Global Solidarity Tour Comes to the South Lounge


Published: October 16, 2008

“No food, no water, no schools.” These are the words of Sister Pauline Silver Acayo, as she described the state of northern Uganda last week at the Peace Building Conference, held by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in conjunction with the Fordham chapter of Catholic Law Students (CLS). The event was held in Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC’s) South Lounge.

The Peace Building Conference was just one destination for the CRS’ Annual Global Solidarity Tour, which, according to Acayo, came to Fordham to bring attention to the CRS’ efforts—in the absence of action by the United Nations (UN)—to reestablish peace in Uganda in light of the recent civil war. Acayo, the CRS Peace Building officer in Uganda who has witnessed the violence firsthand and advised the International Criminal Court (ICC) in handling the issue, was this year’s speaker.

For over 20 years, Uganda has faced a civil war fought between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group seeking to overthrow the government and rule the country by the Ten Commandments, according to CRS. Despite this holy front, however, CRS reports that the LRA has committed numerous war crimes, including the abduction of more than 25,000 children—some as young as five years old. LRA attacks on villages, along with government responses, have resulted in the displacement of two million Ugandans, according to CRS documentation .

To deal with the predicament caused by the insurgency of the LRA, the Ugandan government has called upon CRS to help. CRS said that they have responded by carrying out an extensive peace-building program, working from the ground up to support dialogue and mediation on the family, interfaith and community levels. Through the establishment of “peace education schools” and “peace clubs,” CRS has attempted to help the people of Uganda bypass the conflict, in addition to helping reintegrate those who have been kidnapped. Acayo said, “I feel happy…just to be in solidarity and give [the Ugandan people] that hope.”

In addition to helping the Ugandan people resolve their conflicts, CRS relief programs have rebuilt Uganda’s agriculture, sanitation, water and health care systems.

Despite the progress made by CRS efforts and recent peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government, no resolution to the conflict has been agreed upon, according to Acayo. This discord comes about from LRA leader Joseph Kony’s refusal to be present at peace talks. Acayo reasoned that Kony refuses to attend because he wants to be guaranteed immunity for committing war crimes as a precondition to negotiating the treaty. Acayo said that it is believed that Kony is currently hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

With no treaty to guarantee peace, the conflict still goes on, and the LRA is still kidnapping children, according to Acayo. Acayo gave accounts of how boys are forced to fight on the front lines and girls are sold to men as sex workers for nine-year intervals.

Acayo has personal experience with this. Four of her brothers were kidnapped—two of whom died—and one of her cousins is still being forced to fight by the LRA. Acayo herself has been kidnapped twice. “They tie you in ropes, like slaves,” she said.

Because LRA activities have orphaned many children, leaving them homeless and vulnerable to abduction, these children, referred to as “night commuters” by CRS, must journey long distances every night to find a safe haven to sleep, or else risk being kidnapped.

However, for the Ugandans who have managed to escape from the war zone to refugee camps, Acayo emphasized the fact that life is improved very little. Acayo stated that despite efforts on the part of the United States to provide food and water, many people starve, and as a result of the crowded condition of the camps and the lack of adequate health care, HIV/AIDS is on the rise; nine percent of the population of northern Uganda is reportedly infected, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Even though CRS has recorded the nature of this conflict, the UN has yet to send peacekeepers.

Matt Benjamin, FCLC ’10, is an executive officer of Students for Solidarity, an FCLC group that aims to bring attention to global injustice. He said, “The fact that there are child soldiers and human rights abuses being carried out [in Uganda]—that’s always terrible. I feel like it goes on in a lot of places and doesn’t get much attention.”

Acayo said that she has not lost hope and strongly believes that the conflict in Uganda can be ameliorated if the right action is taken. She urges the students of FCLC to “pray for us; be our voice.”