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World’s churches must address crisis in Uganda, speaker says

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Olara Otunnu speaks about "overcoming violence" at a World Council of Churches plenary session.
Feb. 20, 2006

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 Alegre.

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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