Monday, January 3, 2011

Children in Armed Conflict: Olara Otunnu speaks to KPFA and AfrobeatRadio

Acholi children in an Internally Displaced Persons 
(IDP) camp in Kitgum, in Northern Uganda. 

"They think that a refugee camp is home."  
-Ugandan human rights advocate and presidential candidate Olara Otunnu

Olara Otunnu, Ugandan lawyer,
human rights advocate, and
presidential candidate

KPFA Audio Archive URL: 

KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones:
Much of the world focuses on family and creating safe and loving environments for children during the holidays , but many of the world's children suffer extreme deprivation and abuse of their human rights.   Last night, on New Year's Eve, KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke today to Olara Otunnu, a Ugandan lawyer and human rights advocate, who has been President of the International Peace Academy, UN Under-Secretary General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and President of the LBL Foundation for Children based in New York City.

KPFA/Ann Garrison:
Olara Otunnu, internationally known advocate for human rights, and especially for children in armed conflict regions, returned to Uganda this year, to become the presidential candidate of the Uganda People's Congress, one of the country's leading opposition parties.  He  is running against Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's president for the past 24 years.  He spoke to KPFA from Uganda's capitol, Kampala.

Can you describe what the holidays have been like for children living in the world's armed conflict regions?

Olara Otunnu:
Well, millions of children who have been caught up in situations of war, they would be today not in homes, not with their families perhaps, but in camps for displaced persons, or for refugees.    Instead of having a feast and celebrating, they most likely would be anxious, afraid of what is to come.  They would be struggling and worrying about mere survival.   

Here in Uganda, a celebration of Christmas and New Year's is not very different, perhaps, from other parts of the world, here in the capitol, but that is not the case in the countryside, where there is extreme and humiliating poverty, and it certainly isn't the case elsewhere in the world, including in parts of Uganda, where children and families have suffered terribly from armed conflict.

Is there armed conflict in Uganda now or are children suffering the consequences of conflict which has subsided?

Olara Otunnu:
Acholiland, the homeland of Uganda's
indigenous Acholi people, in northern Uganda.
The Acholi also live in Southern Sudan.
Well, between 15 to 20 years, the northern part of Uganda, especially the Acholiland, it was sheer hell.   The government of Mr. Museveni herded two million people into 200 concentration camps, for the better part of 20 straight years, in such abominable conditions people were dying at a rate of one thousand, five hundred a week.  The society, the culture, the family structure, education systems; everything has been destroyed.   What was done in Northern Uganda by the Museveni regime is probably the most comprehensive genocide in recent times.  

But within Uganda, the concentration camps finally, for the most part, were dismantled last year.  But after 20 years in the concentration camps, the survivors are completely lost.  They're deeply traumatized.  The society is collapsed.  

What would you say to Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the American people about the support that our government has given to Yoweri Museveni since the Bush War which brought him to power? 

It's a very painful issue.   The incredible support and sponsorship that democratic governments, in the West particularly, have provided to Museveni over 25 years, even as genocide was going on in Northern Uganda, even as we had torture chambers littered throughout the country, even as the level of plunder of Uganda, the level of corruption by Museveni, his family, his ministers is such as I've never seen anywhere before, even as Museveni invaded the Congo and plundered the Congo.   It's a matter which, I can only say, requires a lot of soul searching on the part of the West.  

Olara Otunnu, thank you for speaking to KPFA.   

Olara Otunnu:
Thank you so much.  

A longer conversation with Olara Otunnu is available at  For Pacifica/KPFA Radio, I'm Ann Garrison.  

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