Uganda Peoples Congress

Uganda, world have forgotten northern war, says report

From The EastAfrican (March 20, 2006)

Reported by Julius Barigaba and David Kaiza

The peace process that broke down in December 2004 does not seem to have any hope now and the protection of IDPs by the army is doubtful

Three years after a high-powered UN delegation visited the internally displaced persons' camps in northern Uganda, living conditions there have worsened.

The delegation had made recommendations on how the war in the region could be brought to an end and the displacement ended.

In a report titled Only Peace Can Restore the Confidence of the Displaced, the Refugee Law Project, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre say that the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda - Gulu, Kitgum and Lira districts - has worsened because of neglect by the Uganda government and the international community.

"The lack of consistent support from the government for a peace process was identified as a major stumbling block, the report says. "The government continues to favour ending the war militarily, an approach that has not only failed for 20 years but has also jeopardised the chance of dialogue with the rebels."

In 2003, Francis Deng, repre-sentative of the UN Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, made recommendations on the northern Uganda conflict that asked the international community to get involved in resolving the conflict; for the government to adopt an IDP policy; to provide protection for the IDPs and to provide humanitarian access while allowing the IDPs access to their lands.

The new report comes at an important period for northern Uganda, when international attention and financial support are increasingly being directed at the region.

Among other things, the report says that the peace process that broke down in December 2004 did not seem to have any hope now and that the protection of IDPs by the army was doubtful. It questioned the fact that a number of untrained paramilitary groups were also involved in protecting civilians.

The Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF) are blamed for having "not clearly defined their roles and responsibilities".

"The government has yet to provide the political will or the resources to fully implement the policy, and as a result the progressive goals of improving the response to IDPs have been undermined, said Zachary Lomo, director of the Refugee Law Project.

"The fact that those who are mandated to provide protection to IDPs - the Ugandan military - are often perpetuating rights abuses against the civilian population is deplorable and clearly indicates the need for re-establishing an effective and functioning judiciary system, said Elisabeth Rasmusson, head of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Ms Rasmusson added that the police and judiciary, who should provide protection, are virtually absent in northern Uganda.

Non-governmental organisations working in the north also alleged that the army was using ex-rebels to protect the camps. But UPDF spokesman Maj Felix Kulayigye refuted the allegations, calling them "grossly inaccurate".

"The report has a lot of inaccuracies. The camps are well protected and there are no ex-rebels guarding any camps. The ex-rebels were instead deployed in a fighting battalion in Southern Sudan, Maj Kulayigye told The EastAfrican. "At present, IDPs are adequately protected. Any protection issues in this report must be referring to 2003."