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Marist Bulletin - Number 194


With the crucified of history in the light of the Resurrection - Uganda

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A few regions in the north of Uganda are the theatre of a bloody civil war where there is presently being experienced one of the worlds most serious humanitarian emergencies. The massacres, the sexual abuses, the pillages and the indoctrination of child soldiers are the order of the day, while malnutrition, AIDS and an increased infant mortality rate are the products of this war forgotten by the media. This dramatic situation was exposed during a discussion meeting held in Rome in March 2005.

Brother Onorino Rota

A documentary to denounce a cruel reality
The meeting started with the showing of a film; it included many images that spoke for themselves.
Each evening, punctually at the same time, at sunset, with their little steps thousands of children leave their houses of mud and straw to head towards the town of Kitgum. Like the porters of the savannah, they carry their bags, baskets or water containers on their heads. They come to the centre of Kitgum because away from here there is no longer security. These childrens parents stay in their houses to protect them against the eventual pillagers, to defend them against the raids by the rebels and to try to save some of their cattle or a sack of flour or sorghum that they jealously keep hidden. But the children, themselves, cross the grills of the hospital run by volunteer associations; they lay out their mats under a shelter built by UNICEF and the European Union. If it does not rain, they light fires and try to sleep. The following day, before sunrise, they set out on their walk again, but this time towards their homes. They seem like walking ghosts because they cover themselves with ashes to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
They return to the village to eat a handful of beans and then to school. In the evening, they return to their refuge. There are more than ten thousand of these children who, every day, become the night commuters of Kitgum.

Who are these night commuters?
This expression is used by the humanitarian workers, but it is only in the Acholia language that the expression translates all the drama hitting northern Uganda: Oring ayela. This means literally those who are running away from war. And these runaways are precisely these children.

Why do you go with the night commuters?
Because I am scared of being captured by the rebels. Many of my friends were taken by the rebels and have never returned home. (Patrick, 13 years old) To sleep without nightmares, because during the night, the soldiers often come in the villages to steal, kill or capture children to make them soldiers who will then kill others themselves. (Albinos, 15 years of age)

What happens in the villages?
Nearly every night, the rebels come into the villages. They form quite small but well armed bands. They break into the houses and force the people to tell them where they can find food. Most of the time, they take what they need and then go away. Other times, especially if they are drunk, they destroy everything by setting it all on fire. One night they found three children and took them away. Any children found by them are forced to be Ugandan guerrillas who have camps in Sudan.

David Okelos nightmares
I am twenty-two years of age and I have been free for two years. I succeeded in escaping from the Joseph Konys insanity, the Ugandan rebel who captured children aged from twelve to fifteen for his liberation army. I saw killings and I cannot remember how many people I actually killed. There were too many! I even killed newborn babies. Only girls could be taken alive. I was fifteen years of age when the rebels captured me. To get used to death, my friends and I had to sleep each night on dead bodies. Now that I am free, I continue to do battle with the souls of these dead people because they haunt my dreams. Often I wake up shouting out that it was not my fault, I was forced to do it… If I hadnt done it, they would have killed me.

Simone Itoo considers herself lucky
I am sixteen years of age and I owe my freedom to the fact that my arm was amputated. During an ambush by the Ugandan army, a bomb tore my arm to shreds. At the end of the raid, before leaving the village, the soldiers passed through the injured to finish them off. Usually they didnt bury the bodies but left them in the fields for the vultures. I must have been unconscious and perhaps that is why they thought I was dead. After they left, a woman from the village took me to hospital. Sadly, I have not heard anything about my parents.

Geofry Obitas mistake
I am seventeen years of age. My mistake was being in my village one night when the rebels came. They accused me of being a Ugandan soldier and because of that the leader ordered that I had to be punished. They tied me to a tree and they cut off my fingers, lips and ears; I had to be an example to everyone else. I know who did it to me and I know where he lives. I do not hold anything against him because I am sure that he was forced to do it. If he had not done it, both of us would have been without fingers, lips or ears.

Short, touching testimonies… very professionally translated. But the gravity of the tragedy cannot be perceived only by listening to these words; it is the faces and the looks that make you realise the horror that has affected these children and the nightmares that will accompany them for a long time to come.
In a survey of 2500 students who go to twenty schools in Kitgum, in answering the question Have you already been raped? 47% answered: At least once! while 35% wrote: Not yet!

This evil is a replay of a scenario that has already been played in Pol Pots Cambodia where there were two million victims during the Khmer regime. But there is a difference: here the massacres are the work of children. According to the data given by the United Nations, the number of children captured is at least 127,000. Only one half of them succeed in escaping and returning to their homes. No one knows how many of these children have died in combat or have been killed by their own friends. And there again, this does not take into account what has happened to adults!

In the assembly hall there were only about one hundred people. And while this terrible situation was being presented and the witnesses were talking about the atrocities done to them, I thought about the protests that were organised in Italy for the soldiers killed in Iraq or for the liberation of the female journalist…
Yes, it is indeed true: the value of human life is not measured in the same way in all the parts of the world. In a world that calls itself first, the murder of a person becomes a national drama; on the contrary, when an entire group of people from the Third World is destroyed, this news only becomes a piece of statistical data.

Its a wonder I havent abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
Its utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more

Anne Frank
15th July 1944

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