/ 17 November 2008

Amnesty: Uganda war victims need more govt help

Hundreds of thousands of victims of a brutal 20-year insurgency in northern Uganda remain destitute and traumatised because the government has not created a comprehensive reparations programme, rights group Amnesty International said on Monday.

The rebel Lord’s Resistance Army group has been waging one of Africa’s longest and most brutal rebellions, drawing in northern Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. The rebels were notorious for raping children and using them as soldiers.

Peace talks with the Ugandan government have all but stalled, with the rebel leaders seeking guarantees they won’t be arrested under international warrants.

Critics of that peace process, including Amnesty, say the victims of war crimes have been left out and proposed reparations are too vague.

”Families need compensation for the deaths and injuries that occurred, restitution for their destroyed land and property, an apology for the violations and proper reburials for their loved ones,” said Godfrey Odongo, Amnesty International’s Uganda specialist. ”The government needs to start acting on these needs now.”

Ugandan government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Despite not signing the final peace deal, both sides have signed agreements that include setting up a special division within Uganda’s High Court system to try those charged with serious crimes.

However, those accused of lesser crimes would be judged according to northern Uganda’s traditional justice system — which human rights workers say is not punitive enough.

Atto Millicent (30) told Amnesty that the rebels who abducted her when she was a child, abused her and forced her into marriage are being treated better than the victims.

”What breaks me down is that we were abducted and forcefully married off to commanders, many of whom are now granted amnesty and resettlement packages,” said Millicent, who has two children fathered by rebels.

Low-ranking members of the Lord’s Resistance Army group who surrendered have been resettled under a government programme. Many were themselves abducted and forced to be rebel fighters.

The rebels’ elusive leader, Joseph Kony, and other top members are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Government forces also committed atrocities on a smaller scale but the government has not taken action against any of its own soldiers. — Sapa-AP