JUSTICE AND PEACE GULU.
NEWSLETTER JUNE 2005.
The road from Amuria to Obalanga, in Katakwi district, passes through a desolate bushy landscape with few signs of activity. Abandoned farms and homes indicate that some fear still remains. As we reached this location in one of the most isolated corners of Uganda we shook hands with almost one hundred people, sat down and listened to them for almost five hours.
That was on 13th May. Nine members of our Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu were invited by our counterparts from Soroti Diocese to pay them a visit. Last month they were the ones to come to see us in Gulu for few days. These exchanges are part of the Church’s efforts for good relations between Acholi and Teso, which soured two years ago when the LRA attacked Teso. A common perception those days –and even today- was: “the Acholi have come to kill us”. Only dialogue and patient listening can overcome this. As the LC I chairman of the place told us: “Your coming here helps us overcome divisions between the two communities”. Christopher, one of our paralegals from Gulu, told people of his experience in Lukode camp, where last year the LRA killed 42 people: “We are suffering like you and in times of suffering we must be united”. Vicky, also from our team, insisted on preserving traditional values and cautioned against the danger of families breaking up: “A man and his wife should be together during hard times”.
In June 2003, more than 450,000 people became displaced in the sub-region in a matter of few weeks. In Obalanga virtually all the population (36,000) came to the IDP camp, in existence since 1980 because of frequent Karimojong raids. Today most of the IDPs in Teso have gone back to their homes but not all. While the UN on the ground (OCHA) says that they don’t have reliable figures since they are still trying to carry out an update, local sources we consulted on the gound say that at least 130,000 people are still in camps: 60,000 of those displaced by the LRA, plus 70,000 who were originally displaced by the Karimojong. Most of them are in Katakwi district, bordering Karamoja. According to the LCIII chairman of Obalanga in the camp there are still 14,000 people, plus thousands more in smaller settlements closer to their original villages. At present they don’t receive any relief food aid and they rely on cultivation in their fields, but as some women told me at times you can’t go to dig in your fields for a week because of marauding armed Karimojong. “You survive under hardships –a woman tells me- and often you don’t even have five hundred shillings at home”. Little wonder that her son, who was born in the camp in 1982, dropped out of Secondary School last year because of lack of money.
Even though the rebels’ guns have fallen silent, poverty, fear and trauma are the bitter aftermath of those months of violence. Parents still have the pain of 200 of their abducted children unaccounted for. Two years ago over 5,000 people joined the Arrow militia to fight the LRA. Most people feel proud that they chased the rebels out of Teso, but at the same time they can’t understand why their deployment along the border with Karamoja has not stopped the border’s chronic violence. Also, many admit privately that these ill-paid militias have increased crime incidences in the region.
One of the ways in which the people of Obalanga try to overcome the trauma is to honour their dead with a decent burial. In 2003 the LRA killed 264 of their people, and up to now they have managed to bury only 128 in a temporary site. On 15th June they expect to lay all of them to rest in a graveyard and pray for their souls. We all should also pray that all the displaced in Obalanga and the rest of Teso may soon come out of this misery and go back to their villages to have a normal life.
Fr. Carlos Rodriguez
When the UN-under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, briefed the Security Council on May 10th about the situation in Northern Uganda he insisted that there are still some openings in the peace process, particularly the fact that the official mediator Betty Bigombe is in regular phone contact with Joseph Kony, who has expressed his willingness to meet with her, and the Government of Uganda’s recent decision to extend the Amnesty Law for another six months. Egeland’s briefing comes at a crucial time when skeptics –even in diplomatic circles, have expressed disappointment over the peace process, which many think has failed.
But the UN envoy supporting these peace efforts on the ground, Lars Erik Skaansar, supports Egeland’s optimism: “Peace processes anywhere in the world –he says- have a lot of ups and downs, and it is all about confidence building. It will still take time, but the fact that the contact with the rebels has never been lost is a very positive factor”.
To reinforce this positive perception, the recent appointment of Norwegian diplomat Hans Jacob Frydenlund as a co-mediator to support Bigombe’s efforts gives a signal at the right time that the international community is still determined to see that peace returns to Northern Uganda. Frydenlund is an experienced ambassador who has been involved in a number of peace processes in Africa: Angola, Sudan and Eritrea-Ethiopia. For the last five years he worked at the New York UN headquarters, where he was poised to become Ambassador of Norway before he took this detour to Northern Uganda.
To understand what has been happening during the past few months we could begin from the end of December. Almost everybody knows the story so many times told by the media: following months of promising peace contacts spearheaded by Betty Bigombe’s mediation, the Government of Uganda and the LRA rebels were about to sign a cessation of hostilities agreement at the end of December last year. Then a setback happened. The signing sheduled for December 31st didn’t take place and fighting resumed on January 1st. Despite hitting that snag, during January many behind-the-scenes contacts –especially by phone- took place and efforts were not spared to rebuild the lost confidence. Vincent Ottii accepted to talk on phone with his former colleague Banya, and with some top UPDF officers. Betty Bigombe, helped by the British military attaché Lt. Col. Chris Wilton and UN envoy Lars Erik Skaansar, met twice in January with rebel officers Brig. Sam Kolo and Col. Onen Kamdulu in a bid to revive the process, discussing details of the agreement. In one of those meetings she delivered to the LRA ten samples of peace agreements of different conflicts worldwide (Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast among others) to help them come out with some concrete proposals. Two critical points at that time were the issue of WFP food supplies –which the rebels were reluctant to accept- and the assembly areas. Those days Bigombe was also quietly rallying international support for an eventual intervention of UN observers in those areas once the agreement was signed.
At the same time, civil society leaders –particularly religious leaders and Acholi MPs had two meetings with President Museveni (in Gulu and Rwakitura) to discuss issues related to the peace process. The President agreed to give 48-hour space-bound ceasefires, to make it possible for the mediator to meet with rebel leaders. In February 3rd he declared another 18-day ceasefire in areas close to the border with Sudan, a period that later on would expire without any tangible results. Two days later Kony’s second-in-command, Vincent Ottii, phoned the local FM Radio Mega and assured the public that the peace talks would be successful. Then, there was the optimism because of the final peace agreement that put an end to the 22-year old war in Sudan. Clashes between rebels and Government soldiers still did happen (in one of them on Jan. 22nd rebel Brig. Acellam Odongo was injured and captured), and rebels still launched attacks here and there, but things started to look up again.
By February, even though Betty Bigombe continued keeping the contact with the LRA, violence increased at snowball speed. The LRA stepped up attacks of civilians, displaying a well-known pattern of killing, abducting and chopping off people’s lips and ears. According to the information gathered by the Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu Archdiocese, 33 people were killed by the LRA in February, 35 in March and 23 in April. In attacks carried out on May 5th in Koch Goma and in an ambush in Kabala (5 km from Kalongo) 24 more people lost their lives.
With more than 1.4 million of its people living in internally displaced camps, Northern Uganda continues to be one of the world’s worst –and more forgotten- humanitarian crisis. Night commuting children in towns have become a chronic feature that refuses to go away, and in recent months their numbers have once again increased. Only in Lachor Hospital, Gulu, figures of night commuters have increased from 1,700 in January to 4,000 in May. And this is only a small fraction of the total 17,000 in Gulu municipality. Egeland’s speech gave 42,000 as the total figure of child night commuters in May, an increase of one-third from the 31,000 counted in January.
According to the Ugandan Army, during last month they killed 87 LRA. Two top rebel officers were killed during February: Lt. Cols. Tulu and Okopa “Supply”. The trickle of rebels who surrender has continued. On March 24th a Captain came out of the bush with 24 fighters.
Earlier on, in February, top rebel officers Col. Onen Kamdulu and Brig. Sam Kolo left the LRA. Kolo, who was the rebels’ spokerman and chief negotiator, finally broke off with Kony after his boss ordered him to return to Sudan in mid-February. Kolo, who was had been trying for weeks to convince Kony and Ottii to sign the peace agreement refused. After Kony ordered for his arrest, Kolo came under attack and made a daring escape during the night. He was saved by a UPDF infantry unit who came to his rescue and found him some 12 hours later. Although soon after there was a lot of talk that Ottii himself was going to take up the role of chief negotiator, so far there has been no new peace meeting and plenty of violence. Apart from the already mentioned killings of civilians, during the last two months the LRA has tried to attack some remote Army detaches in places like Akilok, Potika and Longor in a bid to replenish its arms supplies, in bad shape after Sudan cut off its support and many of its armouries have been undug by the Army with the help of returnees. Few details have emerged of these incidents.
Cases of indiscipline by some Government soldiers have increased the population’s burden: women raped in Padibe camp on 25th March, and others killed as they had gone to till their fields in Pajule (two on 2nd April) and Mucwini (four on 18th April). The Army has promised to investigate these cases and punish the culprits.
With this scenario of renewed violence, it is no wonder pessimism started being expressed in some circles. According to a report issued on April12th by the International Crisis Group, “The peace process aimed at ending Northern Uganda’s extraordinarily brutal 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”. The ICG called for heavier diplomatic support, and a greater involvement of the US Government. Egeland’s briefing of the Security Council is in that line of more decisive action. As a response to the on-going crisis, the UN has continued to increase its presence on the ground.
The Ugandan Government insists that the door is open for negotiations and that it still continues to purse military and non-military strategies to end the rebellion.
Betty Bigombe, came back to Uganda on 27th March, after a three-week break in Washington.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. By April 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. However, despite her efforts to clear the path for resumption of peace meetings so far these have remained elusive. But there are well-founded hopes that they resume again soon.
For years, a number of observers in Uganda expected a comprehensive peace agreement between the Government of Khartoum and the SPLA to bring automatically peace in Northern Uganda. But so far this remains to be seen. According to the UN refugee agency, LRA attacks in South Sudan have contributed to the displacement of more than 4,000 South Sudanese from their contry since the beginning of this year, just as the agency is preparing to help hundreds of thousands of their compatriots end their exile abroad and go home following the January peace accord. The new refugees, who come from areas like Nimule and Torit, have been arriving in Palorinya, in Moyo district. The LRA incursions into the Nimule area are increasing in frequency and brutality (the latest of these took place on April 21st). In a visit to Gulu on January 27th the SPLA leader John Garang promised to drive Kony out of Sudan if he didn’t agree to a peace settlement with the Ugandan Government. Also, according to NGO sources, on April 14th a visiting SPLA delegation to Juba met with top officials from the Equatorial Defence Force (once Kony’s close allies) in a bid to organise joint operations to drive the LRA out of Sudan. Whatever the case, Kony continues to be there and, according to an inter-faith group that gave a Press conference in Kampala at the end of April, there are reports that they are trying to replenish their ranks with abduction of Sudanese children. In some diplomatic quarters there are fears that the Sudan Government, while not actively supporting Kony’s rebels, is not doing much to send them away “in case” they may need them in the future. After all the LRA was one of their more useful militias for years and the success of the peace accord in the South still remains to be seen. And implemented.
Then, there is the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC). By the end of January, when Bigombe and her helpers from the Acholi civil society were trying to pick up the pieces of the fragile peace process, statements by the chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo indicating that arrest warrants would be issued soon against the LRA main leaders threatened, as paramount chief Rwot Achana put it, “to be the last nail in the coffin of the delicate peace process”.On March 15th a delegation led by Rwot Achana went to The Hague to meet with the prosecutor. The official version of events is that the Acholi were invited by the prosecutor to hear from them, but delegation members say privately that they went to plead with him not to jeopardise the fragile mediation efforts, the best chances of peace in decades.
One month later there was a second delegation to The Hague, including leaders from Lango, Teso and Acholi who wanted to make sure the investigation would not be suspended. Yves Sorokobi, a spokesman for the ICC prosecutor, said the investigation was ongoing, but noted that the Rome Statute, which created the court, states that the prosecutor’s primary responsibility is for the well-being of victims. In Acholiland, many of the people most affected by the LRA insurgency are the least in favour of the ICC intervention. They insist that Acholi traditional reconciliation, known as Mato Oput, will take care of the issue of justice. But this question is complicated. Many Acholi leaders are the first to admit that there is nothing in history like the kind of abominations carried out by the LRA, and at such a huge scale, and question whether the Mato Oput –which is scarcely being practiced these days, anyway, since people live in displacement camps- can cope with this.
Welcoming ceremonies for chidren and adults who return from the LRA, such as the “stepping on the egg”, may serve to wipe out animosity, yet many returnees say privately that they are still ostracized, blamed or mistrusted. To achieve a meaningful reconciliation will be a most crucial issue to address for years to come, even in a post-conflict scenario. But now, as the conflict continues to drag on many still believe that Ms Bigombe’s mediation, with all its ups and downs, still remains the best chance to put an end to Northern Uganda’s brutal conflict. Time will tell.
Vicky Lukwiya, 50, and Christopher Obuse, 48, are volunteer paralegals. When the first training programme started in Gulu way back in the year 2001, they were part of the new group of fifty committed men and women who enthusiastically started this new adventure. Ever since the programme has expanded to cover the whole Archdiocese.
With the help of the Legal Aid Project, for the last five years the Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu Archdiocese has trained about 150 paralegals, six for each of the 24 Catholic Parishes that the Archdiocese has in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader. Their members are regularly monitored by our staff in the Gulu, Kitgum and Pader offices. This has been made possible thanks to the support of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which has funded the paralegals’ activities in Gulu and Kitgum, and more recently Horizon 3000, which has provided the necessary support for their activities in Pader district.
Vicky –from St. Mauritz’s- and Christopher –from Lukome- explain that since the year 2001 they have been attending regular training sessions four times a year. Like all their colleagues, they are familiar with human rights issues and the essentials of the law about topics such as domestic violence, child abuse, land disputes and inheritance of property, to quote just a few. In the two Parishes where they render their services they have been teaching people about their rights, providing counselling services and basic legal aid. “When people suffer any kind of abuse, most of the times they don’t know what to do and whom to approach –says Vicky-. Most of our people are very poor and they tend to think that if you have no money you have no access to justice”.
To break that myth takes time and a lot of daily efforts. Christopher tells of a routine day in the Lukode camp, some 15 kilometres north of Gulu town where he stays. He and other members of his team open their office at midday and receive people until evening hours, listening to their problems and trying to help. Last month an LC tried to intervene in a case of domestic conflict by confiscating a man’s property and giving it to his wife. The destitute man explained the case fo the paralegal’s office. First they tried to talk to the LC, but when he refused they referred the case fo the Legal Aid office in Gulu. The case is still pending. Also, last April a boy who had been beaten by two soldiers in the displaced camp reported the case to the paralegals, who took the matter to the Police. The two soldiers were arrested and are still on remand awaiting trial.
According to Vicky, cases of domestic violence are on the rise “because men have no money, they live in idleness in displaced camps and most responsibilities rest on women’s shoulders. This is a breeding ground for frustrations and drunkenness, but we try to teach people that domestic violence should be solved by dialogue and whenever possible we try to mediate in this conflicts”.
Vicky and Christopher stress that people trust them mainly because of two reasons: they represent a Church organisation and they do this work for free, without charging any money. “If you tell the Police that you are a Justice and Peace paralegal they will help you quickly”. One of their satisfactions is to see that gradually people are losing of going to the Police and reporting cases to the Army.
Traumatic events are characterized by surprising occurrences of piercing intensity that are outside the range of usual human experience, which would frighten almost anyone. It occurs when one loses the sense of having a safe place to retreat within or outside oneself to deal with frightening emotions or experience. In northern Uganda, we experience trauma due to intentional harm by people; abductions, road ambushes, killings, loots among others. Psychological trauma makes individuals to feel that there is complete disorderliness and lack of continuity in life. However, this changes with safe space, which is not in our case in Northern Uganda, thus the “on-going trauma situation” in which we live. One of the changes here is that the abnormal “becomes normal”, since they become daily occurences.
I and seven other people from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Israel, Palestine, New Zealand, Columbia and New Jersey in USA participated in a three day “Roundtable on Continuous Trauma”(4th to 6th May), held at the Mountain Valley Retreat Centre in Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA. It was organized by the ‘Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience’ (STAR) - a programme of the Conflict Transformation Programme, CTP (now Centre for Justice & Peacebuilding, CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University also in Harrisonburg, Va.
The purpose of the workshop was to explore the multiple layers in a situation of on-going trauma like the case we are experiencing in northern Uganda. We shared and discussed on;
v Living with on-going trauma or fear.
v Times when as individuals and communities we felt we could not go on – exploring what revives and sustains communities in such situations, identifying resiliency (the ability to keep going, to be restored after difficult setbacks).
v The effects (positive and negative) in individuals, families, communities or whole society as a result of living with on-going trauma and the impact on those outside the community.
v What enables some people to break out of the cycle of trauma and fear and to commit themselves to take risk and act boldly to do what it takes to reconcile with people who have hurt them or who have the potential to hurt them.
v The role (positive and negative) of faith/religion/spirituality.
We also explored the role of rituals in trauma recovery like the “cleansing ceremonies” administered to people who have been involved in “unclean” situation in Acholi society. Ritual marks and assists the process of personal and relational transformation. It gives the ‘prism’ or a new way, for the individuals involved of looking at themselves, their identity, their experiences and their relationship with others. Rituals can heal identities or create new ones – thus creating a constructive pathway for expressing conflict between groups.
In conclusion, we posed the question; “how then shall we live?” – How do we keep on work, play, faith and life and “act well in spite of threat” and to embolden others to do the same.
5. OUR ACTIVITIES DURING MAY 2005.
First Paralegals’ training in Pader. We carried out our first training of this kind in our newly-established office in Kalongo from the 24th to the 30th April. The workshop/training drew participants from four Catholic Parishes, Atanga, Pajule, Puranga and Kalongo. However, we regret the absence of Patongo and Namukora! Each parish was to send 5 persons so we had 20 participants out of 30.
Paralegals are community-based persons with basic knowledge of law and its procedures.
In their training, the paralegal cover topics such as: History of the Justice and Peace Commission, Who a Paralegal is, Conflict Analysis and Peace Building, Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration, Police and Children’s Statutes, the Law and Court Systems in Uganda, Land Act, Local Government Act, Marriage, Divorce and law on succession, an over view Domestic Relation Bill, Domestic Violence, Child Custody and maintenance, Sexual offences, Counselling, documentation and reporting. Mr. Achellam Paul Ocaya, Mr. Martin Locken the OC Police of Kalongo, Mr. Onen James, Mr. Wilfred Opobo and Fr. Cyprian Ocen facilitated the workshop.
Due to public demand, we included a completely new component on our lists of topics this time. Peace animation workshops in parishes have revealed that there is high problem of alcoholism. So this time we went along with Menya Theophilous, a ‘graduate’ of Serenity Centre in Nsambya, Kampala. He discussed with the paralegals how they could be instrumental in creating Alcoholic Anonymous awareness (A.A) to their people. In deed this 19-year war is compounded alcohol consumption to fatal level. So there is need to address alcoholism as a problem.
The Commission expects to return to Kalongo after two months for evaluation and more workshops. It is our wish that our people get to know their rights and duties for a peaceful co-existence. As our motto stands: If you want Peace Work for Justice. The paralegals will be our messengers of Justice and Peace in Acholiland.
Justice and Peace workshop in Padibe Catholic Parish. It took place on 19th and 20th May, and it was facilitated by Fr. Cyprian Ocen and Lam Cosmas. 36 people attended. People live in deep fear, since Padibe and Lukung have suffered frequent rebel attacks recently.
During this month of May we have continued with our visits to Peace Clubs in Secondary Schools in Gulu. This project started in December 2002. At that time we started training teachers as matrons and patrons for peace clubs and visiting them regularly.
During such visits, which we normally conduct once in a month, we conduct group discussions to find out the problems they face. We stress harmonious relationships between teachers and students, to prevent cases of strikes, which unfortunately have been so common in recent years.
We have planted trees at St. Joseph’s College, Layibi, conducted charity work in displaced camps, like doing repair work on the roofs of toilets and erecting bathing shelters for the people in the camps. Students (of Sacred Heart and Lacor Seminary) have also at times presented songs and plays to camp dwellers and donated items like second hand clothes, soap and exercise books.
END OF APRIL 2005.
27th – An inter-faith group assured in a Press conference in Kampala that the LRA was abducting Sudanese children to replenish its ranks.
29th – Sudan sources said that the LRA killed nine civilians in am ambush in Nisitu, South Sudan.
Unidentified people killed a 40-year old woman at Kirombe village (Gulu)
30th – UNHCR said the LRA had driven 4,000 Sudanese from their homes into Moyo district as refugees since the beginning of 2005.
2nd – UPDF said they had killed eleven rebels in recent clashes in Gulu and Kitgum. A rebel lieutenant surrendered.
A 10-year old girl was shot dead by a soldier at Acet camp.
5th – Rebels attacked villagers from Kock Goma who had gone to their fields and killed 20 of them.
Rebels ambushed a vehicle between Kalongo and Kabala and killed four people.
9th – A soldier shot a woman dead at Jeng-gari, in Pabbo.
10th – UN-under secretary for humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland gave a briefing on Northern Uganda to the Security Council in New York.
14th – LRA ambushed a vehicle between Pajule and Pader and killed three people.
United Nations High Commission for Human Rights announced the opening of an office in Northern Uganda in a month.
16th – Rebels ambushed and killed a man riding a motorcycle in Paiula.
Rebels attacked villages in Laroo (Gulu) and exchanged fire with the UPDF. A person was killed and four injured.
Two LRA and onecivilian were killed by UPDF soldiers at Paicho.
A man was shot dead by soldiers in Pajule as he was returning home from a drinking joint.
18th – LRA Brig. Samuel Okumu (Acel calo Apar) was killed in a clash with the UPDF at Wiceri (Amuru).
20th – Two civilians were shot dead by the Army at night as they moved in Koc Ongako displaced camp at night.
21st – Three LRA junior officers surrendered in Pader with ten fighters.
22nd – Norwegian Ambassador Jacob Frydenlung came to work in Northern Uganda as a co-mediator with Betty Bigombe.