The scale of displacement within Uganda is the third largest in the world. The conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda has uprooted between 1.7 and two million people, mainly in northern Uganda. Armed Karamojong cattle rustlers have caused additional displacement.
The Government of Uganda is one of the few in the world to have adopted a national policy to uphold the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, lack of effective implementation of the policy has left a significant proportion of the displaced vulnerable to human rights abuse, disease, and deprivation. Many live in squalid camps. Despite an improved security situation in certain districts, IDPs in Uganda face grave security threats and insufficient access to humanitarian assistance.
On 3-4 July 2006, the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, and the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, in consultation with the UN, held a Workshop in Kampala on the Implementation of Uganda’s National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons. The Government of Uganda hosted the event.
The objective of the workshop was to identify the challenges to the implementation of the policy and work towards practical solutions. As the Representative of the Secretary-General observed, “The work of a policy cannot stop at its adoption. The political will to set priorities, cooperate and coordinate is critical in implementing the policy and upholding the human rights of IDPs.”
The workshop brought together over 100 participants, including representatives of the Government of Uganda, military and police forces, the United Nations, donor governments, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), leaders of internally displaced communities, and experts from research institutions. More than 40 participants from conflict-affected areas attended, representing eight districts and three sub-regions of northern and northeastern Uganda.
The workshop focused on the role of both national and local authorities in implementing the policy; the continuing insecurity and lack of protection in and around IDP camps; the role of the military and police forces; the need for greater access to humanitarian assistance; the importance of increased consultation with IDPs; land issues and other arrangements for IDP returns; and financial resources to carry out the policy.
Among the recommendations made by workshop participants were:
- The building of the capacity and skills of local and central level government officials so that they can effectively implement the policy;
- The active involvement of all relevant government ministries in implementing the policy;
- Improvements in the system of allocating resources from the central to local (district) governments;
- Increased access for IDPs to humanitarian assistance in camps and areas of return;
- The de-mining and clearing of unexploded ordnances beyond camp boundaries;
- Incentives to support the recruitment of teachers and health care providers in camps and areas of return;
- The deployment of well-trained civilian police in camps and areas of return;
- An effective system for IDPs to report human rights abuses;
- Measures to ensure that “decongestion” (the creation of smaller camps to reduce the number of persons in larger camps) takes place only where it is voluntary, moves people closer to their homes and provides increased access to arable land;
- Consultations with IDPs and their communities on security and return;
- The establishment of a functioning judicial system with mechanisms to resolve land disputes in areas of return;
- The wide dissemination of the IDP policy to foster a greater understanding of its provisions and to encourage its implementation.
At the close of the workshop, Uganda’s Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Tarsis Kabwegyere, asked: “Are we ready now to do better work when we leave [this workshop] or are we going to wait for another year to do the work of the IDP policy? I want to tell you from the government’s point of view, we are going to do what it takes to make sure that where criticisms are valid, they will be addressed…Next year will find a different situation.”