April 25, 2006
Night Commuters: A Forgotten Plight
I wanted to use this space to draw attention to ongoing human rights abuses that get little mention in the press. Uganda–is what some human rights activists have come to call the “Unforgotten Tragedy.” Though, in fairness the UN’s News Centre website, those have the conflict in Uganda listed as part of its “Ten Untold Stories.”
To excerpt a bit of the article and give you more context, it says:
“United Nations relief officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the neglected humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, where up to 1.6 million people have been displaced by the conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for its campaigns of lootings, murders, mutilations and abduction of children to serve its militia. To provide context, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area is close to that of Darfur, Sudan, but the plight of Ugandan children is especially troubling.”
This Saturday in over 130 cities across the country, there will be overnight rallies to demand that pressure is put on government officials in Uganda to end child abduction in the North. The overnight rallies at urban centers are to show solidarity for the thousands of families whose lives have been disrupted because of a civil war in Northern Uganda. Since 1996, roughly 8,000 children from Gulu, Kitgum and neighboring districts in northern Uganda have been abducted by the LRA and forced to become child soldiers. This armed opposition movement is fighting the Ugandan government.
To protect their children from being kidnapped families have become “night commuters.” Today, an estimated 30,000 children and their families leave home every evening to spend the night at school gymnasiums, churches and shelters for the internally-displaces in hopes that rebels from the LRA won’t attempt to snatch kids from large groups. Most of those abducted are between 13 and 16 years old. Younger children are generally not strong enough to carry weapons or heavy loads while older children are less malleable to the will of their abductors.
“I would like to give you a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don’t have to pass through this violence.” – 15-year old girl in an interview with Amnesty International after escaping from the LRA.
This girl was abducted by the LRA at night from her home in December 1996. She received 35 days of military training before being sent to fight the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF), the government army. She was forced to kill a boy trying to escape and saw another boy hacked to death for not reporting that his friend was running away.
This effort as well as actions taken by other activist groups is a call to put an end to the human rights abuses in Uganda. It’s deplorable that children are beaten, murdered and forced to become combatants. Girls are raped and used as sexual slaves by more senior soldiers. Amnesty International reports that by becoming an involuntary part of the LRA, the children are made to abuse others.
Abused children usually become killers of attempted escapees, captured government soldiers and civilians. The children are often traumatized by what they have done and, believing that they are now outcasts, they become bound to the LRA. I am curious as to what the re-integration rate is for the child soldiers.
The Ugandan Government has a responsibility to:
- Uphold its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Support the work of night commuter shelters and the development of community – orientated support services.
- Develop and support measures in northern Uganda to prevent the abduction of children; rescue those who are still abducted and rehabilitate those who have been abducted, as well as their families and communities.
- Facilitate and support the work of organizations providing humanitarian assistance in the conflict-affected areas of northern Uganda.
The Global Night Commute is a nationwide event. If you can check their websitefor more information. Also if you want to get a petition going or send a letter to the Ugandan government, you can mention the bullet points aboce. Here’s the contact information:
The President of the Republic of Uganda:
His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
President of the Republic of Uganda
Office of the President
PO Box 7168
Fax: +256 41 346 102
Salutation: Your Excellency
I hope our grassroots efforts put pressure on the government to stop these human rights abuses and protect its most vulnerable citizens.
An Ugandan child prepares to sleep in an improvised shelter on a street in Lira town, northern Uganda in May, 2005.