Last week, the first Ugandan war crimes trial opened in northern Uganda. Thomas Kwoyelo has been charged with 53 counts of willful killing, hostage-taking, destruction of property and causing injury. Thomas, now 39, has denied all charges.
This trial has me thinking a lot about the use of child soldiers and the implications of a child growing up within an army environment. It has been reported that Thomas joined the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1987. That would make him 15 years old when he began his life with the Ugandan rebel army. Did Thomas really have a say in his role? Did he have a chance to be a teenager? Did he want to commit the crimes that he committed? As evidence has confirmed, Thomas played a leading role in the conflict led by the LRA during his adult years. However, did Thomas have a say when he first joined the LRA? Did he have a choice when he was forced into committing crimes under his commander’s orders?
In both Police and Paicho primary schools we promote peace, understanding, and human rights among students. Things change though when someone’s life is put at stake. We can teach children to pursue peaceful behavior in their lives but when adults take advantage of children in a conflict situation, many will be forced to go against what they believe in and what they believe is the right thing to do.
As the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers states on its website, ‘The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.’ As a child you do not have a say in whether you fight; it is something you do to stay alive. Thomas is responsible for the crimes he has committed but did he really have a choice in his initial involvement? When it comes to fight or die, as a 15 year old, which would you choose?