Thursday, January 12, 2006


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says the situation in war-ravaged northern Uganda is "extremely grave" with atrocities and abuses committed by both the notorious rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan military.

"People are deprived of social, material and human rights needs," she told reporters during a visit to Uganda, adding that abuses of civilians by the LRA were of "great magnitude" but compounded by violations by the Ugandan People's Defense Forces (UPDF), which Arbour said amounted to a "breach of trust."

"Even though these violations may be of a smaller magnitude, violations by the UPDF contain an element of breach of trust where the person that is supposed to defend you instead offends you," she said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, thousands brutally attacked and some 1.6 million people, about 80 percent of the population, have been driven from their homes in fear of the LRA, which is known for its brutal treatment of civilians.

Many of the displaced live in squalid camps, prone to disease, harassment and abuse from their would-be protectors.

"There is violation of human dignity in the camps," Arbour said. "People complained about lack of access, violations of their rights, denials of health and economic rights."

"The most severe violation is the total incapacitation of the people to participate in decisions concerning their future," she added. "They express their needs in the very short term and the deprivation of hope is very serious."

The Christian LRA has become well-known for its brutal attacks on villages in which it kills, maims and abducts people, mainly children, to work as rebel fighters or sex slaves.

Last year the International Criminal Court indicted five of the group's leaders, including its elusive supremo, Joseph Kony, on war crimes charges.

None of the five have been arrested.

In a report released yesterday by the Belgium based International Crisis Group (ICG), Sudanese military officers have been accused of continuing to aid the LRA despite the international arrest warrants.

"There are credible reports that elements of Sudanese military intelligence still aid them [the LRA]," said the International Crisis Group (ICG) in the report.

"[LRA leader Joseph] Kony's location roughly 100 km north of Juba [in southern Sudan] indicates he is still being given sanctuary by elements in the government," it said on Wednesday.

The ICG said, however, that while the Sudanese government had admitted using Kony as a destabilization strategy against a rebellion in the south in the past, any support currently being given to the LRA did not reflect official policy.

Sudan had in the past named Uganda as a supporter of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLM/A). Following the signing of a peace agreement to end a 21-year war between the SPLM/A and the Khartoum-based government in January 2005, relations between Uganda and Sudan thawed.

"Spoilers within the ruling National Congress Party and military, who continue to exert full control over the security structures of the new government, are hostile towards the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the LRA remains a tempting tool with which to help scuttle the agreement," the ICG noted.

The report, "A Strategy for Ending Northern Uganda's Crisis", said as one of the world's worst and most neglected wars enters its 20th year, the conflict which has shattered northern Uganda shows "no end in sight."

"Without a comprehensive government-donor strategy, the northern Uganda problem will never be definitively solved," Suliman Baldo, ICG Africa program director said.

The report outlined a far-reaching plan to execute the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants and bring the twenty-year-long conflict to a close.

"The U.S., UK, Norway and the Netherlands (the informal " Quartet" of concerned countries in Kampala), along with other ICC supporters and the UN must all work with the Ugandan and neighboring governments to fashion a comprehensive approach that integrates both military and non-military elements," it said.

"In isolation, military, diplomatic, political, and judicial strategies have no realistic prospect of success", said ICG senior adviser John Prendergast.

The IGC called on governments committed both to ending the war and achieving accountability in Uganda to devise and apply a comprehensive strategy that complements and reinforces the ICC indictments and the peacemaking efforts of Bigombe.

In order to end the 20-year old insurgency, the IGC recommended that both Uganda and neighboring states should be pressed to cooperate to fight LRA incursions; getting the Ugandan military to focus on protecting civilians; and supporting former Ugandan minister Betty Bigombe ' s moves to renew dialogue with the LRA including incentives for its non-indicted leaders.

"The UN Security Council should recognize the LRA poses a threat to international peace and security, endorse this plan, and appoint a UN envoy," said ICG.

The LRA has waged a bloody war in northern Uganda since 1988, taking over from a previous insurgency against President Yoweri Museveni's government. Sources:AFP, IRIN, New Vision (Uganda), ReliefWeb

No comments: