UN rights chief urges probe into army gun seizure operations in Uganda

6 June 2010United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay today urged Ugandan authorities to investigate violations of human rights during army operations to disarm residents of the remote north-eastern region of Karamoja, saying the exercise was often violent and had led to loss of life. Ms. Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for “fair, transparent and impartial” investigation into three incidents earlier this year she said were particularly violent and had led to the deaths of many civilians including of women, children and elderly people.“All officers in positions of command during the execution of these three incidents should be removed immediately from Karamoja,” Ms. Pillay said, at the end of her four-day visit to Uganda where she attended the review conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC).Ms. Pillay told a news conference in Kampala that she was aware that the Ugandan Government’s aim in Karamoja was to disarm trouble-makers and to stop the wholesale theft of cattle, an intention she said was as “responsible and laudable” as the desire to develop the region.“However, I believe that the overall approach both to development and to disarmament has been flawed and to some extent counter-productive,” Ms. Pillay said.She said community leaders in Karamoja, most of whom are eager to see an end to the cattle-rustling and a successful disarmament programme, have been largely excluded from the disarmament process, and they and their communities have grown increasingly disillusioned by heavy-handed efforts to force them to shift from their traditional cattle-raising to farming.Karamoja is a largely barren region and prone to drought and not suited to agriculture, she said.“Imposed development that involves a radical break with tradition almost always fails, and I urge the Government to rethink its approach to the much-needed development of Karamoja,” Ms. Pillay said.“Even more damaging has been the general approach to disarmament, which has involved soldiers rounding up – and sometimes mistreating – large groups of people indiscriminately, leading to a climate of fear, rather than one of cooperation,” she said.The particularly violent incidents she singled out include one in early January which involved at least one helicopter gunship as well as ground forces. The raid left at least 13 people confirmed dead, including six children and youths, two women and two elderly people.A second attack on a village on 22 January, also involving troops and a helicopter, led to at least six more deaths, Ms. Pillay said, while a third incident on 24 April, resulted in 10 confirmed deaths, including five children and youths and two elderly men, with up to 25 more believed dead.“I welcome the fact that a commission of inquiry was set up to investigate the April attack (though not, as far as we are aware, the ones in January). However, it would be preferable for a commission to be independent of the UPDF [Ugandan military] to ensure a fair, transparent and impartial process,” she said.Ms. Pillay thanked the Government of Uganda for facilitating the work of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country.She described Uganda as a pioneer in the recent history of international justice, having been the first country in the world to refer a situation to the ICC.“It is my fervent wish that the three surviving LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] leaders for whom ICC arrest warrants have been issued will very soon be captured and prosecuted,” she said.“The nature and quantity of the atrocities committed by the LRA in northern Uganda have caused a trauma that will take years to heal, and I am concerned that the very difficult processes of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reintegration are not fully under way.“The good news is that three-quarters of the Ugandans displaced during the long and dreadful conflict with the LRA have gone home. However, some 240,000 remain in camps. The important National Reconciliation Bill, which includes elements dealing with reparations as well as legal provisions on victims’ rights, has not yet been tabled in Parliament, and I urge those in a position to do so to expedite its passage, as the people in the north need every bit of help they can get,” Ms. Pillay said.She deplored the fact that an entire generation of young people had been denied an opportunity to acquire education or vocational training during the two decades when the LRA was active in northern Uganda.“Single mothers, many of whose partners were killed by the LRA or who bore children as a result of rape, are deprived of access to land and property rights because they do not have a male relative. This is impractical and inhumane, and I urge the authorities to abolish this discriminatory practice without delay,” Ms. Pillay added.She called for a massive effort to inject new life and opportunities into the ravaged north, and to give those reclaimed from the LRA a real chance to rebuild their lives. read more

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