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Uganda: We`re from the government, and we`re here to help you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


While the United Nations works diligently to curb the Second Amendment rights of Americans, it is turning a blind eye to abused Karamojong tribesmen fighting a brutal government to keep their only means of self-defense.

International gun prohibition groups are working hard and successfully to push an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) through the United Nations. They claim that the reason the treaty is needed is that arms are often used to violate human rights.

True enough. One need only look at Burma, where the military dictatorship has been torturing and killing Buddhist monks and other pro-rights activists. Burma, by the way, has a strict gun control law dating back to 1951: The president can ban any gun by fiat, and any person possessing a banned gun is presumed guilty of high treason and must prove his innocence.

One thing that the media doesn`t tell you about the Arms Trade Treaty is that an important goal of its proponents is an international legal ban on the sale of arms, including components for making guns, to Israel. Control Arms is a gun control lobby jointly created by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), Amnesty International and Oxfam. In November 2006, Control Arms issued "Arms Without Borders," a document setting forth the case for the Arms Trade Treaty, and describing Israel as one the countries that the ATT would target.

Nor does the media point out that another target of the ATT is the United States, since our gun and self-defense laws are-according to the UN Human Rights Commission-violations of international human rights. American crime victims and police officers can use firearms to defend against non-lethal attacks, such as attacks by rapists, armed robbers or home arsonists. Yet according to the UN, allowing a woman to save herself from rape by shooting the rapist is a human rights violation.

But the most glaring omission in the discussion of the Arms Trade Treaty as a human rights tool is the complete silence about how gun control has so often been used to violate human rights. Consider, for example, what`s going on right now in Uganda.

The borderlands of northeastern Uganda, northwestern Kenya, southeastern Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia are occupied by the tribes of the pastoral Karamojong people. Cattle herds are the center of their culture, and provide the major source of dietary protein from milk, blood and meat. Wealth and local political power are based on the size of one`s cattle herd. For countless generations, cattle rustling has been a traditional Karamojong pursuit.

The UN and its disarmament cronies have recently claimed that the availability of modern arms has made cattle raiding deadlier and that civilian gun ownership is the root cause of the area`s problems.

Not so, replies Ben Knighton, who is dean of the research program at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, and author of the book The Vitality of Karamojong Religion: Dying Tradition or Living Faith? Knighton argues that the Ugandan army`s gun confiscation program is itself the major cause of violence.

Even Kilfemarian Gebre-Wold, former director of a voluntary gun surrender program sponsored by Germany`s Bonn International Center for Conversion, forthrightly acknowledges that "though many pastoralist households have small arms, the rate of crime and violent incidents is not high in their community ... the density of weapons does not mean automatically the rise of gun-related violence."

Unfortunately, these humanitarians do not make policy. Milton Obote, Uganda`s first prime minister, imposed a nationwide ban on the civilian possession of firearms in 1969. General Idi Amin later overthrew Obote, and, thanks to Obote`s previous gun control work, was able to perpetrate genocide, killing hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, especially in Karamoja. The Karamojong tried to fight back using steel tubing from furniture to fabricate crude firearms.

the Karamojong had learned that cows and guns are equally indispensable-a gun needs to be readily accessible in order to protect one`s herd. Obote retaliated by using his army and secret police to brutalize the tribes.

The Tanzanian army invaded Uganda and overthrew Amin in 1979. While Amin`s army was collapsing in the face of the Tanzanian invasion and the subsequent chaos, the Karamojong found easy access to deserted government armories filled with modern weapons.

Julius Nyerere, the dictator of Tanzania, restored Obote as dictator of Uganda. Obote quickly resumed his attempts to disarm the Karamojong. His efforts were often forcefully repelled, because the Karamojong had learned that cows and guns are equally indispensable-a gun needs to be readily accessible in order to protect one`s herd. Obote retaliated by using his army and secret police to brutalize the tribes.

In 1984, the Ugandan and Kenyan armies collaborated in Operation Nyundo ("Hammer") to eliminate armed herders seeking cross-border safety. Lepokoy Kolimuk, a village elder in Kanyarkwat village, Kenya, said the soldiers were "wild beyond humanity." The number of human deaths remains unknown. Twenty thousand cattle were rounded up and starved to death. Nevertheless, Operation Nyundo failed to disarm the Karamojong.

In 1986, strongman Yoweri Museveni toppled Obote and continued the violent firearms confiscation. The army, with the wildly inaccurate title of Uganda People`s Defence Forces (UPDF) abused civilians by looting supplies and raping women. The UPDF`s actions confirmed to the Karamojong that their only protection from government predators with guns was keeping defensive guns themselves. The resistance was so great that Museveni temporarily abandoned his disarmament efforts in 1989.

Yet prompted by the UN, Museveni got back into the gun control business in 2001, with a voluntary gun surrender program. The program expired on Feb. 15, 2002, and only 7,676 guns (out of a conservatively estimated 40,000 in Karamojong hands) were collected.

In order to confiscate the rest of the firearms, the army re-commenced what the international gun-ban lobbies euphemistically call "forcible disarmament." Rape, torture and the destruction of homes after systematic army looting became commonplace.

Father Declan O`Toole, a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries, asked the army to be "less aggressive." Just a few days later, on March 21, 2002, he was murdered by UPDF soldiers. The murderers were apprehended and executed before they could reveal who had given them the order to kill Father O`Toole. Uganda President Museveni blamed the Karamojong, claiming, "The best way to stop such incidents in [the] future is for the Karamojong to hand in their guns to eliminate any justification for the UPDF operations in the villages."

In the northern district of Kotido, the Ugandan army engaged armed civilians and captured about 30 rifles on May 16. Thirteen civilians and two soldiers died-one person dead for every two guns confiscated. Thousands of residents were displaced because their homes were torched by UPDF troops.

By mid-July of 2002, the total number of guns recovered by the government, from both the voluntary and forced gun surrender programs, had reached nearly 10,000, leaving tens of thousands of guns still in Karamojong hands.

Museveni had promised to increase security for people who gave up their guns, but that promise proved empty. The disarmament only created a new group of victims, who were preyed upon by those who still had firearms. There were many instances of violence against the disarmed, by both civilians and soldiers. After homes were bombed and crops were destroyed, thousands of tribespeople fled across the border to Kenya. About 80,000 more people were internally displaced.

Despite all the suffering inflicted on the Karamojong, the disarmament program failed. In 2002, the pro-government Ugandan newspaper New Vision acknowledged that the Karamojong were now "purchasing more guns to replenish those either voluntarily handed [over] or forcefully recovered by the government."

Another Kenya-Uganda military assault on Karamoja`s gun-owning villages was launched in 2005, but in 2006, Col. Phenehas Katirima, chief of personnel and administration in the UPDF, admitted, "Brand new guns from western Europe, across the Mediterranean and the Middle East have been seen in Karamoja."

Because of the human rights atrocities, the United Nations Development Programme temporarily suspended its funding of the Ugandan development and voluntary disarmament programs. (The UN had never funded the military program, except to the extent that money is fungible, and foreign aid is often diverted by corrupt governments.)

Still, the Ugandan army`s campaign persisted. On Oct. 29, 2006, the UPDF attempted to disarm the village of Lopuyo, but was repulsed after an 8-hour battle with armed Karamojong. Army spokesman Major Felix Kulaije stated that, in the course of retrieving firearms, "we went there peacefully in a cordon and search operation." However, the villagers told a more harrowing story. The army surrounded the village and began to question and torture young men. Still, few guns were recovered, and the tribesmen began to attack the UPDF.

The UPDF then launched retaliatory raids on the Karamojong using a helicopter gunship, but found that they no longer had complete control of the airspace. Some of the new weapons the Karamojong had acquired were capable of hitting aircraft.

On Nov. 10, 2006, the UN news agency Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported that the village of Kadokini was targeted. "UPDF tanks then drove through the village crushing and damaging properties, including huts and granaries." The result was three deaths, seven acts of torture and five guns confiscated by the army. Many similar attacks have also been reported by the UN and local newspapers.

the UPDF continues to engage in acts which ultimately result in human rights violations, including killings, injuries, torture, damages and destruction of property and livelihoods.

Yet the UN-which seems to be more in favor of gun control schemes than opposed to gross human rights violations-has not demanded that Museveni reign in his troops. Instead, according to the UN`s acting humanitarian coordinator in Uganda, Theophane Nikyema: "The United Nations ... appeals to Karamojong communities to refrain from violent responses to law and order efforts." With alliances forming among the tribes in order to defeat their common enemy-their government-it does not appear that they are willing to disarm, but are instead preparing for further violent resistance.

The UN`s news service did admit on May 30, 2007, that, "Intermittent efforts to disarm, sometimes forcibly, up to 20 million pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, who are believed to possess 5 million firearms, have failed ... and forcible disarmament has not worked."

It`s doubtful that a single Karamojong man or woman has ever heard of former NRA President Charlton Heston. Yet the Karamojong people plainly share his sentiment: "From my cold, dead hands."

In the meantime, the Ugandan government continues its own efforts to increase the number of cold, dead hands among the Karamojong. Ugandan Gen. Aronda Nyakairima states that the UPDF is ready to use "any available means" to get civilian guns. According to a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "The UPDF continues to engage in acts which ultimately result in human rights violations, including killings, injuries, torture, damages and destruction of property and livelihoods." The UPDF attacks take place not only in Uganda, but also in Karamojong regions of Kenya.

The UN personnel who have reported on the human rights abuses in Uganda`s gun control campaign deserve respect. It is unfortunate that Control Arms, Amnesty International, Oxfam and IANSA have said nothing about the Ugandan army`s gun control depredations against the Karamojong. It`s not as if they`re unaware of the problem; we hand-delivered our previous report on the problem to them in July 2007 at the UN gun control conference. It was during the same conference that the UN cut off funding for Uganda-an act that was not exactly kept secret from the people at the conference.

If the true purpose of the Arms Trade Treaty is really to protect human rights-rather than to set the stage for arms embargos on the U.S. and Israel-the treaty will need to address the problem of arms possessed by armies like the UPDF and the human rights atrocities they perpetrate in the name of gun control.

This article is based on "Human Rights and Gun Confiscation," which will appear in the Quinnipiac Law Review in early 2008, and is available at www.davekopel.org.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.