Ms. Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children Affected by Armed Conflict travelled to Uganda from June 3rd to 10th, to obtain firsthand knowledge of the humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected districts of northern Uganda. This field mission was carried out in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1612 which sets up a monitoring and reporting mechanism of grave violations against children during armed conflict. During the mission, she inaugurated the first meeting of the Country Level Monitoring and Reporting Task Force set up under Security Council Resolution 1612.
The Special Representative visited Gulu and Pader Districts and met with community leaders, staff of humanitarian agencies, children and women. Her programme of activities also included consultations with senior representatives of the Government of Uganda on ways to improve the monitoring and reporting of violations against children. She held meetings with President Museveni, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, and the Army Commander.
"There is no doubt that the LRA's recruitment and use of children, as well as other abuses, is perhaps the worst possible violation with regard to children and armed conflict in Uganda. We as an office condemn these violations and we will assist the International Criminal Court (ICC) in dealing with these issues", said Ms. Coomaraswamy during a press conference at the end of her mission. With regard to the Government of Uganda, she confirmed that "there is no conscious policy, programme or project to specifically recruit children. However, we found that in Gulu and Pader, due to a number of factors, children are being absorbed into the Local Defense Units (LDUs) especially, as well as the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF)".
In order to deal with this issue, the President of Uganda and his Government agreed on four principles to strengthen implementation of the existing legal and policy frameworks on the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict:
- The Government of Uganda and UNICEF will agree on an action plan to (a) sensitize various stakeholders on the national laws, international conventions and protocols against recruitment and use of children in armed forces, to (b) monitor implementation of the various national laws, international convention and protocols against the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and (c) to remove children if and where found in the armed forces.
- While the SRSG acknowledges the existing legal framework and that there is no conscious policy to recruit and use children by the Government of Uganda, the Government of Uganda reiterates its commitment to appropriate disciplinary action against those military officers and officials who knowingly recruit and use children.
- Agrees to strengthen existing independent monitoring procedures for joint access to military institutions by designated institutions.
- Government of Uganda will review existing laws to cover the crime of aiding and abetting of recruitment of children in the armed forces by civilian officials.
In addition, the UN Special Representative discussed with President Museveni several issues concerning children, such as sexual exploitation, violence against girls, problems relating to child-headed households, reintegration of vulnerable children into the community. She also underlined the need to strengthen civilian processes, especially the judiciary and the police, to make sure that crimes of violence against children are properly prosecuted in the court system in the north.
Ms. Coomaraswamy also remains concerned, along with all other UN agencies, about ‘the humanitarian situation on the ground and the need to make sure that the indicators from these camps, especially with regard to children, move beyond the emergency level so that essential services including nutrition, healthcare and education of children in the camps are addressed."