Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

Amin, Idi

By - Kjell Follingstad Anderson

Idi Amin Dada was the dictator of Uganda from 1971-1979 – he was best known for his brutality and his seemingly erratic behaviour.  He was born in 1925 in West Nile Province (in the northwest of Uganda).  He attended an Islamic school and entered the colonial British Army in 1946. He claims to have fought in the Burmese campaign of the Second World War but this was an impossibility, considering the year in which he joined the army.  This is just one example of the many boastful exaggerations and falsifications that Amin was prone to.  Amin was also known to possess a certain cunning and magnetism that served him well in his lifelong manipulations.

Amin’s sadistic personality first became evident when in 1962 he commanded a detachment of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in an investigation of cattle theft in Turkana.  Several of the alleged thieves were killed and when their bodies were later exhumed from pits it became evident that they had been beaten, tortured, and in some cases buried alive.1

Uganda became independent from Britain in 1962 and in 1966 Prime Minister Milton Obote threw out the constitution and assumed direct and complete control of the country.  In 1971 Amin (by this point the Armed Forces Commander) overthrew Obote in a military coup.  Amin was one of the first two “black” Africans to become commissioned officers in Uganda and he had quickly risen through the ranks of the military.  At first Amin’s regime seemed to be quite moderate as he abolished the secret police (the General Service Unit) and freed many political prisoners.  Amin also promised to hold free elections soon but the tenor of his regime soon changed.  He began to use the military police, State Research Bureau (an intelligence body under his personal control), and the Public Safety Unit to brutally repress and kill his opponents.  Through the years Amin became increasingly paranoid and distrustful, and progressively broadened his definition of his “enemies.”

Amin’s brutality also had an ethnic dimension as he oppressed certain ethnic groups such as the Acholi and Lango, while favouring other groups such as the “Nubians” from the West Nile region straddling the Sudanese border.  He purged (executed) as many as 7 000 ethnic Acholi and Lango from the army (two thirds of the army) in his first year in power.2  He also expelled 35 000 Indians from Uganda in 1972.

In the 1972 Entebbe incident an Air France Plane flying from Paris to Athens was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two members of Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang and flown to Entebbe (Uganda).  Amin took little action (Amin had close relations with Libya and sometimes flirted with radical Islamic and leftist groups) and the passengers were rescued in an Israeli raid.  This incident resulted in a further deterioration of Uganda’s external relations and countries such as Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom all broke relations at some point with the Amin regime.  As he became more isolationist, Amin also increased his rhetoric, dubbing himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire” and the “King of Scotland.”  He also made grossly anti-Semitic statements defending the holocaust.

In 1979 Amin invaded Tanzania and it was the Tanzanian army that drove him from power later the same year.  Amin died as an old man in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003.

In all Amin murdered at least one hundred thousand people and probably as many as 300 000 (according to the International Commission of Jurists).  Many others suffered human rights abuses such as torture, mutilation, and rape. Amin never faced justice in Uganda, or in an international court, for his crimes.


1 Patrick Keatley, "Idi Amin," The Guardian, August 18, 2003.

2 Keatley.