Last week, KFM's Andrew Mwenda Mwenda former UN Under-Secretary General, Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict and Sydney Peace Prize winner, Mr Olara Otunnu, and General David Tinyefuza, a Senior Presidential Adviser on Security and coordinator for intelligence services. They debated about whether the conditions in Northern Uganda amount to genocide. Evelyn Lirri & Jane Nafula listened in and bring you the excerpts.
[Mwenda:] Mr Otunnu, why do you describe the situation in Northern Uganda as a genocide perpetuated by the government of Uganda against the people of Acholi?
Otunnu: The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe which is unfolding in Northern Uganda is nothing short of a methodical and comprehensive genocide conceived and being carried out by the government of Uganda. In fact I know of no situation where all the elements that constitute genocide under the Convention of 1948, have all been brought together in such a diabolic and chilling comprehensive manner as in northern Uganda.
The issue of genocide is not a matter of guesswork; it doesn't lie in the eyes of the beholder. We have the Convention, which provides the very specific criteria by which you describe genocide, in fact you take that criteria measure them with the facts on the ground and that tells you whether or not there is genocide.
[Mwenda:] How does the Convention describe genocide and how are the elements of that definition manifest in Northern Uganda?
Otunnu: Genocide is the project or campaign directed against a particular community and that community can be defined in racial, linguistic, ethnic or political terms and the purpose is to destroy that community in whole or in part, preventing it from preservation of development and typically really what that translates into is the targeting of physical preservation and livelihood, culture and children of the community, family structures and lives of the communities. This is precisely what has been going on in northern Uganda for many years.
Mwenda: Can you give us the specific actions that you think support your argument?
Otunnu: The height of the genocide project is the concentration of camps in northern Uganda. The 200 camps in Acholi, Lango and Teso are the very infrastructure for prosecuting this genocide. We have learnt for example that people are dying at the rate of 1,000 a week in these camps, that's about 50,000 a year in the Acholi region alone, the rate of death in northern Uganda is twice the mortality rate in Darfur.
The infant mortality rate in these camps is the worst anywhere in the world and the malnutrition level is in such a way that 41 percent of the children under five are seriously stunted in their growth. Access to sanitation is abominable. The imaginable situation in which 85 percent of the population have no access to latrines is the kind of emergency situation in northern Uganda.
In Otuboi camp, for example, more than 1,500 people share one latrine, that's about 20 seconds per day per person and in other camps like in Orombo and Lugoro, 4,000 people share one latrine. Access to water takes four to six hours in lines to get water.
Mwenda: Are these manifestations of poverty in Uganda or just incompetence of the government?
Otunnu: Genocide does not occur accidentally; in the case of northern Uganda we have got a well-established pattern of a hate campaign and this punctuates a genocide campaign. A hate campaign led by President Yoweri Museveni himself and his associates and this is well documented and then the camps which are established by the government and the deadly conditions in the camps. Most of the people didn't go to the camps running away from danger. They were uprooted from their land and homes and taken to these concentration camps so the government has created the condition deliberately.
Tinye: I find it strange that Mr Otunnu looks at government as perpetrators of what he calls genocide. He does not in any way look, or see any fault in Kony. He is not only an apologist of rebellion but he even sounds an active participant.
What is happening in Northern Uganda is an insurgency and ordinarily the people who are insurgents target civilians. We started fighting Lakwena and UPM before her and even in Teso we had never put people in concentration camps because at that time the mode of operation of rebellion was different.
There were some disagreements in the northern populations and some of the populations did feel aggrieved and they did join rebellion and after some time the people turned against the rebels and therefore the mode of recruitment was abduction, the people were now targeted. The Aboke girls were not abducted by government; Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School was not attacked by government. Lango, which has recently witnessed an uprising, and Teso was not attacked by government. There were two ways to handle this situation.
One, our people would go to exile and it always happens we have almost two million Sudanese people, 1.5 million are resident in northern Uganda in Adjumani, Arua and Masindi. What does that mean? It means that in our situation Southern Sudan was not safe, Congo was not peaceful, we could not allow our people to be targets of these thugs who were abducting people and recruiting them forcefully into rebel ranks.
In other words, we have to make a choice; do we allow Kony to abduct the people, use them against us because his argument is Kony abducts these people, gives them guns and when we fight then we are killing them and we should allow children to cross Karuma when they are armed.
[...] I was reading his article you know these politicians, they think war is about poetry...the bird standing on the tree and singing. When you read that very, very unserious stuff, he is talking about water, sanitation, the toilets, let him come here to Namuwongo; how many toilets are there? What is this man talking about? Almost all the urban centres are the under-development of the African State; they are not better than those camps.
Mwenda: Otunnu says that the population is trapped in the gruesome fight of LRA and the genocide project and the atrocities and humiliation, which are systematically carried out by the Museveni regime…
Tinye: Are we putting people in camps to exterminate them or to protect them because this is what he is adducing, these are incidental factors they are not the main factors. We have put people in camps but Kony organises and raids the camps. The people in Teso we had returned them but Kony raided them. So Mr Olara sees we are the problem and Kony who abducts is not a problem.
Otunnu: I see that he does not challenge facts that are on the ground and instead the General is arguing that these conditions in the camps are generally in Africa.
Mwenda: He said they are not deliberate but incidental and they happen in spite of, not because of the government.
Otunnu: The LRA has been responsible for the brutal atrocities including massacres and abducting children and maiming of people, which they must be accounted for.
However, as you heard from the General, the LRA is being cynically manipulated to divert the attention of the genocide unfolding in the camps. LRA is in fact being used as a pretext to cover the genocide in Northern Uganda. Most of the people in the camps did not run away voluntarily from their homes.
They were given 48 hours and their homes were burnt down by government forces; they were bombed by helicopter gunships. The hate campaign, which I document, shows the kind of dehumanisation and demonisation such that it prepares the way for genocide and then the camps, which we say, you create concentration camps so that the conditions are rife and they begin to die of those conditions. They begin to die from preventable diseases, from malnutrition, from malaria from preventable diseases. These are conditions deliberately imposed...
Tinye: I don't know when Mr Otunnu was last in this country to know what has been happening. I will tell Mr Otunnu that when we had ADF incursions in western Uganda there were camps in Bundibugyo, in Fort Portal and in Kasese basically to protect the population because in an insurgent situation the population is the prime target because insurgents look for soft targets that's the first duty of the government We have actually put our people in camps to protect them. So it is not an Acholi factor.
[...] I think Olara has no moral authority to speak about the government and President Museveni being an ethnic devil like he said. Olara Otunnu himself was presiding over a rotten regime here when we came here in 1986, you now forget so fast. Uganda was like Somalia. This was a man who was Minister of Foreign Affairs. They should just keep quiet and let us put this country right.
Otunnu: First of all I am not the one who has devilised the regime of Mr Museveni. This is a thing that Mr Museveni started himself. Let me tell you something...you listen very carefully to what Mr Museveni said ..."We shall get them like the ensenene insect you know ....those people are not biological human beings ...wait and see we shall teach them a lesson which they will never recover from ....those people are swines... we are killing off the anyanyas... they are not Ugandans the chauvinism of Acholi has to be destroyed... we have not yet punished them enough," and so on.
These are pronouncements, which have defined the hate campaign orchestrated by Mr Museveni and his associates. In fact last year Uganda journalist not [myself] Mr Patrick visited Uganda and wrote "Ugandans south of the River Nile and their friends do not know the genocide taking place in Northern Uganda. Now another commentator who visited the region and wrote of what he saw and he wrote and I quote... "Not a single incident can explain the sickening human catastrophe going on. The degradation the isolation and the horrors killing off generations after generations. Frankly I can describe what I saw as extinction facing the people of Acholi and Lango.
I encountered unique and heart-breaking death and suffering, stalking people by the minute, by the hour, every day for the last two decades''. These children, these women have committed no crime to deserve this. They deserve an explanation from their President Museveni, they deserved it yesterday, they do so today and they will tomorrow. Now the General does not discuss these facts put before him instead he goes to discuss other matters.
For example he talks about insurgency elsewhere let him give you a very precise example. In Burundi in 1996, the government started doing exactly what Museveni is doing in the North, rounding up people mainly Hutus and bringing them into concentration camps calling them, just like in Northern Uganda, protected villages making the same argument that this was being done to protect them from the insurgency.
The international community looked at this and said, you must dismantle these camps and let the people go back to their villages and indeed within months the Burundi government had dismantled these camps.
It's the measure of double standards and conspiracy and complicity of the international community that no such position was taken with regard to exactly the same phenomenon in northern Uganda, in which war has gone on for 10 years straight.
Tinye: In order to commit genocide you do not have to go through this laborious method of putting people in camps; the Rwandese genocide of 1994, people were not in camps.
Mwenda: Otunnu says in Uganda HIV/Aids is being used as a deliberate weapon of mass destruction. Government soldiers are screened and those who are tested positive are then especially deployed in the north with the mission to commit havoc on the local girls and women thus almost a zero base HIV/Aids infection among the rural base has galloped to a staggering level. A recent survey found a 30 per cent infection rate in Kitgum compared to a national level of five per cent.
Tinye: That is an insult to us and when I hear someone writing that you know these are the biggest collaborators of the rebels. Mr Olara Otunnu himself I can tell you that his brother who is a professor actually was a [webmaster] of the LRA running their website and up to now we know what is happening. There is nobody who knows what this northern tragedy has caused to our own army.
Our army has suffered most; our soldiers are victims of HIV/Aids. There are many people here who are HIV-positive; they are alive because they have medical care, they do not live strenuous lives, they eat three meals a day. Our soldiers do not have the food to eat they do not have water to drink they walk on foot... To say we screen our soldiers and those who test positive are sent to the North as a matter of fact is actually against the law but we actually screen our soldiers.
These days for anybody to join the army you are screened, anybody to attend courses you are screened because we no longer want to subject our people to these strenuous exercises, which they cannot manage.
Otunnu: The pattern of deliberate rape began in 1996 at that time aimed at humiliating the community; now HIV/Aids is specifically being used as a weapon of mass destruction in Northern Uganda this is well documented. We have testimonies of women who are raped by soldiers who say they are HIV positive and subsequently the women have tested HIV positive. I'm not attacking soldiers because they are HIV positive.
I am attacking the use of the HIV status as a way of spreading the diseases and destroying the community. Figures have shown this.
Thirty per cent of people in Kitgum are positive, 42 percent of women have tested the same and 27 percent of children who have been to Lacor Hospital have tested positive. These figures are all accurate; the General cannot contradict these figures and this is in relation to the situation before the insurgency, where prevalence was almost at zero.
Tinye: In the history of Uganda and the army, it is only the NRM which has publicly executed soldiers for either murder or indiscipline; 133 soldiers have been publicly executed, 67 of them in northern Uganda for crimes committed against the civilian population. Now on HIV/Aids, the northern Uganda population is mobile; it does not live on an island secured by barbed wires. They come to Kampala, they go back, their children are in Kampala even now in Kampala there are fresh infections of HIV/Aids.
Mwenda: But why is Kitgum infection rate at 30 percent?
Tinye: Instability does compromise health and medical care in an area. It does compromise the economic setting and the political setting of an area. It does interfere with education.
Mwenda: Gen Tinyefuza, President Museveni, one human being, is guarded by a Presidential Guard Brigade; 12,000 men armed with tanks, mambas and whatever it is. Prof. Nabudere who visited camps in northern Uganda told me that a camp of 15,000 is guarded by 15 soldiers!
Tinye: There is what we call mobile defence; we put 15 soldiers on static defence they guard the camp but we create mobile units to hunt down the rebels who are moving in the countryside. For you what you want us to do is to bring all those soldiers just like sitting ducks.
Mwenda: Nearly one third of the total defence budget defending only one person. One man needs 30 percent of defence.
Tinye: There is what we call a centre of gravity. Obote failed to realise that. He thought he was being very smart, he thought that he did not need all that because he was a populist he lost power twice through this country in turmoil, we have not recovered from up to now.
Otunnu: In what respect can one explain to the people of Northern Uganda the concept of peace, stability, democracy, and good governance when what has been going on has been taking place for 20 years non-stop? Unless, of course, the view is that Northern Uganda is not part of Uganda.
Mwenda: Mr Otunnu, why did it take you so long to raise your voice against what you say is genocide in Northern Uganda?
Otunnu: That's not true. Mr Museveni, Mrs Museveni, Mr Omwony Ojok all got up to attack me because of what I said as far as 2001 in the Commission of Human Rights meeting in Geneva. I made a speech I can make available to you. You also recall that I was viciously attacked by the Ugandan government in Canada when at a meeting discussing children and armed conflict I said the children of northern Uganda were experiencing genocide.
Tinye: What is happening in northern Uganda is not genocide. There is no deliberate effort to exterminate the Acholi as Otunnu says. In genocide you aim at exterminating people based on ethnicity and race. If we wanted to exterminate the Acholi we would not have taken them to the camps we would have left them and when the soldiers kill them we say [it's] Kony.
Mwenda: How can a ragtag force, 80 per cent of whom are abducted children, involuntary combatants, poorly-trained, armed and poorly-fed confront an army that is headed by educated generals like yourself comprised of 56,000 troops armed with mambas and helicopter gunships for 20 years?
Tinye: We have been pursuing Kony outside the borders of Uganda and that shows you that geopolitical dimension of this conflict. We have so far rolled back the geopolitical threat and we are willing...
Otunnu: It's not by accident that the LRA and the war in the north have gone on for 20 years. The reason is that the Museveni regime has no interest in ending that war. The war provides a cover for genocide; it provides a cover for corruption.
Tinye: Let me tell Mr Otunnu that contrary to what he said that we do not want to end the war in the north, we have by and large actually defeated the LRA.
Mwenda: You have defeated them 30 times…
Tinye: There is empirical evidence that we have flashed rebels from Congo and Sudan and defeated a group of them. They no longer have any sophisticated arms; we have rolled back the geopolitical threat. We defeated those fellows who were in Sudan, defeated them in Congo and we are rounding the remnants. So contrary to what Mr Otunnu says, the UPDF and the NRM has actively defeated and continues to weaken the LRA. Very soon our people will move back from the camps. We have so far rescued 17,000 children.
Mwenda: You can mention one million achievements you have made but the problem is that you have not ended the war.
Tinye: No I heard him talk about the genocide, but I said there is no genocide; there is incidental human catastrophe. Actually for me the condition our people are living in does not amount to genocide. When I challenged him whether we are actively committing genocide, exterminating a group because of its ethnicity, its race, this is what he said. "You can judge genocide from pronouncements." This is what he is saying? He is a lawyer but...
Mwenda: Someone says “Tinyefuza describe the rounding up of 690 civilians and suffocating them in the railway wagon. Is that not a crime against humanity?
Tinye: Now there are isolated incidents of murder and crime. Genocide is not one of those. It is about the magnitude. People should not be misled those are crimes.
Mwenda: Why doesn't Museveni declare Northern Uganda a disaster zone?
Tinye: It has its own implications. It was debated in Parliament and if you declare, in fact people who want to declare it a disaster zone are misinformed because once you do so even the rules which apply there will be different. And we don't think it is in the interest of those people. For them they are looking at NGO support.
They are not looking at other limitations to human freedom and so on and therefore the approach will be different and I think we have not gone there yet.