MAY 2005.


Dear friends,

Although we normally release our newsletter at the end of every month, given the great demand for information we are meeting this days because of recent events in the Church (death of John Paul II, election of the new Pope) and in Northern Uganda in particular (developments in the peace process, anniversary of the Atyak massacre) we are anticipating its publication a few days. Good reading.














This May 2005 issue of Justice and Peace sees the light when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has just been elected Pope –on 19th April- with the name of Benedict XVI. We welcome with joy the new successor of St. Peter. The well-known 78-year old German Cardinal, who was the Vatican main theologian for decades, will surely follow on the footsteps of John Paul II, called to the Father’s house on 2nd April. For all of us working for peace and human rights in Northern Uganda, who were privileged with his visit in 1993, he will always remain the Pope who said No to all the wars, including ours in Northern Uganda.


During the years of his youth, Karol Wojtyla was a witness of the bitter realities of war in his own country, Poland. His papacy stood firm in rejecting a culture of death and hatred. From the Falklands to the most recent Irak war, in Israel, in the Balcans, in Sudan, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in northern Uganda... John Paul II always proclaimed “No to war”. To any war. This was his tireless ministry as a herald of the Gospel of Peace.


During the last two decades a number of armed conflicts have cast a shadow in the international scene. John Paul II never remained indifferent in front of any of these disasters and he consistently raised his voice in all international fora defending the cause of peace with all possible means. And he insisted that peace in the world begins by making peace and reconciliation among the different religions. This is why he set an example by asking forgiveness in at least 83 occasions to Jews, Lutherans and Muslims for the injustices committed against them by members of the Church in the course of history.


During the bloody Falklands war between Argentina and the United Kingdom, in 1982, the Pope visited both countries and urged them to stop the violence and find a negotiated solution.


On 2nd August 1990 Irak invaded neighbouring Kowait in a matter of few hours. From that very day the international community put pressure on Sadam Hussein to make him release his wealthy prey. Arguments were usually backed with the threat of the use of military force. From the very beginning the Holy See mobilised her international diplomacy to try to prevent the outbreak of the war. On 25th December that year, when the war was imminent, the Pope cautioned the world about the disastrous consequences that an armed conflict in the Gulf could have: “Let the leaders be convinced that war is an adventure without return! Let the solution be found in reason, in patience, in dialogue and in the repect to the rights of peoples and individuals”. On 16th January 1991, few days before the war broke out, the Holy Father sent messages to the presidents of the United States and of Irak to try to avert what seemed unavoidable: “Never again the war. Even though a situation of injustice could be solved for the time being, the consequences of the war would be devastating”.


Soon after, as a new war broke out in the Balcans characterised by a brutal ethnic cleansing, massive deportations, rapes and all kinds of humilations for ethnic minorities, the Pope defended the cause of justice and peace using all possible means. In front of the evidence of massacres committed against thousands of innocent victims, he also demanded a more firm international intervention to put an end to the war.


His commitment to avoid wars was especially meaningful before the US attack against Irak in 2003. The Pope’s rejection to the concept of “preventive war” made of him an icon for the many millions of people from different countries opposed to the war.  “It is becoming increasingly urgent to announce the Gospel of Peace to a humanity strongly tempted by hatred and violence”, said the Pope. “We cannot give up and accept that war is unavoidable –he insisted- Peace requires that we look on others as brothers whom we must love unconditionally. This is the path that leads to peace, a way of dialogue, hope and sincere reconciliation”. His efforts couldn’t stop the war, but expressed with clarity a coherent position against violence which marked all his pontificate.


He himself was a victim to terrorist violence when Ali Agca shot him twice on that fatidic 13th May 1981 in St. Peter’s Square, and gave witness to the value of reconciliation when two years later he visited his would-be assassin in a Roman jail, expressing his sincere forgiveness to him.


We cannot forget that John Paul II often raised his voice against the many forgotten conflicts in the world, particuparly in African countries: Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Liberia, Sudan, Congo, and especially our war in northern Uganda. He spoke out in several occasions calling on the international community not to forget our tragedy and urging an end to the violence and a the search for a peaceful solution.








When I visited Lam Oryem’s (our Justice and Peace consultant) homestead in Atyak, one mile away from the trading centre on Juba road, in July 2001, we walked quietly on foot, had supper with his relatives and after a nice evening chat went back as night was falling softly. Four years later, as Lam went back to visit his father’s tomb, he had to be escorted by soldiers for even to go few hundred metres beyond the IDP camp can be a risky enterprise. The family village, with its huts half-destroyed, is only a sad shadow of what it once used to be.


This is probably Atyak’s saddest feature today: that for all the incredible suffering that people had to undergo violence not only has refused to go away but in recent years it has increased. This is why these days the displaced camp has become more and more congested, Atyak Technical School is still displaced in Gulu town, and a memorial Secondary school which was erected in the outskirts of the trading centre could not begin because of chronic insecurity and lack of teachers willing to live there. Its empty buildings stand, amidst tall grass, as a painful reminder that the war –so many times announced that it was over- is still a bitter reality.


It is now ten years since that tragic 20th April, when the LRA committed a horrific massacre in Atyak –after which Uganda broke off diplomatic relations with Sudan- , being the first of a series of murderous attacks against innocent civilians which for years have swept through Northern Uganda like an apocalyptic horse rider: Lamwo, Karuma, Acholpii, Mucwini, Patongo, Barlonyo, Coope, and many other places. On 20th April this year there was a well-attended solemn memorial service led by the archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama and animated by our Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu archdiocese. Nevertheless, the great majority of those who attended were camp dwellers from Atyak. Very few came from outside –except for some few Gulu district officials and a delegation from neighbouring Adjumani- and nototious was the absence of all Acholi MPs except for the Northern Uganda youth representative Dan Kidega.


Every year the people of Atyak have kept the memory of their dead alive holding prayers around a simple monument that bears witness of the brutal killing: “In loving memory of our brothers and sisters who were massacred on 20th April 1995”. Some people who were part of the organising committee remember how when they discussed the words that were to be engraved some didn’t want the word “massacre” to appear and preferred the more neutral verb “died”, so as not to offend the perpetrators, God know for which reason. Perhaps because fear breeds silence.


Something quite remarkable ten years later is that people are willing to break that silence and are in dire need of telling their stories of what happened that ominous day which many witnessed: The LRA attacked Atyak in the wee hours of the morning, abducted hundreds of people and took them to the banks of the Ayugi river, some seven kilometres away. There they were made to sit down, some pregnant women and mothers with breastfeeding babies were called to leave the main group and at a signal hell broke loose as the rebels opened fire for several minutes. At the end of the shooting 250 women, men and children lay dead, murdered in cold blood. One of the women who had been spared few minutes earlier saw her son fall, dashed for him and died under the hail of bullets.Thirty-nine of the students of the Technical School were among the victims. The shocked and shaky survivors who couldn’t believe their eyes were told to clap at the end. No human being can understand the logic of such a barbaric act. Impossible to understand that the one who led the massacre, Vincent Ottii, is a born of Atyak and had no scrupuls in killing his own relatives. Impossible to understand that at that time the news was almost ignored by the international media.


In his message, archbishop Odama stressed that from the testimonies of survivors of the massacre people would have responded with anger and revenge, but he was happy to notice that the victims were ready to move forward and forgive. At the same time he remarked that people should acept responsibility for wrongdoings: “This tenth memorial  reminds us that the massacre was horrible and unacceptable, which must not happened again”. He also lamented the divisions existing amoung people in Northern Uganda, which makes it difficult to eliminate the violence, “but God wants us to love one another so that we don’t destroy ourselves”, he concluded.


I have met some people of Atyak recently and I asked them two questions, concerning how they feel about forgiveness and if they have any hopes of lasting peace. Yes, they are ready to forgive and reconcile, they said, but at the same time the rebels must accept responsibility for what they did, stop their atrocities and apologise. And as for hopes for peace I often find an eloquent silence which I respect. A man answered me, lowering his eyes, in a whisper: “It is so painful!”


It is indeed. This is what Atyak stands for after ten years of that bloodbath: the epitomy of the North’s infinite pain which needs to have a chance to be told if it is to heal after a long time. And which needs many more efforts for peace so that people like Lam’s family may go back to rebuild their homes next to their father’s tomb without fear.


Fr. Carlos Rodríguez





“The peace process aimed at ending Northern Uganda’s extraordinarily brital 19-year war is in critical condition, but it may still be possible to resuscitate it if the Ugandan government and international community act decisively”. This was the conclusion of the International Crisis Group in a recent report. Probably there is no better analysis of the stage at which we find ourselves.


If there is somebody who continues to act decisively is Betty Bigombe, the tireless mediator, who came back to Uganda on 27th March. As it has been the rule, after two weeks of discreet contacts in Kampala she came back to Gulu and has managed to keep regular lenghty conversations with the top LRA leader Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Ottii. Kony assured Bigombe that he had given orders to all his units to stop atrocities against civilians and that he was ready to resume peace contacts. Resuming peace meetings may begin quite soon if some obstacles are removed.


Indeed, the peace process is not short of obstacles and the general atmosphere is one of all-out hostilities. During March the LRA launched an aggressive campaign of abductions, mutilations, and of late it has attacked small Army detachments, particularly in Kitgum (see chronology), to get fresh weapons and ammunition, of which they have been in short supply since the withdrawal of Sudan’s backing of Kony. With the Uganda media heavily dependent on Army sources- and the UPDF threatening to arrest journalists who “fabricate stories”, which in practice amounts to those who don’t follow official PRO statements- many of these incidents go largely unreported. Also, crimes against civilians committed by Government soldiers recently are becoming more than isolated incidents, a real worrying trend, as also our chronology documents.


In a visit to northern Uganda on 16th   and 17th  April, Museveni met the UPDF top military officers and announced –as many times before- the “final push” against the LRA, ruling out any further truce.


In a positive development, visits by different Northern leaders to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague have increased mutual understanding with Northern Uganda civil society and have made their officials be more aware that their intervention could –as Acholi paramount chief Rwot Achana put it- be “the last nail in the coffin of the delicate peace process”.


To keep the international community on boad of this process remains a crucial factor. Although the European troika –Norway, UK and Netherlands- together with the United Nations remain committed, the departure of the British military attaché Lt. Col. Chris Wilton leaves a vaccum in Bigombe’s team.






We reproduce a text from Michael Lapsey, a priest who worked at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, After he was exiled by the South African Government in 1976, he joined the African National Congress and became one of their chaplains. Whilst living in Zimbabwe he discovered he was on the Government hit list. In April 1990 he received a letter bomb in the post. He now runs the Institute for Healing Memories in Cape Town. We found his testimony on reconciliation very meaningful for our own situation in Northern Uganda.


No one tole me why I was being exiled, but as a university chaplain, and in the wake of the Soweto uprising (when students were being detained and tortured) I was no friend to the apartheid regime. In exile I therefore became a target of the South African government.


I had long ago come to the conclusion that there was no road to freedom except via the route of self-sacrifice, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to follow. Three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, I received a letter  bomb hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines that had been posted from South Africa. In the bomb blast I lost both hands, one eye and had my eardrums shattered.


For the first three months I was helpless as a newborn baby. People have asked me how I survived, and my only answer is that somehow, in the midst of the bombing, I felt that God was present. I also received so many messages of love and support from around the world that I was able to make my bombing redemptive – to bring life out of death, good out of evil.


Quite early on after the bomb I realised that if I was filled with hatred and desire for revenge, I would be a victim forever. If we have something done to us, we are victims. If we physically survice, we are survivors. Sadly, many people never travel any further than this. I did travel further, going from civtim to survivor, to victor. To become a victor is to move from being an object of history to become a subject once more. That is not to say that I will not always grieve what I have lost, because I will permanently bear the marks of disfigurement. Yet I believe I have gained through this experience. I realise that I can be more of a priest with no hands than with two hands.


In 1992, I returned to South Africa to find a nation of survivors, but a damaged nation. Everyone had a story –a atruth- to tell. In my work I have developed  a programme called the Healing of Memories. Our workshops explore the effects of South Africa’s past at an amotional, psychological and spiritual level. I try to support those who have suffered as they struggle to have their stories recognised.


I haven’t forgiven anyone, because I have no one to forgive. No one was charged with this crime, and so for me forgiveness is still and abstract concept. But if I knew that the people who sent my comb were now in prison, then I would happily unlock the gates, although I’d like to know that they weren’t going to make any more bombs. I believe in restorative justice and I believe in reparation. So my attitude to the perpetrator is this: I’ll forgive them, but since I’ll never get my hands back, and will therefore always need someone to help me, they should pay that person’s wages. Not as a condition of forgiveness, but as part of reparation and restitution.




“I really enjoyed reading about the Mato Oput ceremony in your April issue. I am still amazed by people’s ability to put reconciliation and forgiveness first and sideline revenge. For all of us struggling for an end of the war and a sustainable peace in northern Uganda, the traditional mechanisms to deal with conflicts and rebuild broken relationships are a ray of hope that the long-term effects of the war can be overcome.

Having said that, I would like to open up some additional ideas. In the present context often we don’t know who committed atrocities against whom. Or the perpetrator and the victim may belong to the same clan. So the traditional ways have been challenged by the dynamics of the war of the last 20 years. Tradition has been confronted with a situation unknown to the Acholi before the war. But despite these obstacles it seems like Mato Oput still is one of the cornerstones of the healing of the society.

I sometimes fear that important aspects of the reconciliationprocess have been getting little attention. There is hardly any mentioning of admiting guilt and taking responsibility for acts committed.. I also consider the acknowledgement of the victims’ suffering as well as their views to be important for the long-term benefit fo the society”.


(Bjoern Eser, from Conciliation Resources, former Justice & Peace consultant).



The month of April has been prolific in activities of our Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu. Apart from the memorial service held at Atyak on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, these are some of the events worth mentioning:




We are happy to announce that at last the long-awaited complete overview of the Church’s social teaching has been published by the Paulines Publications. The complex work, done by the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Cardinal Martino and his predecessor the late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, was officially presented in Rome last year in October, but it is only now that the English editions can be bought in bookshops.

The 475-page book contains all essential doctrinal guidelines on social matters such as human work, human rights, family, economic life, the political community, the international community, safeguarding the environment and the promotion of peace. It is an indispensible tool of serious study for all Church workers involved in the Christian ministry of Justice and Peace anywhere in the world.





2nd – Rebels abducted five people in villages near the Catholic Mission in Gulu, in the wee hours of the morning. Army said it rescued five of them on the following day.

          Sam Kolo led 50 ex-LRA in cleansing ceremony at Rwot Acana’s home in Gulu.

          Vincent Ottii called Rwot Achana to assure him of commitment to peace talks.

          Two women who had gone to collect food 4 kilometres from Pajule camp were shot dead by UPDF.

          Two men died in an outbreak of cholera in Pabbo camp.


9th – Rebels attacked Iceme camp (Apac), killed one and abducted six.

         Rebels abducted six pupils of Abaka Dyak Primary School, in Padibe.

         Rebels attacked Mucwini camp in the night. The Army repulsed the attack and killed three of them.


10th – Rebels abducted nine people in Negri villages, outside Gulu.


11th – UPDF said they killed 22 rebels in two separate engagements in Gulu and Kitgum.


12th – UPDF said Ottii had crossed into Uganda from Sudan with 300 fighters. A man had his lips cut off in Madi-Opei.

           International Crisis Group (ICG) released report on Northern Uganda calling for heavier diplomatic support (especially of the US) in peace initiative.

           Army killed three rebels at a clash in Guru-Guru hills.


13th – Three civilians and one soldier were killed by a UPDF soldier at Kasubi Parish (Gulu municipality).


14th – NUPI organised a women’s peacebuilding workshop in Gulu. Betty Bigombe attended and said for the las two days she had lenghty conversations with Kony.

          LRA attacked Mauji trading centre in Adjumani and abducted seven people.

           ICC Chief Prosecutor held talks at The Hague with leaders from Teso, Lango, Adjumani and Acholi.


15th – Rebels attacked Akilok detatch, in Kitgum, and killed four soldiers, two children and three women.


16th – Rebels attacked an Army detach between Ocetokke and Padibe and injured five soldiers.

           Museveni met top military officers in Lira and Gulu to plan for the “final push against the LRA”, and ruled out any further truce.


19th – Prime Minister Nsibambi directed Defence Minister to investigate alleged rape and beating of 15 civilians by UPDF in a camp in Padibe on 25th March. The report was presented by Kitgum woman MP Jane Akwero.

           Three rebels surrendered in Kilak and Lapuda. In Kilak two rebels were killed in a clash with the UPDF