UN Gulu office bans Apaa asylum seekers from public

Vehicles enter UN Human Rights Office Gulu where the asylum seekers are confined July 18, 2018. (PHOTO: STEPHEN WANDERA)

By Stephen Wandera

KAMPALA. Over 200 residents evicted from their land in Apaa, Amuru district that have camped at the United Nations office in Gulu for one week have been confined in the office compound. The building is under 24 hours guarded by antiterrorism police.

Journalists invited for a press conference by the victims Wednesday July 18, 2018 reminded stranded outside the office for over two hours only to be told that it was cancelled.

“No one is allowed to speak to the asylum seekers unless the person gets clearance from UN Human Rights Office in Kampala,” a UN official who declined to talk to the media said.

The victims demand donors to cut funds to key government agencies they accuse of their displacement are yet to get redress. In a letter dated 11th June, 2018 to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), signed by Mr Silveto Odoki, the chairman, Local Council 1, Acoliber on behalf of the affected communities of Apaa, the locals are also demanding compensation for injuries, life and property lost.

“They are inside and nothing has been done yet, no person is allowed to visit them with permission from UN authorities. Twice water at the office has been disconnected, a move to frustrate them to leave but they have vowed to go anywhere unless their demands are met,” Mr Richard Otim told The Uganda Vanguard Tuesday July 17th 2018.

The UN management is tight lipped on the matter apart from acknowledging the petition.

He added, “Vendors in Gulu market collect a truck of food that was delivered to the victims but efforts for Gulu district woman Member of Parliament Ms Bettey Ochan Awol was blocked by Police.”

Mr Odoki blamed security for being used to be evicted from their land.

“Since 2011, Uganda state agencies have been violently evicting our people form homes in Apaa. Our people have been killed, maimed, our homes burned and property looted by the very forces that should protect us as citizens. Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) has burned 800 houses, caused three death and perpetrates countless severe beatings of Apaa residents,” reads the letter.

Mr Odoki further writes, “Having exhausted all other means of ending our suffering, we have come to camp in the United Nations Office of High Commission for Human Rights in Gulu, Uganda. At a time when government of Uganda receives international praise for providing land to refugees fleeing neighboring conflict, it is a disgrace that the same government be permitted to seize land from Ugandan citizens themselves struggling to recover from the two decades of war.”

The OHCHR is a United Nations agency that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The office was established by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1993 in the wake of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.

Mr Odoki called for investigations by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing into the abuse of housing rights of the people of Apaa.

“We call on the halt on attacks of people of Apaa by state security forces, removal of road blocks, and respect the 2012 court injunction against eviction in Apaa,” he further explains.

We further request you to indicate to Uganda government that if they fail to cooperate with the above steps, you may urge key foreign embassies and donors to make public statements condemning the state of abuse in Apaa, Mr Odoki noted. Adding, “Withhold funds to Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Police Force and military as well as impose travel bans on key political instigators of the abuse.”

According to elders, in 1911, the British government drew administrative boundaries between West Nile and Acholi [current day Adjumani and Amuru districts respectively].

The area around Apaa was by then infested by tsetse flies and the communities in the area that owned land communally, part of which were hunting grounds, vacated it for health reasons.

However, in 1963, the Uganda Game Department amended statutory instrument Number 17 and gazetted Kilak a hunting area for licensed gun holders. On March 30, 1972, President Idi Amin’s government issued a decree revoking the hunting grounds status of the area.

This later led to the passing of a resolution in 1973 allowing residents of Apaa to return and occupy their ancestral land. But the 20-year Lord’s Resistance Army war forced many people off this land and they settled in camps.

In 2002, while these people were in camps parliament gazetted the area as a nature reserve to promote tourism north of Murchison Falls National Park. This followed a resolution of the Adjumani local council designating the area for tourism and wildlife conservation.

When the LRA war ended, the new legislation affected the resettlement process as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) blocked people from returning to the gazetted area.

Today, residents of Apaa parish blame the clashes between the Madi and the Acholi on the government for gazetting the land without consulting the locals. The new demarcations by government have left some leaders from Adjumani claiming that the boundary between Adjumani and Amuru extends about 8kms into Apaa parish from Juka bridge.

Venancio Ocan, 79, says the bridge on Juka river was given its name after elders sat at the river bank and mediated to stop conflict between the Acholi and Madi over boundaries in 1922. The area around Apaa now has over 10,000 residents.

Lives and property have since been lost as communities defy orders to vacate land for wildlife. In July 2015, elderly women held a protest in the nude before government officials who had come to demarcate the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani. The women claimed that government had violated the initial British boundary and encroached on Amuru district.

Conflict between the two communities has since become a hindrance to development and productivity of residents in Apaa parish. The intensity of the recent deadly clashes attracted the attention of leaders from Acholi parliamentary group to rush to Apaa last week.

Paul Olyel, 47, lay unconscious at the intensive care unit of St Mary’s hospital Lacor. His head was bandaged and he could only breathe with the support of oxygen tubes through his nose and mouth.

Olyel, a resident of Oyanga village in Apaa parish, is one of the many victims of the latest wave of attacks on the Apaa community in Amuru district by the Madi from Adjumani.

Efforts to have comments from Mr Hillary Onek, Minister for Disaster and Refugees, Mr Musa Echeru, State Minister for Refugees and Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director, Uganda Media Centre were futil as their mobile phones were off and some could not answer.






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