Recent killings of aid workers leave hundreds of thousands without help and living in fear in Northern Uganda

Published: 22 November 2005

The reported killings of at least two aid workers today in Northern Uganda has today increased insecurity and caused many aid agencies to restrict their relief operations. Oxfam urgently calls on the Government of Uganda and the international community to live up to their responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of people suffering as a result of the horrific conflict.

The reported killings of at least two aid workers today in Northern Uganda has today increased insecurity and caused many aid agencies to restrict their relief operations. Oxfam urgently calls on the Government of Uganda and the international community to live up to their responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of people suffering as a result of the horrific conflict. Despite the recent announcement of International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants for the five top leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and claims by the Government of Uganda that the end of this conflict is in sight, for most people safety and security are still distant dreams.

“This war has already lasted 19 years and an entire generation has never known peace. We are desperate for an end to this conflict. Many people dream of the day when the rebel leaders will have to stand trial for the crimes they have committed. We are really worried that this dream won’t become a reality,” said Emma Naylor, Oxfam’s Country Programme Manager in Uganda. “For two decades it has been impossible to apprehend the rebel leaders. The communities that we work with are already asking how the arrest warrants will be served. There is a lot of confusion and it’s fast turning to fear.”

With no means to implement the arrest warrants the ICC has to rely on the support of the Ugandan Government and the wider international community. With a reputation for heavy-handed military intervention, aid agencies are fearful that efforts by the Ugandan forces to make arrests will put abducted children – who make up the majority of the LRA rebels – in even greater danger.

“Over 80 per cent of LRA fighters are abducted children held against their will, terrorised and forced to fight,” said Emma Naylor. “Our biggest fear is that arrest warrants will be an excuse for military forces to go in all guns blazing and these children will be killed or injured in a hail of bullets,” said Naylor. “We need to find ways to help these children come home and be accepted back into their communities.”

Oxfam also pointed out that the international community has a responsibility to cooperate in apprehending the five men indicted by the ICC – one of whom has reportedly been killed since the indictment. Regional governments and the wider international community need to make every effort to cooperate with this process.

Oxfam warned that continuing attacks by rebels and the Ugandan government’s heavy-handed campaign to eliminate them have contributed to insecurity across northern Uganda and southern Sudan, preventing relief from reaching the people who need it.

There are fears that with increased military action the LRA will respond aggressively by attacking civilians or humanitarian agencies. This has meant some aid agencies working in northern Uganda, including Oxfam, have had to temporarily limit their operations. Oxfam fears that no extra provision has been made to protect the population and enable much needed aid to reach the people.

“We know from bitter experience that the LRA can retaliate with extreme violence when they want to prove they are still a credible force. The Government of Uganda must take urgent action to protect the population against possible attacks. We also need help to get relief through to those who need it,” said Naylor. “There are nearly two million people made homeless by this conflict and who are dependent on aid handouts. Already 1000 extra deaths a week occur as a result of people being in camps. If we can’t get aid through, even more people will die.”

Oxfam believes that the Government of Uganda and the international community need to take concrete action to protect people affected by this brutal conflict.

“Donor supporters such as the United States and the United Kingdom could do much more to ensure that the Government of Uganda makes protecting people and the aid convoys its first priority,” said Naylor. " We should all live up to our responsibilities to ensure people are safe. A UN Security Council resolution in support of a responsible campaign to serve arrest warrants and protect communities would be a strong statement of the international community's commitment to a just and lasting peace. It is time to show the millions caught up in this terrible war that the world has not forgotten them."

ENDS

Notes for Editors

Oxfam has been working in Northern Uganda since 1986, providing humanitarian assistance and seeking ways to protect livelihoods. Oxfam is also a member of Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU) advocating for a peaceful end to the conflict

Acholi areas of Northern Uganda have suffered from persistent insecurity since the mid 1980s. For 19 years, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has waged a civil war against the Government of Uganda. The LRA has targeted the people across Northern Uganda (from Adjumani to Soroti) and in the sub-region, including South Sudan. This has led to massive and persistent disruption, hardship, dislocation and suffering for the people within that region and far beyond. It is now one of Africa's longest running open conflicts and nearly 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

‘Since 1996 the government has used the army to undertake a massive forced displacement of the population in the north and imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement. While justifying the displacements on grounds of security, the government has forcibly displaced people without a lawful basis under international law and then has failed to provide the promised security. Many of those displaced, including almost the entire population of the three Acholi districts live in squalid conditions in displaced persons camps that are susceptible to LRA attacks. The Ugandan army has failed to protect these camps, compounding the harm inflicted by the original forced displacement’.
(Uprooted and forgotten: Impunity and human rights abuses in northern Uganda – Human Rights Watch)

  • Nearly 30,000 people were killed as a result of diseases and conflict in districts in northern Uganda between January and July 2005, of which 11,068 (are) children under five. This is about 1,000 excess deaths per week.
  • Violence continues to be one of the top three causes of mortality in the north. Violence was the cause of almost 4,000 civilians deaths during the first seven months of 2005, an average of 20 violent deaths every day.
  • The report however indicates that less people were killed as a result of direct violence compared to those killed by diseases described as war-induced to the extent that conflict has prevented treatment and aid.
  • An estimated 1,168 were abducted during this timeframe - a startling 42 per week - with almost half being children below the age of 15.

(2005 Health and Mortality Survey Among Internally Displaced Persons in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts in Northern Uganda - International Rescue Committee in partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and WFP)

On October 14, 2005, the ICC in the Hague announced that it had issued arrest warrants for the top five leaders of the LRA including Joseph Kony (LRA leader), Vincent Otti (LRA deputy commander-in-chief), Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen (lieutenants).

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Greg Puley, USA + 1 917 64 6442
Emma Naylor, Uganda + 256 (0) 77 710 017
Gemma Swart, Kenya + 254 (0) 733 632 810