10 Jun 2006 – Visit to Uganda

STATEMENT ATTRIBUTABLE TO MS. RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT

The following is a transcript of remarks by Ms. Coomaraswamy to a press conference, organised by UNICEF on 10 June 2006 in Kampala, upon the conclusion of her visit to Uganda:

“Let me begin by thanking the Government of Uganda for inviting me to come to Uganda and for making all the arrangements to make it a successful visit.

“May I also thank UNICEF and other UN agencies on the ground for planning my itinerary and allowing me the opportunity to visit Gulu and Pader where I met with local officials, local military officials, as well as NGOs and UN agencies — but perhaps most importantly, with people affected by the armed conflict especially children.

“Thereafter, I came to Kampala where I had meetings at the highest level.  We met with His Excellency the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development.  I felt that the Government of Uganda saw this as an important visit that required support and reaction.

“Having spent time in Gulu and Pader, I saw for myself the issues that relate primarily to children in armed conflict.

“But of course, I came here because of Security Council Resolution 1612.  Security Council Resolution 1612 first sets up a monitoring and reporting mechanism to monitor grave violations against children during times of armed conflict.  [Resolution 1612] also has Annexes listing parties whom it is felt especially recruit child soldiers and commit other grave violations.  Security Council Resolution 1612-Annex 2, which addresses countries not on the Security Council agenda, lists both the Lord's Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda especially with regard to child recruitment.  I came to see for myself what the situation is on the ground and to see what can be done to deal with the situation.

“My findings are that 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 worst violations and we will assist the ICC [International Criminal Court] in dealing with these issues.

“With regard to the Government of Uganda, we found that there is no conscious policy, programme or project to specifically recruit children.  The Government of Uganda reassured us that no such policy exists and we could not find any such policy on the ground.  However, we found that in Gulu and Pader, due to the situation there, children are being absorbed into the LDUs [Local Defense Units] especially, as well as the UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Forces].  This is due to a number of factors, but there is this reality of children being in the LDUs and the UPDF.

“We have negotiated with the Government of Uganda — I just met with the President at one o'clock today – and we have agreed on the following four principles to deal with the specific issue relating to child combatants – or child soldiers – who may be in the LDU and UPDF forces:

“Firstly, the Government and UNICEF will work out an Action Plan for the prevention, removal and reintegration of any child soldier found in the LDU or UPDF forces.

“Secondly, we have agreed that the Government of Uganda will strengthen measures with regard to taking disciplinary action against armed forces personnel who knowingly recruit children into the LDUs or the UPDF.

“Thirdly, we have made arrangements to strengthen existing procedures for enabling access for designated personnel from UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Uganda Human Rights Commission to go to military installations for the purpose of verifying whether or not there are children in the armed forces.

“Finally, the Government is seriously considering enacting legislation – criminal legislation – to punish those who aid and abet the mobilisation of children into the armed forces.

“Those are the four principles we agreed on, and a Joint Statement will be released along these lines later today or tomorrow.

“In addition, we found that there was a particular situation involving vulnerable girls in northern Uganda relating to sexual exploitation and violence.  Although it is a general problem, we did say to the Government that we had received from many of the young girls we met that they had been in situations of sexual exploitation committed on the part of military personnel.  We discussed with the Government the need to strengthen disciplinary procedures, devise enforceable guidelines and develop the training of military personnel to deal with this problem on the ground.  I must say that [the Government was] responsive and we hope that [it] will take the necessary action.  UNICEF and other UN agencies will follow up on this because we feel that sexual violence and sexual exploitation were important issues that came up when we talked to the women in the camps [for internally displaced persons].

“In addition to these points, I had wide-ranging discussions about issues such as the reintegration of vulnerable children into the community, the different methods that would be taken with regard to that, the different debates that exist, and the need to ensure that the children are not stigmatised by being categorised, but that at the same time measures are taken to deal with their vulnerability and their special needs.

“We also discussed issues relating to 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 courts system in the north.  We found that the justice system [in the north] was not fully operational.

“We also looked at problems relating to child-headed households and the special needs that the children face.

“Finally, we remain 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 things like nutrition, healthcare and education of children in the camps are dealt with.”

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