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Ex-U.N. official says Uganda is 'worst place in world to be a child'

Ex-U.N. official says Uganda is 'worst place in world to be a child'

Author: Jerry L. Van Marter
Publication: Presbyterian News Service
Date: February 21, 2006
URL: http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2006/06114.htm

Church has failed in its 'prophetic role,' WCC speaker charges

The world's churches are "missing in action" while 1,000 children die each week in squalid camps in northern Uganda, a former foreign minister of that country said during the 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 spoke during a media conference at the ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) here.

"People are being decimated in full view of the world," he said. "I hope the Assembly will provide a response."

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

The LRA is accused of kidnapping more than 20,000 children to serve as combatants in the 20-year-long conflict. The Ugandan government is cited for conditions in what Otunnu called about 200 "concentration camps" it has set up in the past 10 years to confine more than 2 million Ugandans in the conflict zone.

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

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

However, a "second pillar" is just as crucial, he said: "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 spoke during a WCC session intended to highlight the council's Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010, a program that promotes peace and non-violence activities by churches. He directs the LBL Foundation for Children, an independent institution that promotes support for children in communities devastated by war.


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