By Jean Gatera
Human rights activists and organizations are alarmed following reports that LDUs (Local Defense Units) will be redeployed, according to the authorities, to combat Covid-19 in Uganda.
People still sleep in fear of the LDUs following highly violent incidents when their members have shot people in broad daylight; chased people down; or raped.
“They really caused havoc in their first deployment,” Kampala-based rights activists say. But now they have been re-announced.
Brig. Flavia Byekwaso, spokesperson of the UPDF (the Ugandan military) has issued a press statement this Tuesday announcing the return of LDUs with the claim that “they have undergone and completed training.” She continued that, “owing to the withdrawal of the LDUs crime rates had spiked, hence the need for their redevelopment.”
But these LDUs were recalled for training after a catastrophic deployment to combat Covid-19, a human rights activists in Kampala reacted. “LDUs killed at least 20 innocent Ugandans,” the activist went on. “They stole from hundreds, they raped and committed many atrocities!”
Her observations validate a recent BBC article that counted at least 12 killed by the LDU in Uganda last month. The BBC wrote on its website: “In Uganda people have allegedly been killed by security officers enforcing measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus. The killings are believed to have been at the hands of policemen, soldiers, and at least 12 at the hands of members of an armed civilian force called Local Defense Unit.”
The LDU has been classified by several local and international organizations as a “militia” group. Officially, it is a Para-Military group of trained locals, but most legal experts say that the group lacks constitutional justification.
Such was their obvious enthusiasm for violence however that the LDUs faced calls for their disbandment after their initial deployment ostensibly in the fight against Covid-19.
On the 16th of July human rights lawyers under the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET) called for the immediate disbandment of the LDUs, terming them as “unruly”.
In response to the public outcry, according to observers, the Uganda army recalled the LDUs off the streets for “refresher” training three weeks ago. “But how can you say you have trained a group of iliterate, but violence-addicted armed men in only three weeks?” wondered a resident of Kampala.
The UPDF spokesperson only claims that the LDU is “a strategic auxiliary force”
and that it can never be disbanded however loud the public’s cries are.
With imminent re-deployment of the government militia, residents of the Ugandan capital are bracing themselves for some really bad times. “LDUs are really bad!” said Kawooya, a man that only gave us one name. “It is during night time that they kill, rape and loot,” added the highly worried Kawooya.
Media reports of the 27th June, this year described how security operatives battered to death one Emmanuel Tegu, a student of Kampala’s Makerere University. Also, last year, in October army men gang raped university students that were protesting hikes in school fees.
“The situation only gets from bad to worse,” our interviewee said.