Soldier With Guns
Overview of Kitgum, Pader and Gulu Districts

Kitgum, Pader and Gulu districts are three Acholi districts located in northern Uganda and border the Republic of the Sudan to the north, Kotido district to the east, Lira district in the south and West districts in the west. Each district has about 9,773.63 sq. km. of land. However, only 3,200 sq. km are under production, which is 32.74 percent of the land available for production. According to the 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census, Kitgum has 283,546 people. There are 137,186 males and 144,188 females. There are 53,170 households in the district and the population growth rate is estimated at 4.1 percent within its two constituencies of Lamwo(114,168) and chua (169,378). Pader with a population of 293,679 distributed in the counties of Agago and Aruu and Gulu 480,624 distributed in Municipality, Aswa, Omoro and Kilak counties.
 
 
Brief background situation
Northern Uganda
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Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts, the most affected districts of Northern Uganda by armed violence and conflict in which 90% of the population (Nearly 2 Million People) had been relocated to Internally Displaced persons’ camps since 1986.
 
This instability that affected northern Region of Uganda has resulted into mass abductions, conscription and coercions of countless adults and children below the age of 18 years old into rebel ranks, destruction of homes, lives and general socio- economic activities. These led to gross violation of the HumanRights especially of children and women in the region.
 
Each and every household in Northern Uganda has at least suffered the effects of the conflict in terms of Abduction, death, displacement, poverty, sicknesses and dissertation and so on. The LRA launched very heavy attacks on the civilian and armless population in the districts of Kitgum, Gulu, Pader and Lira. Such attacks were levied including those in IDP centres as follows;
  • Rape and killing leading to amputation due to use of land mines and cutting of people’s Mouth, Nose, Ears, Arms and many others.
  • Looting of food, farming tools, and household utensils.
  • Abduction of adults and children, burning down houses and IDP centres while wounding and murdering civilians.
  • Occasional bombing of people in crowded places e.g., market places and Dancing Halls.
  • Ambushes of vehicles, cyclists, and people moving on foot.
The nearly 2 million displaced persons living in the Acholi region of Northern Uganda have experienced and still in a very serious humanitarian emergency. Extremely urgent action is needed so as to reduce mortality to non-crisis levels. Recently Mr Jan Egeland, the U.N. under-secretary for humanitarian affairs in August 2005, called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to help end the 20-year war that is threatening regional stability and he said, “the long running conflict in northern Uganda is one of extreme "brutality and callousness". The report of the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU) March 2005 which includes Oxfam International, Care International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and International Rescue Committee as well as national and community based organizations further said that “The current rate of death from the war in northern Uganda is three times higher than in Iraq following the Allied invasion’ it also reveals new facts and figures showing the brutal impact of the conflict on the civilian population between the Government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

An entire society has been systematically destroyed physically, culturally, emotionally, socially, and economically. “The extent of suffering according to international benchmarks constituted an emergency out of control.” the livelihood, the culture, the children, the public health, and the family structure and life of a community. The result is unnatural rates of physical depletion and socio-economic regression of the community, and a radical undermining of its capacity for preservation, regeneration, and development, as a group. The situation is fully described in the following context;
  • A population of almost 2 million people has been in the concentration 200 camps* where they live in abominable conditions, defined by staggering levels of squalor, disease and death, humiliation and despair, appalling sanitation and hygiene, and massive overcrowding and malnutrition. They do not have the bare minimum.” Today virtually the entire population (95%) of Acoli is still in these concentration camps.
  • A joint survey by the Ministry of Health and international agencies reported that 1,000 excess deaths in the camps in Acholi every week that is about 50,000 each year. The survey also estimated that, in the first half of last year, around 30,000 died in the camps in Acoli, of which over 11,000 were children under five. These figures didn’t include those who have been killed in outright atrocities by both the LRA and the government.
  • The camps which were massively over-congested. Pabbo(in Gulu) and Kalongo (in Pader), for example, have a population of 72,000 and 55,000, respectively, herded into a space of 1 square kilometer. This translates into a space of 16m2 for each person, whereas the recommended minimum surface area for each person is 45 m2. Most of the camps have less than 1/4 of the area recommended in such emergencies. Families of 6–8 persons have to pack themselves, ‘sardine-like’, into a tiny hut of 1.5 meter radius; the minimum standard for such emergencies is 3.5 square meters per person. And contrary to traditional culture, three generations of a family -- parents, children and grandparents -- are all forced to share the same living space, with loss of all privacy and dignity.
small huts

  • Death of culture and values system. In a society renowned for its deep-rooted and rich culture, values system and family structure -- all these have been destroyed under the living conditions imposed and prevailing over the last 10 years in the camps. This loss is colossal and virtually irreparable; it signals the death of a people and their civilization. At first this seemed unimaginable but now it has become a grim reality staring us in the face. As stated in a report by a consortium of NGOs, “Rejuvenation of the Acholi institutions into action, effectiveness and efficiency seem far- fetched as the Acholi well- cherished and very rich African culture will never be the same again in its social and cultural centre.”
  • Suicide and despair. In the face of relentless cultural and personal humiliations and abuse, suicide has risen to alarming levels. A survey has reported that, among the population in the camps, 85% suffer from severe trauma and depression. Suicide is highest among mothers who feel utter despair at their inability to provide for their children or save them from starvation, or death from preventable diseases. For example, in August 2005, 13 mothers committed suicide in Pabbo camp alone. A survey by MSF shows that 62% of women interviewed in the camps think of committing suicide. As Archbishop John Baptist Odama has observed, “These are acts of extreme desperation. The concept of suicide does not belong to the culture of the Acoli people.”
  • Rampant rape and sexual abuse. As several reports have documented, rape and generalized sexual exploitation, especially by government soldiers (both those stationed in the camps and the mobile units) have become “entirely normal.” 1The soldiers feel entitled to take any woman or girl and do anything they want with her, with complete impunity. As noted in a recent report by Human Rights Watch, “Women in a number of camps told how they had been raped by soldiers from the Ugandan army it is exceptionally difficult for women to find protection from sexual abuse by government soldiers.”
  • HIV/AIDS is too high. In addition to the prejudices surrounding HIV/AIDS, PLWHA were neglected and discriminated yet they needed medical, spiritual and psychosocial care and support. The level of infection is high in women than men due to;
  • Severe impoverishment that often leaves women and girls with few alternatives but to exchange sex for survival
  • Loss of income, livelihood, homes, food, healthcare and education,
  • Increased powerlessness in women leading to rape and sexual violence,
  • Rape used as weapon of war by fighting forces.
  • Inadequate distribution of services like HCT, PMTCT, ARVS,
  • Increased interaction of people with the virus e.g. civilians, UPDF, LRA, rural and urban communities all these has contributed to the increase of the virus in women.
People affected with HIV/AIDS lacks income to help themselves with medical bills, treatment and care, transport to the hospitals and good feeding.
  • Loss of livelihood. The population has been deprived of all means of livelihood. The people have been uprooted from their lands. In their absence, some powerful government officials have embarked on a land grab in Acholi, in possible partnership with commercial farmers
  • Children abducted and brutalized. Over the years, over 20,000 children, unprotected, have been abducted and brutalized by the LRA. Some 40,000 children, the so called ‘night commuters’, trek several hours each evening to sleep in the streets of Gulu and Kitgum town.
In a recent context, however, the situation in northern Uganda has steadily improved as a result of government commitment to end the 20 years old war, increased pressure on the LRA and the on-going peace process in the Southern Sudan Capital, Juba. Peaceful resolution of the conflict is the most crucial step to be sought by all parties to the conflict, and efforts to this extent need to be intensified. At the moments thousands of IDPs have returned to their villages as a results and hopes are high that peace shall indeed prevail in the once productive region of Uganda

Other recommendations given the present security scenario include extension of grassroots projects that targets peaceful initiatives to women and children in the villages through sensitisation programs for peace under community resilience and dialogue. There is a need for sensitisation of the LRA for peace and reconciliation, and the offer of the Amnesty Commissions.

Presently there is no mechanism for ensuring that the commitments made to the peace talks are already enough. Everyone agreed on the need to develop Northern specific strategies based on strategic analysis of possible points of influence which should include specific economical, political, social incentives and disincentives which could be implemented by various players. Just like the development and implementation of peace strategies includes community groups, religious sectors, NGOs and local CBOs working closely hand in hand with government peace team to help manipulate peace in the region.

Click here and read latest commentary from Crisis group international: “What Comes First, Peace or Justice?" Nick Grono, International Herald Tribune, 27 October 2006 full article.
 
Northern Uganda Conflict present situation
For the first time in around a decade, a sustained peace process is taking place between the LRA and the Ugandan government. The talks are occurring in Juba, Southern Sudan, mediated by the Government of Southern Sudan. One complicating factor in the negotiations is that the ICC is prosecuting the leadership of the LRA. The ICC has come under intense criticism in northern Uganda since the announcement in January 2004 that the Ugandan government had made the first state party referral to the ICC. The Court has been condemned by a wide range of international NGOs, academics, mediators and northern Ugandans. These critics argued that the threat of international prosecutions would undermine fragile local peace initiatives, prolong the conflict by obliterating the LRA’s incentive to negotiate, and make displaced northern Ugandans even more vulnerable to LRA attacks. In addition to criticising the timing of the ICC’s investigation, some observers asserted that the ICC’s brand of retributive punishment was fundamentally at odds with local values, enshrined culturally in traditional reconciliation ceremonies and legally in Uganda’s Amnesty Act of 2000. The ICC’s intervention, opponents argued, would ultimately perpetuate rather than prevent conflict.

Some three years later, the exact opposite has happened. We are in the midst of the most promising peace initiative in the last 20 years, one that has dramatically improved the security and humanitarian situation in northern Uganda. A landmark cessation of hostilities agreement removed most LRA combatants from Uganda, allowing hundreds of thousands of war-weary civilians to begin the process of resettlement and redevelopment. The elusive and erratic LRA has tentatively begun to open up, building lines of communication with both northern Ugandans and the government. These emerging signs of trust and confidence help to promote reconciliation and to pave the way home for displaced populations. Rather than driving the LRA back into the bush, the LRA has been drawn in to negotiations. Rather than making civilians more vulnerable, northern Uganda is safer and life is slowly improving.

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The Juba Peace Process and Transitional Justice
The North has experienced a lengthy period of war, and the issue of accountability and Reconciliation is central to the negotiations in Juba, under Agenda Item 3. Ideally, the talks would result in a framework for accountability and reconciliation that has the consensus of the parties, the blessing of the affected population, and is condoned by the international community which has been watching this closely. Such a solution may involve mechanisms on the local level, such as Mato Oput, but also on the national level. But it must be stressed that Transitional Justice should go beyond Juba in terms of its application in Uganda. Building a sustainable peace requires a process of reconciliation within affected communities, and among regions. Given the complex history and nature of the war, accountability and reconciliation would have to be national in scale. Transitional justice should allow for Ugandan society as a whole to look at its history and to decide to steer a new course in certain areas, and forge a new relationship between citizen and state. This must by definition include a much wider group of actors than are currently represented at Juba. The question of whether Uganda is ready for such a wider process should be evaluated independently from what transpires at Juba, although a positive outcome at Juba may serve to inspire a wider approach.

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