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Terror By Night

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.

Psalm 91

The world may be awakening. While it has slept, terror has prowled. It prowled not just in Sudan about whose travails the Security Council just met in Kenya to see if anything could be done to stop the slaughter of thousands of children, women and men by lawless rebels and a government either unwilling or powerless to do anything. It has been prowling in Uganda where until recently no one except the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, noticed. Belatedly, so has the U.S. Congress.

In Sudan’s western region of Dafur, more than 50,000 people have died and almost 2 million people have been forced to leave their homes during the last 18 months. The Kalma refugee camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, houses 108,000 refugees and is growing by 700 people a day. It has quadrupled in size since July when Secretaries Kofi Annan and Colin Powell visited Darfur hoping to bring life to the peace process and an end to the dying and displacement. Three other refugee camps have been built in the area, the most recent being Derag which houses 20,000 villagers. The huts in which the displaced live made of sticks and covered with cloth resemble nothing so much as the house that Pooh and Piglet built for Eeyore at Pooh Corner.

U.N. officials have described the situation in Darfur as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” The U.S. Congress and State Department have called it genocide. The violence in Sudan between the North and South has been going on for more than 20 years and 2 million people have been killed. That comes out to a meager 100,000 people killed a year, not so bad unless you were among the 100,000. Had fate dealt those people a different hand they might have been born in Rwanda where in 1994 800,000 were killed in only100 days while a sleepy world wondered what, if anything, should be done. And in that case a sleeping world did not send the United Nations Security Council to Kenya to meet with the afflicted country’s leaders in order to impress upon them the importance of bringing to an end the slaughter. It was over before anyone thought to respond. The same thing may be happening in Uganda although there are signs that someone is noticing and the renewed attention may stop it before it gets worse.

A civil war has raged in Uganda for 18 years, only two years less than the war in the Sudan. Nearly 20,000 boys and girls have been abducted by a pseudo religious figure leading something called the Lord’s Resistance Army which was formed in the late 1980s by Joseph Kony with the avowed intent of overthrowing the government and forming a society based on the ten commandments. His understanding of the ten commandments is incomplete.

Some of the abducted children have been forced to kill their families and girls have been forced to serve as concumbines for rebel commanders. To avoid the clutches of this band that continues to inspire terror in the people of Northern Uganda, there is a nightly march by up to 40,000 women and children who go into major towns because the threat of abduction makes it unsafe for them to stay in their houses. As a result of the actions of the L.R.A. there are now more than 1.6 million homeless people in Uganda, a figure that exceeds the number of homeless in the Darfur region of Sudan. In a news conference on November 11, 2004, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the situation in northern Uganda constitutes one of the world’s most-neglected and under-reported crises. The United States seems to be taking note of it.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that this year the United States has provided more than $70 million for food and other assistance. On August 2, 2004, the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act was signed into law by President Bush. The act supports a peaceful resolution to the conflict, calls upon the U.S. to work with the Ugandan government and the international community to provide humanitarian aid and development assistance and calls for increased protection of displaced civilians, particularly women and children. The State Department is required to report to Congress in February 2005 detailing the causes of the conflict and sources of support for the L.R.A. The legislation says that relations between Uganda and the U.S. won’t improve if there’s credible evidence that Sudanese authorities have provided weapons or other support to the L.R.A. The attention it is getting is coming none too soon even though for those made homeless and for 20,000 children it may be 18 years too late. Better late than never.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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