F O R E W O R D
As the world turns its gaze toward the horrors in Darfur, an equally terrible situation in northern Uganda continues virtually unnoticed: the actions of a fanatical rebel movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have displaced over 1.6 million people, even more than in Darfur. The conflict has destroyed lives, communities and rich cultural traditions.This conflict, surrounded by an inexplicable international silence, cannot be allowed to continue. The international community must help to end it and staunch the haemorrhage of human suffering. Where else in the world do we see boys and girls kidnapped in attacks directly targeting them? Not long ago, I witnessed first-hand the suffering of families in northern Uganda. I was more shocked by what I saw there than on any other visit to conflict areas. More than 20,000 children have been kidnapped, including 12,000 since 2002 alone. This is a conflict fought by, with and against children. More than 80 percent of the LRA forces are minors, forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves to their commanders.In the town of Gulu, I met a young girl who had escaped from the LRA. She told me how she had been forced to club and bite another child to death. Like this girl, thousands of other children have been raped, brutalised, drugged and forced to inflict unspeakable violence on others. The result: a generation whose childhood has been forever stolen from them. Where else do we see the phenomenon of “night commuters?” Each night in northern Uganda, more than 40,000 mothers, grandmothers and children leave their homes and travel many miles on foot to the main towns, seeking refuge from abduction by the LRA. When the sun rises, they trek back to their villages, usually on an empty stomach.
This brutal conflict takes place in a country once heralded as the “Pearl of Africa,” a country that earned praise for its efforts to combat AIDS, one that receives significant development aid from donors. Yet the horrors in the north grind on. No one knows how many people have died, but thousands of homes, schools and clinics have been destroyed and countless communities and livelihoods have been torn asunder by violence.
The conflict has reached a peak in the last two years. In response, UN agencies and their NGO partners have scaled up their activities, expanding vitally needed food and health care to key towns and camps in the north, where more than 90 percent of the population has been forced to flee for their sustenance in regions once known as the breadbasket of Uganda. Today, these same families dare not venture out of the camps to till their land for fear of LRA attacks. Rebel attacks also make it difficult for aid workers to deliver more than the bare necessities to those who desperately need them.
Uganda’s Government has taken steps to improve protection, but it can do more to meet its responsibilities to protect its citizens. Civilians in northern Uganda are still at too great a risk. The international community must shed light on and condemn the LRA’s atrocities. The international donor community must complement the Government’s increased efforts by giving enough humanitarian aid for those in need. So far, less than two-thirds of the $127 million requested in the UN appeal for Uganda has been received.
It is time to step up actions to end the abuses, end the conflict, and help rebuild northern Uganda. Under a Government amnesty, more LRA fighters are renouncing violence. A stronger demobilisation and reintegration programme must be created. Children who escape from the LRA do not receive the help they need and live in fear of re-abduction.
There is no military solution. Dialogue is needed to end the conflict and enable child combatants to reclaim a life of peace and dignity. Uganda’s Government should apply the same determination and wisdom it has shown in tackling HIV/AIDS and revitalising the economy in the south to peacefully resolving the war in the north. If the LRA members take advantage of the amnesty and international donors increase their assistance, we can help those in desperate need, and prepare for the safe return of 1.6 million people to their lands. These steps will provide the platform for local civil society to continue its valuable work of pursuing reconciliation and lasting peace. We cannot allow this conflict to remain unnoticed and unresolved. Its cruel consequences are too pervasive, and the human casualties too high, for the world to continue to turn a blind eye to them. The future of Uganda’s children depends on it.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
O V E R V I E W
“This is a funny war. I cannot even describe it. The rebels are killing their own brothers and mothers. We are killing ourselves. We are confused.”
Nelson Ojok, a primary school teacher at Kilak Corner IDP camp in Pader District, northern Uganda. The war that has raged for 18 years in northern Uganda has left its people battered and bruised, tormented by grief, despair and fear. Few conflicts rival it for sheer brutality. Civilians have been killed and mutilated. Thousands have been abducted, tortured and sexually abused. Many have been forced to commit atrocities or to look on, helpless, as others are beaten, raped or murdered. Abducted children are forced to work as labourers, soldiers or sex slaves.
More than 1.6 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Deprived of their means of livelihood, once proud farmers and their families now depend entirely on the food they receive in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many people have little or no access to proper medical care. Education has been disrupted. Many children do not sleep at home for fear of being abducted. Instead, they walk kilometres at the end of each day from their villages to the relative safety of towns, where they spend the night in public buildings or on the streets. Collective trauma
Since 1986, northern Uganda has been racked by insurgencies. The latest and longest of these rebellions, that of the Lord’s Resistance Army, devastated the Acholi sub-region which borders on Sudan, then spread to neighbouring Lango and Teso, although the situation in these two areas had improved by September 2004. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died since the outbreak of the LRA insurgency.
The war between the LRA and the national army, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces(UPDF), has severely affected the inhabitants of Acholi’s three districts – Gulu, Kitgum and Pader – and of Apac, Lira, Kabermaido, Katakwi and Soroti in Lango and Teso sub-regions. Acholi’s districts have been particularly hard hit. Death and disease rates are high, food is scarce. Most of Acholi’s people live in IDP camps that are sometimes overcrowded and do not have adequate water, sanitation and health services. Devoid of any means of livelihood in these camps, farmers and cattle rearers have been reduced to near-total dependence on donated food and other humanitarian aid.
Child abductions have long been a major feature of the conflict, but the number shot up after the UPDF launched an offensive against the LRA in March 2002. The rebels have kidnapped an estimated 12,000 children in the north since June 2002,including about 3,000 between October of last year and June. Abductions since the start of the conflict are estimated at over 20,000.
Abductees are made to carry heavy loads over long distances. Those who lag behind or fall ill are beaten or killed. Some are forced to kill, maim, beat or abduct innocent victims, or to look on as such abuses are committed. Sexual violence against girls and women is rampant. They are used as domestic servants or forced into sexual slavery as LRA commanders’ ‘wives’. They are subject to rape, unwanted pregnancy and the risk of infection, including HIV. One of the visible signs of the collective trauma to which the people of northern Uganda have been subjected is the phenomenon of “night commuters”. These are vulnerable people who, fearing abduction, move from the countryside into slightly more secure towns or camps at the end of each day. Most are children who walk up to 10 km to seek refuge from the threat of abduction and violence. They gather in schools, hospitals, district offices, and NGO compounds – wherever they think they can spend the night in safety. Many have to sleep in the open, where they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The UN has estimated the number of night commuters at about 44,000 in August 2004. Many schools are closed in the north. In 1996, LRA attacks led to the closure or destruction of 136 out of 189 schools in Gulu, one aid agency reported. Local officials said in 2003 that half of those in Kitgum and about 90 percent of Pader’s were closed. Currently, those schools that are open in Acholi are mainly in towns and IDP camps.
Conflict rooted in history
The conflict that has spawned the humanitarian emergency in northern Uganda is rooted in the country’s recent history, with its complex mix of uneven social and economic development, violent regional conflict and marginalisation of minorities by governments and elites in power. After the National Resistance Movement/Army of President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986, there was a widespread fear in the north, especially among the Acholi people, that it would take revenge for atrocities committed when northerners dominated the army.
NRA military actions, during which Acholis were abused, tortured or ‘disappeared’,partially justified these fears, leading many to join rebel movements. These included the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (elements of the Ugandan army who fled to Sudan and regrouped after the NRA took power) and Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement. Lakwena emerged in late 1986, claiming to be possessed by a spirit that was guiding her for the good of the Acholi people, who felt they were being victimised. Her movement offered Acholi soldiers ritual purification for past misdeeds, along with a moral and religious mission to support their opposition to the NRM. This won her some degree of popular support among the Acholi. Her movement was defeated by the Ugandan army in 1987, but her claim that she had spiritual guidance inspired Joseph Kony, who has also purported to be visited by spirits. He gathered remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement around him and formed the Uganda People’s Democratic Christian Army, which became the LRA around 1994.
Observers say Kony’s supposed religious mysticism is where the similarity to Lakwena ends. Rather than enjoying popularity and winning the hearts and minds of the Acholi people, the LRA has targeted the civilian population – in defiance of international law –committing severe human rights abuses in the process.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kony switched from battlefield confrontations with the Ugandan army to kidnapping civilians, attacking hospitals and ambushing vehicles. His group also started mutilating people: cutting off lips and noses, using padlocks to lock the mouths of those they thought might report them, and cutting off hands and ears.
Beyond its stated aim to overthrow the Ugandan government and its purported commitment to establishing a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments, the LRA appears to have no clear political agenda. For the most part, the rebels choose not to engage the Ugandan military, but target schools, health centres, passing vehicles, IDPcamps and refugee settlements.
Hope and disappointment
Towards the end of 1993, talks between the government and the LRA gave rise to hopes for peace. However, the negotiations collapsed in early 1994, leading to a dramatic resurgence of violence in Acholiland. After the talks broke down, any support the LRA may have enjoyed among the Acholi dried up, according to observers of the war in the North.This was when the rebels began the mass abduction of children for use as porters,fighters and sex slaves, the observers say. In June 1998, representatives of the Acholi people listed a number of reasons why the LRA’s war continued after the rebels had stopped receiving popular support: Ugandan support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army [a Sudanese rebel group]; Sudanese support for the LRA; the fact that some civilians benefited financially from the war; foreign powers’ use of Uganda as a base for fighting the Sudanese government; and lack of trust between the Acholi population and the Ugandan government.
The latter half of the 1990s was marked by ongoing LRA actions in northern Uganda from bases in southern Sudan and, in early 1997, the Ugandan parliament voted, after a lengthy investigation, to continue pursuing a military strategy to end the conflict. Around this time, too, the Acholi diaspora and the churches in Uganda began to play an increasingly active and vocal role in pushing for a negotiated and peaceful settlement to the rebellion. Groups which have been particularly active in this regard include the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), an inter-faith forum of Muslim and Christian leaders inaugurated in early 1998.
From early 1999, there was a noticeable lull in LRA activity and a change in the political climate, especially after Museveni agreed to let community leaders and peace activists talk with the LRA. In late 1999, the Ugandan authorities announced an amnesty for LRA fighters and, in December of that year, the governments of Uganda and Sudan signed a reconciliation agreement that envisaged a series of steps to build mutual trust and, eventually, normalised diplomatic relations. These developments again raised hopes for peace. However, within weeks of the agreement, the rebels re-entered Uganda from southern Sudan, and the hopes for an early peace were quickly shattered. LRA attacks on villages and IDP settlements resumed. Roadside ambushes became more common. Abductions, killings and looting resumed with a vengeance.
Diplomatic breakthrough, military offensive, more suffering
In 2001, Uganda and Sudan continued their efforts to improve their ties, exchanging diplomats in August of that year. In December, the US government announced that it was adding the LRA to its “terrorist exclusion list”, a move welcomed by Kampala. Eager to mend relations with the US as it pursued its global war on terror, the Sudanese government said it had cut off all support to the LRA. Fearing that Sudan might take action against it, the LRA began to relocate its bases, soldiers and abductees to the remote Imatong mountains on the Sudan-Uganda border.
In early 2002, Sudan and Uganda concluded a diplomatic protocol giving the Ugandan army access to southern Sudan to attack LRA rear bases. By March 2002, the UPDF had launched ‘Operation Iron Fist’, a military campaign aimed at “eliminating the LRA threat and freeing abductees”.
The operation, which saw the deployment of as many as 10,000 Ugandan troops, had an unintended effect. It led the rebels to return in force to northern Uganda in June 2002 –reportedly with new equipment, uniforms and training. From then on, the LRA, which split into smaller operational units, stepped up its attacks, abducting thousands of children and targeting religious leaders and other civilians. The group also attacked convoys delivering relief supplies to northern Uganda or transiting to affected populations in southern Sudan.
In October 2002, the Ugandan government gave civilians 48 hours’ notice to return to IDP camps or ‘protected villages’, while aid agencies warned that the continuing conflict was destroying the tentative gains of the recent past. Following sustained efforts and contacts by the ARLPI, the government appointed a peace team in late 2002. However, ARLPI noted that the LRA’s attitude changed between July when there was a military stalemate, and September 2002, as the rebels acquired new military equipment and appeared unwilling to negotiate seriously.
In March 2003, Kony announced a unilateral ceasefire. Museveni initially rejected it, then responded with a limited ceasefire in areas where the rebels were to hold talks with the presidential peace team. However, hopes for peace were dashed in April when the LRAbroke the ceasefire arrangements and killed an emissary of the presidential peace team, causing the government to resume open warfare against the rebels. The peace team was disbanded in May 2003 and attempts at achieving a negotiated peace appeared seriously constrained as the military option was vigorously pursued.
In June 2003, the conflict spread to the east, centre and north-west. By the third quarter of the year, LRA attacks had displaced about 306,000 civilians in Teso. The attacks continued in 2004. In one of the deadliest – in February – more than 200 IDPs were killed in Lira District. However, there was a relative lull in the third quarter of 2004.
International attention needed
The unprecedented violence visited on civilians in northern Uganda since 2002 has given rise to the country’s worst humanitarian crisis in 17 years, and sparked calls for a higher level of international attention. Francis Deng, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-
General on IDPs, who visited Uganda in August 2003, said he was struck by “the level of devastation due to the conflict and the precarious situation the internally displaced are facing”. Pointing to the complex and intertwined causes of the conflict, Deng noted the need for a regional perspective and possibly third-party mediation to address the problems and achieve lasting peace.
Acholi civil and religious leaders have consistently called for dialogue as a means of arriving at a durable solution to the conflict. Another requirement, they say, is a willingness to facilitate and engage in peace talks. The international community has been showing signs of seeking engagement. However, there is little to indicate that both parties are interested in negotiations. Most observers believe that, given the nature of the conflict, its length and the scant success of military campaigns, a negotiated settlement is the only possible solution. Many people in northern Uganda also feel this way. “With fighting, this war will take another 18 years,”said one IDP. “The only thing is to sit down and negotiate.”
SCARRED FOR LIFE
“They take an axe and split your head with it. They don’t waste any bullets on you.”15-year-old former abductee.
The rebels’ arrival in a village or camp marks the start of a series of traumatiC experiences for its inhabitants. Parents are beaten, humiliated and shot, speared or bludgeoned to death in front of their offspring. Children, especially those between the ages of eight and 16, are rounded up; some adults, too. Then, loaded on their backs with loot taken from their own families and communities, they are force-marched across northern Uganda and into southern Sudan. Former abductees all tell of journeys lasting days, weeks or even months. Along the way, they witness more abductions, whose victims are added to the unhappy band of involuntary travellers. The abuses continue, too. Some pay the ultimate price for lagging behind or faltering under their burdens: they are murdered and their corpses left to rot where they fell or thrown into the surrounding bushes. The captives and their captors finally arrive in the rebel camps, where the former undergo a strict regime of forced labour, deprivation and punishment. Girls are raped or forced to become the “wives” of rebel commanders. Even those not yet in their teens are not spared. Any unsuccessful attempts to escape are brutally punished. Some succeed, but many never reach home. More than 20,000 children have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda since 1990. The kidnappings subsided in 2001 when hopes were high that the conflict was slowly dying out, but after the Ugandan armed forces launched a military offensive in early 2002, the abductions escalated, spreading – along with the conflict – to previously unaffected areas. Those who manage to escape the LRA are first taken to child protection units (CPUs) run by the military, where they are questioned before being transferred to rehabilitation centres. In Gulu, for example, children are then taken to a centre run by the Gulu Support the Children Organisation, while adults are transferred to a rehabilitation centre run by World Vision, an international Christian relief and development NGO. After that, they are taken to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) or to their homes. According to human rights groups, the former abductees are usually scarred for life, constantly reliving their maltreatment, living permanently with the knowledge that they had been forced to beat, maim or kill others, even their own parents and relatives, so as not to be beaten, maimed or killed themselves. Some of the girls face the additional burden of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. As a result of the unhygienic conditions in the bush, many children come back with severe skin infections. They are also restless at night, can hardly sleep, and wake up very early.
Many people have to live with visible reminders of their ordeals. These include people who lost limbs as a result of torture or landmines, whose use by the LRA has increased since the intensification of fighting between government and rebel forces early last year,according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Organisations such as AVSI,an Italian NGO, have been providing some of the amputees with therapy and prostheses. However, the list of those yet to be fitted with the artificial limbs they need to live something resembling normal lives is said to be long.
The accounts and photographs which follow depict the suffering of a handful of the multitude whose bodies and minds bear the marks of northern Uganda’s 17-year nightmare.
O.R. (14) was abducted from his home in Kitgum in February 2003. He spent four months
in captivity before escaping in June. Here he recounts some of his experiences.
On the way to Sudan, they forced us to kill many people. One morning, a young boy was brought to us. We were told he had tried to escape. His body was swollen and had cuts from many beatings. They killed him. We were told to chop the body into smaller pieces.
Boys were given the heart and liver to eat. Girls were told to cook and eat the rest of the body parts. We did as we were told.
A few days later, a commander called me and said he had a special task for me to carry out. He was carrying a newborn baby. He placed the baby in a large wooden mortar, the one we were using for pounding grain. He gave me a heavy wooden pestle and ordered me to start pounding. I was afraid to do it, but I did as I was told. I knew I would be killed if I didn’t. All the boys in the group had been forced to do something similar. I knew the baby’s mother. She was one of the captives. She screamed when she saw what I was doing. The commanders beat her up so much and told her to shut up. But they did not kill her. They told me to continue pounding until they were satisfied the baby was dead .
After some weeks, they started to trust me a little, because I always obeyed their orders. They were no longer restricting my movements very much. They gave me a gun and taught me how to use it. But we were still being watched. I decided one day to escape. I slipped into the bush and walked for many hours, avoiding open places. I didn’t know in which direction I was going, but I kept on walking. When it became too dark, I crept into a thick bush and slept. I found a UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Forces] military detachment in Kitgum the following day. I reported there. I was told I was in Kitgum District. A few days later, I was brought to this centre [a rehabilitation centre for abducted children run by World Vision in Kitgum]. They have been very good to me. But I am constantly disturbed by what I did in the bush. I dream about it all the time.
Sometimes I hear voices saying things to me. “There is work waiting for you in the bush,” the voices keep telling me. “Pound faster… faster…harder,” other voices keep saying. In the night, I dream of the same things. I fear to go to sleep because of nightmares. I want these dreams to stop tormenting me.
David (17), abducted on 21 June 1996 just outside Acholibur IDP camp in Kitgum District, is haunted by the memories of the abuses he witnessed during captivity. What I cannot forget is how they murdered my uncle. There was no food, and he had
become very thin. They made him carry a very heavy load. He could not walk anymore. He was very weak. So they killed him. They struck him on the back of his head with a hoe
left him there. I managed to escape in August this year when we went to raid an IDP camp in Pader. We went to attack the camp at night. I threw away my gun and hid in the bush. I spent the night there. In the morning, I went to report to the soldiers who were guarding the camp. They brought me here. I can’t remember where my parents are. I was abducted a long time ago. I can only hope that the people at this centre will be able to trace them. I am trying to forget everything. I hope I will be able to go back to school. I know my future is
nothing without education.
Michael (25), a former abductee, had been in the hospital for four weeks. He was beaten by his captors because he could no longer carry their loot. I was too exhausted. We [the abductees] had been walking in the bush for weeks, carrying heavy loads, with hardly any food or water. I couldn’t carry their [the rebels’] things anymore because I was too exhausted, so they beat me on the back of my head with gun butts. They said they didn’t want to waste any bullets on me. Then they left me. They thought I was dead. UPDF soldiers found me a week later. Termites had started eating me alive. They had begun building an ant hill on my body.
Alex (15) – beaten and left for dead for being tired.
I have been here [St Joseph’s Mission Hospital, Kitgum] for two weeks now. I was brought here by UPDF soldiers who found me in the bush. LRA rebels had hit me on the head with a hoe and split my skull. Then they left me to die. They had beaten me because
I was too exhausted to walk any longer. For nearly a month, I had been walking barefoot through the bush with the rebels, carrying a heavy bag of maize flour on my head as they
moved around northern Uganda abducting more children. They had also beaten me badly for trying to escape. They had caught up with me and given me 100 strokes of the cane on my back and buttocks.
Charles (25) amputee undergoing treatment at the AVSI rehabilitation centre, Gulu
I worked as a cook at a primary school. I lived in the school compound. Some UPDF soldiers guarded the school. One afternoon, I went back home from work and sat outside my house. Some soldiers came and surrounded me. They said I was a rebel and
demanded that I show them the gun I was hiding. I told them I was a civilian and didn’t have a gun. But they did not believe me. They insisted that I was a rebel. They tied my
hands tightly behind me with a rubber strap and began beating me till I was unconscious. They only left me when they thought I was dead. I woke up in hospital some days later. The doctors told me they had been forced to amputate my arms to save my life. I have been trying to follow up the matter with the authorities through a human rights organisation, which sent a letter to the UPDF Fourth Division. There have been threats to
prevent me from pressing the case. I still see all of the soldiers who attacked me. Nothing has been done to them. This is a new life for me. I now have to depend on people to help me with everything. I cannot even dress or eat on my own. I am tired of this. The school only helped me meet my medical costs, but now I have no job. I cannot go back to my old job with both hands amputated. I have two children to feed. My wife left me when I returned home without my hands.
Francis, a physiotherapist at the AVSI rehabilitation centre.
When Charles was brought here, the discoloration and gangrene process had started on both arms. After amputation, he was put on strong antibiotics until he recovered. He is
not completely out of danger. AVSI is still monitoring the healing process, and will decide on the rehabilitation measures which will benefit him.
We receive many cases of people beaten by UPDF soldiers and their hands tied behind their backs, causing severe nerve injuries. We refer such cases to the Uganda Human Rights Commission, but there has been no response up to now.
We receive many other traumatic cases committed by both soldiers and rebels. When the army bombs rebels, civilians get caught up in it. Recently an eight-year-old child was brought in with a leg destroyed by a mortar bomb from a UPDF tank. I didn’t know she would survive. But she adapted very well. We hope to fit her with an artificial leg soon.
Denis (15) owes his life to the women who found him.
Denis was abducted on 8 August 2003 from his home just outside Gulu. He had managed to escape from the rebels but collapsed in the bush after walking for three days. Some women found him and put him in a minibus, which took him to the CPU in Gulu town.
Denis said he had been severely beaten as part of his initiation into the rebel group. “We were made to walk. We slept late at night and woke up very early. We did not reach Sudan.
We were just moving within [northern] Uganda. We went up to Pader. On the way, the rebels abducted more children,” he said. He was very weak from malnutrition and dehydration. His back was still aching from the beatings and he had acute stomach cramps since he had eaten nothing in days. He was unable to walk without assistance. He could speak only with extreme difficulty. Many returning abductees arrived at the centre in a similar condition, according to the head of the CPU in Gulu. They are the lucky ones. “Normally some abductees, when they reach this condition, they are abandoned or killed,” he said. “They take an axe and split your head with it. They don’t waste their bullets on you. They only use their guns when fighting the army.”
Santo (17) was on his way to the food-for-work project where he worked when he stepped on a landmine. That was in September 2000. He had been using that route every day and was unaware that mines had been planted. “I felt as if I had stepped into a hole, and the next thing I realised was that I was on the ground. My leg came off immediately. I fell unconscious. For a month, I did not realise where I was,” he recalled.
Santo had been in and out of the hospital for three years and was still being treated for his injuries. He was first treated at the World Vision rehabilitation centre in Kitgum, then
taken to the AVSI orthopaedic workshop in Gulu to be fitted with a prosthetic leg. Santo is an orphan. Rebels killed his parents when they attacked their IDP camp in Pabbo,Gulu. He now lives alone there with his 10-year-old brother. They only had each other to count on, he said: “If you’re not able to work, it becomes a big problem. Relatives do not support us. We are not getting help from anyone. Now I can walk, I can get what I need.”
AVSI had agreed to finance his schooling, but Santo did not think he had much of a chance, given his disability and because he felt unsafe: the LRA had attacked the camp 17 times in 2003 alone. “I believe in education,” he said. “But this is also a difficult question because this sponsorship [AVSI’s] will depend on the security situation.”
Sarafina (38) from Kalongo IDP camp in Pader District stepped on a landmine in 1997. She has five children, including one who was abducted six years ago and has never returned. I was coming back home from digging in the field in the afternoon. I was carrying my baby on my back and a basket of millet and cassava on my head. It had rained hard, so I could not notice anything. It was very muddy. I stopped to tie the baby properly on my back, then I realised I had stepped on something. When I removed my foot, it was blown off. I fell unconscious. I woke up in Kitgum Hospital on the next day. They told me my baby had died.
My leg was amputated above the knee. I spent many months in the hospital, then I returned to the camp in Kalongo where my family lives. It’s only in September  that I was brought to AVSI [orthopaedic workshop] for an artificial leg. AVSI identified me during an assessment which was announced on the radio. When they accepted me, I looked for the money and then came to Gulu to be fitted with the leg. Many people can’t travel to Gulu for this kind of treatment, because the roads are not safe or because they do not get to hear about it.
Life is very hard because I can’t do all my housework as I used to. My husband has another wife. I left the children with her when I was coming here for treatment. I depend
on WFP food and my children for support. When I ask people to help, they tell me that they didn’t send me to step on a landmine. The language people use on me is not good.
People tell me bitter things just because I can’t work. Sometimes I want to kill myself. My husband and his other wife treat me very harshly. They say I‘m a burden to the family
because I eat but don’t work. When he is drunk, my husband becomes very cruel. He abuses me and accuses me of not being a good example to the children. “What kind of children can you have if you cannot even move?” he asks me.
I don’t see anything changing in the camp. The situation is so difficult. Sometimes I feel very bitter and lonely. I hope that with this new leg I’ll be able to move around more. I also think it will help me earn a living, even if I will not be able to compete with everyone.
Cecilia (20) was abducted from a secondary school in Pader when she was 15 and spent five years in captivity. She spoke to IRIN at the CPA rehabilitation centre, Kitgum. I was given to John Okech, one of [LRA leader Joseph] Kony’s senior commanders. I was his fourth wife. He soon brought in four other young girls. They were to become his wives when they were slightly older. In the meantime, they were told to babysit for his other wives. When you’re given a commander as your husband, you’re expected to produce food. You’re also given a gun and expected to fight. I was often picked to go out on I became pregnant in early 2002 when Kony predicted an attack from the UPDF on our
bases in Sudan. By June, our whole group sneaked back into Uganda and hid in the Imatong mountains. This was the most difficult time for captives. My husband was part of the attack on Anaka [a village in Gulu District]. He was shot in the chest by the UPDF. He died a few days later. I gave birth to a baby boy, but he died after a month. I was released after my husband died. I only returned from the bush a few days ago. I’m
still haunted by frightful dreams. I dream often that I’m still in the bush. I hear children crying. I dream that we are being attacked, or fighting, walking for days in the hot desert
without food or water. I’m happy to be back, but I have no hope of returning to school. I heard that my entire family was displaced. They are scattered in camps in the district.
LIFE AT POINT ZERO
“The people in the camps are very poor. I mean, the life is horrible. The people here are not living, they are existing. They are next to dead.” Charles Uma, chairman of the Gulu Disaster Preparedness Committee.
Over 1.4 million people in northern Uganda live in protected villages and camps. Some went there voluntarily to escape LRA attacks, others at the instructions of the authorities.
In Acholi, the area that has borne the brunt of the rebellion in the north over the past 18 years, the camps are home to over 80 percent of the population. The number of people in each camp varies greatly. Pabbo, the largest, had about 67,000 residents in October 2004, whereas some camps had fewer than 2,000. As the insecurity spreads, more and more camps are built. By September 2004, there were about 200 spread across the north.
Life in the camps is one of abject poverty. Food is short and many infants suffer from malnutrition. Water is at times scarce since camps often do not have enough boreholes.
There is little access to health care. In some camps there are schools, but not enough teachers. For example, in Kitgum Matidi, a camp 20 km east of Kitgum town and home to about 32,000 IDPs, pupils from 20 schools were crammed into two schools, with average classes of more than 100 children. Moreover, school life is constantly disrupted by insecurity: the LRA attacked Kitgum Matidi about five times over the past three years. IDPs complain that life in the camps has had a disastrous effect on their society. Signs of social breakdown include high levels of promiscuity, substance abuse, unprotected sex and increased numbers of child mothers, they say. As people stay longer and longer in the camps, what is left of their dignity is gradually eroded. Disrespected by the traumatised youth, forced to look on, powerless, as their society is turned inside out by violence and fear, some of the older adults become mentally ill, according to camp leaders. While the authorities say the residents of the north have been relocated for their own
protection, the camps themselves have become LRA targets. District officials in Gulu said that between April and July 2003, rebels burned four camps in the district alone. Pabbo
was attacked 17 times between January and July 2003.
The attacks continued in the latter part of 2003 and into 2004, although there was relative calm in August – September of this year. The rebels tend to view the inhabitants of the camps as enemies, as government supporters and, during raids, they sometimes leave written threats, ordering the IDPs to
leave the camps or die. Rebels also attack convoys bringing supplies to the camps. As a result, relief organisations generally do not travel to the north without military escorts,
which limits the extent to which the camps can be supplied.
The sense of insecurity among the residents of the north has also been heightened by the fact that the rebels have managed to raid areas on the outskirts of major towns. The accounts and photographs in this section focus primarily on the situation in the IDP camps. The accounts also give an idea of the effect camp life has on the inhabitants of what used to be the granary of Uganda.
James, camp leader in Kitgum District.
We were forced to leave our village because the insecurity had become worse. Our problems started when a girl from our village who had been abducted five years ago escaped from captivity. She was the wife of Vincent Otti [former LRA second-in-command]. Otti sent a message to the village demanding that his “wife” be returned to him. When the elders ignored him, Otti threatened to burn the whole village and kill everybody. We felt threatened because he is very notorious. He massacred a lot of people
in his own village in the Atiak [Kitgum]. So we began to move to this camp. The girl was handed over to the government for protection. We chose this place because it is near a military detachment. There are some soldiers who come here at night. But they are too few. We have asked the commander to increase the security, but nothing has changed. They [the rebels] have not attacked this camp yet, but they are talking about it. We heard this from abductees who returned from captivity. We don’t feel safe. At night, many people walk to Kitgum town to sleep in the mission hospital and other public places. People have waited for a solution for long and in vain. They have decided to take this life as if it is normal. We have received very little help. Some people sneak back to their homes to get food, but that is too risky. Some have been abducted. Even what you manage to get is very little, because we are always on the run. Many people in the camp go without a meal. As the dry season approaches, there is fear that nothing will be left to eat.
All these children have been out of school since January. All schools were closed due to rebel activities. I don’t know what will happen to them. They should be promoted to the next class next year, but they have not covered this year’s syllabus. All the 15 schools in Labongo sub-county have been displaced.
There is still no water supply in the camp. There is only one borehole shared by the entire camp population. The borehole is very congested. We request any NGO if they can help us
with a clinic. It could help our children. There is a lot of malaria and coughing. There is also a lot of malnutrition due to poor diet. There are very many people with HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. We need also household items such as utensils, blankets and jerry cans. The rebel activities in the villages were so severe that even the household things were taken.
Elijah (70), a resident of an IDP camp in Gulu.
I was born in Awac [about 20 km northeast of Gulu town] in 1933. I had to leave my land in 1989. I’ve never gone back. Instead, I’ve been forced to move from place to place. This camp is now my home. I know I will die here. I had 14 children. Some are dead. Most of them died in camps. They were killed by rebels. We didn’t even bury them; we left them where they had been killed. The situation was really bad. Only four of them are left. This war has affected us in many ways. I’ve lost my children, so I don’t get the help I had before. I am weak and I can’t work for myself anymore. At night, my eight grandchildren sleep in the bush with no blankets. I don’t know where they sleep, and they always choose a different spot. Not even your mother is supposed to know your hiding place. Rebels always force parents to show them where the children are hiding. Life in the camp is very bad. I am seeing a lot of new things that I never saw before. I prefer to die than to see any more of this life. These children live like wild animals. They have to be alert all the time. Their morals are changing. We don’t see the respect we had with young people anymore. During the day like this, we are relaxed. But when the sun sets, we start to worry. We don’t know what can happen. We hardly have anything to eat. Before this war, Acholi people were not used to depending on relief food. We did a lot of things on our own. Now we can’t do the same things we did to survive. Even the food WFP shares out will go to the rebels if you don’t hide some of it. They always tell us that it is because of them that we receive humanitarian food. So they have to take the food away because it does not belong to us. When they don’t find food, they get very angry. We hear gunshots all night. We are always on our toes. Anytime, anything can happen, and we might be forced to move again.
Terrence, a nutritionist in charge of the therapeutic feeding centre for severely malnourished children at St Joseph’s Hospital, Kitgum.
The number of children we receive with severe malnutrition is so high we are overwhelmed. The hospital’s accommodation is overstretched. St Joseph’s Hospital is the only referral
centre for both Kitgum and Pader districts. There are so many severely malnourished children that the hospital is unable to run a supplementary feeding programme. We currently accommodate 160 children. [Pointing] All these grass-thatched and tent structures have been erected in the compound because the centre has no additional accommodation. Some of the patients sleep on the verandas because there is no space.
Most of the severe malnutrition cases come from the displaced people’s camps. The biggest problem is in the new camps. They have not started taking food there. Due to lack
of transport and insecurity, most of the cases are brought here too late, and the children die immediately. We are trying our best to help those who make it. In July this year, we had a 43-percent mortality rate. This has now been reduced to 14 percent.
We have also run short of nutritional milk. This milk [F75] is in Kampala [the Ugandan capital], but the problem is transportation. The roads are not safe. Due to the high
insecurity, the nutrition formula needs to come in a security convoy. The hospital can’t hire vehicles from Kampala, they are too expensive because it is a risk they are taking. We only depend on WFP and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] donations. Other donors are afraid to come in because of ambushes on the road. Mothers here also have their children in quick succession. For the last 18 years, there has been no programme to sensitise the population on family planning, so the people stick to their traditions. They have nothing to give the children. Their goats and chickens have been finished by rebels.
The authorities tell you there is no problem here, but the people on the ground are suffering very badly. There is nothing left in northern Uganda. That is why they [the rebels] went to Soroti [eastern Uganda], where they still have food, cattle and goats in the Risper: “We don’t sleep in our huts.”
Risper’s husband died in July 2003 of an AIDS-related illness, leaving her with three children. The youngest is two years old and seriously ill. She could not find anyone to help her build the hut. “Everybody wants money,” she said. For a man, building the hut would normally be a one-day job. She had been at it for days. “I am not strong enough to finish the work quickly,” she said. “I also have other responsibilities.” After working on the house, she had to cook the children their only meal of the day. The only ingredients she had were a cup of sorghum flour and some green vegetables. “We will eat and then find a place to sleep. We don’t sleep in our huts,” she said.
WA ITI N G F OR TH E LI GH T
“I don’t think of the future. I don’t think I’ll go to secondary school. There is no one to help.” 12-year-old night commuter
When the sun goes down in northern Uganda, thousands of people leave their homes in villages, outlying suburbs and IDP camps, bound for major towns such as Gulu and Kitgum.
Some walk as many as 10 km. Most are children aged between eight and 16 years – those most likely to be kidnapped by rebels. However, many adults also seek the relative safety of the big urban centres each night. They and the children are known as night commuters. The number of night commuters varies according to the degree of insecurity in surrounding villages and IDP camps. There were about 52,000 in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader in June 2004. A slight improvement in security saw the number drop to around 44,000 by the end of August. However, reports that rebel leader Joseph Kony had re-entered Uganda from Sudan in early October caused more people to sleep away from their villages in Gulu district. From 18,000 in early September, the number rose to around 22,000 by the second week of October.
On arriving in town, the commuters sleep where they can. In Gulu, some of the children spend their nights at the Noah’s Ark accommodation centre for night commuters, set up
in February 2003, while others stay at three centres run by the African Medical Research Foundation. In Kitgum, night commuters seek shelter in hospitals, schools, municipal
buildings, verandahs, parking lots and other open spaces.
While spending the night in a big town offers children and adults some form of protection against killings and abductions, it has risks of its own. In September 2004, for example, humanitarian workers said they had received reports of abuses among verandah dwellers in Kitgum, ranging from the rape of adolescent girls and harassment of children by soldiers to molestation. Sanitary conditions, they said, were also unhygienic.
About 5,000 of the 12,000 child commuters in Kitgum sleep in shop verandahs, according to the humanitarian workers, who said the situation was desperate. A survey carried out in Kitgum in June 2004 by one relief agency found that some 42 percent did not have access to lighting near their sleeping places, 40 percent said they were afraid and 22 percent reported having nightmares. More than a third said they needed bedding materials and mosquito nets. Relief agencies were trying to set up management structures through which support could be given to the children, one humanitarian worker said in October.
The level of protection in accommodation centres was better. In some of them, social workers and district officials checked up on the children in the evenings to make sure they
Some people start off by commuting each night but end up staying on in town. They refuse to go back to their communities because of the danger. Some of the children clean vehicles or help sell food in markets while some adults work as casual labourers.
Geoffrey, a social worker employed by the St Joseph’s Mission Hospital to protect night commuters who sleep in the mission compound.
“The compound accommodates anyone who goes there seeking a safe haven for the night, but the tents are reserved for children, the sick and the elderly. The rest sleep on verandas and in any other spaces available in the compound.
There is not enough accommodation for child commuters at the St. Joseph’s Mission Hospital so the biggest problem we have is that when it is about to rain, like now, the seven tents are not enough to shelter everybody, so people just get wet because they have nowhere to go. We also have a severe shortage of blankets. Many people do not have anything to cover themselves. Most of their household items have been looted by rebels.
We have to make sure that rebels do not infiltrate the compound. A few days ago, we caught four rebels with guns tucked inside their blankets. We know each and every face that enters this compound. If you don’t watch out, then the LRA can easily infiltrate and abduct people from here. You can say it is only God who is protecting us here. The UPDF are here, but we don’t see them and we have no communication with them. If the rebels
come, we have to run and look for them.
Half the inhabitants of this area come to this centre. Some people also go to public houses, schools, market places, and government buildings. The whole district is displaced. Even the hospital staff are displaced. They sleep in a separate tent with their families.
If commuters fall ill, the hospital only provides drugs for the night. During the day, you have to go to the outpatients’ department, where you have to pay money. But these
people don’t have any money. There are many children who don’t go back home. They only roam around and return here in the evening. At night, they cry and ask for food.
Some people have slept here for three years. They just go home to cook and come to sleep in the evening. If you have nothing to cook, then you just stay here. Even as social workers, life is not easy. Last week, one of our colleagues was bitten by a snake. We took him to the hospital.
Consy Abwol, a local councillor from Kitgum District, sleeps each night at the St Joseph’s Mission compound.
We are just trying to cope with the situation as best we can. They [the LRA] are killing day
and night. They only fear this place a bit because it is a mission. Our children have a lot of difficulties with schooling. They can’t learn well, they are traumatised, they can’t sleep
well, but they force themselves to study. Women are afraid to sleep in their homes, not only because of rebels but also because they fear they might be raped by army officers.
They don’t care if you are young or old. Rape is very common in northern Uganda. If you report a rape, they just transfer the soldier.
Prossy (14) lives with her grandmother in Paicho, some 10 km outside Gulu town.
My father was killed by the rebels in 1996. My mother died in 1998 after a long illness. I walk every evening to the Noah’s Ark centre in Gulu town. I go to school each morning with nothing to eat. During the fruit season, you can get something to eat during the day, but now there are no fruits, so the only time I eat is in the evening when I go home from school. I have to eat very quickly so as to leave home before dark. Sometimes when the situation gets worse, I have to hurry so as to reach the centre before dark. At times I do not wait to eat at home. I do not want to end up like my sister, who was abducted in 1994. I don’t think she is alive. We have not heard anything about her from other children who have come back. We are tired of walking without eating. This war should stop, so we can return to our normal lives.
Lilian (12) spends her nights at the Noah’s Ark.
“The rebels first abducted my brother in 1997. He has never come back. We don’t know where he is. I don’t think he is alive because I have not heard any reports about him from other children who have come back. This year, one of my elder brothers and two younger sisters were also abducted, on the same night. None of them has returned.
Both my parents have died. I don’t remember when they died – I was still very small.
My aunt adopted me. I was told rebels came home and murdered them. I am only left with two brothers. We all come to Noah’s Ark every evening. In the morning, we leave for school. There is no feeding programme in our school. Even in schools which have feeding programmes, parents still have to pay for the food, salt, onions and firewood. No, I don’t think of the future. I don’t think I’ll go to secondary school. There is no one to help. All my relatives are very poor now because of this war. They are all scattered in camps. Rebels killed some of them. My aunt is very ill. She can’t do anything but cook.
Albert has 18 children under his care, of which seven are his.
They all trek to Gulu town. My family used to have 1,500 head of cattle. We had tractors and other farm machines. All this was spoiled by the war. Three of my brothers have been killed by rebels. I have been left with their widows and children to look after. We manage only through very hard labour. We have been displaced from our village since 1990, and even here we are not safe. They [LRA] abducted one of my brother’s children from this compound. This problem is big and we don’t have any hope for the future. We have appealed for the international community to come and help, but we have not seen anything. You know you should live with your children, but the conditions do not allow you to stay with them. Some of them sleep on verandas, some at Noah’s Ark.
Some of the mothers go to town with the children. I am always worrying about the children. They are too young to be on their own. There are also a lot of dangers at night.
Some have been knocked down by bicycles. Some have been bitten by snakes. The older girls are disturbed by men. Robbers also sometimes attack them. We see the children again at 7:30 in the morning. They don’t get breakfast. Those who are supported with food are in IDP camps.
Emanuel, a social worker at the Noah’s Ark centre in Gulu
We have 1,200 children here, 500 boys and 700 girls. The numbers depend on the security situation. Other children prefer to go to town to sleep on the verandahs, but girls usually prefto come here for protection. Our biggest concern is their behaviour. Those who sleep on the verandahs are becoming spoiled. They think there are good things on the street. On the street, they are free to do what they want. They watch videos and all sorts of things which are not good. This means that the number of children on the verandahs is growing every day because more and children prefer the free life in town.
They are ruining their future. There has to be a way of getting off the street or there will be no future. Teenage girls often are late. We hear that men usually disturb them. The local government is talking all the time about this problem, but I don’t think they are serious.
NGOs are taking more responsibility for the children. The parents also are not serious. They are not checking to make sure that their children are where they are supposed to be.
It is their responsibility to find out if the children have reached their sleeping place. Normally, when they [the children] are here, we teach them good behaviour through the
Bible. It is difficult to control the children. Some children fight. Others steal each other’s blankets. When it rains, the mats in the tent get wet. I must solve these problems. We try
to counsel them and give them the word of God. These children need to be evangelised because they have a lot of problems. They are the target group of the rebels.
A few months ago, the rebels were operating near the town. Some of our children were abducted on their way here. There were about 15 of them. Some of them are still missing.
We do not have a feeding programme at this centre, so children have to wait and eat at home. Some of them eat late. I live just outside Gulu [town]. Last night, rebels abducted some people from my area. I can only trust in God to protect my six children. Some of them sleep here, in this centre. The youngest one remains at home. He is still too young.
Many of these children are orphans. Some of the children here have no clothes. If you visit their homes, you find that there is a big problem. Parents are always thinking of where to get food. There is no way of even getting money to pay fees for their children. In some families, you find that parents are totally traumatised by the war and have become
Map of Uganda
B I B L I O G R A P H Y
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Bramucci, GL (2003), “Waiting games: Growing up with war in northern Uganda”.
Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internazionale (AVSI): Kampala, Uganda.
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Dolan, C (2000), “Views on the Northern Uganda Conflict from Inside the War Zone: Report on COPE fieldwork findings, Northern Uganda. London. ACORD.
Human Rights Watch (2003) “Abducted and Abused: Renewed Conflict in Northern Uganda”; “Uganda – Child Abductions Skyrocket in the North”; “Uganda: Stolen Children – Abduction and Recruitment in Northern Uganda”. HRW: New York, USA.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (2003), “IRIN Web Special on the crisis in Northern Uganda” and other documents.
w w w.irinnews.org/webspecials/uga_crisis/. IRIN: Nairobi, Kenya.
Joint authors (2003), “Statement of The Donor Group on Northern Uganda, Amnesty and Recovery from Co n f l i c t ” Leggett, I (2001), Uganda: Oxfam Country Profile. Oxfam: Oxford, UK.
Liu Institute for Global Issues (2003), “Update on the Human Security Situation in Northern Uganda Northern Uganda Peace Process (April 2003). Liu Institute, University of British Columbia: Ca n a d a .
Minority Rights Group (2001), “Uganda – The Marginalisation of Communities”. MRG, London, UK.
Mutibwa, P (1992), Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. Hurst & Company: London, UK.
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US Agency for International Development (2003), “Uganda Complex Emergency Situation Report #1 (FY 2004)”. USAID: Washington DC, USA.
Westbrook, D (2000), “The Torment of Northern Uganda: A Legacy of Missed Opportunities”. Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution.
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UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS (OCHA)
“OCHA’s mission is to mobilise and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to: alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate for the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.”
OCHA Regional Support Office for Central and East Africa (OCHA RSO-CEA) The OCHA RSO-CEA, based in Nairobi, Kenya, was established in its present form in January 2002, on the foundations of the Regional Office for the Great Lakes (created in 1996 when the first DRC war started). The office now covers 12 countries in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region (i.e. Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti,
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and The OCHA RSO-CEA provides support to the humanitarian coordination activities of OCHA country offices throughout Central and East Africa. It coordinates with the Nairobi-based partners (UN, NGOs, IOs, donors, SRSG for the Great Lakes region) regional humanitarian planning and response to the crises of the CEA region. It also advocates for a concrete and resolute commitment of the International Community to respond to the needs of the affected populations in the region. This latter responsibility is of utmost importance as the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa are, undoubtedly, the most affected regions in the world.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Part of OCHA, the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) are specialised information units dedicated to improving the response of the international community to humanitarian crises. Operating from offices in Nairobi, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Ankara and Islamabad, IRIN draws upon information from a wide variety of sources, including local NGOs and affected communities. This information is sifted, verified and processed into cohesive, accurate and contextual reports on 54 countries, 46 in Sub-Saharan Africa and eight in Central Asia.
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Readers include humanitarian practitioners, donors, government officials, academics, missionaries, diaspora populations, and local and international media.
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A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T
We, OCHA RSO-CEA and IRIN, wish to express our gratitude for the continued support of the donor community without which our daily endeavours and this present book would not be possible. We are particularly grateful to Australia, Austria, Canada (CIDA), Cyprus, Denmark, ECHO, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden (SIDA), Switzerland, the UK (DFID) and the USA (OFDA, BPRM).
We also wish to thank all those who helped us in making this book, including Ugandan authorities and communities, NGOs, UN Agencies and other international and humanitarian actors working in Northern Uganda.
All photographs in this book taken by Sven Torfinn
© OCHA/Sven Torfinn
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© November 2004, OCHA/IRIN