ACHOLI RELIGIOUS LEADERS’ PEACE INITIATIVE WRITE TO UN
ACHOLI RELIGIOUS LEADERS’ PEACE INITIATIVE
P.O. Box 104. Olya Road, Gulu (UGANDA)
Tel: 256 – 471-32484
9th November, 2003
The UN UnderSecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Head of OCHA.
Attention: Mr. Jan Egeland
We, the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative (ARLPI) and other peace loving persons in Acholiland welcome you among us. We thank God for your visit, which is taking place at a very crucial and critical moment in the lives of our people in Northern Uganda.
We are grateful that you have come just three months after the UN Secretary General Special representative for Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Francis Deng, visited our region. At that time (13th August) we gave him a letter expressing some strong concerns and making some suggestions about the way we feel the UN could help in our situation. We are giving you a copy of this document, of which so far we did not get any reply.
OUR PEOPLE’S DESPERATE CONDITION
We wouldn’t have much new to add to the description of our people’s desperate situation that we wrote at that time. Nevertheless, by way of update a recent report by USAID speaks of the present situation as “Uganda’s worst humanitarian crisis in 17 years”, with 1,2 million displaced persons in the North (Acholi, Lango and Teso) 25,000 children abducted by the LRA in recent years (of which 8,400 only last year) and thousands of child night commuters in our towns. From our own situation on the ground we can corroborate this very sad picture.
The most vulnerable sections of our people, like women and children, continue to bear the brunt of this unbearable situation. Squeezed in camps with very little food, without possibility of going back to their land, weakened by famine and diseases, they also become the target of attacks by armed men. For instance, we have recently received reliable reports that in the area of Kitgum Matidi (Kitgum district) where no food distri bution has taken place since July this year, some women who ventured to go to their homes to collect some food were abducted by rebels. When they were later on released unfortunately they were shot at when they met some soldiers. Likewise, some two weeks ago food distribution took place in Kalongo (Pader district) and the night after the rebels attacked the camp and took away what they could, abducting a good number of the IDPs. Just two days ago over fifty people were killed by rebels in Lira district. The list of violent incidents in which our civilian population become innocent victims is just endless.
This conflict has made the people of Acholi, who used to be self-reliant, live in misery and dependence. Their cultural values are quickly breaking down and people live in a permanent state of trauma, which has made many people resort to suicide. Inhuman conditions in the camps, coupled with poverty and loss of their culture have become fertile ground for the spread of the HIV/AIDS. Northern Uganda has currently the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection, and has remained very much outside the much hear-about success story of Uganda’s struggle against this killer disease.
THE PEOPLE’S EFFORTS FOR PEACE
From the beginning of the conflict, in 1986, a number of peace initiatives have been tried by different actors: the Good Will Mission by Mzee Tiberio Okeny and other elders (1986), the one led by Minister Betty Bigombe in 1993-94, the pasing of the Amnesty Law by the Government in 2000, the setting up of the different peace teams in each of the three Acholi districts, the setting up of the Presidential Peace Team, the various attempts by cultural leaders and the one initiated by Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative in collaboration with these same traditional leaders.
Since July 2002 we –the religious and cultural leaders- have met with the rebels over twenty times. Our efforts continue, often amidst great risks. Suffice it to say that practically all our contact persons and some of our members have at different times been threatened, harassed and even detained in the course of their efforts to contact the LRA rebels for a peaceful purpose.
Nevertheless, we want to repeat once more that we shall never give up in these efforts since it is not our initiative, but God’s initiative to serve His suffering people in the search for peace and reconciliation in our troubled region.
OUR APPEAL TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
We must be very frank and tell you that our people in Northern Uganda feel abandoned and betrayed by the international community. Particularly, the UN is not doing enough to end the war. The good thing done is that some relief aid has been delivered, for which we are very grateful.
We are aware that this is a war that has remained for long in the dark, and which fits in the category of the “world’s forgotten conflicts”, most of whom seem to take place in Africa. A number of reasons may account for this, particularly that our region does not have any significant commercial or economic interests. We are also aware that these days the world’s attention and resources are being directed towards places like Iraq and the Middle East, as some years ago they were towards Eastern Europe. Moreover, we have a feeling that too many times this tragedy has been put on the label of “internal affair”, closing the door to any outside international intervention that may help bring this war to a speedy end. We firmly believe that people’s interests must come first, so that when levels of human suffering become unbearable there is no situation which becomes just “internal”, since we are all part of the same humanity.
Therefore, at the same time that we reiterate the same points presented on 13th August to Mr. Francis Deng, we appeal to you to address the following issues:
- The issue of the war in Northern Uganda be urgently addressed by the UN Security Council.
- Food distribution in Northern Uganda is to get adequate protection, and if necessary there should be international involvement in providing this.
- People must be given a clear statement about the status of the IDP camps, which were first started in 1996 as a “temporary measure” and are now increasing in number and perpetuating themselves. In some cases, people are really getting very confusing signals and becoming afraid .
- The Government of Uganda and the LRA rebels are to commit themselves to the peaceful option to end this war by negotiation. Resources and policies should be oriented towards this noble task, which certainly is difficult but not impossible. We do not believe that pouring more money or more weapons will solve the conflict, but rather will exhacerbate it. We stand by our position that the use of force is only acceptable as deterrance and protection.
- The United Nations is to play a great role in scaling down the violence by placing peace observers in the conflict areas. So far, only one person was availed for this task in the person of Mr. Lars Eric, who unfortunately was withdrawn from Uganda in June this year. Also, we are still waiting for UNICEF’s pledge to open an office in Gulu to be fulfilled.
- Proliferation of small arms along Uganda borders is a serious reason of concern that must be addressed if we are to have a sustainable peace in Uganda.
- We are also asking UN to give some concrete support for the education of war-affected children of Uganda in Acholi, West Nile, Lango, Teso and Karamoja. There is already a whole generation of children is these areas without education because of the war and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
- It is our hope that you have had some chance to listen to the ordinary people, the real experts in the situation, who could tell you -if they are given the chance to express themselves freely- what the real picture is like.
Dear sir, we are very happy that you took the time to come and take interest in our situation. What you have heard and seen here, go and tell the whole world so that something is done without delay.
May the Lord of peace bless your endeavours and grant you wisdom to perform your very important task.
+ Archbishop JOHN BAPTIST ODAMA