protection (Akumu, Amony, and Otim, 2005). Aside from this, women and girls were trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour.


The government of Uganda referred the situation to the Court on December 16, 2003, through a letter sent by President Museveni to Luis Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the ICC. The ICC issued arrest warrants on July 8 and September 27, 2005, against Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and the LRA commanders Okot Odhiambo, deputy army commander and Dominic Ongwen, brigade commander of the Sania Brigade of the LRA. The four of them were charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, and sexual slavery. The charges covered acts of sexual violence, rape and attempted, enslavement, and inducing rape.

These were the first warrants issued by the ICC since its establishment in 202, and the details were handed over to all three countries where the LRA is active, namely Uganda, Sudan (now South Sudan), and the DRC. However, the LRA has consistently claimed that they will not surrender unless they receive immunity from prosecution – which has raised concerns that the insurgency may not end. Among the Acholi, there have been mixed reactions as some believe that a negotiated settlement is the best end to the war. On 2 June 2006, Interpol issued five wanted person red notices to 184 countries on behalf of the ICC. At least two of the five wanted LRA leaders have been killed: Lukwiya in August 2006 (ICC, 2006), and Otti in late 2007 (reportedly executed by Kony; BBC, 2008a).

Odhiambo was rumoured to have been killed in April 2008, and was confirmed killed following DNA tests (BBC 2008b). In January 2015, Dominic Ongwen was reported either to have defected or to have been captured and was held by the Ugandan forces. Ongwen appeared before the ICC for the first time on 26 January 2015, following which he was found guilty of 61 crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and forced marriage in 2021 (Oluka and Ssekika, 2015). In April 2017, the Ugandan and US military forces ended their hunt for Kony and other LRA forces (Baddorf, 2017).


1. Akumu, C. O., Amony, I. and Otim, G. (2005) Suffering in silence: A study of sexual and gender based violence in Pabbo Camp, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, UNICEF.

2. Baddorf, Zack (2017). "Uganda Ends Its Hunt for Joseph Kony Empty-Handed". The New York Times.

3. BBC (2004). "Forgiveness for Uganda's former rebels".

4. BBC News (2008a). Uganda's LRA confirm Otti death.

5. BBC News (2008b). Ugandan LRA rebel deputy 'killed'.

6. G. Mischkowski (2005), Abducted, Raped, Enslaved. The Situation of Girl Soldiers in the Case of Uganda, Medica Mondiale, 2007, available

7. International Criminal Court (7 November 2006). "Statement by the Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo on the confirmation of the death of Raska Lukwiya" (PDF).

8. International Crisis Group (28 June 2006) “Beyond Victimhood: Women’s Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda”, Africa Report

9. Isis-WICCE (2002) Medical intervention study of war affected Teso region, Uganda,

10. James C. Mckinley Jr. (1996). "Uganda's Christian Rebels Revive War in North". New York Times.

11. Jeff Dorsey and Steven Opeitum for the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU), The Net Economic Cost of the Conflict in the Acholiland Sub-Region of Uganda.

12. Oluka, Benon Herbert and Ssekika, Edward (2015) Why USA held onto LRA man.

13. Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot (1999). "Kony's message: A new Koine? The Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda". African Affairs. 98 (390): 5–36.

14. UNFPA (2004) Assessment of Gender Violence in Apac and Mbale District, Addis Ababa.

15. UNICEF (2007) UNICEF Humanitarian Action Report. \

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