Genocide or Just Another “Casualty of War”? – Part III: The Implications of the Document: Genocide

Photograph of photo wall at the Kagali Genocide Memorial Centre.
Download PDF: Whitmore, Genocide or Just Another

Editor’s Note (December 22, 2010): Dr. Todd Whitmore of the University of Notre Dame published his peer-reviewed article “‘If They Kill Us, At Least Others Will Have More Time to Get Away’: The Ethics of Risk in Ethnographic Practice” in our most recent issue (issue 3, spring 2010). In that article, Dr. Whitmore develops a theological framing of ethnography as both a research method and an ethical practice. Since the publication of “If They Kill Us,” Dr. Whitmore has been in conversation with Practical Matters about the publication of documents, dating from the 1980s, that he received while doing research in Northern Uganda (available at These documents attribute to the sitting President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, the intent to commit acts of genocide against the Acholi people, an ethnic group situated in Northern Uganda, as early as the 1980s.

Over the summer of 2010, Practical Matters undertook an academic review process, which included experts in Ugandan history and politics, to evaluate both the authenticity of these documents and the ethical implications of publishing them. While the reviewers generally supported the journal in a decision to publish the documents, Practical Matters decided that it is not the most appropriate medium in which to make these documents available. Practical Matters, the journal’s editors and advisors concluded, cannot adequately contribute to securing the safety of persons in Uganda who might face retaliation as a result of the publication of these documents.

The journal did, however, decide to publish Whitmore’s analysis of these documents, which is available here. In this piece, Whitmore examines the historical and political situation in Northern Uganda that, he thinks, renders the documents’ purported provenance and authenticity likely. He also explores the ethical implications of publishing them in an online format. The editors and advisors of Practical Matters feel that it is important to provide Whitmore a public context in which to practice the ethic he prescribes in “If They Kill Us.”

Readers who wish to send me their comments can do so to

I am aware that the term “genocide” is an explosive one and that the standards for establishing genocide in a court of law are high. However, I find it to be the most accurate term for the plans and actions of Museveni, Saleh, and the NRA/UPDF in northern Uganda. Given what is already known about the actions of the NRM/NRA/UPDF in northern Uganda, it is clear that, like in the DRC, their actions fit within the legal framework of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The occurrence of genocide, however, is more difficult to demonstrate. I will be using the term in the strict legal rather than the loose advocacy-driven sense. For the sake of clarity, then, it is perhaps best to begin with the legal definition of genocide as set forward in Article 2 of the United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is restated in Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court:

The Convention defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: killing members of this group; causing serious bodily or mentally harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.1

The October 2010 United Nations mapping report on the DRC highlighted earlier in this article contains some important elaborations on the Convention on Genocide, and it is helpful for our present discussion to set them out. Its first point is that Article 3 of the Convention states and thus makes clear that the “conspiracy to commit genocide,” the “attempt to commit genocide,” and the “complicity in genocide” are all also considered acts of genocide punishable under the Convention.2 What this means is that neither Museveni nor Saleh need to have had a gun in their hands to be guilty of genocide. The memo, if authentic, points to all three: conspiracy, attempt, and complicity. Second, the mapping report follows previous decisions—particularly those of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a precursor of the International Criminal Court—in distinguishing between genocidal intent and whatever other motivations the perpetrators might have. What this means is that the presence of other motivations in conjunction with the genocidal intent does not offset that latter intent in a court of law. The mapping report is clear:

Intention is not synonymous with motivation. The personal motive of the perpetrator of genocide, for example, may be the prospect of personal economic benefit, political advantages or a particular form of power. The existence of a personal motive does not mean that the perpetrator may not also have the specific intention of committing genocide.3

The import of the distinction between motive and intent is that Museveni and Saleh’s avariciousness regarding gold, diamonds, and land does not nullify their intent to commit genocide.

Third, although the mapping report discusses the matter under the issue of crimes against humanity rather than genocide, it makes clear that deportation or forcible transfer of a population is against international law.4 Similarly, although the report discusses the matter under war crimes rather than genocide, it makes clear that denying a people the means and property necessary for their survival also violates international law. (The UPDF took part in stopping turbines on the Inga dam in the DRC, an action which deprived the people of Kinshasa and much of the Bas-Congo region of electricity for three weeks.) The report is unstinting: “Stopping the turbines on the Inga dam… by elements of the ANC/APR/UPDF, caused the deaths of numerous people” (italics added). Here, the report follows Paragraph 2 of Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that “willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health” falls under the heading of a war crime.5 When specific intent can be demonstrated, such actions can also come under the definition of genocide, which, again according to the Convention of Genocide, includes “causing serious bodily or mentally harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” What this means is that forcibly displacing over a million people such that they cannot access their land and thus their only means of sustenance and then relocating them to places that lack even basic sanitation does in fact, when intent is demonstrated, come under the definition of genocide.

The “in part” language of the Convention is deliberate and significant. A pattern of intent and activity does not have to have as its objective the elimination of all members of a particular ethnic group to qualify as genocide. Given that so many Acholi were negatively and even lethally affected by NRM policy, the “in part” clause may seem unnecessary, but it is important to keep it in view in anticipation of possible (and inaccurate) objections that only a few Acholi suffered. Once again, the UN mapping report cites cases and decisions from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as precedent:

The intention to destroy a named group, even in part, is sufficient to constitute a crime of genocide provided that it is the group or “a distinct fraction of the group” that is targeted and not a “multitude of isolated individuals belonging to the group.” Furthermore, the section of the group targeted must be substantial and thus reflect “both the mass nature of the genocide and the concern expressed in the Convention as to the impact that the destruction of the section of the group targeted would have on the group as a whole” (emphasis in original).6

Finally, the UN mapping report highlights the fact that proof of intent to commit genocide “is without doubt the element that causes the most difficulties.”7 For a decision of genocide, there needs to be proof of a specific intention, what is called in the legal literature a dolus specialis. This requires direct proof of intent rather than, as is in most international law, indirect or inferential evidence of intent gathered from the various circumstances and facts of the case. The grave nature of genocide—what the ICTY called “the most abhorrent of all crimes”8 —requires the higher standard of proof. This higher standard of proof is why, even though it identifies certain activities that the UPDF and other groups carried out in the DRC as “a campaign of ethnic cleansing,”9the UN mapping report is cautious in using the term “genocide.” Rather than be determinative itself, the report calls for a judicial investigation into whether the above and other acts committed by various groups in the DRC constitute genocide.10 Similarly, the difficulty of proving genocide is also part of why the International Criminal Court has charged the leaders of the LRA only with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Still, the UN report is helpful in that it again draws on ICTY precedent to detail the factors that international courts use to determine if genocidal intention is present, including:

  1. the existence of a genocidal plan or policy and the recurrence of destructive and discriminatory acts, the general context,
  2. the perpetration of other reprehensible acts systematically directed against the same group,
  3. the scale and number of atrocities committed,
  4. the fact of targeting certain victims systematically because of their membership of a particular group,
  5. the fact that the victims had been massacred with no regard for their age or gender,
  6. the consistent and methodical manner in which acts were committed.

Actions do not need to exemplify all of the above aspects to have genocidal intent. The list simply provides insight into the considerations that international law as practiced takes into account in determining intent. We will return to this list and fill it out with evidence from the Museveni/Saleh/NRM/UPDF case of genocide.

With the above preliminary statements in view, it is now possible to assess whether Museveni, Saleh, and other elements of the NRM/UPDF ought to be investigated and indicted for genocide. To avoid the mistaken countercharges of my being a rebel collaborator (a charge frequently made against those, even archbishops, who criticize government policy) or of political partiality (Olara Otunnu, an Acholi opposition candidate for the Presidency, has also leveled the charge of genocide11), I need to make clear that I think that a formal charge of genocide ought to be brought against the leaders of the LRA as well. I understand the reason why the ICC has not so indicted the LRA leadership: genocidal intent is difficult to prove. Still, a number of scholars have demonstrated that the LRA has acted, under leadership orders, to kill Acholi people “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part” the Acholi as an ethnic group. Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot argued as early as 1999 that after 1994 Kony felt betrayed by the lack of active (as distinct from merely sympathetic) Acholi support for the LRA, and thus turned on the Acholi themselves in what the authors term “auto-genocide.”12 Genocide against one’s own people has occurred before, such as in the case of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The effort on the part of the LRA was to create a “new Acholi” from child abductees. In 2007, Adam Branch drew upon extensive research in northern Uganda to argue that the LRA sought to “eradicate the external enemy” from within the Acholi.13 As indicated earlier, Carlos Rodriguez Soto, who has had extensive interaction with the LRA, has described their post-1994 actions as an attempt to “purify” the Acholi.14 Most recently (2010) Helen Nkabala Nambalirwa has drawn on field interviews with former LRA combatants to show how, while in the bush, they used a reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah story to justify their directly taking the life of Acholi civilians: the combatants were taught to view the civilians as sinners—they sinned against their Acholi-ness in not supporting the LRA—and thus not as persons with human dignity; the combatants could thus take the civilian lives without the actions counting as killing another person.15 What the ex-combatant narratives show is that the LRA did intend to kill Acholi people on the basis of their membership in a particular ethnic group. That the later LRA became more indiscriminate and killed members of other groups does not undo this initial fact. Also, I anticipate and understand the argument that the majority of the LRA fighters were themselves abducted and are thus less than fully culpable.16 However, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to charge the LRA leadership with genocide. This is a point that Otunnu and others have not made.

The next temptation to avoid is that of assuming that because the LRA has been involved in genocide, then Museveni, Saleh, and the relevant members of the NRM/UPDF have not been so involved, or that investigation of the matter of NRM/UPDF genocide would, because of the complexity of the situation, be too difficult to prove. It may also be tempting to not look at the case of Museveni because he has been considered by leaders in developed countries and international monetary institutions to be one of the “new breed” of African leaders open to economic restructuring and political reform. How can such a modern—read “not backwards African”—person be also guilty of such heinous crimes? One of the consistent tropes in Western accounts of the conflict of the North is that of the “mad” —again, read, “primitive African”—and therefore unintelligible (to modern minds) Joseph Kony. However, from an empirical standpoint, it is entirely possible for two parties not acting as co-conspirators to both commit genocide on a third group. Moreover, it is possible to demonstrate that such actions have taken place in the case of northern Uganda. That an ostensibly modern person such as Yoweri Museveni might be involved in such actions should not be surprising given the prevalence of genocide in twentieth-century Europe.17 I understand the desire to view genocide as a rare exception in the modern world, but its gravity as highlighted in international law does not entail its rarity on the ground.

Multiple factors hinder the investigation of the criminal activity of NRM officials and the UPDF in northern Uganda. The first is the disruption of the conflict itself. Most people in a position to witness the violations of international law on the part of the NRM/NRA/UPDF—the victims and their relatives and neighbors—have not been in a position to report on those violations. They have been overburdened with the task of survival. Second, as discussed earlier on in this article, the NRM has been active in suppressing the efforts of journalists and human rights activists to investigate and report on the violations.18 Numerous Acholi have given me the same list of locations where NRA/UPDF atrocities have taken place—Pabbo, Burcoro, Cwero, Awach, Naamakora, and more—some of which are said to include mass graves. The UPDF pattern of placing people into deep pits to suffer and die, cited in three different places in the UN mapping report,19 was actually developed by the Ugandan army earlier in northern Uganda. Again I quote from an interview I conducted:

I have seen, also, young people arrested in my area, and put underground where a big hole had been dug by the military. And there, they suffered underground, and they [the military] would make bread and throw it to these people who were suffering in the ground, like little rats. I have also seen many of these young people who were thrown in the ground, in a pit, being killed by shooting, being killed by beating. Many people died in this way. They died from many causes – either you suffocated or you were beaten to death or you were shot and left dead in the pit.

Again, however, methodical repression on the part of the NRM of information-gathering by interested parties has made systematic verification of such testimonies to date difficult at best.

The third factor that hinders extensive investigation of the action of NRM officials and the UPDF is the fact that the main international court in which such investigation would take place is the International Criminal Court. The Court came into being in July 2002 and will not investigate activity that took place before then. In June 2010, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo conceded, “I have received complaints from many affected people in Uganda and human rights advocates about [the] Uganda army’s alleged atrocities committed during many years of insurgency in the north.” However, Moreno-Ocampo went on to disclaim, “We will respond to any communication sent to us in terms of evidence but on cases not predating 2002.”20 Given that many of the most overt offences by the NRA/UPDF occurred before 2002, the limits of the ICC makes the case of genocide much more difficult to make in terms that the Court will hear. I reiterate, then, my earlier point that the United Nations has an obligation to do a mapping report of early (at minimum, 1986-1996) atrocities in northern Uganda similar to that which it did of 1993-2003 DRC, both for its own sake and to provide evidence as to what is and is not plausible intent for the forcible displacement policy. Again, my argument is that, given the dehumanizing rhetoric and planned atrocities on the part of the Ugandan military on behalf of the NRM up to 1996, the idea that the intent of the displacement policy of 1996 was to protect the Acholi lacks all credibility.

At present, perhaps the most important single piece of post-2002 empirical evidence of genocide on the part of Museveni and the NRM is a 2005 World Health Organization study of the conditions in the Internally Displaced Persons camps in northern Uganda from January to July of that year. In addition to its findings, this study is significant for three reasons. First, it was conducted on behalf of the Ugandan government’s own Ministry of Health. There can be no legitimate charge of political bias or complicity with the LRA. Second, it is the most extensive study of camp conditions, covering all of the districts of northern Uganda. Finally, given the late date (2005), the findings will be on the conservative side. The camps at that time were in far better condition than in earlier stages of the conflict, when they were less organized and international organizations like the UN World Food Program were not yet delivering food aid. Unbiased, extensive, and conservative, the report, after careful analysis of the situation on the ground in the IDP camps in comparison with “non-crisis” levels in the northern districts of Kitgum, Pader, and Gulu where the Acholi people predominate, found that there were almost 1000 excess deaths per week due to malaria, AIDS, malnutrition, diarrhea, violence, and other causes. In other words, 52,000 Acholi were dying per year from camp conditions. About ninety percent of the population in these districts—about 1.2 million people—lived in camps at the time of the report.21 It is also important to highlight the fact that the study, conducted in 2005, is of the conditions and deaths that occurred well after the formation of the ICC. In other words, this is legitimate evidence for the ICC to take into account in its assessment of NRM actions.

The question that follows is what the ICC is to make of the evidence. The generally accepted answer—other than to deny the accuracy of the study—is to say that whatever excess deaths have taken place in the camps are not the fault, let alone the intent, of Museveni, Saleh, the NRM, and the UPDF. The deaths, rather, are the unfortunate side effect of trying to protect the Acholi people from LRA attacks. Careful examination of the realities, however, shows this latter reasoning to be deeply flawed. Let us look at a timeline of established facts.

1996: Museveni unilaterally issues a mandate that all people in the Acholi Gulu district move immediately to designated Internally Displaced Persons camps. Refusal to do so is met by beatings and armed attacks by the UPDF. Again, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative reports that “people invariably told us that they were forced” to move to the camps. The ostensive reason for the camps is to protect the people from the LRA; however, the camps are not well-protected and, with their large concentrations of people, serve as LRA magnets for easy abduction.22 In the meantime, the camp conditions are horrid, lacking food and sanitation. Museveni repeats this mandate in 2002 and 2004 to ensure that all remaining villagers in northern Uganda are forcibly moved to the camps.

1996-present: With the people now off of their land, Salim Saleh begins forming agricultural enterprises on Acholi land without permission of the landowners and for the sake of his personal economic gain. Saleh, who is in the position of having inside knowledge, presupposes that he has enough troops to protect his farms.

1996-2003: Museveni commits UPDF troops to the DRC to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko and to control mineral resources in the DRC rather than use such forces to protect the Acholi in the IDP camps precisely at the time that the Acholi most need them. That the aim of NRM/UPDF involvement in the DRC is the economic one of access to gems and minerals rather than the political one of stability in the DRC is shown by the fact that after Mobutu is overthrown and Laurent-Desire Kabila comes into power, gives his thanks to Uganda, and asks it to leave, Museveni creates and supports a DRC opposition movement (Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo) and installs its leader (Jean-Pierre Bemba)—actions which destabilize the DRC—but allows the Ugandan forces to remain and exploit resources. Given that the decision, as verified by the United Nations, to commit thousands of troops and billions of Ugandan schillings in resources to its efforts in the DRC for the sake of personal wealth enhancement was unnecessary for Uganda (not to say harmful for the DRC), it is accurate to reason that that decision was also a direct decision not to use those personnel and resources to serve and protect the Acholi in northern Uganda precisely when the Acholi most needed that service and protection. It is clear that it is not simply a matter of the NRM/UPDF being unable to protect the Acholi but of their being unwilling to do so. Moreover, given that camp life created the conditions and primary causes of Acholi deaths, Museveni and the NRM/UPDF actions constitute not merely a failure to protect, but an active subjection of the Acholi to the conditions that killed them. The important fact is this: Though he had plenty of personnel, Museveni dispatched not enough soldiers to protect the Acholi from the LRA and just enough to forcibly keep the Acholi away from their livelihoods—their gardens and villages—and in the camps where they died.

2005, three years after the formation of the ICC: The World Health Organization finds that people in the camps in northern Uganda are, for reasons other than LRA attack, dying at a rate of 52,000 a year more than would be the case under normal circumstances. In 2006, I personally spent two weeks in Pabbo IDP camp helping a nun feed a man back from starvation. This was two years after the latest LRA attack on the camp, so the fault cannot be placed there. Moreover, Pabbo camp is very close to Gulu town, and so is readily accessible to government vehicles. People in the camps regularly told me that the food they received from the UN World Food Program—delivered once a month—was enough to last them a week and a half if they ate only once a day.

Given Museveni’s direct decision to commit extensive personnel and resources elsewhere (the DRC) for the sake of personal wealth enhancement—greed—it stands to reason that he is directly responsible for the deaths in the camps, particularly given that he did place enough soldiers in northern Uganda to forcibly keep the people sequestered there. Again, the October 2010 UN mapping report states that when the UPDF stopped the turbines on the Inga dam and thereby cut off electricity, the Ugandan army “caused the deaths” of many people.23 All the more, then, does denying people the food and sanitation necessary for life “cause their deaths.”

It is evident thus far that Museveni, Saleh, and other members of the NRM/UPDF have committed acts in northern Uganda that fit under the description of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Again, the UN mapping report on the DRC states that deportation or forcible transfer of a population is a crime against humanity24 and that denying a people the property necessary for their survival is a war crime. The report follows the ICC’s Rome Statute, which states that “willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health” falls under the heading of a war crime.25 The forcible displacement of the Acholi people away from the gardens that gave them sustenance, therefore, constitutes a crime against humanity and a war crime. Given that the displacement policy continued well after 2002—again, Museveni repeated the displacement mandate in 2002 and 2004—the displacement policy clearly falls under the purview of the ICC.

The key to the charge of genocide, and not just crimes against humanity and war crimes, is to demonstrate that there has been intent on the part of Museveni and Saleh to kill or harm Acholi based upon the latter’s ethnicity and not just the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth. This is where the memo that was given to me becomes significant as an important—though far from the only—piece of evidence. Here, it is helpful to turn again to the list, as provided by the United Nations, of what can count as evidence of intent, this time while filling in the evidence we now have.

1) The existence of a genocidal plan or policy and the recurrence of destructive and discriminatory acts:

The genocidal plan is most evident in the memo. Again, the author of the memo refers to the Acholi people of northern Uganda as “Chimpanzees” and “Monkeys,” and seeks to “drastically reduce the population” so that he can obtain their abundant and fertile land (“I have now realized that the Monkeys called Acholis are sitting upon Gold Mine.”). Here, the distinction in international law between motivation (greed) and intent (to “drastically reduce the population” specifically of the Acholi as Acholi—that is, as members of a particular ethnic group) is critical. The economic motivation does not cancel out the genocidal intent.

There have been two kinds of public statement made by Museveni that give at least indirect evidence of a genocidal plan or policy. The first kind, also found in the memo, is that where, as cited above, Museveni dehumanizes the Acholi, referring to them as “backward,” “primitive,” and even as insects. Greg Stanton, the President of Genocide Watch, states that this language works to “dehumanize” the other group. He goes on to say, “Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion to murder.”26Other empirical studies indicate that where there is verbal dehumanization, there is also a policy to kill.27 If there is a question about the function of dehumanizing language in Museveni’s case, reference can be made to a second type of public statement that he has made, where he makes a direct, if oblique, reference to policy. He is reported as having said twice, once to the East African Law Society, “As Hitler did to bring Germany together, we should also do it here. Hitler was a smart guy, but I think he went a bit too far by wanting to conquer the world.”28 Still, the memo I received is the most direct statement to date of a policy.

The question that arises is whether the deaths of the Acholi living in the IDP camp policy of Museveni are the result, in the words of the UN mapping report, of “destructive and discriminatory acts” on his part. Here it is important to distinguish between the legal meaning of genocide and that which is often present in the popular imagination and even among advocates against genocide. The popular image of genocide is that which is depicted in movies such as Hotel Rwanda, where screaming young men in multi-colored fright wigs beat their machetes in unison against the sides of trucks and commence a bloody attack. The slow but sure deaths from malnutrition, dysentery, and other such causes that occur in the IDP camps do not make for Hollywood material. Even some anti-genocide advocates contribute to misleading understandings of the phenomenon. Gregory Stanton—again, he is the President of Genocide Watch—has written that the segregation of a specific group into ghettos or concentration camps is only a “preparation” for the acts of mass killing “legally called ‘genocide.'” Stanton calls the latter stage “extermination,” which focuses on killing by armed forces or militias.29 However, this is a misunderstanding of the legal definition and understanding of genocide, a misunderstanding perhaps rooted in the model of the Nazi use of ghettos to segment off the Jewsbefore exterminating them in the separate concentration camps. A better example for the case in northern Uganda is the Holodomor—Stalin’s genocide through the destruction of the livelihoods of Soviet Ukrainians in 1932-1933. In light of this latter context it is clear that what has been happening to the Acholi is not a mere “side-effect” of war but part of a patterned plan of action that has historical precedent.30International law also makes this clear. Again, the Convention on Genocide includes “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” as an act of genocide (italics added). Again, Museveni placed not enough soldiers in northern Uganda to protect the Acholi from the LRA but just enough to keep them away from their gardens and livelihoods in the villages and forcibly in the camps where they died. Therefore, there is not only strong evidence of “the existence of a genocidal plan or policy” but also of the “recurrence” over the course of at least a decade of “destructive and discriminatory” acts against the Acholi—in this case in the camps—on the part of Yoweri Museveni.

2) The general context:

There are a number of ways to frame the general context depending on how general one wants to get. Most broadly, it is possible to view the context as one of the tight relationship between colonialism and the rise of modern genocide. In Exterminate All the Brutes Sven Lindqvist follows Hannah Arendt to make the argument that the genocides on the part of fascist and totalitarian regimes in the mid-twentieth century, including the Nazi genocide of the Jews, are not unique circumstances, but rather constitute the continuation of a colonial mindset that developed most vigorously in the exploration and subsequent occupation of sub-Saharan Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century. The book is an extended reflection on its title, which comes from the last sentence of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Lindqvist states his conclusion early: “The core of European thought? Yes, there is one sentence [“Exterminate all the brutes”], a short simple sentence, only a few words, summing up the history of our continent… It says nothing about Europe as the original home on earth of humanism, democracy, and welfare. It says nothing about everything we are quite rightly proud of. It simply tells the truth we prefer to forget.”31

Lindqvist makes clear that the colonial justification for the right to mass killing is grounded in what anthropologists call a unilinear view of social evolution.32 The colonial powers mapped the differences between sub-Saharan cultures and their own onto a worldview that had humanity evolving through pre-specified stages. Given the assumption that European culture was at the most advanced stage, the colonizers identified the cultures of Africa as belonging to earlier stages. This evolutionary scheme is what gives rise to the distinctions between barbaric and civilized, primitive and modern. Of importance here is that although the colonizers often turned to rougher, more blatant terms— “brutes,” “animals,” “insects,” and the like—to refer to Africans, such appeals were and are not always necessary to leverage the act of genocide.

Uganda is noteworthy for the way in which the colonizers ruled. In 1894, the British named Uganda a protectorate and in 1896 included the people of northern Uganda in this designation. That Uganda was a protectorate and not a colony is critical because in the former the British dominated through “indirect” rule, that is, by designating one indigenous group to rule over the rest on behalf of the empire. Indirect rule, coupled with the British quest for bureaucratic order, hardened and reified ethnic differences by setting African over against African.33 The British made the Baganda people in the South, who already had a centralized political system that more closely resembled that of the colonizers, the administrators of the protectorate. The local rulers adopted colonial methods on behalf of the colonizer and for their own benefit.

Over one hundred ten years later, a form of indirect rule continues. As stated earlier, President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement government receives forty percent of its budget from foreign aid in a way that reinforces his twenty-five year presidency and lack of democratic accountability (again, in the last campaign, he jailed his main opponent, Kizza Besigye, on trumped up charges of rape and treason). What is taking place in Uganda today is de factor indirect rule by the donor nations. They get a president who meets their strategic interests, and he gets to rule in perpetuity.

In the meantime, Museveni thinks of northern Uganda (and the DRC) in much the same way that colonialists thought of African countries: as a source of personal economic gain through plunder.34 This is the context within which to understand Museveni’s public use of the terms “primitive” and “backward” to refer to the Acholi over against his depiction of “modern” and “civilized” societies, and his referring to the Acholi as “insects.” It is also why the references to the Acholi as monkeys and chimpanzees in the memo attributed to Museveni are not surprising. As indicated earlier, he, too, conceives of these terms and the Acholi within a unilinear social evolutionary framework.

3) the perpetuation of other reprehensible acts systematically directed against the same group:

Like I indicated earlier, most, though far from all, of the “other reprehensible acts” committed against the Acholi on the part of the NRA/UPDF occurred before the International Criminal Court came into being. It is still critical to investigate these atrocities because they go to the issue of intent with regard to the policy of forced displacement and undo the claims of an intent to protect the Acholi people. The UN needs to do a mapping report of even pre-2002 atrocities in northern Uganda.

In the meantime, it is important to note that the cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even participation, again, in what the UN report calls “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” in the DRC on the part of the UPDF indicates that the decline of these kinds of overt and more readily documented atrocities on the part of the NRM/UPDF in Uganda since 2002 is not due to an increase in professionalism, as is sometimes claimed. Rather, the evidence is that the decline in such cases is due to the fact that the combination of horrid camp conditions and the continued presence of the LRA in Uganda was sufficient to meet the goal of “drastically reduc[ing] the population” of the Acholi as stated in the memo. In fact, the efficiency of the displacement method in meeting this goal actually freed up military personnel for the exploitation of resources in the DRC. It is not incidental that the formation of the camps and the commitment of Ugandan troops to the DRC occurred in the same year.

4) the scale and number of atrocities committed:

Again, according to the World Health Organization, there were 52,000 excess deaths in the camps in 2005, the tenth year since Museveni’s military-enforced mandate that all people in northern Uganda move to the camps. In the earlier years, there were fewer people in the camps but the conditions were far worse. For instance, the WHO reports that Pader, one of the three districts, “was almost entirely inaccessible due to insecurity for much of 2001 through 2003.”35 Estimates of the number of people Idi Amin had killed during his seven year reign range from 100,000 to 500,000. Even conservative extrapolation from the WHO study indicates that the number of Acholi deaths due to the forced displacement by Museveni, Saleh, and the NRM/UPDF clearly surpasses 100,000, and is perhaps closer to 300,000, the number of deaths often attributed to Amin’s regime. Once we bring ourselves around to the fact, as the Convention on Genocide clearly has, that planned deaths via starvation, malnutrition and similar causes—again, a policy of not enough soldiers to protect the camps but enough soldiers to keep the people there and away from their gardens and livelihoods—count every bit as much as atrocities as deaths by gun or machete, then it is not difficult to understand why the mass forced displacement of the Acholi constitutes genocide on the part of Museveni and his cohort.

5) the fact of targeting certain victims systematically because of their membership of a particular group:

The Acholi were chronologically the first and always numerically by far the most in the IDP camps. Forced displacement by the NRM/UPDF was practiced only in Acholi districts, even though other districts—for instance, Lira and Soroti—came under heavy LRA attack.36 These facts fit with the memo’s singling out of the Acholi people.

6) the fact that the victims had been massacred with no regard for their age and gender:

Again, once we get used to the fact that “massacres” can take place, in the words of the Convention on Genocide, by “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” then the criterion that there is no regard for age or gender is not problematic for a determination of genocide. In fact, those who suffer most in camp conditions are the very young and the very old because their immune systems are weak and their general strength is low. The “regard for age or gender” criterion is intended to highlight that many attacks on a population focus on the adult males, who can passably be taken as combatants, and it has been mostly males who have be singled out as such by the UPDF. Death in the camps, however, concentrates most on those who the law of war would most put in the category of the noncombatant: young children and the infirm elderly. Add to this the fact of rape as a common practice on the part of the UPDF in the camps, even after 2002,37 and it is evident that all camp residents suffered and many of them died under Museveni’s enforced mandate.

7) the consistent and methodical manner in which acts were committed:

At the time of the WHO study, 1.2 million people, around 90% of the population of the districts in Acholiland, lived in 121 camps. The rest of the Acholi moved to the towns. In addition to the forced displacement in 1996, the NRM/UPDF repeated the measure of forced displacement for all remaining people in the villages in 2002 and again in 2004 (after the signing of the Rome Statute and the founding of the ICC). Anyone found outside the camps was deemed a rebel. There is no question, then, that the operation was both consistent and methodical.

It is clear from the evidence above, then, that not only the actions but the specific intent—the dolus specialis —of Museveni, Saleh, and the NRM/UPDF’s policies and activities towards the Acholi, policies and activities that continued well after 2002, constitutes genocide in the strict legal sense. Given the disregard for human life exhibited by these parties towards Congolese citizens as highlighted in the 2010 UN mapping report, such genocidal intent and activity towards the Acholi ought not come as much of a surprise. The only question now is whether the various international institutions, including the International Criminal Court, will fulfill their mandates and responsibilities with regard to this matter.

Photo by Trocaire.  Creative Commons License 2.0.



  1. See United Nations, “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” Dec. 9, 1948,
  2. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 500. The report cites Jelisic decision, ICTY, Appeals chamber, no. IT-95-10-A, July 5, 2001, 49; and ICJ, Decision on Genocide, 189: “It is also necessary to distinguish the specific intention from the other reasons or motives the perpetrator may have.”
  3. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 505.
  4. Ibid., 489.
  5. Ibid., 482 and n.899. The UN report also cites Rule 54 of customary international humanitarian law.
  6. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 506. The report cites Brdanindecision, ICTY, Trial chamber, no. IT-99-36-T, Sept. 1, 2004, 700; and Kristic arrest, ICTY, Appeals chamber, no. IT-98-33-A, April 19, 2004, 8.
  7. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 508.
  8. Kristicdecision, ICTY, Appeals chamber, no. IT-98-33-A, April 19, 2004, 134.
  9. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 366.
  10. Ibid., 522.
  11. Olara Otunnu, “Saving Our Children from the Scourge of War,” Speech delivered on the occasion of the 2006 Sydney Peace Prize, Parts I and II, published in The Monitor, Jan. 8, 2006, available at; also Otunnu, “The Secret Genocide,” Foreign Policy, June 9, 2006,
  12. Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot, “Kony’s Message: A New Koine?” African Affairs98 (1999): 26.
  13. Branch, “The Political Dilemmas of Global Justice,” 22.
  14. Rodriguez Soto, Tall Grass, 21-22.
  15. Helen Nkabala Nambalirwa, “‘The Lord Destroyed the Cities and Everyone Who Lived in Them’: The Lord’s Resistance Army’s Use of the Old Testament Sodom/Gomorrah Narrative,” in Culture, Religion, and the Reintegration of Female Child Soldiers in Northern Uganda, ed. Bard Maeland (New York: Peter Lang, 2010): 181-192.
  16. The issue of the culpability of atrocities committed by abductees, particularly children, is a complex one that needs more space to be worked out than I can provide here.
  17. See, for instance, Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide(New York: HarperCollins, 2002); and Samuel Totten and William S. Parsons, eds., Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009).
  18. Again, see Human Rights Watch, “A Media Minefield: Increased Threats to Freedom of Expression in Uganda.”
  19. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 349, 402, and 444.
  20. Samson Ntale, “ICC to investigate Ugandan army,” CNN, June 3, 2010,
  21. Ministry of Health, The Republic of Uganda, “Health and Mortality Survey Among Internally Displaced Persons in Gulu, Kitgu, and Pader Districts, Northern Uganda,” July 2005, ii,
  22. See note 6 in Part II above for further references on the unwillingness of the UPDF to protect the camps adequately.
  23. UNOHCHR, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003,” 482.
  24. Ibid., 489.
  25. Ibid., 482 and n.899. The UN report also cites Rule 54 of customary international humanitarian law.
  26. Gregory H. Stanton, “The 8 Stages of Genocide,” Genocide Watch,1,
  27. See David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human: Solving the Puzzle of Dehumanization(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011). See also the Facebook community by the name, Less Than Human: Solving the Puzzle of Dehumanization.
  28. Shariat(a weekly Ugandan newspaper), April 15-21, 1998; Museveni repeated the comments to the East African Law Society. Cf. “Watch Out, M-7, Uganda is Unkind to Dictators,” The East African, June 9, 2003.
  29. Gregory H. Stanton, “The 8 Stages of Genocide,” 2.
  30. On the Holodomor, see
  31. Sven Lindqvist, “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide(New York: The New Press, 1992), ix-x and 3.
  32. Unilinear evolutionism accounts for differences between cultures not by pointing to differences in space—”They are different because they developed over there”—but by constructing differences in time—”They are different because they are from earlier and lower stages of evolution.” The theory of unilinear evolution has been used to justify and animate racist policies of exploitation.
  33. On indirect rule, see Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  34. The irony is that Museveni describes himself as anti-colonial even while he mimics colonial dehumanizing speech and economic exploitation. In 1987 he writes, “It is inevitable and desirable that a clash of this type between the forces of patriotism and modernization, on the one hand, and the remnants of colonialism and forces of backwardness, takes place in order to ensure a stable Uganda.” See “NRA to cover rebel areas,” New Vision, August 21, 1987. However, the more Museveni presses his claim in the terms of “primitivity” versus “modernity,” the more he mimics colonialism. Indeed, it is arguable that, given the fact that Museveni has ruled without interruption since 1986, the NRM merely continues in the services of the indirect rule of developed countries in the present day.
  35. Ministry of Health, The Republic of Uganda, “Health and Mortality Survey Among Internally Displaced Persons,” 2.
  36. See Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre/Norwegian Refugee Council, “Uganda: Returns Outpace Recovery Planning,” August 19, 2009, 24-38,$file/Uganda_Overview_Aug09.pdf.
  37. See, for instance, Human Rights Watch, “Uprooted and Forgotten,” 32-34.


By Todd David Whitmore
Todd David Whitmore is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics in the Department of Theology and Faculty Fellow in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.