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The following statement was issued today by the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons:

Kampala, 4 July 2006 – “Uganda has an excellent National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons, but special efforts are now needed to implement it. This is especially important at a time when the serious humanitarian and human rights crisis persists in Northern Uganda, and yet persons displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or Karamojong cattle rustlers have begun to move back towards their homes.” This is the key conclusion of the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kälin, at the end of a six day working visit made at the invitation of the Government of Uganda.

The Representative traveled to Gulu, Lira and Pader Districts to consult with traditional and religious leaders, representatives of local governments, Uganda police and UPDF commanders, United Nations agencies and NGOs providing protection and humanitarian assistance, and IDPs themselves. Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru, and Commissioner Veronica Bichetero of the Uganda Human Rights Commission accompanied the Representative of the Secretary-General for part of the field visit.

In Kampala, he met with His Excellency President Museveni, Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, and Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Tarsis Kabwegyere, and attended a two-day workshop on the Implementation of Uganda’s National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons that was organized by the Brookings Institute – University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement and hosted by the Government of Uganda.

The Representative is encouraged by the relative improvement in security in the north, which has allowed a substantial number of displaced persons to move closer to their fields or even to return to their homes in certain districts. Nonetheless, he remains concerned that serious humanitarian and human rights problems persist in the IDP camps where the majority of IDPs – approximately 1.5 million – remain. Such problems include poor health and sanitation conditions, lack of access to schools and availability of teachers, and high levels of sexual and gender-based violence. While the crucial role of the security forces in ensuring protection of civilians in Northern Uganda is clearly recognized, the Representative heard testimony of prevailing institutional impunity, also involving members of the UPDF and local defense units who at times abuse the rights of the very people they are charged to protect.

Building upon progress already made in several areas, the Representative urges the Ugandan authorities at all levels, the humanitarian agencies and the donors to step up their efforts to assist the displaced effectively and to protect their human rights. There is a dire need to shift the responsibility to uphold law and order from the UPDF back to civilian authorities and to adequately train and deploy sufficient numbers of civilian police in all parts of Northern Uganda. To provide meaningful access to justice in the north, the Government also must rebuild and strengthen the judiciary. The local governments, who are largely charged with implementing the IDP Policy, require the human resources and financial capacities to fulfill their obligations. Moreover, local governments should be more fully consulted in the on-going return process.

Based on his own observations and the outcomes of the Kampala workshop, the Representative recommends that the on-going process of camp decongestion and returns aim at finding durable solutions and be based on the following principles, which he urges be agreed upon between the Government of Uganda and the international community:

? IDPs and their communities be must be fully informed and consulted on their needs, concerns, and choices;

? Where IDPs make a voluntary and informed decision to move to new sites or to return, these decisions must be implemented by relevant authorities, local government and security forces in conditions of safety and dignity. In particular, landmines and unexploded ordnance must be cleared.

? Movement of IDPs, whether decongestion or return, must be done in parallel with the re-establishment of civil infrastructure and services and the provision of transitional assistance. Such infrastructure includes: proximate potable water, accessible health centres, operational schools, functional road networks, widespread deployment of police, including female officers, and the rehabilitation of institutions involved in the administration of justice.

? Increasing spontaneous movement and return, especially if the security situation remains calm and continues to solidify, requires that all relevant actors – local governments, IDP leaders, UPDF, Uganda police and central government – agree on a plan for coordinated and phased return. An emphasis on localized consultation and decision-making is essential because needs and conditions throughout the north vary on a district, sub-county and parish basis.

? Serious attention must be paid to emerging questions of land and property rights, especially where displacement has affected more than one generation. Both local and national government must assess the capacity of existing institutions to address land rights, access to land, and compensation, in accordance with applicable international standards.

The Representative reiterates that the primary responsibility for protecting and assisting IDPs lies with the Government of Uganda, with assistance and support offered by the international community. Fully protecting the rights of the displaced will require special efforts and creative approaches to make needed funds available to competent national authorities as well as local government.