President George W. Bush welcomes Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to the White House today for talks on a wide variety of shared concerns. As a regional player, Uganda has been the only country contributing troops to an African Union peacekeeping effort to stabilize conditions in Somalia since its transitional government regained control of the capital Mogadishu in January. President Bush will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the conduct of Uganda’s fight against HIV/AIDS, peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army, and pacification of the country’s northeastern Karamoja region. Elizabeth Evenson is a research fellow specializing in Ugandan affairs for the New York office of Human Rights Watch. She says that the strategic nature of the talks must be supplemented by a humanitarian component.
“We think there is quite a bit of common interest in terms of stopping violence against civilians in Mogadishu. And so I think it’s completely consistent for President Bush to urge President Museveni to condemn attacks against civilians and to call on the African Union mission in Somalia to do more to protect civilians. And similarly, the two countries have a common interest in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And there, we’re asking President Bush to press President Museveni to repudiate some of the hostile statements that he’s made against people living with HIV and AIDS,” she said.
Washington credits the Ugandan government with playing a leading role on the African continent in curbing the rate of HIV/AIDS infections. But Evenson says that President Museveni should be made aware of the harm done to a national health system when prejudicial attitudes against AIDS infected patients discourages them from seeking further treatment.
“The government encouraged a very open discussion of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. But it seems that that environment is increasingly being replaced by one in which those living with HIV have been targets of discrimination. And so that is deterring people from seeking treatment and closing down what had been a pretty open and honest dialogue about how to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS,” she said.
On Uganda’s internal security front, long-running conflicts with northern rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and gun-toting fighters in the northeastern Karamoja region also offer challenges for the Ugandan army to demonstrate justice and concern for human rights. Researcher Elizabeth Evenson says President Bush has a good opportunity in this week’s White House encounter to press Uganda’s leader for a commitment to curb abuses by Ugandan soldiers and ensure prosecutions for serious crimes committed.
“While we recognize the right of the Ugandan government to do something about the gun violence in Karamoja, which is quite high – Human Rights Watch has actually documented human rights violations by soldiers committing those operations – we would actually ask President Bush to urge President Museveni to carry out a full investigation of events and to make sure that human rights violations are transparently and systematically prosecuted by his government,” she notes.
As for ongoing peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, Evenson points out that it is important to emphasize that to reach an acceptable settlement, Kampala needs to find a solution that will abide by international standards of justice for all sides.
“The discussions between the parties has centered around the proposal to have national trials for human rights violations and crimes committed during that conflict. So we’ve recommended that those prosecutions need to meet certain international fair trial standards and to be accompanied in the event of conviction by penalties that are consistent with the gravity of those crimes,” she said.