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SOS Northern Uganda: Profile of a Genocide (ii)

The Monitor

By Olara A. Otunnu

January 9, 2006

This is a continuation of The Sydney Peace Prize Public Lecture, "Saving Our Children from the Scourge of War", given last November by Olara A. Otunnu, the former UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. The first part appeared in Sunday Monitor yesterday.

There is need for a very, very deep soul-searching about the response of the western democracies in particular, to what has been going on in Uganda. The Ugandan situation and the response to it - or rather the conspicuous lack of response thereto - raises some very disturbing questions about the discourse and the application of human rights and other normative policies by the international community.

How shall we explain to the perplexed children and women of northern Uganda that those they had believed in as champions of human rights have instead become the cheerleaders and chief providers of support and succour to a government which is conducting genocide - a government that routinely and chillingly gloats about destroying 'those people' - "those people" and their children? A regime which celebrates and thrives on systematic repression, ethnic racism, and impunity.

Genocide, by definition, is a deliberate and intended project; it does not occur through inadvertence. Those who plan to carry out genocide, typically prepare the ground through a hate campaign directed at the targeted community.

In the case of northern Uganda, a long trail of both the deeds and the pronouncements of the Museveni regime have consistently pointed towards the same objective.

In fact, Museveni has personally led a very toxic campaign of ethnic racism, hatred, demonisation, and dehumanisation, echoed by his close associates. In numerous declarations, they have made manifest their intention and scheme.

Here are some instructive examples from the racist and hate campaign: - "We shall make 'them' become like the ensenene insects; you know what happens when you trap them in a bottle and close the lid." This is particularly reminiscent of the racist campaign conducted in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

"Let them go and eat grass and lizards." This, in response to reports of widespread starvation and death in the north.

"'Those people' are not human beings; 'they' are biological substances."

"'They' are backward and primitive."

"You wait and see, we shall teach 'them' a lesson from which 'they' will never recover."

"'Those people' are swine."

"Yes, we are killing off the 'anyanya,' they are not Ugandans". The appellation 'anyanya' is a term from Sudan which has been corrupted by the Museveni regime, which now uses it to demonise northerners as 'terrorists' and 'foreigners' who emanate from southern Sudan.

"The chauvinism of the Acholi has to be destroyed."

"We have not yet punished 'them' enough."

"Alice Lakwena has been very useful to us."

This refers to a series of wholesale massacres of unarmed populations by government forces in the wake of the uprising led by Alice Lakwena.

In fact, Museveni's tribalist politics and virulent anti-Acholi rhetoric first surfaced in a serious way in the 1970s while in Tanzania.

As an insurgent leader in Luwero in the 1980s, Museveni escalated and deepened his campaign of ethnic hatred and demonisation, teaching his largely southern cadres that the real enemies they were fighting were the 'Abacholi.'

In this respect, Museveni's message and objective have been clear and consistent from the beginning.

Over the years, while the world ignored or explained away his pronouncements and deeds, he has proceeded methodically to translate his words and intentions into a deadly genocidal project, as manifested today in the concentration camps.

Last September, ironically in the midst of the genocide unfolding in northern Uganda, world leaders meeting at the special UN summit in New York adopted an important declaration on "Responsibility to Protect."

They made a solemn commitment to act together to protect populations exposed to genocide and grave dangers, when their own government is unable or unwilling to protect them, or, worse, when the state itself is the instrument of a genocidal project. This has been precisely the situation in northern Uganda for the last 20 years. But for those 20 years, political considerations have trumped "responsibility to protect."

And in that calculus, the children and women of northern Uganda have become, quite literally, expendable. The genocide in northern Uganda presents the most burning and immediate test case for the solemn commitment made by world leaders in September.

Will the international community now come to apply "Responsibility to Protect" objectively and non-politically, based on the facts and gravity of the situation on the ground, or will action or inaction be determined once again by 'politics as usual'?

Today, from this podium and on this important occasion of the award of the Sydney Peace Prize, I wish to address a most urgent appeal - a cri de coeur - to the leaders of the western democracies in particular, concerning the genocide in northern Uganda.

It is with deep sadness, and a heavy and anguished heart that I do so. But I must do so in the name of the two million people being destroyed in the 200 camps of death and humiliation in northern Uganda.

Why do I address my plea to the western democracies in particular? Because they have been and continue to be the chief political, financial and military sponsors, supporters and lifeline for the Museveni regime.

Tragically, for Uganda as well as neighbouring countries, this sponsorship and indulgence has nurtured a political nightmare - a regime of arrogance, impunity and genocide.

I cannot recall any previous situation where a government conducting genocide against its people, has done so all the while being shielded and applauded by the western democratic governments.

This is extraordinary.

This special relationship has produced a government of exception and license that is neither accountable to the Ugandan people nor subject to the standards demanded of other governments.

This has undermined and supplanted normal domestic, democratic accountability (namely by the government of Uganda to the people of Uganda), in favour of external answerability, inconsistently administered by the donors.

It is little wonder then that Museveni dispatches with equal contempt Ugandan public opinion as well as African peer counsel; in his court, only the views of donors and external patrons really matter.

This is why today I address this anguished cry to the leaders of the western democracies in particular. We must retrieve the path of a principled application of human rights. If we do not commit to one set of human rights for all victims, we undermine the credibility of human rights discourse for all victims.

When human rights are applied selectively, with an eye to political gain for some rather than protection for all, we reap a whirlwind of cynicism.

We must denounce and stop genocide wherever it occurs, regardless of the ethnicity or political affiliation of the population being destroyed.

For the sake of the children, and the two million people in the concentration camps, I appeal to the western democracies to review their continued sponsorship and support for a regime that is orchestrating and presiding over the genocide of its population. What will it take, and how long will it take, for leaders of the western democracies to acknowledge, denounce and take action to end the genocide being perpetrated in northern Uganda?

As I review recent developments, I cannot help but wonder if we have learned any lessons from the earlier dark episodes of history. When millions of Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust in Europe, we said "never again," - but after the fact. When genocide was perpetrated in Rwanda, we said "never again," - but it was again after the fact. When children and women were massacred in Srebrenica, we said "never again," - but only after the deed was already accomplished. The genocide unfolding in northern Uganda today is happening on our watch, and with our full knowledge.

And tomorrow, shall we once again be heard to say that we did not know what was going on? That for all these years, we were unaware of the enormity of the dark deeds being conducted in northern Uganda?

And so, what shall we tell the survivor children of northern Uganda - when they ask why no one came to stop the dark deeds that are stalking their land and devouring its people?

And to those of you gathered here today and others who are afar, what do I ask of you?

I ask you to join in the campaign to break this conspiracy of silence and to end the genocide. I urge you to petition the leaders of the western democracies and the Secretary General of the United Nations to break their silence and act to end this genocide.

I request you to engage your members of parliament, your places of worship, your friends and neighbours. This is genocide happening on our watch.

There are several issues which are especially important.

The first and most urgent demand is for the dismantling of all the camps, without exception, in Acholi, Lango and Teso, and the return of the populations to their villages and lands, under an organised programme of resettlement and assistance.

Second, a significant team of independent observers should be dispatched right away to northern Uganda to monitor and report first-hand on security, living conditions, and treatment of the populations in the camps; they should also monitor their subsequent return to their villages.

Third, the appropriation and exploitation of the lands of the displaced populations by powerful government officials must be stopped and reversed; their ancestral lands are the only assets they have left.

Fourth, the Ugandan government has sabotaged a series of efforts to end the war. Without very strong international pressure, the status quo will continue, with the populations in the camps paying the highest price.

And finally, a special and major programme for rehabilitation, reconstruction, and healing will be needed in post-genocide northern Uganda.

The challenges are immense and particularly daunting. This will require very strong commitment and support from a democratic Ugandan government and the international community.

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, may I say this.

When the Tsunami tragedy struck in Asia last year, and the hurricanes struck in the United States this year and the recent earthquake ravaged the countries of south Asia, we felt almost entirely helpless in the face of the mighty fury unleashed by the force of nature.

Alas, what is happening to children in many conflict zones is a wholly human-made catastrophe. This is nothing short of a process of self-destruction, consuming the very children who assure the renewal and future of all our societies. How can we allow this? Unlike the onslaught of the Tsunami, the hurricanes, or the earthquakes, we can do something today to bring an end to this man-made horror - the horror of war being waged against children and women.

As we discuss today our responsibility for the protection of children, I can hear the prophetic and haunting voice of Bob Marley, with his spiritual rendition of the themes of suffering and redemption for the most vulnerable and abused.

I can hear Bob Marley calling us to order, challenging us, singing:

Hear the children cryin'

Hear the children cryin'

From Beslan to Barlonyo to Bunia

And so we tell them:

No, children, no cry

Don't worry about a thing, oh no!

Cause everything gonna be all right.

Hear the children cryin'

From Mazar-i-Sharif to Jumla to Darfur

Won't you help to sing

Cause all they ever asked:

Redemption Songs. Redemption Songs.

Rising up this mornin',

I saw three little birds

Pitch by the doorstep of the Security Council

Singin' sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,

Sayin', This is our message to you-ou-ou.

Hear the children cryin'

From Apartado to Malisevo to the Vanni

But I know they cry not in vain

Cause now the times are changin'

Love has come to bloom again.

Well, the children around the world are waiting, and the children who are dying in the concentration camps in northern Uganda are waiting - they are waiting for the Redemption Songs - from us.

Read the first part of this opinion piece: Northern Uganda: Profile of a Genocide

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