Diminishing Vision?

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A quintessential aspect of genocide is the destruction of a people, physically or culturally, in whole or in part. The project of genocide, and its instrumentality, can be inferred as much from government actions and policies, as from omissions where there is a duty to protect.

(Children in the death camps---where is the humanity?)

The New Vision, Uganda’s government owned newspaper on Tuesday, 5th September 2006, published an editorial entitled "Be honest Otunnu," which falsely attributed statements to Olara Otunnu, the former United Nations Undersecretary General in charge of children in war zones. Otunnu, a Ugandan who is no longer affiliated with the U.N., had been an invited speaker at a conference in New York City organized by Ugandans in North America.

The New Vision, referring to Otunnu, claimed "speaking at the Uganda North American Association convention in New York, the former diplomat alleged that there was a secret alliance between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army to commit genocide in Acholi." With due respect, I challenge the Vision’s claim. I know the statement to be false because I was at the conference, also spoke, and faithfully recorded its proceedings. I challenge The New Vision to produce transcripts of the proceedings where allegedly Olara Otunnu made the claim attributed to him. 

What Olara Otunnu stated is the following: “It's clear that this is a war of convenience.  It's clear that the LRA factor and presence have been finickly manipulated to divert attention from the genocide unfolding in the concentration camps and other atrocities being committed by the government itself.  In effect, objectively, LRA and the Museveni's regime are allies.  It's instructive that in this war the UPDF and LRA have rarely engaged each other while both commit depredations on the civilian population."

In addition, Olara Otunnu made the following remarks, among others:

-For the last 10-20 years, a population of almost 2 million people from Acholi, Lango and Teso regions have been forcibly herded like animals into concentration camps

-Death rates in the concentration camps are three times higher than those of Darfur.  In June 2005, a survey by a consortium of humanitarian agencies reported an excess of 1,000deaths every week in camps in Acholi

-The concentration camps have the worst infant mortality rates in the world today.  A survey by World Vision has reported that 1,000 children die every week because of conditions imposed in the camps. The infant mortality rate in northern Uganda is 172 per 10000 live births. The under five mortality rate is 3.18/10,000/day, well in excess of the emergency threshold of 1/10,000/day

-As several reports have documented, rape and generalized sexual exploitation, especially by government soldiers, have become “entirely normal.�

-Typically, it takes 12 hours of waiting in line to collect a jerry can of water from a water pump; the standard waiting time in such emergencies should be 15 minutes.

-Access to latrines is abominable.  A recent survey found that 85% of camp population in Gulu district did not have access to latrines.  The minimum requirements for such emergency situations are 1 toilet for 20 adults and 1 toilet for 10 children.  In camps such as Orom and Lugoro, over 4,000 persons share one latrine.

-Chronic malnutrition is widespread; approximately 50% of children have been seriously stunted in their growth.

-As reported in December 2005 by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Access to healthcare is almost non-existence.�  In Kitgum district, the doctor/population ratio is 1:33,000, while the nurse/population ratio is 1:6,800, and the midwife/population ratio is 1:7,443.

-In the face of relentless cultural and personal humiliations and abuse, suicide has risen to an alarming level.  Depression, severe trauma, and alcoholism are rampant.  Suicide is highest among mothers who feel utter despair at their inability to provide for their children or save them from needless disease, starvation, and death.

-Two generations of children have been denied education as a matter of government policy; they have been deliberately condemned to a life of darkness and ignorance.

-The Acholi society is renowned for its deep-rooted and rich culture, values system and family structure – these have all been destroyed under the conditions imposed in the camps.
Otunnu stated that while the LRA are responsible for unspeakable atrocities and abominable crimes against the civilian population, the government is responsible for the genocide that is unfolding in northern Uganda.  Nowhere, however, did Otunnu claim that� a secret alliance between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army to commit genocide in Acholi.�

Olara Otunnu was not a lone voice weighing the record of the government in northern Uganda.  Professor Ali Mazrui, the keynote speaker at the UNAA convention, described the atrocities committed by government soldiers in northern Uganda as crimes against humanity. Professor Mazrui also noted during his keynote address that while the rest of Uganda suffered terribly under the tyranny of Idi Amin’s regime, it was only against the Acholi and the Langi that Amin committed genocide. Most Ugandans will probably agree that the conditions and the death rates in Acholi today are several times worst than they were under Idi Amin. 

Professor Mahmood Mamdani, a highly respected Ugandan scholar, stated on Saturday at a forum attended by government ministers and leaders of political parties that the government of Uganda has committed crimes against humanity in northern Uganda. A growing number of respected international institutions, scholars, and commentators are describing the government policy in northern Uganda as genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Writing in The East African on July 31, 2006, well-known columnist and former Nieman Fellow Charles Onyango-Obbo noted that "the case for peace with Kony in order to end what, in real terms, was a genocide in northern Uganda, has always been strong.� Note the careful phrasing “in real terms, was a genocide.�

Edward Mulindwa, writing on June 4, 2006 on the “structure and agency of Acholi genocide,� described the following scene: “The UPDF sodomy patrols armed with assault rifles and HIV/AIDS roam the camps at night stoking for families. A UPDF officer explains how difficult it was to resist the temptation of joining the mobile sodomy patrol units. He said, “when UPDF soldiers sodomize the Acholi population, they would return to barracks shouting, ‘we are men, we are real men, we have been into camps on patrol and sodomized the Acholi people. We are men, real men, now!’�

Human Rights Watch, in its November 2005 submission to the 38th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, stated that the “nineteen-year war in northern Uganda continues to destroy the social and economic fabric of the people of northern Uganda, where almost the entire population…is forced to live in substandard displaced persons camps.�  This is very similar to a statement by a priest in northern Uganda who said that “everything Acholi is dying.� 

A quintessential aspect of genocide is the destruction of a people, physically or culturally, in whole or in part.  The project of genocide, and its instrumentality, can be inferred as much from government actions and policies, as from omissions where there is a duty to protect. The principle of res ipsa loquitur—that the thing speaks for itself—applies with equal force in this case. Except in this instance government culpability rises beyond mere negligence and omission into criminal intent and criminal responsibility.

Having made so grave an unsubstantiated accusation and directly impugned Otunnu's character and reputation, The New Vision’s editorial page blithely proceeded to make this self-righteous statement: "It is going to take equal scrupulousness to arrive at a comprehensive settlement that will free Uganda and Acholi of the terror endured over two decades. Dishonesty is only diversionary and will not help solve the big issues." 
The tradition used to be that an honest and scrupulous journalist would cross-check his facts and sources and take pride in proclaiming veracity as his stock in trade. I hope that that noble tradition has not been compromised at The New Vision.  It would no doubt be a great relief to its readers if, following a careful review of the facts, the newspaper duly corrected the misstatement.
I agree with The New Vision that "dishonesty is only diversionary and will not help solve" Uganda's problems. Unfortunately, as Albert Camus noted in The Rebel, “on the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence—through a curious transposition peculiar to our times—it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.�
Finally, I note with deep regret that a similar claim to the one that appeared in The New Vision’s editorial was made by Opiyo Oloya in an article he published in The New Vision on Monday, September 4th 2006, titled "Otunnu alleges LRA secret alliance."  I have great respect for Opiyo Oloya. He is a person I consider to be both decent and honorable. On this occasion, however, he inexplicably got the facts completely wrong when he wrote that: "In an explosive session before a larger than average crowd at the UNAA Convention in New York, former UN Under Secretary General for children Olara Otunnu, on Sunday accused LRA of having been in a secret alliance with the Government to commit deliberate genocide against the people of northern Uganda."
Oloya attended the forum in question and duly recorded it. I hope that he will correct the record after he has had the opportunity to review the transcripts of the proceedings. Given his outstanding record as a national columnist, I expect that Oloya will do the right thing. It is my belief that the misstatement in question was the result of an oversight or an editorial error.
The author is a Ugandan attorney practicing in New York City.
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