Monday, February 27, 2006

Protected Villages

by: Holly

Last week I spent time in 4 different Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camps. There are some who prefer to call them “Protected Villages.” The label is grossly inaccurate and derides the suffering of the people who live there. It implies permanence—which may be what is intended by those who use it, but is not accepted by anyone who lives there. They want to go home. On the way to the camps I drove over bumpy roads with abandoned fertile fields that fed thousands of hungry mouths before the war. My colleague, himself displaced, as 94% of all those who live in Gulu are, pointed to a mango tree and then another and said, “You see, wherever you see a mango tree, that is the place where peoples homes used to be.” There are no villages in Gulu. There is only Gulu town and 53 IDP camps. The residents must be within the camp between 4:30 and 6:00 every evening depending on the camp and a strict curfew is enforced. After that the roads will be blocked and any patrolling UPDF might mistake the resident for a rebel. The same applies if they venture further than 3 km from their camp to “dig” the fields. I spent time with CPAs parent groups, youth groups, child mothers who were formerly abducted, camp leaders, elders, and others.

One of these women described how they sometimes become so discouraged that they want to commit suicide. Then they come to their friends in the Parent Support Group and they remind each other that their children need to find them alive when they finally come out of the bush. They have to persevere. They can’t give up. They have to hang on to hope.

One woman said that she passed by a center for formerly abducted children the other day and there were three kids who were just arriving having just been rescued from the LRA. And she wept. She said, “It gave me courage, to see them, it means that there are still children returning and that next time it might even be my son coming home to me.”

This man just learned that he is a grandfather. His granddaughter was born in the bush and was rescued two weeks ago by the Ugandan army. His son was abducted ten years ago and is still in the bush. Now he and his wife will raise the granddaughter and hope that someday her parents will come home. I asked him what he would say to his president if he could have lunch with him. He said, “I would tell him two things. First, I would ask him to stop using guns—use dialogue. The gun does not select. Our children will die without even knowing what they are dying for. They are dying for nothing. Second I would ask for an extension of Amnesty. It should be open.” Amnesty has been offered to combatants who surrender but it is due to expire in March next month. Anyone surrendering after that date could ostensibly be prosecuted regardless of the circumstances of their “enlistment” in the LRA.

I asked this man the same question. Tired, he said, “I just want to go home.”

During a conversation with one of the camp leaders he pressed his heart and admitted the thing that weighs on him and other elders the most is the youth. “We have many concerns I could tell you, but more than anything we are worried for his coming generation. This is no way to grow up. All of our cultural values are being lost. The ways that we used to pass them on to the young we cannot do here in the camp. It is all disintegrating. And when we look at them we worry for the future.” I asked him what he as a camp leader is doing to meet that challenge. He said that they the main thing he would like to do is to encourage some of the traditional ways of passing on cultural values like the “Wango” a gathering of the clan around a fire at night for the elders to tell stories, for debates, for dancing, for the young to ask the old their questions, for the life of the clan. The curfew is prohibitive of doing things in just the same way—wango should be after dark when everyone is required to be in their huts. He is waiting and hoping for a government decision to provide security and an exception to curfew.

The Proof, The Trick & Restorative Justice

by Holly
Over a mug of coffee this morning I read the Sunday paper of one of the two most prominent Ugandan newspapers. The article that caught my attention was discussing how the political opposition uses the ongoing war to cast a shadow on the incumbent’s track record while addressing crowds of supporters in the North. It was an op-ed piece that was sharply criticizing the practice and setting the record straight: those who are responsible for the war are the LRA rebels—not the current government. The proof, the journalist opined, is that the International Criminal Court(ICC) has issued warrants for the top 5 in LRA command. I’ve been meaning to write a few thoughts about the hotly debated role of the ICC in Northern Uganda and this article is an excellent example of one of the many (unintended) byproducts of the international community’s attempt to administer justice. While I hold my own opinions on ICC involvement it seems most appropriate to focus on the perception and desires of those who are directly affected by it—the people in the North. While I can’t claim to speak for them, in my limited time here my conversations with colleagues, formerly abducted children, parents, camp leaders, religious leaders, and others have confirmed without exception empirical research that has been conducted that I’d read. (Justice & Peace Commission and Refugee Law Project are two main organizations). Three main beliefs about the ICC are reoccurring themes in conversations and research on the subject.

It is not seen to be objective. The case was referred to the court by the government of Uganda and by indicting only the top 5 in command of the LRA the perception (whether it is valid or not may be another story) is that the ICC has “chosen sides” in an ongoing conflict. Although virtually no one supports the LRA, many in the North don’t support the current government either and have been victims of human rights abuses committed by both warring parties. Most people believe that if there is to be accountability for injustices it should be comprehensive. The ICC has made statements indicating that the government would not be exempt from investigation. However, they only indicted top LRA and those statements seem to have only been read by a rare few who relish sifting through reports and not by your average (often illiterate) camp resident in Northern Uganda.

It undermines amnesty and therefore, many believe, the only shot at achieving sustainable peace. The government’s attitude towards the amnesty process is widely perceived to be at best ambiguous and at worst a trick to lure rebels out of the bush and then when peace is achieved to use the documentation of amnesty recipients as incriminating evidence to prosecute them—letting a thousand flowers bloom Ugandan style. In a strictly legal sense, if I understand it properly, it truly only undermines the amnesty of five individuals, however, it is NOT understood properly by the general population and even less so by those (children) who remain in the bush afraid of what will happen to them if they try to come out. The risks of escape are great. The stigmatization experienced while trying to reunite with a community and a family plagued with grievance is inevitable. The perceived liklihood of being prosecuted for crimes committed involuntarily does not provide the assurance that many need to even begin contemplation of surmounting the other hardships. Couple that with the fact that many of those trying to decide if they should risk escape and apply for amnesty are or were children when they were abducted and have undergone significant “mental conditioning” since then. The ICC has said that it would consider postponing the case “in the interests of justice.” If even one child is dissuaded from coming home to his/her family by confusion over the ICC is that in the interests of justice?

It imposes a western version of justice ignoring both the traditional way as well as the needs of the victims. Someone recently told me that they don’t want Kony sent to the Hague and then shipped to some comfortable jail somewhere. Nor do they want him tried by Ugandan courts where capitol punishment (by hanging) would be his likely sentence. No, they don’t want his blood on their hands, they want him to spend his life working in the fields. He should have to plow and sweat just like the rest of Northern Ugandans. While this scenario might not sound viable it reflects a widely held belief and practice of reintegrating perpetrators into their communities. If the victims do not believe the ICC is achieving justice—than who is the justice for? Does it only satisfy the international community’s desire to do something? It pours some water on our burning consciences as each day we continue to fail to effectively respond to the growing suffering of the people of Northern Uganda. While the crimes that the ICC deals with are those against humanity—we must not neglect the fact that the victims of those crimes have faces and names and many of them are still alive and thinking about their futures. One mother told me that there could be no meaningful restitution for what she has suffered—the injury is too great. For her, justice means that her daughter and the children that she bore in captivity receive the best possible education. Justice for Northern Uganda, will not be achieved by 5 arrest warrants. It will need to move beyond retributive and punitive justice and draw from the deep traditional well that the people of Northern Uganda have used for centuries—of restorative justice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

News Flash...

This morning Ben and I were watching BBC and sipping on instant coffee at our hotel here in Gulu. Across the bottom of the screen it read 'Ugandan elections unlikely to be free and fair--U.S. based Human Rights Watch reports.' They catch on quick. Check it out:

Elections are in a week and we're praying, hoping and working for peace.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Senate's Resolve

We heard about this the day after the prayer week was over. A good move in the right direction--there is still a chasm between the depth of suffering and the response, but I thought some of you might be interested to know what our government is saying about our place of work. -Holly



2d Session

S. RES. 366

Affirming the importance of increased international action and a
national week of prayer for the Ugandan victims of Joseph Kony's Lord's
Resistance Army, and expressing the sense of the Senate that Sudan,
Uganda, and the international community bring justice and humanitarian
assistance to Northern Uganda and that February 2 through 9, 2006,
should be designated as a national week of prayer and reflection for the
people of Uganda.


February 2, 2006

Mr. INHOFE (for himself, Mr. COLEMAN, Mr. SANTORUM, Mr. DEMINT, Mrs.
FEINGOLD, Mr. KENNEDY, and Mr. LAUTENBERG) submitted the following
resolution; which was considered and agreed to



Affirming the importance of increased international action and a
national week of prayer for the Ugandan victims of Joseph Kony's Lord's
Resistance Army, and expressing the sense of the Senate that Sudan,
Uganda, and the international community bring justice and humanitarian
assistance to Northern Uganda and that February 2 through 9, 2006,
should be designated as a national week of prayer and reflection for the
people of Uganda.

Whereas Joseph Kony has led the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since 1987,
terrorizing the region of Northern Uganda;

Whereas up to 200,000 people have been killed in violent conflict and
from disease and malnutrition;

Whereas 80 to 90 percent of Kony's fighters are enslaved
children--brutalized and brainwashed to kill;

Whereas sources estimate that between 20,000 and 50,000 children have
been abducted by the LRA since 1987;

Whereas these children are sexually abused, raped, beaten, taunted and
traumatized by older soldiers in the LRA;

Whereas these children are maliciously coerced to mutilate, rape, and
murder others, even their own family members and friends;

Whereas LRA leaders often force the friends and siblings of unsuccessful
escapees to carry out vicious punishments to further the LRA's culture
of fear, intimidation and guilt;

Whereas even those children who do manage to escape are unspeakably
traumatized, often infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and
stigmatized by society;

Whereas approximately 40,000 children in rural Uganda trek miles into
towns each night to sleep under the protection of soldiers and attempt
to avoid capture;

Whereas more than 1.6 million people have been forced to flee their

Whereas the conflict has slowed Uganda's development efforts, costing
the country at least $1.33 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP; and

Whereas, starting in October 2005, the Sudan government gave Joseph Kony
a three month grace period to surrender: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate--

(1) that the government of Sudan continue to prosecute LRA terrorists
within its borders and aid Uganda in ending the conflict;

(2) that Uganda use every available resource to end the atrocities of
the LRA and bring its members to justice;

(3) that the United States and international community recognize the
atrocities occurring daily in Uganda and provide necessary humanitarian
assistance; and

(4) that the week of February 2 through 9, 2006, should be designated as
a National Week of Prayer and Reflection for the people of Northern

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Light Bulbs

By Holly:
I love teaching. Actually, what it is that is so thrilling is not the actual teaching but watching people transform even in little doses—their minds, their attitudes, their behavior. I like watching them realize that they have power and decidedly set about using it to participate in creative processes. I facilitated my first training at CPA for 5 days on Conflict Resolution. It was intense. I could not have asked for a better group of participants—20 of the most committed members of CPA’s “youth” branch (all 20 and 30 somethings). They were excellent. Many of them were formerly abducted, some had lost parents or siblings, all of them were war affected.

I’m hopeful that the training was a beginning of a lot of things—as they work to apply new skills and ideas to their activities as an organization and in their lives I hope to continue being a resource to them. I think there were the beginning of some friendships, some mentoring relationships and a lot of potential that will need a little guidance and focus. We gave them certificates at the end. I was originally critical of the idea but it is an expected norm that has become part of educational culture put in place by the presence of so many NGOs. By the end I was fully convinced that they deserved certificates because of the great progress they made and I prepared a little speech for the “commencement.” I couldn’t get through it. I choked up when I got to the part when I noted that they had lived their whole lives never knowing peace but they were the ones who would insure that their children would grow up never knowing war.

In Northern Uganda watching the lights go on in the eyes of training participants is especially powerful as they shine it on some of the darkest deeds in human history. I really believe that. These “youth” have lived through things that those of us who haven’t can’t imagine—when we try we feel like if it had been us we’d have just stopped breathing or died under the crushing weight of the unspeakable evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on each other. But somehow they not only kept on breathing but they emerged activists that refuse to accept this unjust way of life as normal. They are wounded activists but they will not be stopped.

A Case Study

A group of Bodas waiting for their next customer.
By Holly:
Before the training I asked the participants to each write about two real conflicts that affected them. We used them as case studies during the training. As I read through a stack of 40 conflicts there was one that stuck out, not for its severity but as depressingly commonplace. It was about a participant’s neighbors. The breadwinner is a “Boda” someone who makes money by carrying people on the back of their bicycle. Income comes slow at about 15 cents per trip. The boda was supporting his wife and 8 kids on his meager and irregular income. All year he had been struggling to save enough money to buy his family meat for Christmas. Because of the Christmas rush he bought the meat one week before the expected feast. It would be the first time for most of the children to ever eat meat and in the novelty of it they would smell the meat and increase their anticipation. The family felt like the week “lasted for two years.” While the father was at work on the 23rd the smell and desire became so overwhelming that they cooked the meat and ate it. When the boda came home he found that most of the meat was gone and that the choicest pieces had been given to the children (in Ugandan culture it should be given to the man). In a rage the boda beat the woman and smashed her hand badly breaking it. The neighbors all heard the sounds of domestic violence and rushed to take her to the hospital.