Walk Against “Slow� Genocide

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Don Cheadle met children as young as five years old, who walk up to 17 miles every night to avoid abduction by LRA rebels. LRA abducts children to swell their ranks. Young boys and girls become fighters; some girls become concubines to commanders. Victims have also had their noses, limbs and lips cut off. Summarizing these atrocities, after a visit, Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief calls the war the “world’s worst forgotten crisis.� Former UN Under-Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflicts, Ambassador Olara Otunnu refers to “slow-motion genocide.�

On October 22, New Yorkers will join in a global walk to draw attention to Uganda’s brutal 19-year war, whose victims are predominantly children and women, some of whom have had their limbs and lips hacked.

The United Nations reports that 20,000 children in northern Uganda have been abducted by a vicious rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who mutilate, sexually abuse, and force young victims to kill friends and parents.  Separately, Amnesty International reports that the Ugandan Army of President Yoweri Museveni has committed crimes against civilians, including murders and rapes, as it battles LRA. Caught in this crossfire are Uganda’s children and innocent civilians.

Global “GuluWalk,� will occur in more than 40 cities around the world, including Toronto, where the idea was conceived, to Kampala, Beijing, and here in New York City. Victims also will march in Gulu, which is the capital of Acholi region in Uganda, and is the epicenter of the bloodshed. The NYC march will start at around 3:30 PM, at Merchant’s Gate at Central Park, across the street from Columbus Circle, UNight, the not-for-profit group organizing it, says in a statement.

It was only after a recent ABC “Nightlineâ€? program that most Americans first found out about Uganda’s untold tragedy. The report was narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle, of “Hotel Rwandaâ€? fame. Cheadle visited camps in Uganda where two million people, 90 percent of the population of the Acholi people who inhabit the conflict region, have been confined in camps by the government against their will, forcing them to abandon homes and farms, which many fear the government wants to sell to foreign developers. While President Museveni argues that the camps are meant to “protectâ€? these citizens, human rights groups have widely condemned the illegal confinements and the U.N.’s World Health Organization reports that as many as 1,000 innocent civilians die every week from lack of adequate medical treatment and nourishment in the camps. The camps are decrepit and unsanitary and have become death traps, harboring the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country. Also at these camps, the soldiers meant to protect civilians have been charged with committing rapes and murders.

Beyond the indignity of overcrowded camps and reliance on handouts from the humanitarian agencies, life in the camps has torn apart families and systematically destroyed the local culture and way of life. An entire generation of Ugandan children has never entered a classroom.

During his visit to Uganda, Cheadle met with children as young as five years old, who walk up to 17 miles every night to avoid abduction by LRA rebels. The rebel LRA abducts children to swell their ranks. Young boys and girls become fighters; some girls become concubines to commanders. Victims have also had their noses, limbs and lips cut off. Summarizing these atrocities, after a visit, Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief calls the war the “world’s worst forgotten crisis.â€?  Former UN Under-Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflicts, Ambassador Olara Otunnu refers to “slow-motion genocide.â€?

It is this suffering that inspired two average Canadians, Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward this past summer to duplicate the “walk� made by Ugandan children, for one month, in Toronto. Their strategy, to publicize the suffering of Uganda’s children was successful beyond their expectations, giving birth to the idea of a Global Gulu Walk.

In New York City, the Global “Walkâ€? is being coordinated by UNight a not-for-profit organization formed to publicize the Uganda tragedy. “The world cannot allow such atrocities to continue unabated,â€? the group says, in a statement. “It’s for this  reason that we urge all concerned people of goodwill to come join the march so that Uganda’s children know the world has not abandoned them.â€? The organization’s website is on Unight.org. The New York Walk will commence around 3:30 P.M., from Merchant’s Gate, along Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue, up to 110th Street then proceed back to the park, the group says. Organizers can also be reached at 646-261-7566 or 617-899-1672 or 201-562-8560.

Additionally, UNight says the Walk will spark a grassroots movement and network of “concerned� citizens. In its media brochure, the group says other goals include lobbying Congress and the U.S. government to have northern Uganda declared “a special humanitarian emergency,� to “dismantle� the squalid death camps, to help “end the recruitment of child soldier� and to provide protection to all those who flee the righting. UNight also says it will also mobilize funds and resources throughout the US to help rebuild the children’s lives and provide them with food and education.

The fighting has devastated the economy of Uganda’s Acholi region, and even after cessation of hostilities, civilians will need a massive program of rehabilitation, counseling, and economic recovery. Unemployment runs as high as 90%.

The terrible war has not commanded the attention it deserves from the United Nations, the Bush Administration and the wider international community. The White House, understandably, praises Uganda’s fight against AIDS, but inexplicably continues supplying the country with so-called “nonlethal� military equipment and ignores the war’s atrocities against civilians, particularly children.

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