Amnesty International members in the D.C. area met at the GW Law Center Friday to discuss the frequent abduction of Uganda’s children into the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed opposition group in rebellion against the Uganda government.
Erin O’Brien, an Amnesty activist working to end the abduction of children for the LRA’s army, told the audience of about 90 people not to give up hope of ending the brutal abductions despite a situation that appears grim.
I think if something like apartheid can go down, something like this can as well, O’Brien said.
The Amnesty group presented an hourlong documentary, Soldier Child, created by Neil Abramson and edited by Danny Glover, detailing the horrifying living conditions Ugandan children experience.
The film detailed how abducted children are held at gunpoint and taken to the neighboring country of Sudan, where they are trained as soldiers.
Before they leave, the children are often forced to kill family members, friends and relatives, so that the LRA can take their food and supplies, according to the documentary.
The film depicted the experiences of girls, who are often given to the rebel leaders as wives. Even the girls who escape almost always have sexually transmitted diseases and psychological problems after being raped systematically for months or years, according to the documentary.
One child who escaped to a refugee camp, Simon, age 11, talked about his experience when he was forced to kill a man.
They just sit behind you and force you to kill, he said.
O’Brien has been a dedicated activist in Africa since the mid-80s and frequently has briefed the U.S. government on human rights issues. She has met with former President Jimmy Carter and President Bill Clinton. Since the fall of apartheid, she has fought to have the Ugandan children soldiers become the focus of the African human rights struggle.
O’Brien said a number of abducted children who escape to refugee camps are not allowed to return to their families.
O’Brien said she hoped everyone in the room would try and find a way to help.
She said letters sent by Amnesty to the children and people of Uganda last year helped communicate concerns for human rights.
So many student groups wrote letters, it gave them a little of the hope back that they’d lost, said O’Brien. They had begun to think no one cared.
She urged everyone in the room to write to their congressmen to support HR 209, a resolution that condemns the use of children as soldiers, or sign letters already prepared by the GW Amnesty chapter.