Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda

Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda

Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda

Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda

Synopsis

Today, Western intervention is a ubiquitous feature of violent conflict in Africa. Humanitarian aid agencies, community peacebuilders, microcredit promoters, children's rights activists, the World Bank, the International Criminal Court, the US military, and numerous others have involved themselves in African conflicts, all claiming to bring peace and human rights to situations where they are desperately needed. However, according to Adam Branch, Western intervention is not the solution to violence in Africa. Instead, it can be a major part of the problem, often undermining human rights and even prolonging war and intensifying anti-civilian violence. Based on an extended case study of Western intervention into northern Uganda's twenty-year civil war, and drawing on his own extensive research and human rights activism there, this book lays bare the reductive understandings motivating Western intervention in Africa, the inadequate tools it insists on employing, its refusal to be accountable to African citizenries, and, most important, its counterproductive consequences for peace, human rights, and justice. In short, Branch demonstrates how Western interventions undermine the efforts Africans themselves are undertaking to end violence in their communities. The book does not end with critique, however. Motivated by a commitment to global justice, it proposes concrete changes for Western humanitarian, peacebuilding, and justice interventions. It also offers a new normative framework for re-orienting the Western approach to violent conflict in Africa around a practice of genuine solidarity.

Excerpt

Returning to Gulu Town after several weeks in Pabbo camp, where forty thousand Acholi people were living in tiny huts packed into one square kilometer, dependent on relief aid from World Food Program, debilitated by malnutrition and preventable disease, and targeted by the brutal violence of rebels, government troops, and boo kec bandits alike, I had two questions that I wanted to ask the Acholi I had met in town the previous month. First, as a political science graduate student, and as a person shocked by what he had seen, I wanted to know how the government had been able to force hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers into camps and keep them interned there for years. What was preventing people, I wondered, from organizing and leaving the camps, returning to their rich lands lying fallow within view of the squalid, overcrowded huts where they were being forced to live, and die? Second, as a Westerner involved in human rights activism, I wanted to know what impact the dozens of Western aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), seen swarming around the war zone in Land Cruisers, were having upon the war and forced displacement. What were they up to, how were they trying to remedy the situation, what good were they doing in the face of all this violence and suffering?

The first question, I thought, was too sensitive for a newcomer to be asking in the middle of an ongoing government counterinsurgency, one that saw all Acholi as potentially suspect, and so I left it for when I knew people better. However, when I asked the second question—not realizing how sensitive it also was—I was given an answer that would guide the next decade of my work. An Acholi acquaintance who himself worked for an NGO put it this way: despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by aid agencies and donors in the conflict zone; despite their increasing involvement in economic, social, and cultural life; and despite their incessant declarations that they are promoting peace and human rights— nothing changes.

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