|World’s churches must address crisis in
Uganda, speaker says|
Feb. 20, 2006
|A UMNS Web-only photo by Paulino Menezes
Olara Otunnu speaks about "overcoming violence" at a World Council of Churches plenary session.
By Linda Bloom*
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (UMNS) — Children in northern Uganda are dying at the rate
of 1,000 per week, and the world’s churches need to take notice.
That was the plea and challenge issued by Olara Otunnu, a Ugandan and former
under-secretary general of the United Nations, during a Feb. 18 plenary on
“Overcoming Violence” at the World Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly in Porto
For the past 10 years, nearly 2 million people — 80 percent of whom are women
and children — have been forced into “concentration camps” in northern Uganda by
the government, according to Otunnu. The situation amounts to genocide, he said.
“These camps have the worst infant mortality rates anywhere in the world today,”
he told the assembly. “A recent survey by World Vision reported that about 1,000
children die every week because of the conditions imposed in these camps.
“This situation was underscored by the U.N. in a November report which stated
that the mortality rates in northern Uganda are double those of Darfur,” Otunnu
said, referring to the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan.
More than 20,000 unprotected children have been abducted and brutalized by the
rebel Lord’s Resistance Army over the years, he reported. And now cases have
been documented of government soldiers deliberately using rape or sexual
exploitation to infect women and girls in the camps with HIV/AIDS.
In the past few years, Otunnu has led a U.N.-based campaign to mobilize
international action on behalf of children exposed to war. Last July, the U.N.
Security Council adopted Resolution 1612 to set up a mechanism to protect
children in such circumstances, and Otunnu urged religious groups to join the
civil society network of “Friends of 1612.”
He also wants specific action on Uganda. During a related press conference,
Otunnu noted that “the church, at the national and international level, is
absent in Uganda,” even though northern Uganda, in particular, is almost totally
Christian. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are predominant, and the United
Methodist Church is also present.
The crisis “requires the prophetic voice and action of the church,” he said.
“This has not been forthcoming. The people of northern Uganda have been
abandoned and betrayed.”
In the face of genocide, Otunnu told the assembly, “we have a moral, religious
and political obligation to recognize it, denounce it and stop it, regardless of
the ethnicity or the political affiliation of the population being destroyed.
“We look particularly to you as spiritual and religious leaders to provide that
prophetic voice and leadership,” he said. “We look to you to denounce the
genocide in northern Uganda. We look to you to mount a campaign to end the
genocide and to dismantle the concentration camps.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or
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