“They Killed Us”: The LRA Massacre in Adjumani District Uganda


Denis Branabas Otim, Refugee Law Project, School of Law, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Fifteen years ago, the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) committed heinous crimes and atrocities in Dzaipi Sub-county in Adjumani district. There are a number of documented evidence about the LRA in Acholi Sub-region. However, to a number of the locals in Dzaipi, little is known about the LRA conflict in the West Nile sub – region of Uganda particularly Adjumani district. Like any other part of Acholi sub-region, the LRA is also known to have committed grievous atrocities including massacre  of innocent civilians in Adjumani district. The narratives in this article are drawn from a field and field notes from the author while working with Refugee Law Project under the Conflict Transitional Justice and Governance (CTJ&G) programme  with funding support from the European Union (EU).
Noticeably, the killing of innocent civilians by any armed groups/political actors is globally condemned. This, in brief, can be described as massacre, a word with a French origin referring to “butchery” or “carnage”. Also it should be noted that during conflicts, states and non-state actors do often respond differently when violent crimes and human rights abuses are committed. In the case of Uganda, a number of individuals decried of late, slow or no response at all.

Mapping of massacre, killing and burial sites is one of the most recent undertakings by Refugee Law Project in the West Nile Sub-region of Uganda. This exercise is envisaged to contribute towards documentation of memory and past human rights violations and abuses which forms a core component of promoting accountability in Transitional Justice and post conflict environments. 

Though seemingly a new approach and not widely used in Uganda, massacre scoping  is key in contributing towards a Transitional Justice process in post conflict societies. The purpose of the massacre scoping was to get in-depth witness accounts of what happened during the violent attacks by the LRA. It was also important in increasing transparency about what happened in Dzaipi, as well as  the creation of a memory landscape, in understanding the suffering that the war-affected communities went through and documentation of ongoing legacies of  violent conflicts.

Dzaipi massacre site is located 27 Km east of Adjumani town. Interaction with community members from Dzaipi indicated that on the 8th of March 2005, the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) attacked Dzaipi and killed a total of 8 innocent civilians (Four females). The massacre occurred during the celebration of the International Women’s Day thus drawing the name “The Women’s Day Massacre”. Witnesses from Dzaipi narrated that, a day before the attack; Dzaipi was a very peaceful. In the year 2005, Dzaipi Sub-county was chosen by Adjumani district authority to host the celebration of the International Women’s Day. During the day, the celebration went on smoothly as people enjoyed and jubilated. 

During the massacre scoping exercise in August 2019, individuals narrated that the situation changed abruptly late in the night as it was approaching the day of the 9th March, 2005 when the LRA attacked. 

"We were seated down here (pointing to his house) and we saw fire burning at the center, immediately I rushed to wake up, in just about three minutes before reaching him, his house was rounded up by the rebels. I immediately, heard a gunshot.  The 1st in the air then very many into the house where my brother and the family were. As a result, my brother was shot in the knee, the wife in the jaw, and the child in the hand. Unfortunately, my brother died of the injury after some years," says, Alfred. 

It is narrated that on that fateful day, the LRA rebels killed 8 and about 78 hurts were burnt leaving nothing behind. Those who survived and had injuries were taken to Adjumani hospital and others were later referred to Lacor Hospital in Gulu District.  In responses to the tragedy, the Government of Uganda (GoU) under the Adjumani disaster preparedness committee provided some food rations which included posho and beans and blankets for those who were affected. But this was said to be insufficient as family members got 5kgs of posho, 2kgs of beans, and people had to find means of getting other resources for survival.

The massacre is said to have greatly affected the lives of very many people including school children. “It was the first time that this happened and it made people to feel very bad and most of us had to flee our homes and seek refuge in Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs), others ran to their relatives in Gulu town”. Narratives indicated that the killing took place in an open space and that the civilians were attacked on their way back home after the celebration. As the massacre happened, a number of civilians remained helpless. Members of Dzaipi community stated that when the attack happened, surprisingly, there was a small detach call Okuleago (a small barrack) very near to the place attacked by the LRA, not more than 2 kilometers. 

Regardless of the incidence the locals expected to have been provided with better security and safety. But because of their few numbers, it is alleged that the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) could have intentionally or rather technically slowed their response to avoid casualty on their side by not confronting the LRA rebels. Unfortunately, the UPDF could not respond immediately, they waited until dawn to counteract the rebels, laments one of the community members. This is said to have angered the civilians of whom some were forced to leave their homes. “I left for 5 years and upon return life was not easy because many still lived with trauma and had to start a new life” says a member of the community.  

To date, the LRA soldiers who are commonly called or known as Acholi have left deeply untreated wounds and injuries in the minds and the heart of the community of Dzaipi in Adjumani. The main concerns arising from the survivors and victims’ is the need for reconciliation, reparation and rethinking development response in post conflict Adjumani district of the West Nile sub–region.