Government of Uganda - Lord's resistance army (LRA) peace talks
This week saw the resumption of talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Juba, South Sudan. Hosted and mediated by the Government of South Sudan, the negotiations seek to put a permanent end to a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people and forced 1.7 million others into squalid displacement camps. This twenty-year conflict has been characterized by that most horrific aspect of "modern" warfare: the widespread and deliberate targeting of civilians. Abduction, torture, rape, sexual enslavement, and murder have taken place with a frequency and on a scale that is truly horrifying.
Although the Ugandan army (Ugandan People's Defence Force) also faces questions regarding its human rights record, it is the LRA that has attained infamy for the manner in which it has propagated the 20-year insurrection. Accused of horrific crimes against civilians in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, the LRA has operated with complete disregard for humanitarian law and established rules of combat. On July 8th of last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) unsealed warrants for the arrest of the top five LRA leaders - Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya (deceased), and Dominic Ongwen - on charges including crimes against humanity, war crimes, sexual enslavement, systematic murder, and systematic rape. These warrants are currently outstanding.
The Northern Uganda districts of Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader have borne the brunt of the fighting and are host to some 229 displacement camps. Most of a given camp's inhabitants originally resided within 10 kilometers of the camp itself, but enormous insecurity in the region forced people to abandon their villages and homesteads and submit to the largely aid-dependent existence of camp life. In addition to the trauma of war, social problems are now rife, with rates of alcoholism and domestic violence at endemic levels. Communities are desperate for a return to peace and the opportunity to rebuild a fractured society and devastated livelihoods. Time and time again community leaders speak of the war as having destroyed familial and societal structures, and subjected an entire generation to the indignity of chronic poverty. Although huge challenges lie ahead, it is only through the attainment of a just peace that the people of Northern Uganda can begin a return to normality.
Trocaire is working in solidarity and partnership with those affected by the conflict. Water and sanitation projects and programmes designed to increase agricultural self-sufficiency are helping provide camp inhabitants with a dignity that is rightfully theirs. Trocaire and its partner organizations welcome the efforts of all groups involved in the current peace process and the prospect of a timely end to the suffering endured by civilians in the region. However, Trocaire also adds its voice to those demanding that Justice form a central component of any agreement between warring parties. It is only through recognizing and addressing the wrongs committed over the last two decades that Northern Uganda can begin its journey on the long road back to healing and recovery.
Donough Ryan, Kampala. 21/08/06