UGANDAN PEACE ACTIVIST TIPPED FOR FAMED PEACE PRIZE

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Feb. 24 (GIN) – From a camp for displaced people amidst war, Victor Ochen was never far from the strife that afflicted Uganda over a decade ago. The Lord’s Resistance Army abducted his elder brother and cousin. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

Since then, Ochen has turned his personal pain into an initiative that aims to rehabilitate victims of war by providing psycho-social support and lifesaving healthcare.

As the head of the African Youth Initiative Network (Ayinet), he joins Edward Snowden, Pope Francis and Mussie Zerai, an Italian priest of Eritrean origin – all nominees for the prestigious Nobel Prize.

The American Friends Services Committee (AFSC) wrote: “Mr Ochen has shown commitment and effectiveness in his efforts to address the needs of victims. By working for transitional justice, he has been able to promote human rights through non-violent means.”

Ochen is a graduate of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Program and his nomination thrilled the prelate.

“Mr Ochen is part of a special group of African leaders who have graduated from the program and I wish him well as a potential recipient of this auspicious honor,” Archbishop Tutu said.

Most recently, Ayinet stepped into the debate over the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has been gathering information on atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army since being  invited into the country in January 2004.

Ayinet rebuked the court for now closing its northern Ugandan operations to reopen in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Local Partners regard the decision as nothing less than a withdrawal of Outreach,” Ayinet wrote in a position paper.  The move “dangerously downplays the seriousness of the conflict in northern Uganda and its horrific aftermath… It will decrease pressure on relevant actors to pursue Uganda’s cases with urgency, domestically and internationally.”

The ICC was further criticized for ignoring the actions of the government of Uganda which “not only failed to protect its citizens but compounded their misery by forcing much of the rural population into so-called “protected villages,” wrote Lucy Hovil, senior researcher of the International Refugee Rights Initiative.

“The ICC inadvertently promoted the government’s narrative of the conflict,” she wrote. “It appears to have become complicit in enabling President (Yoweri) Museveni to maintain power for almost three decades.”

Meanwhile, activist Ochen will know in October if he has bagged the celebrated prize, which consists of a Nobel Medal and Diploma and $1.2 million in cash.

“My work in supporting victims and survivors of war, advocating for human rights, engaging in peace and reconciliation, is out of inspiration,” said Ochen, “and I hope this recognition will shift the attention from the perpetrators to the victims and survivors of wars not only in Africa, but worldwide.” w/pix of Archbishop Tutu and Victor Ochen

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