Investigate Maj Gen Benon Beraaro for Serious Crimes Committed in Northern Uganda
Uganda’s Presidential Candidate Maj Gen Benon Beraaro deserves investigation and prosecution for serious crimes committed in Northern Uganda and not votes, Says top International Lawyer
When in Gulu, a northern Ugandan town, addressing the local population many of whom are victims of National Resistance Army (NRA), since renamed Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), Mr Biraaro acting as a conquering general arrogantly stated: “I don’t want to be apologist. I could defend the UPDF operations in Northern Uganda….” (Uganda Elections: Candidate not apologetic for ‘Army Crimes’ in Northern Uganda…, see Black Star News, 22 January 2016).
In the same paper, Mr Biraaro justifies unlawful detention of civilians in concentration camps and applauds victims of NRA/UPDF atrocities for rejecting the insurgents by taking risky moves of living in “protected camps”. Further, Mr Biraaro justifies forceful recruitment of children and young adults in what he termed “auxiliary forces” also known as Local Defence Unit (LDC) which operated as fodder for the NRA/UPDF during its war against Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LDC were poorly trained and equally poorly armed. Many of them were killed by the NRA/UPDF and LRA. Their deaths were hardly acknowledged by both parties to the armed conflict but simply viewed as necessary collateral damage.
Mr. Biraaro rejected establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), similar to the post-apartheid South African TRC, on the ground that it may open a ‘Pandora box’. He claims that “when we [NRA] came from Luwero, there were those who urgently wanted to victimize the people of northern Uganda for the roles of their former leaders, but we handled the victimisation.” (See Biraro defends UPDF on Acholi atrocities, Saturday Monitor, 23 January 2016). With so many rapes, sexual violence, torture, and murder in northern Uganda committed by NRA/UPDF, how did Biraaro handle victimisation of the civilian population in Acholi land?
If Mr Biraro is right, and the NRA/UPDF protected the civilian population, why is he afraid of a TRC, or more appropriately, investigations and prosecution of those most responsible for atrocity crimes, not only in Northern Uganda, but throughout the country, including those responsible for crimes committed in Luwero, Teso, Tororo, Lango, Acholi and West Nile?
Part of the answer lies in Mr. Biraaro’s roles including his criminal acts and omissions while an active member of the NRA/UPDF. What are these roles in the commission of atrocity crimes; or his concealment of these serious crimes?
In May 1986, the NRA war which started in Luwero in Buganda in 1981 reached Acholi in northern Uganda. The NRA war was directed at civilians as part of NRA revenge strategy against Lango and Acholi, the Lwo ethnic group. The NRA official narrative was, and still is, that the war was against the LRA. In practice, the NRA was punishing the civilian population because of their alleged support of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), then a national army from 1979 to 1985 in its war against Museveni’s NRA.
Gen Biraro’s promotion and brutality
In the course of the 20 year NRA war (1986-2006) in northern Uganda, thousands of men, women and children were raped, sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered. The NRA used starvation as a policy to kill civilians. Many of the civilians were forced, against their will, and later confined in concentration camps. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) were subjected by the NRA to inhumane conditions. Many died because of poor sanitary conditions, lack of food and medicine. The camps were guarded and supervised by the NRA/UPDF.
There is no credible evidence to suggest that the NRA engaged LRA soldiers in combat. On the contrary, both armies avoided direct contact or confrontation with each other. Instead, both armies killed civilians and subjected survivors to cruel, inhumane and unbearable conditions.
It is the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes that presidential candidate Maj Gen Birarro defends. A closer look however, suggests that Gen Biraaro is defending himself and his senior colleagues in the NRA/UPDF.
Mr Benon Biraaro joined the NRA in 1982. By 1984, he had become one of a small group of Yoweri Museveni’s advisors. He was appointed Secretary to the High Command and National Resistance Council. In that capacity, Biraaro was privy to the NRA war policies and strategies. He can be correctly seen as one of the NRA/UPDF’s architects responsible for formulating policies on detention and starvation of civilians in northern Uganda and elsewhere in the country.
Gen Biraaro was rapidly promoted by Gen Museveni who assigned to him more responsibilities. In 1986, Biraaro was appointed Museveni’s Deputy Principal Secretary. When Gen Museveni wanted to ‘teach’ the people of Kitgum and make an example of them, he sent Gen Biraaro to that northern Uganda district as Special District Administrator. Under Biraaro, Kitgum became one large concentration camp. He remained in charge of Kitgum District until 1987. He was then transferred to the NRA Political School at Kyankwazi as Deputy Commander. Kyankwazi is a school for NRA/NRM cadres, radicals and extremists. They are loyal to Gen Museveni.
Based on his success of brutalization of the people of Kitgum District, Gen Museveni posted him to Teso to sort out ‘rebel activities’ then in eastern Uganda. Biraaro became the Commanding officer 97th Battalion in Eastern Region, covering Teso, Bugisu, and Tororo. He commanded the NRA in its war against Uganda Peoples Army (UPA), Force Obote Back (FOBA) and 9th October Movement. The last two armies were fictitious rebel groups that existed only in the minds of the NRA strategists.
Gen Biraaro became a troubleshooter for the NRA. Gen Museveni dispatched him to hot spots to solve all manner of problems faced by the NRA. Thus, after his Eastern Region tour of duties, Biraaro was recalled to Kampala and appointed Commander of Military Police. The Military Police was as dreaded as Gen Amin’s Public Safety Unit (PSU), another military outfit that murdered thousands of Ugandans in the 1970s.
When the Inspector General of Government (IGG), an institution equivalent to an Ombudsman, or the South African ‘Public Protector’, started investigating violations in the NRA in 1994, Museveni dispatched Biraaro as a Military Representative in the office of the IGG to protect and defend the interests of the NRA.
Credible investigation necessary
Biraaro’s fortune in the NRA continued to rise. He was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, the fifth-highest rank in the Uganda Military structure behind Commander-in-Chief, Gen Yoweri Museveni, Chief of Defence Forces, Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, Joint Chief of Staff, and Biraaro himself, Deputy Chief of Staff.
Gen Biraaro should not be permitted to fool any person that he is opposed to investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of serious crimes in northern Uganda because of some higher principle, or because it is in the best interest of all Ugandans, particularly of victims and survivors. It is a fact that more than 200 people are believed to have been massacred in a single incident at Bucooro in Paicho Sub-County, Gulu District in 1990 by the NRA. More than 50 civilians were murdered by the NRA 35th Battalion in Nam-Okora Sub-County in Kitgum District in August 1986, a period when Benon Biraaro was the Special District Administrator in Kitgum District. The deaths of these individuals and many more in other parts of the country have not been formally acknowledged by the NRA/NRM government, the perpetrators neither investigated nor prosecuted; and the victims and survivors not compensated.
As a senior NRA/UPDF official, Gen Biraaro was one of handful officers responsible for formulating NRA/NRM war policies, supervising and implementing NRA war strategies. By virtue of his senior position as a commander, he bears criminal responsibility for acts and omissions of his subordinates in the NRA/UPDF. He also bears criminal responsibility for his own acts and omissions, particularly his responsibility for failure to prevent his subordinates from commission of crimes, and his failure to punish subordinates after the crimes are committed.
What is necessary is for an independent, impartial and credible investigation of Maj Gen Benorn Biraaro and other senior NRA/NRM military and political leaders responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. No Ugandan, particularly victims from Luwero, Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile, should waste their votes for Maj Gen Benon Biraaro in the scheduled February 18, 2016 Presidential Elections. Instead, the voters must campaign for investigation and prosecution of Maj Gen Benon Biraaro.
Dr. Odora Obote
The Writer is the author of the new and explosive book: “Uganda: Confronting Impunity Through Accountability”