Uganda's Forgotten Victims

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Peace talks in northern Uganda have broken down once again. If precedent is any guide, the biggest losers in this latest development will be children.

A report issued by the World Bank last week, Development and the Next Generation, found that over 66,000 youth have been abducted by Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). In the hands of the LRA, these children have been killed or forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves.

The conflict in Uganda is Africa's longest running civil war. Over 100,000 Ugandans have been killed and 1.8 million others -- over 80% of the Acholi people of northern Uganda -- live in squalid displacement camps. Uganda's government has failed to relieve their suffering.

Yet when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed their plight during a brief stopover in Uganda recently, he declared, "We appreciate the role Uganda has played in assisting to resolve conflicts, especially in the Great Lakes region."

In addressing the local media, Ki-Moon went on to express his focus on the military and political challenges in Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region, where he demanded "action and real progress." Not one mention of the appalling conditions just 250 kilometers north of the capital city of Kampala.

This lack of urgency from the international community is both surprising and irresponsible. At the UN's 2005 World Summit, the responsibility-to-protect doctrine received unanimous approval, and was subsequently endorsed by the UN Security Council. The doctrine makes clear that with sovereignty comes responsibility --a responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Yet, instead of holding the government of Uganda responsible for the humanitarian emergency in the north, the UN and other engaged international actors continue to praise local leadership for their fight against HIV/AIDS, the nation's economic development and its efforts to contain violence in neighboring countries.

The internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern Uganda were set up by the government over a decade ago. Abductions and killings went down, but the death rate in northern Uganda actually increased because of the abhorrent living conditions.

In May, 2006, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni launched a six-month "Emergency Plan for Humanitarian Actions for the North." The plan proposed enhanced protection and assistance to IDPs, and a focus on the residents' gradual return home. It looked great on paper, but there were never any resources to make it a reality. Even if a peace deal is reached soon, many Acholi will remain destitute.

No one is calling for military intervention. All we are asking for is a "commitment to prevent," which is step one of the "responsibility to protect." Those direct prevention efforts should include diplomatic and political interventions -- particularly from those key donor nations, such as Canada, which are best placed to hold Uganda to account.

At the International Conference on War-Affected Children in Winnipeg in 2000, a 14-point Agenda for War-Affected Children was adopted. With it, Canada urged "political, moral, economic and social leadership" to protect the rights of children in conflict. The closing statements were very clear: "It is time for states, institutions and individuals around the world to show leadership in word and in deed. Let us make this century a peaceful one, in which the rights of the child are respected, protected and promoted everywhere."

The Acholi children of northern Uganda are prisoners of war, within their own borders. What we are witnessing is a conscious disregard for human life. Where is our "political, moral, economic and social" leadership?

Bradbury is a Walter & Duncan Gordon Fellow and the founder of Gulu Walk, an international grassroots movement for peace in northern Uganda. On Thursday, February 22, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Allan Rock will host the Gulu Walk Gala at the CBC building in Toronto. For more information,

(Source: National Post

© National Post 2007


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