Monday, March 01, 2010

Uganda's Silent War

- Winner of the 2008 Robert F Kennedy Journalism Award, this BIR report looks at the impact of International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants on the civil war and peace process in Northern Uganda -

“The international community must not be numbed into keeping northern Uganda a ‘silent’ or ‘forgotten’ emergency, as it has been previously described,” said Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah’s visit to northern Uganda. “We can’t and must not lose sight of the simple fact that the toll being taken on children is this conflict’s most tragic and distressing impact.”

One of the ugliest aspects of the war in Uganda is the rebels’ practice of abducting children and forcing them to serve as soldiers or porters, or to become sex slaves for commanders. Since the conflict began, more than 20,000 children have been abducted.

The war has also forced about 1.7 million people to flee their homes on a long-term basis. At a camp built to house 26,000 displaced people, Ms. Salah observed the work of UNICEF and partner organizations in providing clean water and supporting education. A school has been built in the camp so that children can continue their education and preserve some sense of normalcy, despite the war and turmoil that surrounds them.

Conflict in the northern parts of the country continues to generate reports of abuses by both the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan army. A UN official blamed the LRA in February 2009 of "appalling brutality" in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The number of internally displaced persons is estimated at 1.4 million. Torture continues to be a widespread practice amongst security organizations. Attacks on political freedom in the country, including the arrest and beating of opposition Members of Parliament, has led to international criticism, culminating in May 2005 in a decision by the British government to withhold part of its aid to the country. The arrest of the main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and the besiegement of the High Court during a hearing of Besigye's case by a heavily armed security forces (before the February 2006 elections) led to condemnation.

Recently, grassroots organizations have been attempting to raise awareness about the children who were kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army to work as soldiers or be used as wives. Thousands of children as young as eight were captured and forced to kill. The documentary film Invisible Children illustrates the terrible lives of the children, known as night commuters, who still to this day leave their villages and walk many miles each night to avoid abduction.

- Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are people forced to flee their homes but who, unlike refugees, remain within their country's borders. At the end of 2006 estimates of 24.5 million in some 52 countries. The region with the largest IDP population is Africa with some 11.8 million in 21 countries.

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