by Kriss Perras
LOS ANGELES – Rwanda was a shock to the International community. And during the entire horrific scene of humans hacking other humans to death, the major media collaborated with the powers at be to keep the atrocities under wraps. French President Jacque Chirac’s son was running guns deep into the bowels of the massacre. And, the Western world took no action, preferring discussions over domestic social spending and social security lock boxes.
A large scale elimination of a population in Northern Uganda is being drowned out by the constant stream of news on Iraq and a so-called “war on terror.” And, once again the masses are preferring another subject.
But as bad as Rwanda was, the Northern Uganda genocide will leave the average person in the International community reeling in another shockwave of terrible images and a sinking feeling in their gut of what happened to our resolve of “never again?”
Mr. Olara Otunnu, former United Nations Undersecretary General and Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict who is Ugandan born himself, revealed how deep the atrocities go in this 19-year war-ridden mostly Christian nation during his appearance at the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles last night.
“The epicenter of the genocide is the camps,” Otunnu said. “This infrastructure of death which has been put in place needs to be dismantled so that people can go back to their homes and their lands.”
Over 2 million civilians in Northern Uganda currently live in government controlled Internal Displacement Camps (IDP concentration camps). They have been forced into these IDP’s by the government of Northern Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni supposedly to protect them from the war between Musevenis Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and the northern rebel group Lords Resistance Army (LRA).
The some 200 IDP camps that confine more than 500,000 people are located in the districts of Acholi, Lango, Pader, Gulu and Teso and near the Sudan border. A slice of the numbers in the camps is as follows: The Kalongo camp in the Pader district has more than 51,000 people; the Pabbo camp in Gulu district has more than 40,000; the Palabek Kal near the Sudan border has more than 25,000 people.
The genocide is being carried out against the Acholi tribe, which represents 4 per cent of the Ugandan population. But specifically, Acholi people who refuse to join the fight with the LRA, which is mostly Acholi itself, are the main target. the LRA claims the population are government collaborators and must pay in blood.
But the Acholi also suffer by the hands of the Museveni dictatorship. Museveni is a previous ragtag rebel leader supported by the United States and Britain who have been the major donors and supporters of his regime since he came to power in 1986.
Both the U.S. and U.K. have bankrolled and armed Museveni’s brutal dictatorship who has in turn crushed any political opposition and killed a specific ethnicity to stay in power. Museveni has brought pain to the Acholi ever since his dubious rise to power. And he has kept the International eye away by barring local and International media from the region.
U.S. and U.K. money and arms allowed Museveni to spread war, strife and terror in Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Acholi that remain number only about 1.5 million.
The death rate in the Northern Ugandan genocide is three times that of Darfur, Otunnu said.
And, in Darfur, some 450,000 people were killed.
Otunnu reports that a community targeted for genocide is usually the recipient of a hate campaign where the residents hear such threats as “We shall make ‘them’ become like the ensenene insects; you know what happens when you trap them in a bottle and close the lid.”
This case of genocide also uses very a different means of murder, different but perhaps no less gruesome than the hacking used in Rwanda.
“HIV/AIDS in Uganda is being used as a weapon of mass destruction. Soldiers are screened, and those found to be HIV positive are then especially deployed to the North to commit maximum havoc on the local women and children. Rape. Sexual abuse,” Otunnu said.
Prior to the camps there was barely any infection of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, Otunnu said.
“Today, HIV/AIDS is between 30 to 50 per cent in the camps. The rate in the rest of the country is 6.4 per cent,” Otunnu said. “It is the Rebel group that is responsible for abducting children, for maiming populations and so on. And their whole role has been well-documented, especially in the West.”
Otunnu reports that more than 20,000 children have been abducted and brutalized by the LRA. And some 40,000 children, the so-called “night commuters” walk several hours to the towns of Gulu and Kitgum to avoid abduction.
“Darfur has gone on for three years. What I am describing in Northern Uganda has gone for fifteen years. For fifteen years people have been herded into these camps in which people are dying at the rate of 1,500 per week, and 1,000 children per week are dying in these camps,” Otunnu said.
Between 4,000 to 6,000 people have to share one latrine, women wait in line for 12-hours or more for one jerrycan of water and six to eight people pack themselves into a hut the size of 1.5 meter radius, Otunnu said.
“But the tragedy about this, the cynicism about this, is the way in which the government has used the presence of the LRA, the small ramshackle group, as the pretext, the cover, to commit the genocide I’ve been describing for you,” Otunnu said.
“How come we are marching to end the abominations in Darfur?” Otunnu asked. “But, there is complete silence on Northern Uganda.”
Regrettably there are several factors, Otunnu went on to explain.
“One is we have African leaders who learned too well from their Colonial masters,” Otunnu said. “Along the colonial order, they divide our people. They manipulate the diversity of our people. They say ‘this is us’ and ‘that is them,’ using religion, ethnicity, using regionalism.”
In order for Museveni to retain power he “divided the people along ethnic lines,” Otunnu said. And, Northern Uganda became a base for the operations in both the Sudan and the Congo. And once the people were ripped from their lands, the government and military commanders brought in commercial farming from South Africa and Zimbabwe to till some of the richest soil in that region, Otunnu said.
“Ugandan people themselves are fighting day and night to end the genocide. But, we are in a situation where the government of Uganda does not rely upon Ugandans for its power and mandate. It relies on the outside word of the U.S., number one, and the U.K., number two and the European Union, number three. So, the pressure that comes from outside is critical to ending the genocide,” Otunnu said. “President Bush two or three days ago said, we must call genocide by its rightful name. So, we must call genocide by its rightful name in Northern Uganda.”
“So, what you see here is a spin job. You are being told which African Regime is doing a good job. Regardless of the evidence on the ground.”
In an interview after his speaking appearance, Otunnu spoke of his feelings on the peace agreement in the Sudan, and how when we now speak of Darfur we must also speak of Uganda.
“I am very happy that a peace agreement has been reached on the Sudan. And, I am very pleased the role the U.S. has played in this,” Otunnu said. ” In Darfur, the U.S. has demonstrated lessons learned from Rwanda. To act. To highlight what is going on. To call the genocide by its name. To mobilize public opinion within this country. To mobilize public opinion abroad. Put peacekeepers there. The peace agreement. These are the kind of actions that should be taken when a population is in danger. More still needs to be done, but at least we’ve shown that we have learned some lessons from Rwanda with regard to Darfur.”
“In Rwanda no action was taken. And, we said we would never allow it to happen again. If we see a vast elimination of a population we shall act. We shall mobilize public opinion. We shall condemn it. We shall go on the streets. We didn’t do that in Rwanda,” Otunnu said. “In Darfur we learned the lessons of Rwanda applied. But we have not learned to apply the lessons of Rwanda in Northern Uganda.”
“Uganda is a longer, deeper, more comprehensive situation of genocide,” Otunnu said. “I deeply, deeply regret the lack of U.S. action in Northern Uganda, a situation which requires similar if not more leadership and more action.”
Mr. Otunnu is the recipient of the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize where he received $50,000. That money was used by Otunnu to establish the LBL Foundation, an International advocacy body for children devastated by war. The L is for the great Ugandan archbishop and martyr, Janani Luwumvery; the B is for Professor Okot p’Bitek, the renowned philosopher, poet and social anthropologist; and the L for Dr Matthew Lukwiya, the doctor who lost his life treating Ebola virus victims.
Mr Otunnu has also built an Internationally accepted system to identify and punish those who abuse children in war. In his work for the United Nations, Otunnu was instrumental in a report that identified 57 countries and groups involved in violence against children or their recruitment as soldiers. Last year, Otunnu’s work came to a height when the United Nations unanimously adopted Resolution 1612 which establishes a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the recruitment and use of child soldiers by parties of armed conflict and other violations and abuses committed against children affected by armed conflict.
When Mr. Otunnu’s distinguished bio was read before the audience, he was very gracious and embarrassed.
“I hope you are recoding this, because maybe my mother will listen and finally be happy,” Otunnu said with a wide grin.