Ending Uganda's â€œBrilliantâ€? Genocide
If the camps were intended to protect civilians, they have failed spectacularly; if they were created to indiscriminately exterminate Acholis, the Nazis, known for precision, would have been awed.
[Black Star News Editorial]
How to return the more than one million Ugandan civilians confined by the East African country's government in concentration camps for more than 10 years to their abandoned and destroyed homes?
That's the question posed to Ugandan officials by activists from a San Diego-based organization, Campaign to End Genocide in Uganda-Now! (CEGUN www.cegun.org), at the recent conference of Ugandans living in America, organized by the Ugandan North America Association (UNAA), held in San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency- Embacardero hotel.
Ugandans, including government ministers, traveled from all over for the annual gathering; Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was the keynote speaker. While the conference was focused on investment opportunities in Uganda and other issues, CEGUN’s "Other Voices" panel dealt with the abominable destruction, deaths and suffering in Uganda’s Acholi region.
In existence for less than a year and a half, CEGUN's already effectively allied with other individuals, organizations and media sources to inform Americans about Uganda’s "silent genocide"; a genocide that has been ignored by much of the world. In fact, one observer spoke of fighting for the past 15 years to get the crisis placed on UNAA’s agenda.
CEGUN's panel included its co-chairs Tim A. Hardy and Lucy Larom,Hellen Otii (a member of Friends for Peace in Africa,www.friendsforpeaceinafrica.org), as well as invited speaker Milton Allimadi, Black Star News publisher. As opposed to other activist organizations on behalf of the people suffering in Uganda, CEGUN is supported and informed by Acholis who comprise a significant number of its membership.
Chairperson Larom is a 72-year old American grandmother –she lived in East Africa in the 1960s—whose passion and conviction was clear during the panel discussion: She could barely contain her emotions when she asked why non of the government officials even mentioned the word "restitution" for the victims of Uganda's death camps.
From whence came these camps? They are referred to euphemistically as “Displaced People’s Camps,” or I.D.P.s—sinisterly masking the horrors in the camps that have yet to be adequately exposed.
The "displacement” was actually perpetrated by the Uganda government when in 1996, villagers were ordered to leave their homes within 48 hours. Those opposing the measure were accused of being rebel sympathizers and killed; villages were bombed and wealth,
in the form of cattle, food stocks and other assets confiscated.
The Uganda government claimed the nearly 200 camps were intended to protect civilians in Acholi region from the brutal insurgency of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This thesis has been exposed as fiction.
Victims of the 20 year war have been almost exclusively civilians. These have been killed, abducted, mutilated and sexually violated by the LRA; Uganda’s national army, the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) has similarly committed massive human rights abuses, including murders and rapes against the civilians. Atrocities by both sides are well documented, including in the recent June 2007 report, "Making Peace our Own," by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); please see (http://www.ohchr.org/english/docs/northern_Uganda_august2007.pdf.)
Yet, the majority of deaths have occurred in the government-created and operated camps; from hunger, thirst, curable and treatable diseases, and human rights abuse at the hands of government soldiers guarding the camps.
The World Health Organization, a United Nations body conducted a survey, ironically, in conjunction with Uganda's own health ministry. The findings were startling; as many as 1,000 deaths per week occurred in the government-created and government-operated camps. That translates into 52,000 deaths per year; 520,000 over the 10-year period in which most of the camps have operated. Even taking only 50% of that WHO figure still means that as many as 260,000 deaths occurred over a 10-year period.
Death has blanketed Acholi. Speaking at a separate panel, Toronto-based Ugandan doctor, George Otto cited World Health Organization (WHO) figures showing that the crude mortality rate in Gulu municipality in Acholi was 1.29 per 10,000 people and 1.91 per 10,000 in Kitgum; by comparison, WHO designates 0.44 per 10,000 as “emergency” or “crisis” he said.
If the camps were intended to protect civilians, they have failed spectacularly; if they were created to indiscriminately exterminate Acholis, the Nazis, known for precision, would have been awed. Even the LRA might marvel at the kill-rates; their own pales miserably in comparison.
No wonder critics, including the former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, have charged the Uganda government with administering "slow motion genocide" of the Acholi.
At the San Francisco conference, Richard Todwong, a Presidential Advisor in matters related to the affected areas to Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni was asked whether the camps had saved lives. Perhaps before thinking out his response, he said nobody thought the war would go on for more than six months.
So the government was aware that confining an entire population in squalid camps, with unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate food, water, medicine and housing, was untenable—at least not for more than six months. Yet, the camps have operated for more than 10 years; the strategy amounts to mass extrajudicial murders.
Now, going into its second year, the Uganda government and the LRA have been negotiating in Juba, Southern Sudan, an end to their war. The two sides have signed a "cessation of hostilities" agreement. The LRA combatants are confined in known locations outside Uganda. Presumably, a final agreement will pave the way for Acholis to return home.
Yet when asked about resettlement plans, some Ugandan officials claimed that everyone was now "free" to return to their homes and that government was not preventing anyone. One official even said some of the survivors were too "lazy" to relocate.
This is mind boggling. Representatives of Uganda government have yet to grasp the scope and magnitude of the crimes against Ugandans confined to the death centers: the scale and scope of destruction of lives and property certainly qualifies as crimes against humanity.
Resettlement programs must include the full participation of the United Nations and shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Some areas are currently infested with landmines.
Moreover, even though the victims and survivors of the death camps can never be fully restored, at a bare minimum, they must be provided adequate resources to start productive economic activity and social services, including schools and hospitals. There must also be restitution in the form of direct payments and long-term subsidies for the lives and property destroyed. Any reasonable court of law would recognize the enormity of loss and compensate accordingly.
Government officials spoke of a possible $100 billion fund that may be raised from donors for the recovery program next year. Given the rampant corruption levels widely reported in Uganda, including embezzlement of monies for fighting HIV/Aids, independent monitors must be included in managing such vast sums of money.
But the big question remains: why has the massive suffering in Uganda's Acholi region not met with universal condemnation such as has been marshaled against the atrocities in Darfur?
Unlike past genocides, including Hitler's extermination of Jews, and more recent ones in Rwanda and Congo, where mountains of skulls provided clear evidence, Uganda's is very peculiar. The deaths occur in camps scattered over a wide geographical distance.
Moreover, most people are conditioned to understand genocide from the perspective of violent bloody upheavals. Yet, Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide states it as: "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Uganda’s on-going nightmare fits the definition tightly.
Victims are not hacked to death with machetes, but allowed to die from want of sustenance and nourishment. It is, in fact, the brilliant genocide.
The perfect crime….or almost.
Almost—because in the past the Uganda government had been able through propaganda campaigns to demonize Ugandan critics of its pogrom. But now, increasingly, grassroots organizations around the world, including CEGUN, are demanding that their elected officials, at local and national levels break the conspiracy of silence. They don’t want their countries, through tax-payer dollars in foreign assistance to Uganda, subsidizing such atrocities.
So, the San Francisco gathering, wherein a small but dedicated group of activists confronted Ugandan officials may signal the moment when ordinary Americans actively joined the quest to demand an end to Genocide in Uganda Now.
Publisher's Note: There have been some attempts to distort what was said at the panel discussion and rewrite history. For readers interested in a true sampling of the discussion please see the video highlights: "Break the silence. Uncover the reality"
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