PRESS CONFERENCE ON HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN UGANDA
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
18 October 2005
Olara Otunnu, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, today appealed to the Secretary-General to lead a campaign against what he described as “the genocide” of the people of Northern Uganda, as well as for the international community to take action against rebel insurgents under the “responsibility to protect”, as pledged at the recent 2005 World Summit. Mr. Otunnu was one of four speakers appearing at a Headquarters press conference to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Uganda and to provide recommendations for a peaceful resolution to the conflict taking place in that region.
Also speaking were Alison Lawton, founder of the Canadian-based ‘Act for Stolen Children in Northern Uganda’ campaign; Betty Bigombe, chief peace mediator for northern Uganda and former Government minister in Uganda; John Pendergrast, Senior Adviser to the President of International Crisis Group, and Carol Bellamy, President and Chief Executive of World Learning and former head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Correspondents were told that, as a result of nearly 20 years of conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government, more than 1,000 people died each week or were forced to live in internally displaced persons’ camps, the largest of which contained a population of 60,000 people and where insecure conditions led to 15 suicides each day. “What is unfolding in Northern Uganda is genocide”, Mr. Otunnu said, pointing out that all the elements contained in the United Nations 1948 Genocide Convention were prevalent in that regional crisis.
Correspondents were also told that children in the affected area were being preyed upon by the LRA as potential army recruits, labourers or providers of sexual service, perversely leading thousands to leave their families each night to sleep in large urban centres as far as 25 km away, where they felt safer.
“The people are caught between the gruesome violence and the cynical policies of the Government”, Mr. Otunnu said. He urged the international community not be swayed by political considerations when dealing with this issue. He remarked that action had been taken in Darfur but not Northern Uganda, indicating what he thought were double-standards.
As background to the discussion, Ms. Bigombe described her role in the Northern Ugandan peace process, saying that while she was a minister in the Ugandan Government, she had asked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni if she could use her contacts with the LRA and the Government to begin looking for a mutually beneficial solution. At one point, she had succeeded in engaging Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, in a face-to-face dialogue.
However, the conflict in Northern Uganda now faced a new challenge, posed by an International Criminal Court (ICC) ruling of 7 October 2005, which called for the arrest of five commanders of the LRA. The ruling has exacerbated the already deep distrust between the two sides and made it impossible to engage with the now outlawed LRA leadership; but since the ICC had asked her to continue her efforts, Ms. Bigombe will focus on discovering “pull factors” to bring out the LRA leaders who have not been indicted and on repackaging the peace process accordingly.
Talking to correspondents about the humanitarian issues facing Northern Uganda, Ms. Bellamy said that women and children living in internally displaced persons’ camps were often subject to sexual violence by other residents and even army officers of the Government. She also drew attention to the findings of a UNICEF survey, which stated that total mortality rates, and under-five mortality rates, at internally displaced persons camps were above the emergency threshold of one death per 10,000 and two deaths per 10,000 respectively. She said most of the children’s deaths were from malaria, fever and malnutrition, and noted that those who survived received no schooling at all throughout the span of the crisis. “Nothing can keep me away from speaking out and joining in the effort with others to call attention and force next steps and restoring some dignity and humanity to the people of Northern Uganda”, she said.
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For information media • not an official record
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