In July, as the United Nations convened a conference on controlling the illicit trade in small arms, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced, “To halt the destructive march of armed conflict and crime, we must stop such purveyors of death.” He was silent on a related topic: the victims of U.N.-supported gun confiscation programs, which have served as a pretext for murder, rape, torture, and arson in Kenya and Uganda.
In a report released during the conference, Independence Institute Research Director David B. Kopel and two of his colleagues noted that a disarmament campaign targeting pastoral tribes along the Kenya-Uganda border has displaced “tens of thousands of people, turning them into starving refugees.” In both countries gun possession is illegal except for a politically favored elite, and in recent years the two governments, acting under U.N. auspices, have renewed a drive to disarm tribesmen who keep guns to protect their herds against predatory neighbors.
“The government has decided to disarm the Pokot by force,” Kenyan Security Minister John Michuki told Parliament in April. “If they want an experience of 1984 when the government used force to disarm them, then this is precisely what is going to happen.” Michuki was referring to the mass killings, rape, and torture that had accompanied an earlier disarmament campaign. “As a government,” another official explained, “you should talk from a position of strength. You cannot come in saying you are going to respect human rights.” After the military moved against one village in May, 15,000 panicked refugees fled to Uganda.
In Uganda, meanwhile, the government has been periodically killing civilians, bombing homes, and destroying crops as it seeks to disarm the Karamojong, displacing some 80,000 people. Kopel and his co-authors describe the campaign there as “enthnocide by disarmament.” On June 26 the U.N. announced that it was withdrawing financial support for the Uganda campaign, but as of this writing it continues to fund Kenya’s disarmament program.