State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Uganda
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||11 March 2008|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Uganda, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7ead850.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
Peace negotiations to end the long-running rebellion by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continued, while security in the north improved through 2007. The 20-year civil war has devastated the lives – and livelihoods – of the Acholi people of the north. But by September 2007, in a tangible sign of progress, the first refugee camps began to close, as families finally began to return home. In October 2007, for the first time in 20 years, two commanders of the LRA flew into Entebbe to consult on the ongoing peace talks.
At the height of the insurgency, some 1.8 million people were living in camps in the north. While the peace process holds out the prospect of ending the marginalization of the Acholi, Oxfam reported in September 2007 that many Acholi communities were concerned that the peace was fragile and would quickly unravel in the absence of a signed peace deal.
The plight of the country's pastoralist peoples was highlighted by the public row over the invasion of Uganda's flagship nature reserve, the Queen Elizabeth National Park, by the Basongora cattle-herders. There were reportedly several thousand Basongora with large herds of cattle in the park. They had crossed over the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo, after being driven out of the Virunga mountain range.
However, Uganda's wildlife authorities were anxious about damage done to the park environment. The Basongora pointed out that their traditional pastures had been in the territory now protected as the Queen Elizabeth National Park, but they had been evicted upon its creation in 1954.
In September, wildlife officials once again tried to evict them. But after claims that excessive force was being used, the government eventually offered the Basongora alternative land outside the park. However this settlement has also proved problematic: there were reports of the forcible removal of small-scale farmers to make way for the Basongora.
The biggest crisis to hit Uganda in 2007 was flooding. Heavy rainfall – the worst in three decades – left large parts of the country inundated. The Karamoja region in north-eastern Uganda – home of the Karamajong pastoralists – was one of the worst-affected places. In September it was reported that the area had been totally cut off from food supplies. Michael Kuskus of the Karamoja Agro-Pastoral Development Programme complained of sharp rises in food prices and hoarding by unscrupulous traders. This region is already the poorest and most underdeveloped in the country, and, following the floods, there were fears of widespread hunger and the outbreak of epidemics.
The hardship endured by the Karamajong has intensified in recent years. Like other cattle-herders in the East African region, they have been at the sharp end of climate change. More frequent cycles of drought have led to greater competition for scarce resources; cattle-raiding has accelerated and this has been accompanied by an upsurge of violence. The ready availability of small arms in the region has led to deadly conflict, which has caused hundreds of deaths over the past few years.
In an attempt to curb the violence, the Ugandan government embarked upon a forced disarmament programme in Karamoja. But the way in which the policy has been carried out has attracted fierce criticism. In a stinging report issued in 2006, and followed up in April 2007, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented grave human rights violations carried out by the national army, the Ugandan People's Defence Forces. These included extra-judicial killings of civilians, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, the rape of a woman, and the widespread destruction of homesteads.
By November 2007, OHCHR noted that there had been a marked improvement in the security and human rights situation – following increased efforts to seek the cooperation of Karamajong communities, and better training of the military in human rights standards. But OHCHR continued to call for those who had been responsible for the abuses to be brought to account, and condemned the culture of impunity in the armed forces when extra-judicial killings and torture occur.