Women Pay the Price

A course mate and a friend forwarded a mail to me titled “WOMEN CRY OUT TO THE UN”. Going through it I discovered it was a letter written to the UN by one Mrs. Atyam on the effect of war in northern Uganda on women and children. According to this report, the war has been going on in this part of the country for over 20 years during which, over 26,000 children and women have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) — a quasi-religious movement that has caused havoc in northern Uganda for more than 20 years, trying to topple the government of President Yoweri Museveni. Mrs Atyam became an activist because in the early morning of Oct. 10, 1996, her daughter Charlotte then 14 was abducted together with other 139 girls from St. Mary’s College, a Catholic boarding school in the town of Aboke run by Italian nuns. The nuns managed to obtain the release of 109 of the girls but not of Charlotte and the 29 others.

In her fight for the release of these girls we were told that Mrs Atyam once had a direct contact with the rebels who told her that her daughter will be released on the ground that she should be quiet but this courageous mother challenging the rebels said that she can only shut-up if they the rebels will stop their horrible activity of abduction. Like all the abducted girls, Charlotte was assigned to a rebel commander shortly after her abduction, Mrs. Atyam was told. This ceremony is considered marriage among the rebels but it is nothing other than an induction into sexual slavery. The information goes on to say that little Charlotte was impregnated and nearly died while giving birth to a little boy. Another child, whose sex was not mentioned, came later.

This inhuman story didn’t end there. The report said that on Sept. 4, 2002 at Kamdin, Apac district, a woman was forced by the rebels to stir boiling beans with her hands. As one would imagine, her arms were completely burnt, cooked up to the bone with flesh peeling and falling off. Later that same month, continued the report, in Lira, another district, the rebels chopped off the hands of a crippled elderly woman who could not flee their attack. As if that was not enough for them, the rebels locked her in her hut, set it on fire and burnt her alive. These atrocities are being committed daily in these areas, and yet there are no protection of any sort.

This is not the story of Charlotte or northern Uganda alone, but it is the trauma of every child, girl, woman and mother in the whole of Uganda, in many African countries and other parts of the third world countries where civil and tribal wars are the order of the day. Thousands of girls and women have been beaten, raped and left with unwanted pregnancies. In the case of Uganda according to the report, “over 50% of the children returning from captivity are infected with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases”. Another social problem raised by the report is that the abducted girls quickly become child-mothers a situation which is particularly distressing. Even if they manage to escape, many face rejection by their families and communities. They also lack reintegration support. Cultural values are lost, another sad out come of wars. Education, trade, livelihood and other socio-economic activities are on halt, leaving the population in utter poverty. A good number of people in these areas of the world are internally displaced or live in camps which are breeding grounds for diseases and gender-biased violence, killing and maiming. I still wonder why these rebels are not considered terrorists to be looked for, caught and punished at all cost. May be because they have either bombed any foreign embassy nor any twin-tower.

In search of the answers to the WHYs the rebels in northern Uganda are operating undisturbed, Mrs. Atyam’s campaign, took her to Washington in 1998 to meet Hillary Clinton, the then first lady, the report said. Also “When Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Uganda in 2001, Mrs Atyam met with his wife, Alma. Last fall, she addressed the Security Council of the United Nations, telling the gathered diplomats about Charlotte and the many other children missing in Uganda’s war.” My question now is where else could this poor woman go to for help? Who can help stop this human disaster? I believe she has reached the highest security organ in the world and nothing has been done, when will something be done and by who and how? We do hear that UN do send peace keeping forces to some parts of the world where there are conflicts. Is this Ugandan case not serious enough for the presence of the ‘blue helmet’ to be felt? Even Mrs Atyam herself speaking to the UN Security Council said “I had seen a copy of the UNSC resolution 1325. I am glad that Uganda is a member state of the United Nations. Yet, the passing of the resolution has not marked any positive change in the lives of the girls and women affected by the conflict in Northern Uganda”.

Who could please explain to me in which cases UN’s resolution is applicable? From what is happening on the political arena today, the answer is not far to fetch. It is applicable to those countries where there are oil and other economic interests. Even when there are no internal conflicts in these countries and areas and therefore no need for military intervention, the BIG BENEFACTORS will manufacture one and give it sweet names like “DISARM,” “ENDURING FREEDOM” or who knows what. If there were to be BIG DEAL in Agago county, before you know it, one or two countries among the BIGS would have taken it upon themselves to go to “DISARM” the rebels even “WITHOUT THE UN”. Poor president Museveni who started military campaign against the rebels last year till now hasn’t got any head of state either from Africa or beyond supporting him because he has got nothing to offer in exchange to the any military or humanitarian help that will be given to him to solve the problem.

May be the so called Anti-HIV/AIDS Foreign Agencies are on strike even though they prove to have the global situation in regards to this epidemic in their hands. I consider it exciting to them to sell news like this:

some 25.3 million of the world’s 36.1 million HIV-positive persons live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the epidemic began in the late 1970s, 17 million Africans have died of AIDS, according to the World Health Organization. Of the 5.3 million new cases of HIV infection in 2000, 3.8 million occurred in Africa.

Taking the situation in the northern Uganda as an example where no single foreigner (as the report in hand testifies) either sent by UN or WHO or any of the foreign agencies has gone to see things as they really are even after so many appeals by activists like Mrs Atyam, one begin to wonder how these big figures became about and why they should make up news for sell since after releasing them, nothing is done to prevent further spread. From the above explanation of how HIV/AIDS spread in that part of Africa, is it not clear then that the prevention of the epidemic is not by pumping of condoms and other contraceptives into Africa but to “DISARM” the rebels? Again in this case the ‘gospel’ of HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa preached by foreign anti-virus agencies has proved to be purely for economic reasons, far from humanitarian. Mere statistics is pointless, immediate action is needed.

I therefore join my tiny voice to that of Mrs Atyam, Concerned Parents Association and other women of goodwill in Africa and other parts of the world to plead to the UN, WHO and whoever can help in ending the misery of innocent children, girls and women in northern Uganda and other similar places in the world, to come to the aid of these people for the sake of God and humanity.

Ref.: Text from the Author for SEDOS.