Get tough, Security Council

Posted in UN , Africa | 11-Nov-05 | Author: Jeremy Hobbs| Source: International Herald Tribune

Jean Marc de la Sabliere (L), head of a U.N. Security Council delegation visiting the Great Lakes region, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (R) speak to the media in Entebbe November 9, 2005.
OXFORD, England The war in northern Uganda is now Africa's longest-running conflict. In the camps where almost two million people live in crowded, unsanitary grass-thatched huts, they say it feels like "the end of time." For them, it has become hard to believe that 19 years of fighting between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) will ever come to an end.

To date, the United Nations Security Council has done nothing to give them any hope. Since the conflict began, the council has passed more than 1,000 resolutions. None of them have addressed the situation in northern Uganda. In that time, over 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and forced to fight for the rebel army or, if they are girls, to become sex slaves to rebel commanders. Each week, 1,000 innocent people die as a result of the war.

The situation has taken a turn for the worse. Two weeks ago, three brutal LRA attacks left two aid workers dead and several others seriously injured. Many agencies, including Oxfam, were forced to temporarily suspend their operations. With almost two million people living in camps, reliant on aid agencies for food, water and medicines, it will not take long for death rates to start rising.

The situation in northern Uganda is a threat to international peace and security - LRA fighters have recently been operating in both Congo and Sudan, raising the temperature among the three countries. It is also a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Yet the Security Council continues to turn a blind eye.

On Wednesday, members of the council went to Uganda to meet with the country's longstanding president, Yoweri Museveni. While there, they must keep in mind the fate of the almost two million Ugandans who desperately desire peace and protection.

They must be bold and use this meeting as a chance to push for urgent measures to promote peace, protect civilians and stop tens of thousands of people from dying in horrific circumstances.

As a first priority, the Security Council must challenge Museveni to address the humanitarian crisis and explain what his government is doing to guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access to all camps following last month's attacks. A recent report showed that death rates among children under 5 in the camps were well above emergency levels.

In October, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for five top LRA rebel leaders. This could be a first step toward capturing those who have caused untold suffering and ordered young children to carry out heinous crimes.

Yet with no means to implement the arrest warrants, the ICC has to rely on the support of the Ugandan government and the international community. The Ugandan Army has a reputation for heavy-handed military intervention, and Oxfam is one of many agencies who fear that efforts by the Ugandan forces to make arrests will put abducted children, who make up 80 percent of the LRA rebels, in even greater danger.

The Security Council must get answers from Museveni on how his government will ensure that their efforts to implement the arrest warrants do not further endanger innocent civilians, abducted children and witnesses. He must also explain how his government will cooperate with both Congo and Sudan to seek the arrest of indicted LRA leaders operating in these countries.

With insecurity and attacks increasing and aid workers unable to reach those in need, members of the world body charged with maintaining security can no longer ignore the daily horror faced by so many in northern Uganda. After almost 20 years of neglect, it is time for the Security Council to break its silence so that time can begin again in that devastated region.

(Jeremy Hobbs is the executive director of Oxfam International.)

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