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Don’t forget the children of Northern Uganda

Poffenberger, Michael and Quaranto, Peter | Friday, October 14, 2005

What have the children to do with it? Ivan, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov, asks, “If all must suffer to pay for eternal harmony, what have children to do with it?” Visiting the war-torn people of northern Uganda, we found ourselves sharing Ivan’s philosophical fury. How can such innocent suffering of children persist with little cry from our own communities?

For the last 19 years, a war has raged in northern Uganda, forgotten by most of the world. Since 1987, a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by cult leader Joseph Kony, has been operating out of southern Sudan and fighting for power against the government of Uganda.

In this terrible war, children have suffered the most. Kidnapped by the LRA, tens of thousands of children have been kidnapped, used by the LRA as child soldiers and sexual slaves. Their stories are harrowing and tell of an evil unimaginable.

Yet, for those children who escape abduction, their lives remain a living hell. The LRA typically hunts and preys upon children at night. To cope with this horror, children are nightly forced to brave treacherous weather conditions and unsafe roads and walk – by themselves – to towns as far as ten miles away. There, they sleep in makeshift camps and on street corners, only to wake at dawn to return to their homes and schools. This tragic trend, called “night commuting,” has mushroomed and currently as many as 50,000 children walk each evening.

At the end of 2004, Mr. Jan Egeland, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, declared the crisis in northern Uganda, “the world’s biggest neglected humanitarian crisis.”

On Oct. 22-23, together we are going to change that. In more than 40 cities around the world, people will walk with the children of northern Uganda to demand the attention and action of the international community to end this war. Here at Notre Dame, we are organizing a walk on Sunday, Oct. 23 that will begin at 3 p.m. in Legends parking lot and end at Main Building. The “GuluWalk Day” will be the largest mobilization in history calling for peace in northern Uganda.

Our own government here in the United States has a special role to play in ending this war, especially given our historic relationship with the government of Uganda. Through financial, logistical and political assistance, we can bring visibility and support to the tireless work of Betty Bigombe, the chief peace negotiator, to catalyze a peace process. Through diplomatic pressure, we can hold the Government of Uganda accountable to the peace process, human rights standards and military professionalization. Finally, we can provide much-needed support to civilian protection and humanitarian relief.

Witnessing this gross assault on the integrity of God’s creation, we cannot be silent. For far too long, the children of northern Uganda have been forgotten. Together, we are working to change that and to demand a foreign policy of hope that prioritizes and protects human life wherever it may be. Together with people all over the world on Oct. 22-23, we will raise our voices with the children of northern Uganda to ask our leaders to make human life in northern Uganda a priority. We ask you to join us.

Peter Quaranto is the director of the Uganda Conflict Action Network and a senior international peace studies major. Michael Poffenberger is the associate director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network and a graduate of the Class of 2005. Contact Peter at [email protected] or Michael at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer.