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Uganda worst place in world to be a child, says former UN official

The world’s churches are "missing in action" while one thousand children die each week in squalid camps in northern Uganda, a former foreign minister from that country has said at a global meeting of church leaders in Brazil.

"The worst place in the world today to be a child is in northern Uganda," said Olara Otunnu, who served as United Nations under-secretary for children and armed conflict from 1997 to 2005. "Where is the church?" he said at an 18 February media conference during the World Council of Churches assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil. "People are being decimated in full view of the world. I hope the assembly will provide a response."

Both the Ugandan government and a rebel group in the country, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are named in a recent UN report on grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict, Otunnu noted in a presentation to the WCC gathering.

The LRA is accused of having kidnapped more than 20 000 children as soldiers in the 20-year-old conflict. The Ugandan government is cited for conditions in what Otunnu said were the 200 "concentration camps" it has set up over the last 10 years to confine more than 2 million Ugandans in the conflict zone.

The situation, said Otunnu, was "far worse" than that in Darfur, Western Sudan, a conflict in which an estimated 400 000 persons have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes. But in Uganda, "the church, nationally and internationally, has not played the prophetic role demanded of it", Otunnu charged.

He urged the WCC to become "partners of 1612", referring to a UN Security Council resolution adopted in mid-2005 that established standards and programmes for monitoring and reporting abuses of children by parties engaged in armed conflicts.

But, a "second pillar" was just as crucial, he noted: "We should strongly support local communities in their efforts to reclaim and strengthen indigenous cultural norms that have traditionally provided for the protection of children and women in times of war."

Otunnu was speaking in a WCC session designed to highlight the church grouping’s Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010, a programme that promotes activities by churches on peace and non-violence. He now leads the LBL Foundation for Children, an independent institution to promote support for children in communities devastated by war.  

(c) Ecumenical News International