Saturday, August 31, 2013

Uganda struggles to come to terms with its disappeared

Uganda struggles to come to terms with its disappeared

LAMWO, 30 August 2013 (IRIN) - When Uganda resident Rose Lamwaka had two sons abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) 10 years ago she felt she had lost all hope. "I was feeling a lot of pain, I was feeling like committing suicide," says the 51-year-old widow with seven grandchildren.

Last week, Lamwaka joined hundreds from the northern district of Lamwo to remember their abducted children, still missing from the decades-long civil war between the LRA and the government. More than 200 family members with relatives still unaccounted for read the names of their lost ones in a ceremony of prayer and song.

Northern Uganda was the epicentre of a legacy of violence, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the number of people abducted since the war started in the late 1980s ranges between 52,000 and 75,000. Though Uganda has been free from LRA attacks since 2006, and a number of former child soldiers have returned, the ICRC estimates thousands remain missing from the north as a result of the conflict.

"Because there is no official figure of those missing, we had to extrapolate on what we found here," said Camilla Matteucci, ICRC protection coordinator. "And our projection is that at least 10,000 people are still missing in northern Uganda."

Left behind

The commemoration in Uganda not only acknowledged those still missing but also marked the end of a four-month community counselling pilot programme for more than 200 affected family members of the abducted in Lamwo District. As that project initially targeted only one sub-county, it used those affected families as a baseline to extrapolate the total number that have gone missing across the northern region.

According to Beatrice Ocaya, the local women's councillor in Lamwo, the ceremony was an important step in recognizing the ongoing support needed by families torn apart by the LRA conflict.

"There is no longer war, but some parents are ever crying," she said.

ICRC says relatives left behind have been silently suffering with ambiguous loss, and the isolation that breeds has far-reaching social and economic impacts on populations still recovering from conflict.

"They don't know if the person is alive or dead, if they're still with the armed group, which also puts a stigma on the family, and therefore it's hard for them to deal with the community at large," Matteucci said.

For Lamwaka, the group brought her relief, and support from her community. "Other people are really understanding, they sympathize and care," she told IRIN.

A global loss

To mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances [ ] on 30 August, the ICRC has released a handbook [ ] to call for a broader global response to the families of those missing in conflict and natural disasters. The handbook draws on more than 10 years of similar ICRC projects, from the Balkans, to Nepal and Timor-Leste - all countries where thousands have gone missing with families left behind to bear the burden - and provides an understanding of what families of missing persons go through. It also acts as a practical guide for local "accompaniers" from the community, trained by ICRC to counsel peer support groups to be able to share experiences and coping mechanisms.

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are separated from loved ones in such situations," said Marianne Pecassou, head of the ICRC team dealing with missing persons, in a statement. "The families will tell you that what they need more than anything else is to find out what happened to the person who vanished. Unfortunately, in too many cases, that question may never be resolved. But they also have other needs that go far beyond this."

According to ICRC, during the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, they received more than 34,000 tracing requests from families searching for answers.

Legal issues such as inheritance and property rights, the financial stress of searching for the lost while supporting a household, as well as the psychological trauma of loss have devastated communities already scarred by conflict.

According to Milena Osorio, ICRC's mental health and psychosocial support adviser, psychological needs such as emotional isolation, feelings of guilt, anger, depression or trauma, and tensions among family members or with members of their communities are common.

"The families of missing people frequently find themselves grappling with uncertainty. Most societies have religious or cultural rituals to deal with death," said Ms Osorio in the statement, "but there is very little to help the families of missing persons."

In May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to join an international treaty [ ] aimed at "eliminating enforced disappearances and stop impunity for this scourge".



Analysis: Guinea's halting fight against impunity

Analysis: Guinea's halting fight against impunity

CONAKRY, 30 August 2013 (IRIN) - Since 2012, in an unprecedented effort in the country, top security officials in Guinea have been indicted for alleged crimes against civilians. But the indictments have yet to lead to trials or, in most cases, even arrests.

Guinea has seen a string of judicial firsts that sparked hope the country could finally chip away at impunity, including military officials long seen as untouchable being called before a court of law. But they have retained their posts; Col Claude Pivi remains head of presidential security; Lt Col Moussa Tiégboro Camara continues in his role as director of the national anti-drug-trafficking agency; and Sékou Resco Camara is still the Conakry governor.

"Every time there's news of another indictment, [someone on the outside] might think, 'Ah, things are progressing well there', but that's not the case," said Thierno Madjou Sow, long-time human rights activist and head of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation. "Things get started then just stop. Look at Tiégboro, Pivi, and Resco - all still in their government positions."

Pivi and Tiégboro Camara are among eight people indicted to date over the 28 September 2009 stadium attack, in which, according to an international inquiry [ ], soldiers killed, raped, or injured hundreds of people. One gendarme has been arrested and detained on charges of rape in that case. Resco Camara has been indicted for alleged involvement in the torture of civilians by gendarmes in 2010.

Sow and other human rights advocates are quick to say the indictments themselves are significant considering the history of impunity [ ] among Guinea's leadership. But the process must continue, they say.

"These indictments do carry some weight. People see that a top military official can be called before a judge - that reassures them [ ]," said Hamidou Barry, a Guinean lawyer and the coordinator of the judges investigating stadium attack. "The problem is everything stops there. Guinea's judges are not free and independent."

Doubts about judiciary

The stadium case - the latest but perhaps the most spectacular in a string of military abuses against civilians - is in preliminary examination at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which says the prosecutor has a responsibility to intervene if it becomes clear that national authorities are "unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out the proceedings".

But given what they see as a stalled process, survivors say they wonder what it would take for the ICC to find the Guinean authorities unwilling.

"The international community must understand once and for all that Guinea's judiciary is not ready to carry this out," said Asmaou Diallo, head of the Association of Parents and Friend of Victims (AVIPA), which assists survivors of the attack and other human rights abuses.

"The victims are here, the assailants are here," she said. "It's possible to hold trials. But the authorities can't. They don't dare. And I don't know at what level things are blocked. Meanwhile as long as impunity reigns in Guinea, the country cannot move forward."

Survivors and human rights activists in Guinea say coming out more forcefully against impunity exposes them to threats and intimidation by the accused and their supporters. But many say it is worth it.

"Sure, there is a risk. But I think it's time Guinea's human rights community assume that risk," said Mamady Mansare, a journalist who was injured during the stadium attack. "Survivors must denounce the authorities' unwillingness to arrest suspects and proceed with this."

Tamar Thiam, who was injured in the stadium attack and fled Guinea after she was threatened for speaking out, said Guineans must push for more pressure to be brought on the government. "We must raise our voices to show the international community that the authorities lack either the means or the will to bring perpetrators to justice," she told IRIN. "If this drags on for too long, the witnesses will be dead, the assailants will be dead. What good would a trial do then?"

"This case is in the judges' hands," said government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara. "The government has never obstructed their work. To date, several high-level officers have been indicted, and the procedure is following its course with absolutely no interference from the government."

Cautious optimism

International justice experts say, while things are moving slowly in Guinea, there has been progress. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) says the indictment of officials in the stadium massacre "is a serious indication that they will be brought to account" and the office expects a trial will take place.

"The competent national authorities have initiated proceedings, as it is their primary responsibility to do," the OTP told IRIN. "The OTP will continue to encourage their efforts as long as we assess they go in the right direction."

Florent Geel, Africa desk director with the International Federation for Human Rights [ ] (FIDH), says these cases must not be allowed to drag on for decades, but that considering Guinea's past, the indictment of top military officials within a few years of the alleged crimes is remarkable.

"Guinea's history is 40 to 50 years of impunity, so it's difficult from one day to the next make the justice system function normally," Geel told IRIN. "It's not easy. It's slow. It's complicated, but little by little there are positive moves."

Rights expert Sow said since independence in 1958, Guinea's judiciary has been side-lined by the executive. Geel said he is confident there will be trials in the stadium attack and the 2010 torture case by the end of 2014.

FIDH has called for the suspension of indicted officials, particularly the head of presidential security. "Clearly the accused are innocent until proven guilty. We must respect this principle," Geel said. "But given Pivi's position and the seriousness of the indictment, we think it is reasonable to demand his suspension pending further judicial proceedings."

The ICC prosecutor's office acknowledges that seeing those charged remain in power is a blow to survivors. "The fact that two indicted officials [in the 28 September case] have retained their post in government is undoubtedly shocking and frustrating for the victims," the OTP said. "It is, however, insufficient for the office to determine that the proceedings are not being conducted with the intent to bring to justice the persons bearing responsibility for the crimes committed."

So far in Guinea, "complementarity is working", the prosecutor's office told IRIN, referring to the principle that sees the ICC stepping in only as a last resort, when national jurisdictions fail to address crimes.

FIDH's Geel said it would be best if Guinea's judiciary were to work. "The goal of international justice is to push the national judiciary to prosecute. Otherwise what would ever be changed in the fight against impunity in the country?"

For the four-year commemoration of the stadium massacre, survivors and families of victims hope to hold a rally at the venue of the attack. The past three Septembers, the government denied authorization to do so, said AVIPA's Diallo, whose son was killed in the crackdown.

"We hope this year we can at least go to the stadium and place flowers for our dead and missing."



Saturday, August 3, 2013

HORN OF AFRICA: IRIN weekly humanitarian round-up 694 2 August 2013

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humanitarian news and analysis
a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Getting outside the HIV prevention "comfort zone"

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KATHMANDU, 31 July 2013 (IRIN) - Despite years of scientific advances in HIV treatment and prevention, more than two million people are newly diagnosed with HIV annually, demonstrating how community-driven approaches to prevention are still needed to curb the epidemic, experts say.
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Analysis: The UN in 2023

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DAKAR, 31 July 2013 (IRIN) - The UN and other aid agencies face ever-increasing levels of humanitarian need: the number of recorded disasters has doubled in the past two decades, according to the UN, while the needs-response gap remains stubbornly steady in the context of a shifting humanitarian landscape - with the dominance of UN agencies and the largest 10 international NGOs gradually being eroded as power shifts to the east and south.
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Study links hygiene and height

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BANGKOK, 1 August 2013 (IRIN) - Soap and clean water for effective handwashing can help boost a young child's growth, according to the first large-scale scientific review to link hygiene to height - one measure of child nutrition.
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Colombia's corridor of instability and displacement

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EL TARRA, 1 August 2013 (IRIN) - Rosalba Duran and her family of 11 live in a single-room wooden hut on a patch of local government-owned land on the outskirts of El Tarra, in Colombia's northern province of Norte de Santander.
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Aid worker job specs in the network age

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DAKAR, 1 August 2013 (IRIN) - The evolving humanitarian field, with multiple new actors, an ongoing IT-led information explosion, and a growing focus on accountability and coordination is reshaping the role of aid workers and the future skills they will need.
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