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October 2017
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Charles Talyor: Guilty

As IRIN reports, the International Criminal Court has found former Liberian President Charles Taylor, also known for brutal meddling in neighboring countries, guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sierra Leoneans must feel good about this show of justice delivered — especially via a system governed by laws and rules. It’s no surprise that the top thugs are generally convicted: There always seems a mountain of evidence that they have committed the crimes with which they are charged. What’s more interesting to me, in terms of how the ICC is doing, is the resolution of other cases. Sometimes, the charges have been dismissed; there’s been an acquittal; defendants have died mid-process. Each of these types of resolutions reflects other facets of the search for justice when it comes to the grossest crimes against humanity.

The roiling before the war in S. Sudan/Sudan?

Let’s hope we aren’t seeing the unraveling of the fragile peace between the countries of South Sudan and Sudan (South Sudan became independent last July), but an alert from the International Crisis Group suggests bleak prospects for calm to prevail. There’s little long-lasting optimism derived from news, reported by the BBC reports today that “South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has ordered the withdrawal of his troops from the Heglig oil field across the border in Sudan,” which both countries claim as their own. Khartoum claims it drove out South Sudanese forces. Heglig provides more than half of Sudan’s pol, says the BBC.

Source: Drilling Info International via BBC

Source: Drilling Info International via BBC

And so the civilians of both countries, who have suffered so much for so long (particularly women and children), likely will be caught once again in conflict. An earlier post here notes the worsening humanitarian emergency. The crisis group gives recommendations for what needs to occur to help stave off war, recommendations that highlight the danger of resolving key issues. The fundamental question is this: How does anyone get the countries’ leaders to make decisions that protect their citizens and give the two nations a real chance at progress? We’ll see how the diplomats do.

Here’s an excerpt from the International Crisis Group alert:

Sudan and South Sudan are teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit. Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other’s rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA). Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as such partners as the U.S., China and key Gulf states. The immediate priority needs to be a ceasefire and security deal between North and South, as well as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. But equally important, for the longer-term, are solutions to unresolved post-referendum issues, unimplemented provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (that ended the civil war in 2005), and domestic reforms in both countries.

Forgotten crises: Sudan/South Sudan

The U.N. humanitarian news agency, IRIN, reports on the burgeoning crisis in Sudan, near the South Sudan border. Often, one humanitarian crisis grabs the world’s attention and other emergencies get barely any attention at all. I’d make that case now, except I’m having a hard time recalling any humanitarian crisis around the world that is gaining a spotlight. I’m worried that economic troubles and domestic politics are marginalizing diplomacy and the importance of nonmilitary foreign aid.

Girl digs for water in Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan  ©Hannah McNeish/IRIN

Girl digs for water in Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan ©Hannah McNeish/IRIN

So take a few minutes to read through the story below about Sudan — not Darfur. Civilians are fleeing violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile state and struggling in refugee camps where there is a serious lack of clean water. Aid agencies are trying to dig boreholes but encountering all sorts of problems. The result? “For the moment we have an average of 5-6 litres per person per day. For survival it’s 3-7 litres, but for basic water needs such as drinking, bathing and washing we need at least 7.5-15 litres per person per day,” says an Oxfam water expert.

I’m hoping there is enough attention and concern to make sure needed supplies get to this part of the world to drill boreholes or truck in water so that diseases that could be prevented don’t become the refugees’ next deadly stalker. Read the story below and then go to IRIN to read more about this and other humanitarian crises.

SUDAN-SOUTH SUDAN: Time running out for “forgotten” refugees

JAMAM, 3 April 2012 (IRIN) - Under the sweltering sun, women at Jamam refugee camp, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, dig through the clay of a dried up waterhole in their search for water.

Scooping up muddy water to fill one jerry-can takes three hours, but is better than returning home with nothing after a day waiting at a camp water-point and risking getting involved in a fight, says 19-year-old Macda Doka Waka.

Aid agencies are struggling to keep up with the food and water needs of over 37,000 people in the camp who have fled bombardment and violence across the border in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.

“It takes a long time to get water. I went this morning to put my jerry-can there [at a camp water point]; I will have to fetch it tomorrow as there is not enough water,” said Entisar Abas Elmak, whose normally healthy child has been sick four times in two months with diarrhoea and vomiting.

Small children intercept cupfuls of muddy water headed for the buckets and gulp them down greedily in temperatures over 45 degrees, but the poor quality water is causing health problems.

“There are already a lot of diarrhoea cases - children, men, the elderly - everyone’s getting diarrhoea, and rain will make it worse,” said Sheikh Osman Alamin, a 43-year-old farmer who has been in the camp for three months.

Daudi Makamba, a water expert with Oxfam, says the agency faces a huge challenge to provide enough water as boreholes have collapsed, waterholes are dry, and it lacks the means to truck more than the current 160,000 litres from the remaining three boreholes around 30km away.

“For the moment we have an average of 5-6 litres per person per day. For survival it’s 3-7 litres, but for basic water needs such as drinking, bathing and washing we need at least 7.5-15 litres per person per day,” he said at a water point where one man with a pad and pen, and another with a whip, shout at an angry crowd of women vying for the water.

“Water, that is a huge challenge - the biggest we are facing here in Jamam,” said Andrew Omale, Oxfam’s emergency coordinator at the camp, which he referred to as “forgotten”. “The current situation is that this area doesn’t have ground water. We have tried our best. So far we have drilled over 10 boreholes and these have not yielded any result.”

Oxfam hopes that a larger drill from aid agency CARE International and the International Organization for Migration arrives before the rains start and make drilling even more complicated.

“This is one of the huge worries we have currently, because this area has a very bad history. Once it comes to rainy season, the roads are cut off,” he added.

Appeals for more support

Oxfam is urging donors to ramp up support now, warning that it will be three times more expensive when the rains come and block off roads; shortages could endanger people’s lives.

“This is going to cause a lot of health problems and I’m afraid that we will lose a lot of people, especially if rains flood this black cotton soil,” Omale said.

“The international community has not done enough… it has not focused on this emergency. These people started coming here in November. Up to now we have not received enough support to help the refugees here in Jamam,” he said.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which is providing over 130,000 litres of water a day to the camp, has also appealed for aid to be ramped up, and more water and sanitation partners.

“In its clinics MSF witnesses the direct consequences of the lack of water, with cases of diarrhoea rising continuously, now constituting one in four of all consultations,” the organization said in a recent statement.

In addition to an increase in respiratory infections and malaria that look set to worsen during the six-month rainy season, the current lack of water is set to cause other health problems.

“We’re also seeing a lot of skin infections and eye infections which again goes with when there’s conditions of poor sanitation. and we are having at least two to three children a week coming with severe dehydration, and in need of urgent fluids,” said MSF’s Kirrily de Polnay.

Insufficient food

Camp resident Alamin’s flimsy shelter - made of straw and two plastic sheets - lies on the vast floodplain called “Jamam Zero” where most of the refugees have set up camp.

“We are not yet settled. We were told this place will be flooded when the rains come… Food is very difficult, getting water is very difficult, so we don’t know what next,” he told IRIN.

His family of 10 dodged bombs in Blue Nile for months before coming here. According to Alamin, the only source of food in Blue Nile State is small quantities of sorghum in abandoned farms - families can’t even find salt to cook it with as markets no longer exist.

In Jamam, time is running out to pre-position enough food for 80,000 people, as aid agencies expect another 40,000 when food and water in Blue Nile runs out.

Many camp residents say they are not receiving enough food, and that children are becoming malnourished.

“We are being given food, but it’s not enough… A 25kg sack of sorghum is supposed to last five people for one and a half months, said Elmak. “You also get a gallon of oil and lentils, and if you try to make it last the month it doesn’t stretch.

“Also, when you arrive here, they don’t give you food immediately. You have to stay for one month or a month and a half and then you will be given food,” she said, adding that her family had had to survive on tree leaves until they received sorghum and cooking oil rations.

Twenty-six-year-old Khamis Kueba, who walked for five days with the family livestock and arrived in Jamam three days ago, can barely speak from exhaustion and hunger, but will have to wait for the next distribution.

Bombings in Blue Nile State

Across the border, the situation is even worse, said Sheikh El Rathi Rajab, a Blue Nile MP.

He said bombs were being dropped day and night and people had fled to the bush, to Ethiopia, or were trying to get to South Sudan but are being blocked by Sudan Armed Forces.

The USA has warned of a “potential famine” in Blue Nile and neighbouring South Kordofan, where Sudan has been battling rebels.

If the blockade on aid is not lifted soon, “they will lose their lives because the situation is getting worse and it will continue to get worse,” said Rajab.

Read the full report at online.

© IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis:

Another Ugandan voice, Evelyn Apoko’s

Here’s a link to her appearance on CNN. She’s a wonderful young lady who hasn’t let the injuries she suffered at the hands of Joseph Kony’s LRA stop her.

Another voice from Northern Uganda

A war victim’s opinion

on Kony 2012

Victor OCHEN, Director for AYINET Uganda

By Victor Ochen

In light of the recent publicity around Invisible Children’s ‘Kony 2012’ documentary and campaign, and speaking as a survivor, a young man born and raised in the midst of the LRA war, growing up in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and avoiding abductions in many ways, struggling with my security, feeding and education, my life story  represents the realities of the Kony’s LRA war and its aftermath.  As the director of the organization, African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) that was founded in 2005, and working with the most dedicated group of young people whom some are direct war victims, former child soldiers. Our painful childhood experiences didn’t make us less but instead created in us the conviction to care  and save lives of our people who are hurt, and are struggling with physical and emotional pains.

It’s against this background that I would like to make a response to Kony 2012, in the following four points and from the survivors’ point of view.

First, it is important to take stock of the efforts by the Government of Uganda, the African Union, European Union, the United States and other key international partners to help end the LRA threat once and for all.  These actions are important but much more needs to be done. In particular there is a need for much greater protection of civilians in South Sudan and the DRC and Central African Republic where the LRA is now active. Furthermore, many of the devastating effects of the war between the LRA and the Government of Uganda  have still not been addressed in northern Uganda, even though the LRA has not been active here since 2006. These include the most serious physical and mental health effects, the weakening of key social and protective services,  the nearly complete absence of remedy for harms suffered, and an utter lack of accountability

Second, as someone whose brother and cousin were abducted and who are among the thousands of disappeared whose fate is unknown, I join with other Ugandans who hope our relatives are still in captivity and will come back home alive. Any advocacy aimed at military bombardment of the LRA rebels remains therefore very sensitive throughout northern Uganda, and I imagine the DRC and South Sudan and Central African Republic as well, because thousands of children and adults have been abducted and have still not come home yet. My own father is deeply traumatized due to my brother and cousin’s abduction, and every time he hears about any report of killing LRA rebels he is not sure whom they have killed and wonders if people are celebrating his beloved son’s death.  These are the feelings many families have.  I agree that Kony must be stopped as soon as possible. However, it must be done in a way that avoids further civilian casualties and the loss of the lives of innocent children. Raising potentially false expectation such as arresting Kony in 2012 will not rebuild the lives of the people in northern Uganda. Rebuilding communities and rehabilitating victims’ is what we need. The stronger survivors become, the less Kony remains  an issue. Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or even killing him.

Third, one of the main criticisms launched against Invisible Children is in regards to their financial accountability. I completely understand how generous donors generally feel if their funds are not better used. Working with victims demands more or physical and human accountability. Tangible and practical life changes that brings about smiles in the teary faces is much better than well designed financial report.  A typical example is my own organization which in the last five months received $100,000 from the United Nations in Uganda under the Peacebuilding Fund for Victims’ medical/surgical rehabilitation(Response and Redress for Victims of Serious Violations Project). With this small amount of money, we provided critical reconstructive surgeries to 447 victims of war. On average it only takes about $350 to provide the intensive and reconstructive medical rehabilitation. This money allows us to help  children with severe burns, girls and women who have suffered terrible sexual violence, it helps rebuild lips, ears, and noses that have been cut off, it helps heal debilitating gun and shrapnel wounds, provides extensive psycho-social care, and restores hope and dignity to victims of the war.  To date we have helped over 1500 victims of war suffering from  such horrific and inhuman pains, but there are thousands more victims from Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, DRC, Central African Republic and yet, we do not have the resources to help all in need.  There are definite, life-changing needs in northern Uganda, and there are ways to directly help victims now. Let us bear in mind that some of these victims were infants when they were mutilated. They have, if they have survived at all, been living in pain throughout their childhood.

Fourth, for whatever efforts are put forward as a result of the  media storm about this film, let’s put the real victims first.  As such, simply killing or catching Kony will not improve the lives of the victims in northern Uganda.  I agree that people’s generosity must change lives, but why spend millions on Kony alone while thousands of survivors are dying of repairable physical and psychosocial pain? Any strategy to deal with his capture should be complemented  by a strategy to help his victims. The survivors  I work with daily and those I meet in my work have shown incredible strength and dignity, while struggling to move forward against seemingly insurmountable odds, and  trying to build a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren.

The more we are connected directly to the victims, the more real our support becomes. Given that millions all over the world now have a better understanding of the plight of the war’s victims, now is the time  to work together for regional peace and a better, reconciled and stronger Uganda.

Victor OCHEN, director for  AYINET Uganda.

My essay in the Philly Inquirer on Kony 2012

Here is the link to my piece.

Ugandans on Kony 2012`

I wrote an essasy today on the whole Invisible Children/Kony 2012 video phenomenon. Because of a lack of space in the newspaper, I couldn’t put in all the voices that should be heard. While I do think the best way to stop mass human rights atrocities is with worldwide support and action, the heroes of each individual situation are locals who are doing far more than I, an Invisible Children staffer, or any outsider could do. So through the day, I’ll be posting comments/stories about and from Ugandans. Here’s the first, from a writer with the Guardian, an independent newspaper in Uganda.

Robert Madoi: Julius Achon’s ‘Kony 2012′ without
Hollywood subplots

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 00:54

The resolute constancy of the video to draw staggering ululations from the blogosphere has been its very downside as sceptics have least been impressed about its dated storyline. Fascinatingly, ever since the guns went silent in both the Acholi and Lango sub-regions, sport is one of the few things that have come menacingly close to putting out the correct narrative of the pre and post-war northern Uganda on the blogosphere.

But with just hundreds of YouTube views and retweets, clearly the narrative of one dauntless black man doing his best to rehabilitate war-torn northern Uganda wasn’t appealing, even Hollywood-esque. Back in February of 2011, I captured in this very column the compelling story of former Ugandan Olympian Julius Achon. Conscripted into the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a skirmish between the rebels and the Ugandan army (UPDF) saw Achon embark on a run that would start off as mundane and end olympian.

Achon ran away from the LRA rebels all the way to a World Junior Championships title and three Olympics. Whilst training for the last of those Olympics in 2003, he ran into 11 panic-stricken children cowered under a bus. Orphaned by the civil war, they had nowhere to go. The bus was a safe haven. Achon, scarred by the war himself, was touched. He desperately wanted to help.

He ended up doing that and more. His efforts to rehabilitate children whose milieu had been devastated by a two-decade-long war culminated in the inception of the Achon Uganda Children’s Fund in 2007. Achon didn’t have much, he took home just $5000 from some obscure Portuguese running club, but he gravely wanted to make a difference.

When he read about the two cents I had put in for his foundation, Achon got in touch with me via e-mail. He commended my effort before extending an invitation to me to go see firsthand the humanitarian work his foundation is doing in his native district. When would this be, I quickly inquired. It would be in November. Sweet November!

I always take my annual leave here at The Observer in November, so there was no stumbling block. Orum would be my destination in November. I have never been to northern Uganda. But when I was little, I remember my dad going to Atiak (in Gulu) in 1994. I recall being apprehensive about the possibility of the LRA rebels gunning down the helicopter in which dad was travelling. Dad did return back in one piece with some game meat!

Clearly, I needed something to rejig what had turned out to be an enduring attribute of northern Uganda – the worry about the LRA rebels; not the game meat! Achon was now going to give me that something by letting me peer into a foundation that is a touchstone of hope. Lamentably, when November came, Achon forgot to get in touch with me. He must have been busy – we haven’t interfaced in awhile. But looking at uploads on his foundation’s website, I couldn’t be more proud.

The medical facility as well as quarters for medical staff he has been building in his home village had reached beam level. The dream of not having locals trek 42 miles on dirt roads to receive basic medical care had now reached the homestretch. I didn’t get to go down to Orum with Achon, but thanks to the world being a global village I managed to get a lowdown nonetheless.

That he is taking this story of recovery to Uncle Sam – not on Oprah’s couch or P Diddy’s Twitter page, but some Americans open to the narrative of solutions to Africa’s problems being sort of home-grown – is as inspiring as it is transformational. Above all, Achon’s tale points to the fact that sport and sporting personalities have a role, a big role, to play in birthing rehabilitations in Uganda. Hopefully, a few years down the road, a David Obua here and Dan Obote there will author similar howling footnotes as Achon has. 

Heartbreak Road

Here I sit in my hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the last day of a three-day weekend celebrating the King’s birthday. There have been fireworks every night that children, sitting in a line on a busy street curb, gape at with wonder on their faces. The faces of Cambodians were far different yesterday, as I traveled by taxi to the Phnom Tamao Zoological Garden and Wildlife Rescue Center, about 25 miles (40 kms.) outside of Phnom Penh. The drive showed me every side of Phnom Penh. There were building cranes, cement trucks and workers at numerous construction sites, adding to the boom that certainly has gone on since I last was here 14 years ago. There were plenty of smaller economic activity, pagodas and farms along the way.

But the sight that really got to me was on the dusty road that leads to the zoo. Lining both sides of it, maybe 40 or 50 feet apart, were profoundly poor Cambodians, most of them elderly and all of them flecked with dust from the road, sitting on the ground. They looked as though they had lived a thousand lives, all of them difficult. As we passed in our car, they either would rise with their arms outstretched and hands cupped, or sit on the ground begging. The people lined the road like shade trees, except of course, there were no shade trees, so they sat in the sun or got a large palm frond and turned it into a tiny awning. They stayed there, through the heat of the afternoon, as hundreds of Cambodians, many as poor as the beggars, looked in delight at the tigers, elephants, lions, bears, monkeys and other animals in the park.

I’ve seen a lot of poverty in a lot of locales around the world, but this road and the Cambodians who lined it, stabbed at me more than those others. My driver said when he goes on that road, he gets a stack of the Cambodian currency, the riel, and gives each person a small donation. He also said the numbers of beggars on that road was increasing. If you are wondering, I did not ask the driver to stop. It was too overwhelming, and I generally do not like to encourage begging. Instead, I donate money to good, local NGOs that help the vulnerable, particularly children. I don’t know, though. I might break that rule if I ever go down Heartbreak Road again.

New film on children of northern Uganda

My friend, Melissa Fitzgerald, is a longtime northern Uganda activist who has used her acting skills (she was a regular on West Wing) to produce a film on children in northern Uganda. Here’s information on the documentary, the times, and how to get tickets. Show up for it. Show up for the kids of northern Uganda.

The Philadelphia Premiere of STAGING HOPE



Tuesday November 1st  at 7:30pm at the Ritz East   

125 South Second Street Philadelphia, PA  19106  


For ticket information please call (267) 239-2941  


To purchase tickets online please go to the Philadelphia Film Festival’s website: ;


Opening remarks by Mayor Michael A. Nutter 

Brief Q &A with filmmakers Melissa Fitzgerald and Katy Fox and reception immediately following the film 



Please join us for the Philadelphia premiere of Staging Hope. Staging Hope tells the riveting story of a cross-cultural 

collaboration between a group of American actors and 14 Ugandan teenagers (many former abducted child soldiers) 

as they work together on a theater program in war-torn northern Uganda 


Produced by: Melissa Fitzgerald and Katy Fox 

Executive Produced by: CIndy Landon John Prendergast and Martin Sheen 

Directed by: Bil Yoelin 


There will be a second screening of Staging Hope on Wednesday November 2nd at 7:35pm at the Ritz East 


Sponsored by PECO

Breaking news: Obama & hunt for Joseph Kony




This just in from CNN, that President Obama will send 100 U.S. troops “to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord’s Resistance Army.” That includes the top guy, Kony. This is good news — only if they find Kony and the others and, once and for all, disassemble this small but hideous militia that seems to have no goals other than to rip apart childhood in that part of the world by kidnapping children and forcing the boys to become soldiers and the girls to be sex slaves. The international community has long needed a focused, concerted effort to catch these guys and free the remaining young victims in their grasp. This group has had an outrageous endurance that was bolstered by all sorts of factors, including political intrigue, pandering and self-enrichment, and the world giving these kids a lesser human value. I mean, really, if God forbid there were a gang kidnapping American children en masse, every imaginable resource would have been tapped to get those thugs and end the victimization of kids. Can you tell I’m breathless about the potential of this development? Congratulations, incidentally, to advocates like Michael Poffenberger, cofounder and executive director of the nonprofit group, Resolve, which has been working endlessly on keeping the LRA’s atrocties squarely in front of the public and Washington policymakers. Let’s hope their efforts result in the end of the LRA and the imprisonment and trial of Kony and his cronies. Here’s the CNN news alert.

President Barack Obama is sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord’s Resistance Army.

“I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield,” Obama said in letter to the House Speaker John Boehner and Daniel Inouye, president pro tempore of the Senate. Obama was making a reference to the head of the guerrilla group.

“I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.”

U.S. military personnel will advise regional forces working to target Kony and other senior leaders. The president said the troops will not engage Lord’s Resistance Army forces “unless necessary for self-de fense.”

Obama said the United States has backed regional military efforts since 2008 to go after the group, but these efforts have been unsuccessful.

Obama notes that the Lord’s Resistance Army “has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa” and “continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.