Fleeing Violent Regime Land-grab, 200 Uganda Villagers Storm United Nations Compound

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Uganda land-grab victims seek intervention from Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: news.un.org 

GULU, Uganda--The cries of children can be heard inside the compound of offices of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights here in the city of Gulu. The children belong to some of the 200 people who have occupied the compound demanding that the United Nations Security Council address what their leaders label an "ethnic cleansing" campaign -- a land grab that's led to the violent ouster of villagers from their land in Apaa, a fertile area in the northern part of Uganda. 

The campaign, carried out by Uganda's military, the police and the country's wild life authority has led to deaths, and ethnic tensions between the Acholis and Madis, communities that have lived in harmony for decades. These rural people believe the regime of Gen. Yoweri Museveni, the country's dictator of 32 years, wants to lease their land to outside investors and to expand a game reserve. 

Violent regime land-grab in Apaa has been the subject of media reports and  academic studies in recent years. In the past women, fearing their children and grandchildren would die from starvation once kicked off the land have resorted to desperate measures, even stripping naked in front of government officials and soldiers

In this current crises, leaders of the community have also written a letter to Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking for intervention. They say they won't leave the UN compound since the violent ouster has left them homeless. They are also seeking a halt to the attacks and compensation from the Ugandan regime for loss of lives, destruction of homes and theft of properties. 

"Our people have been killed and maimed, our homes burned, and our property destroyed and looted by the very forces that should protect us as Ugandan citizens," reads part of the letter, dated June 11, 2018 and signed on "behalf of affected communities of Apaa" by a local leader, Odoki Silvesto. "Since late 2017 alone, Uganda's national army, the UPDF, have burned over 800 houses, caused three deaths, and perpetrated countless severe beatings of Apaa residents. Attacks on our homes are ongoing."

Florence Anyeko, 48 years old, a mother of eight children is among the 200 people who walked from Acholi Ber village in Apaa, Labala parish, Pabbo Sub County, Amuru District. They say they have no choice but to seek asylum in the U.N. compound because their homes at Acholi Ber village was burnt down by Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Uganda Police Force and Uganda People Defence Forces (UPDF), in February, 2018. Since then the UWA and UPDF have continued to raid their village and looted livestock including foodstuff, Anyeko said.

She said some people are still looking for missing relatives since the displacements. She said her family had been living in makeshift housing since their home was burnt in February, but now there was increased ethnic tension. About 1,000 Madi people, from an adjacent community have been transported to their community to build housing in their backyards.

The Acholis and Madis have lived in harmony for decades. As part of the campaign to drive Acholis from their lands, the regime has stoked inter-ethnic fighting between the two peoples, in addition to the raids and home burnings by the armed forces. It is believed a retired general from the Idi Amin regime era, Moses Ali, who is now Second Deputy Prime Minister in Gen. Museveni's regime, is behind the campaign.

Michael Lakony, the Amuru District Chairman, said he too was surprised by the news that more than 200 people had taken refuge in the UN Human Rights Commission offices. He said the attacks by the armed forces, the police and the Wild Life Authority still continued. 

In the past, Dr. Kizza Besigye, whom many believe won the 2016 presidential election, has called for an independent inquiry into the killings in Apaa saying in some cases there was a pattern with the deaths carried out by the military in Kasese in November, 2016. 

Silvesto, the local council leader of Acholi Ber village, read, the letter to Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, to reporters, outside the UN Human Rights Commission offices in Gulu.

"At a time when the government of Uganda receives international praise for providing land to refugees fleeing neighboring conflicts, it is a disgrace that the same government be permitted to seize land from Ugandan citizens themselves struggling to recover from two decades of war," the letter to Prince al-Hussein reads. 

The letter urges that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' top official in Uganda, based in Kampala, the capital, visit the displaced people of Apaa, in Gulu. 

The demands include: a visit by representatives who are based in Kampala, of Uganda's top donor nations and from the embassies of Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, and the EU; and investigation by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing; a halt to the attacks by the armed forces; removal of road blocks and end to intimidation of civilians; correcting the wrongfully redrawn borders of land areas between Acholi and Madi; compensation for injuries, loss of life, and destroyed homes and property; adhering to a 2012 High Court order staying all evictions in Apaa; and, barring any redress by the Ugandan government, sanctions including a travel bar against officials engineering the conflict and land-grab. 


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