UGANDA: Children's Rights in the UN Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.

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Report submitted by Ms. Katarina Tomasevski, Special Rapporteur on the right to education


Report published: 9 August 1999
Mission to Uganda : 26 June - 2 July 1999

Issues raised:

View the full report:


Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Francis M. Deng


Report published: 3 March 2004

Issues raised:

Abducted children:.Internal displacement in Uganda is today one of the most serious humanitarian crises worldwide, but despite its magnitude and devastating consequences for the populations affected it has been largely neglected outside of the country, and has indeed been called a “forgotten crisis”. The vast majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are located in the northern districts of Gulu, Pader and Kitgum, although other areas in the centre and the east of the country have also been recently affected by displacement. In the north displacement is mainly caused by the conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda. Since March 2002, following a renewed government offensive, the situation has deteriorated drastically and the number of internally displaced has grown at an alarming rate. The most recent estimates indicate that approximately 1.4 million persons are displaced inside the country, while in July 2002 the figure was 650,000. Many reports indicate that the LRA has consistently terrorized the civilian population,  including by abducting children to serve as porters, sex slaves or child soldiers. The conflict has now been continuing for more than 17 years and, in the absence of a ceasefire or peace process, no solution seems in sight. In addition, the conflict is complicated by its regional links to the conflict in the Sudan. Furthermore, Uganda has also been affected by other displacement situations both in the east and in the west. (Paragraph 1).

There have been many reports relating to raids by the LRA, theft of supplies, abduction of children from the camps and other abuses such as rape. Information regarding abuses and other protection concerns is difficult to obtain, as there are no mechanisms for systematic monitoring or reporting in place. A number of local and international NGOs conduct occasional monitoring and in this way provide important information with regard to protection concerns, but these efforts are far from sufficient and do not cover all IDPs. Furthermore, the difficulties in physically accessing the camps further complicate efforts aimed at obtaining reliable information. The NRC previously ran a project delivering legal aid to returnees, which to a large extent focused on property restitution issues relating to return. However, this project had been inactive during the months preceding the mission as no returns had taken place. (Paragraph 23).

Street children:  The Representative visited the Awer camp 20 km to the north of Gulu, which hosts approximately 20,000 IDPs. There, he witnessed the living conditions of IDPs, the sanitation, health and education facilities, and also observed food distribution by WFP. In Gulu, he had the opportunity to witness the tragic predicament of the so-called “night commuters”, mostly children, who go to sleep in the town centres out of fear of the LRA. In Gulu and Kitgum, he visited centres for the rehabilitation of children who had previously been abducted by the LRA. (Paragraph 5).

Perhaps the most shocking barometer of the perilous security conditions in the north is the phenomenon of the so-called “night commuters”. In order to protect their children from abduction by the LRA, parents in the northern districts send their children to sleep in the Gulu, Kitgum and Pader town centres every night. During the past several months, an estimated 25,000 children and adults have commuted distances of up to 5 km from their villages to the towns in the late afternoon and again from towns to villages early the next morning. In the towns, the children who are sometimes accompanied by their parents, sleep in the streets, in hospital compounds or at sites provided by humanitarian actors. The Representative was deeply saddened during his visit to witness this tragic situation. He spoke with some of the children staying in the compound of a hospital in Gulu, and he was struck by their expressions of despair. The  Representative was also saddened upon meeting children who had previously been abducted by the LRA and had either escaped on their own accord, been released or had been rescued by the UDPF. Some recounted their terrible stories of abuse and forced recruitment, many of them visibly traumatized by the experience. One young girl told the Representative how she had been abducted and abused as a sex slave by an LRA rebel, and had only managed to escape as she wanted to protect her child who had been born during captivity. (Paragraph 26).

As noted above, a particular issue of concern has been the situation of the approximately 25,000 “night commuters” who are mostly children (see paragraph 26 above). Local and international NGOs and a number of United Nations agencies, in particular UNICEF, are active in providing basic support to the “night commuters”. At the time of the visit, however, children were sleeping in the open, in the streets or in hospital compounds. Several specific initiatives have been undertaken, with the result that shelter programmes have reportedly improved since the visit of the Representative. Moreover, a number of humanitarian NGOs were providing support and rehabilitation programmes to children who had previously been abducted by the LRA and served as child soldiers or sex slaves. (Paragraph 33).

Violence: Paradoxically, the LRA has committed serious crimes and atrocities against “its own people”, the Acholi in the north. Violent attacks by LRA forces starting in the mid-1990s forced about three quarters of the populations of Gulu and Kitgum districts to flee their homes. The LRA soon gained a reputation for abducting children in order to forcibly conscript them, force them to carry looted supplies, and sexually exploit them. (Paragraph 17).

Children and armed conflict: The Department for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness in the Office of the Prime Minister has the main responsibility within the Government with regard to IDPs and is supported in its activities by a number of other departments. The Government is in turn supported by the United Nations, whose actions are coordinated by the Resident Coordinator, non-governmental partners and the donor community. The main challenge for the Government and the humanitarian community has been to provide basic humanitarian assistance and protection to the more than 1 million IDPs. Lack of adequate safe access and logistical problems, however, significantly impede these efforts. Because of the prevailing situation of insecurity in the north, United Nations activities have been focused on assisting the Government in the provision of basic humanitarian assistance support for the reintegration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants (mostly child soldiers). The United Nations has further promoted advocacy for humanitarian access and provided basic support to civil society groups involved in humanitarian efforts and the promotion of peace in the north. (Paragraph 28).

NGO programmes:.The Representative was impressed by the activities and programmes he witnessed which were being carried out by a number of national and international NGOs. The Norwegian Refugee Council was performing admirably in the provision of food aid as implementing partner of WFP. Other NGO efforts on behalf of previously abducted children as well as “night commuters” were equally impressive, given the difficult operational environment. (Paragraph 41).

Child protection (IDPs): The Representative was particularly concerned, however, at the apparent serious lack of physical protection for the displaced. Observers noted that the UPDF only posted a handful of soldiers to protect camps, each housing some 20,000 IDPs, and others noted that no serious efforts were being made to protect the camps. In particular, the situation of women and children seemed alarming. Children were at constant risk of being abducted and recruited as child soldiers and a number of interlocutors also mentioned other abuses such as rape. The Representative also noted that the freedom of movement of the displaced in the camps was severely limited. Most IDPs did not leave the camps for fear of being attacked, and despite being surrounded by fertile agricultural land, the IDPs remained dependent on humanitarian food aid. The Representative noted the serious lack of information regarding the issue of protection of the displaced owing to the complete absence of any form of relatively reliable monitoring and reporting. He highlighted this issue with a number of interlocutors, including the Human Rights Commission of Uganda, noting that the Commission might be able to play an enhanced role in this regard. During discussions with government officials the Representative also noted this serious lack of protection and urged the Government to take added measures to enhancing the protection of the displaced. (Paragraph 42).


In particular, the Representative calls upon the Government of Uganda: (Paragraph 57).

(i) To give priority and support to ensuring education for children in camps;

(j) To increase protection of and assistance to “night commuters” during transit into urban centres and while in urban centres at night, including adequate accommodation.

The Representative recommends that the United Nations, international .humanitarian and development organizations and partners: (Paragraph 58)

(c) Develop and implement targeted child protection activities for IDP children, in particular the children among the “night commuters”.


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt


Visit undertaken: 17 to 25 March 2005

Report published: 19 January 2006

Issues raised:

Child mortality: The Health Sector Strategic Plan II for the period 2005-2010 seeks to reduce morbidity and mortality from major causes of ill health through universal delivery of UNMHCP. The overriding priority of HSSP II will be the fulfilment of the health sector’s contribution to meeting the goals of PEAP and MDG, namely reducing fertility, malnutrition, maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as disparities in health outcomes. The National Health Policy and Health Sector Strategic Plans have been formulated within the context of the Constitution and the Local Government Act, 1997, which decentralized governance and service delivery. The Government has engaged in a process of health-care decentralization in order to ensure that district leaders are directly involved in, and accountable for, health policies for the communities they represent.9(Paragraph 19).

Child mortality rates remain alarmingly high, with a reported increase between 1995 and 2000 from 81 to 88 deaths per 1,000 live births.13 These deaths are attributable mainly to malaria, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection,  malnutrition, AIDS and maternal conditions such as early pregnancies, lack of access to safe contraception, brief spacing between pregnancies and lack of access to education and information for young women. In addition, 2.2 million people were afflicted with soil-transmitted helminthiasis in 2004 and 16.7 million were exposed to schistosomiasis, the majority of whom were children. Intestinal parasites in children contribute to anaemia, poor growth and poor cognitive  performance - conditions which continue to fuel poverty. (Paragraph 24).

Access to information: More can and should be done to dispel damaging myths and misinformation about neglected diseases. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government adopt public information campaigns targeting disadvantaged rural and urban communities, including internally displaced persons camps, which should utilize the mass media, village health teams, health professionals, church and other faith networks, schools, trade unions, and so on so as to raise awareness of neglected diseases and to promote non-discriminatory behaviour towards afflicted persons. Information should always be available in local languages. (Paragraph 35).

Discrimination: In northern Uganda, the Special Rapporteur heard testimonies from children, men and women who had experienced ostracism and discrimination as a result of conditions related to lymphatic filariasis. Their experiences highlighted the devastating impact this disease can have for those affected, not only on their health, but also on their rights to work, education, housing and food. In Obalanga, the Special Rapporteur was told stories of the myths and misconceptions surrounding lymphatic filariasis. Some individuals continued to believe that individuals afflicted with hydrocele had contracted it by riding a bicycle, while others referred to the widespread and persistent belief in their community that hydrocele was indicative of male virility. The Special Rapporteur was impressed by the initiative of one community-based organization, the Obalanga Health and Human Rights Centre, which provides support to people affected by  lymphatic filariasis, advocates for accessible and affordable treatment, and endeavours to combat stigma and discrimination. (Paragraph 51)

Human rights education: Wide-ranging measures are required to combat all forms of discrimination and stigma associated with neglected diseases in Uganda, including through the implementation of health-related laws and policies which confront  discrimination in the public and private sectors. As referred to in section A above, public information campaigns should be developed to raise awareness of neglected diseases and to promote non-discriminatory behaviour towards afflicted persons. In addition, human rights training for health professionals should be integrated into the curricula of medical schools in Uganda. (Paragraph 53).

Child health days:  In Uganda, many districts experience several neglected diseases which all require MDA. However, the delivery mechanisms for MDA are different for each disease. Conceivably, interventions for neglected diseases could be integrated into Ugandan Child Health Days, which use health facilities and outreach services as distribution channels, but this possibility requires further careful examination. Indeed, generally speaking, the possible alignment of MDA delivery mechanisms needs additional urgent consideration. (Paragraph 57).

Follow up to mission in 2005


Report published: 21 March 2007

Issues raised:

Child health days: Furthermore, the Ministry of Health has adopted an integrated approach for interventions against some neglected diseases (such as lympathic filariasis, bilharzia and Guinea worm). These interventions are now integrated with “Child Days” (which take place biannually over one month) and so Child Days are now known as Child Days “Plus”. This important step towards an integrated approach, which was one of the central recommendations in the January 2006 report, is warmly welcomed. (Paragraph 20).


 Visit requests rejected

  • (R in 2006, 23 May 2011) SR on freedom of expression
  • (R in 6 September 2011) SR on freedom of association and assembly


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