Uganda worst place on earth for children

10 November 2005

Olara Ottunu
Olara Ottunu

Olara Otunnu’s birthplace of northern Uganda is the worst place on earth to be a child today, according to the winner of the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize.

Delivering his Sydney Peace Prize Lecture last night, Wednesday 9th November, entitled Saving Our Children from the Scourge of War, Mr Otunnu described the human rights catastrophe unfolding in his homeland in Uganda’s north as “methodical and comprehensive genocide”.

“An entire society - the Acholi - is being systematically destroyed –physically, culturally, socially and economically – in full view of the international community. This has been going on non-stop for almost 20 years but Western governments have turned a blind eye to a pliant regime and dictatorship under President Museveni that practices genocide,” Mr Otunnu said.

Olara Otunnu, the former United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, was awarded the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize for his lifetime commitment to human rights and his ceaseless efforts to protect children who are the primary victims of war.

He described the situation in northern Uganda as much worse than Darfur “in its magnitude and the scope of its diabolical comprehensiveness”. For over 10 years a population of almost two million people  (95 percent of the Acholi) have been herded into about 200 concentration camps where they live like animals. An estimated 1,000 people die in these camps each week; 41 percent of children under 5 years have seriously stunted growth due to malnutrition and two generations of children have been denied education as a matter of policy by the government.

Mr Otunnu compared the forced relocation of people in northern Uganda to the systematic genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

On the other side of the conflict thousands of children have been abducted by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and recruited as child soldiers and sex slaves. “In Uganda HIV/AIDS has become a deliberate weapon of mass destruction. Soldiers who have tested HIV-positive are especially deployed to the north with a mission to commit maximum havoc on the local girls and women,” Mr Otunnu said.

“For a society which was so renowned for its rich culture, values and family structure this loss is colossal; it signals the death of a society and a civilization, one of the oldest and deepest cultures in the world. I am what I am today because of that background and heritage.”

Mr Otunnu used his Sydney Peace Prize address to make an urgent appeal – a cri de Coeur  - to the leaders of the Western democracies to take action to stop the genocide in Uganda.

Olara Otunnu will use his Sydney Peace Prize money ($50,000) as seed money to establish a new international foundation – the LBL Foundation for Children – to provide healing and education for children devastated by war.

The foundation will also lobby for full implementation of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1612 which was adopted unanimously by the UN in July. Resolution 1612 establishes a structured compliance regime to monitor and report serious violations against  children in armed conflict situations.

All offending parties, governments as well as insurgents, will continue to be publicly named and identified. The ‘naming and shaming’ list submitted annually to the Security Council lists 54 groups in 11 countries including the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka; the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Janjaweed from Sudan which recruit and brutalize children.

The 2005 Sydney Peace Prize will be presented to Olara Otunnu tonight by the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Prof. Marie Bashir AC. The gala dinner will be held at the Great Hall of the University of Sydney at 7pm.

On Friday morning, Remembrance Day Nov. 11, Olara Otunnu will meet young African refugees who have fled wars and conflict when he addresses students at Sydney’s Cabramatta High School at 9.30am.

The Sydney Peace Prize is presented annually by the Sydney Peace Foundation to recognize outstanding individuals who promote peace with justice. Past winners have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; former Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane; Palestinian peace activist, Dr Hanan Ashrawi and Indian writer, Arundhati Roy.

A full transcript of the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture by Olara Otunnu is available at the News and Events section of the University of Sydney website under "Saving our children from the scourge of war: The Sydney Peace Prize 2005".

Contact: Virginia Gawler

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0423 782 603 (mobile)