Armed UPDF soldiers patrol parts of Uganda in January 2021. People around mining centres accuse of sexual assaults. PHOTO/COURTESY.
By Fred Wambede
Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers deployed at mining sites in Karamoja Sub-region have been accused of sexually harassing female miners.
It is alleged that whenever the victims report the
cases to the army officials in charge of the sites, the perpetrators are
arrested but later released.
Victims at Nakabaat and Nanyidick mining sites in Rupa Sub-county, Moroto District, have appealed to government to come to their rescue.
“Most of the rape cases have been reported to the army officials in charge of the site but to our dismay, the perpetrators are released without our knowledge after paying some money,” Ms Sandra Aleper, a miner, said at the weekend.
Ms Aleper said last month, a 10-year old girl was allegedly defiled by security personnel at Nakabaat Mining Site, but the perpetrator has since disappeared.
“We don’t get justice and we cannot leave the mining site because this is where we earn a living,” she said.
It is reported that soldiers defile and rape girls and women, especially from isolated areas.
“They also force us into sex when they find us sleeping in our huts during their night operations,” Ms Sabina Achila, another miner, said.
Another victim , who preferred anonymity, said she reported the matter to Moroto Central Police Station but nothing was done to help get justice.
“He was arrested and taken to Moroto Central Police Station but after a week, he disappeared from the station. I tried to follow up but I was not helped,” she said.However, Mt Moroto Regional Police Commander, Mr Francis Chemusto, demanded evidence from the victims to show that they reported the cases, and that they were mismanaged.
The UPDF 3rd Division spokesperson, Maj Peter Mugisa, promised to investigate the cases.
“We are not aware of such allegations but we are going to investigate,” he said.
Maj Mugisa maintained that the soldiers are deployed to protect miners and the sites from criminals.
The deputy District Internal Security Officer (DISO), Mr William Senoga, promised to carry out a fact-finding mission on the matter.
During a meeting at Nanyidick mining site last month, the miners also complained of being denied access to the pits.
Ms Grace Akello, another resident, said the government forced the mining companies to construct for them community boreholes as part of loyalties.
“We are not happy because our minerals are being trucked away yet we are not benefiting much as owners,” she said.
Mr Edward Eko, the deputy chief administrative officer, earlier said they were working with partners to ensure that artisanal miners are protected and organised.
“Our role is to ensure the mining activities are in order,so that they can obtain location licences to operate legally,” he said.
Ms Dylis Ndibaisa, a senior programmes officer at Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO), also cited rampant teenage pregnancies at the mining sites. “There are many teenage pregnancies in the mining sites. Young girls are being offered as low as Shs2,000 in exchange for sex,” she said.
Ms Ndibaisa also said security operatives demand money from the community after they have sold their gold. Ms Prisca Ilukol, a project officer at ECO, said they were engaging the district mineral watch platforms to establish a grievance mechanism structure to enable victims of sexual violence to access timely justice. “There is need for legal and policy frameworks to effectively support sustainable management of the mining sector and safeguard interests of local communities,” she said.