**This was one of the two articles in The Embassy this week that was featured under the heading, 'Stolen Innocence.'**
A New Canadian led-campaign contends the Security Council ignores child soldiers, doesn't use 'untested' R2P to protect children avoiding capture.
A campaign to bring attention to the plight of
children abducted by rebels in northern
Uganda is set to kick-off on Oct.18 at the
United Nations in New York. Dubbed Act for
Stolen Children in Northern Uganda, the Canadian-led
campaign aims to create awareness and increase
emergency response to the crisis in northern Uganda.
An estimated 20, 000 children have been
abducted by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army
(LRA), who have been fighting the Ugandan government
for almost 20 years. The LRA says it
wants to create a nation ruled by the Ten
Commandments. LRA rebels have been responsible
for gross human rights violations in northern
Uganda, their main theatre of operations. Ninety
per cent of the population—about 1.6 million—in
Uganda’s northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and
Pader have been displaced and now live in camps
because of the LRA’s activities. The rebels
frequently target these camps.
Eighty per cent of LRA soldiers are mostly
children; many of them abducted from
their villages and forced to join the rebels.
Every night thousands of others in rural
areas leave their homes and walk an average
of 25 km seeking safety in big towns.
"ICC Indictment of LRA Leader Threat to Peace in Uganda, Says Campaign Organizer"
Erin Baines, who started the campaign after
spending three years conducting research in
northern Uganda, says some of these children
are as young as five years old. Those unfortunate
not to find space in shelters end up sleeping
in bus parks, alleys or out in the bush,
where they are often abused and exploited.
”They are known as the night commuters,“
says Ms. Baines, who’s also the director of the
Conflict and Development Program at the
University of British Columbia.
In the morning, the children—estimated to
be 40,000—return to their villages to attend
school and do other chores, says Ms. Baines.
She also says the Ugandan government
has not been able to protect people in the
camps and the international community has
been mostly silent about the situation, hence
the need to bring the campaign to the
doorsteps of the UN.
”The Security Council is stubborn in keeping
it out of the agenda,“ says Ms. Baines, adding
that this is mostly because Ugandan president
Yoweri Museveni is considered a prime example
by the West of economic reforms in Africa
and is rarely criticized. The aim of bringing the
campaign to the UN is to remind world leaders
of the Responsibility to Protect resolution
(R2P) which calls on nations to collectively
intervene to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing
and crimes against humanity.
”[This resolution’s] never been tested,“ says
Ms. Baines. ”And what better case than northern
Uganda where 90 per cent of the population
is internally displaced and live in camps?“
Pamela Smith, a spokesperson for the campaign,
says the international community has
ignored the situation in northern Uganda while
all the attention is focused on Darfur and Congo.
”This is known as the forgotten war and we
want action on that resolution for the women
and children of northern Uganda,“ says Ms.
Smith, adding that there is a great discrepancy
between what is being reported and the real
situation on the ground in northern Uganda.
”Both sides in the conflict abuse children,
and the figures might actually be higher.“
A report released by Human Rights Watch
last month accused the Ugandan army and the
LRA of gross human rights violations in northern
Uganda. Titled Uprooted and Forgotten:
Impunity and Human Rights Abuses in Northern
Uganda, the report accuses the LRA of crimes
including torture, mutilation, sexual violence,
abduction, forced recruitment and killing of
people considered government supporters.
The report also documents cases of rape,
arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as
extra-judicial killings of civilians in the camps
by members of the Ugandan army. The report
also says the Ugandan government has failed
to prosecute military officers before courts to
dissuade others from committing crimes, an
allegation denied by the government.
But the campaign is not limited to the UN.
Ms. Smith says walkathons in 40 cities
around the world – including Gulu in northern
Uganda, Kampala, London (UK), New
York, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal and Los
Angeles – will start on Oct. 22 to sensitize
ordinary citizens of the situation of children
in northern Uganda, and also to recreate the
walk that thousands of children take every
night to escape abduction by the LRA. About
25, 000 people, including celebrities, politicians
and representatives of local communities,
are expected to participate in the walk.
Named GuluWalk for Stolen Children of
Northern Uganda, the walkathon is being
organized with the collaboration of university
organizations, the Ugandan Diaspora, and
NGOs. Ms. Smith says the campaign will continue
until a peaceful resolution to the conflict
Several efforts to broker a deal between
the LRA and the Ugandan government have
failed. Last week, the International Criminal
Court (ICC) indicted LRA leader Joseph Kony
and his deputy Vincent Otti for crimes
Ms. Baines says such a move is detrimental
to achieving peace in northern Uganda, stressing
that traditional tribal methods of peace
making and reconciliation should take precedence
and be incorporated into attempts to
find a solution.
”If the ICC issues arrest warrants, there
will be a massacre—Kony is a crazy person—
and hopes of peace talks will be dashed,“
says Ms. Baines.