The Barlonyo Memorial Service
On February 21, 2004 a massacre was carried out in Barlonyo village, Ogur Sub County in Lira District. The facts of the massacre were as follows: There was Internally Displaced People’s Camp (IDPC) that was guarded and monitored by the government forces. The camp had about 5,000 people. It is said, LRA rebels (approximately 70), attacked the camp at around 5:00 pm and it continued up to dawn according to the local residents. They Killed 121 people, according to the figure on the memorial mark stone. In a burial ceremony presided by; H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. This figure has since been disputed by the locals who put the number to approximately 300 innocuous civilians.
African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) has actively, associated and participated in the subsequent memorial services with the war victims of the Barlonyo massacre. By supporting exchange visits from other “hot spots” around the country. In 2012, AYINET identified representatives from West Nile sub region, Acholi (Lukodi in Gulu) and Teso (Obalanga in Amuria), who took part in the then memorial.
On February 21, 2015 AYINET, together with the local community, and political leaders organized and supported under their exchange program, over 35 representatives from across Uganda. Thirteen people from different sub counties in Acholi sub region, a team of 20 from Abia Sub County another massacre cites in Lango sub region, four people from Teso in Eastern region, including one survivor from the Mukura train wagon inferno. Three people from West Nile sub region, two representatives from Central region. Two from the Western region Isingiro and Kasese districts, all shared their memories and experiences as war victims and survivors with the people of Barlonyo.
In this spirit of togetherness, Ugandans now need to be informed about government efforts in establishing the truth and reconciliation process, since the UPDF has gotten rid of the LRA and relative peace is prevailing across the country. Again, The International Criminal Court (ICC) has developed interest in the infamous Barlonyo massacre and other massacre cites across The Greater North of Uganda. It has since mounted intensive investigations with view of unearthing the truth and to indict those responsible for the tragedy. The Saturday memorial service was programmed in sessions.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT SESSION ONE
Prayer by Church of Uganda: While leading the opening prayer the priest; Oyugi Alex from Barlonyo parish took a reading from the Bible, in The Book of (Daniel 12:1-ff.) with the Theme; “The last Day.” He quoted the Bible; “And many of them that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt.” Priest Ayugi narrated his own experience in relation to the Barlonyo IDPC.
Uganda Victims Foundation: Chris Ongom, in his opening remarks, as the moderator and representative of the UVF, as well as, the coordinator of the 40 civil society organizations working around human rights and transitional justice in Uganda said; “We wanted all the people from; West Nile, Western Uganda_ Mbarare, Isingiro, Kasese, Teso, Central Uganda, Acholi. People who have memorial cites everywhere in Uganda. Everyone is saying, they need National Reconciliation. So, as civil society who advocates for accountability and justice that is what we stand for. AYINET has a clear role. They link directly with the affected war victims. That is why; in this prayer, they have made it sure, to invite representatives from different places. These are people who have suffered directly from the war. They also have this kind of memorial cites in their places… we want them to come and witness what happened here in Barlonyo, so they go and share back with their communities.”
AYINET: Nyatima Rebecca, the USAID_SAFE (Supporting Access to Justice, Fostering Equity and Peace) project officer, gave an overview of the project in relation to Transitional Justice. She said; “whether we are crawling or walking this particular project wants to see the people, the young generation of this particular region gets everlasting peace when everything is outstanding. Our project endeavor is to see peace prevail in the communities, families in the north and everywhere in the country where possible.”
GUESTS SPEAK OUT
Ojok Denis Mukasa from Gulu in Palara Sub County a victim and a survivor of the LRA atrocities said: “When I received invitation from AYINET to come and join you in this Barlonyo memorial service, I was happy but reaching here today has refreshed my sad memories, am so saddened. I realize what happened here is not only the problem that occurred here but entire country. I recall the Atiak massacre and particularly the Lukodi in Bungatira Sub County and in Mucwini in Kitgum district. All these are incidents that bring bad memories. I have witnessed what myself escaped in captivity, what I suffered. But with the intervention of AYINET, we are no longer the youth people used to know about. We are a changed generation. We only need political will to help us the youth. If one does not get rehabilitation there is no strength and capacity to stand on once own. Thank you Lango for welcoming us.”
My name is Antony, like my brother has stated earlier, what happened here happened elsewhere. I want to give you a brief scenario. When I was born, my mom got another man, a police officer. My mom used to wear police uniforms. When we travelled from Jinja to our village the LRA soldiers got us at home with that attire. They slaughtered my mom right in front of my eyes. I was pierced and survived serious injuries. My request is that let us forget the past and focus on the future.”
Teso representative Omwala James from Mukura in Ngora district he said: “I am a survivor from the 69 people who were burnt in a train wagon in Mukura. We usually hold these prayers every second of July, but not in this big arrangement. Thank you so much for welcoming us here. I request AYINET to come and help organize for us this kind of a memorial prayer.”
Central region representative Kiguli Sylvester from Nakaseke district said; “I am also a victim with a story of more than five years. We were being hunted and killed by government forces in the 1980’s. We also have mass graves like you here. Am happy that this is the second time AYINET has called me to be part of their peace building programs. We have memorial prayers in a place with skulls and bones of our dear departed ones. We also need to put the past behind and embrace reconciliation.”
Lango Sub region Omara Denis Lira district he said; “I come from a sub county that borders the leader of the LRA Joseph Kony. I have a lot to say but due to time am unable. I appreciate the efforts of government for the support they have provided. And thank government for allowing this sitting. To some people, do not make this kind of arrangement a personal gain. If you have been doing that make a U-turn. Pray for change in your houses. We wish that what happened here is never repeated. Please, mark the day and there is nothing we can do to retrieve those we lost. Forgive the perpetrators and that is the healing processes we want.”
West Nile region representative Atiku Alex (clerk to the Cultural Institution of the Lugbara) he said; “Am here to deliver a message from West Nile and a message from my Prime Minister. First of all, if you are a bachelor you cannot comfort a woman who has lost a child, you understand? Because you don’t know the pain of losing a child. In 1982 24th, July. We also had something like this. Over 100 people were killed. So, when am talking I know your pain. I am a fellow widow like you. I have lost my children also. We are here to pay respect to these people. Honorable, we are here also to call; justice, peace and reconciliation. What you see is the fruit of bad politics. This is what we get when politics is bad. The people, who are buried in those hot graves today, were not there in power. They were not driving cars. They were poor women and children. But the people, who were seated in power, caused the problem. And you die for that. Bad politics. If it doesn’t change, it will happen again… I am requesting you honorable members. Our message is let us change the history of this country. That this may not happen again. That is the only solution. This is not the only massacre in this country. In Luwero, in West Nile, in Acholi, in Teso land. This country is full of blood. And some of the people who killed are walking, driving and enjoying themselves. How can there be peace, when there is no justice? It cannot. We must rise up our heads and do what we are supposed to do and stop conflicts so our children may have a bright future in this country. Violence can only breed violence… lets forgive, for God in heaven is the avenger of mankind… we wish you to establish a commission that will dig out the truth. Document these truths. And we stop politicizing death…my Prime Minister told me, I should come here to call for peace and reconciliation but not to point out fingers. Not to blame governments. Not to blame people. But as a country, we must turn to God and ask Him to forgive us. Then we can move forward. May the blood of these people, wash this entire land and at the heart of everybody that peace may reign. For God and my Country.”
Abia village representative Odia Ray said; “Am delighted to be here I thank the organizers of this memorial service, not forgetting AYINET, because they have always stood by us the war victims. What happened in Uganda has left a great grieve in our hearts. Not only that, but incredible poverty. This is what we need for all the tribes in the country turn to one another and ask for forgiveness. Instead of pointing fingers as the only way to go forward. The only way to stand strong. Specifically, let me thank the ones who came from other regions of the country. For Lango, the land is destroyed. By the LRA atrocities, the Karamojong cattle rustlers, Alice Lakwena’s movement. The government is not regarding the needs of the victims. We have issues at hand that require help. Government that was supposed to protect its citizens is not even apologizing to the war victims. Through you Member of Parliament, let the government come and apologize…. In Alebtong, on Feb. 4th, 2004 we lost 190 people to the LRA. For these people to come back to life, we want government to restock our region. And also come with the program that supports our communities. If that is done we try to forget, but if not we are haunted somehow. We still have what we call, the missing children. Particularly in Abia where I come. We have 45 missing people. Through you my MP, are these children living or they are not there? Let the government be answerable. Finally, it’s a start of political campaigns, am trying to cheat for you. If you want to go back to parliament. If somebody is willing to represent these people in 2016. Skip the victims’ issues and you would skip going to parliament. Have an agenda for the war victims. Thank you very much.”
Barlonyo representative Moses Ogwang said; “We are glad that other victims have joined us to console us. Our political representatives are always not close to us, yet we need them around. It’s not unusual it should be the role of the government to do this, but it’s an initiative from the survivors, victims and other CBOs, who make sure that this day is memorable. It’s our humble request to the NGOs that you come to support us in any way you have envisioned, but not to benefit yourselves. This is because we have formed an association that you can now channel your support to the people of Barlonyo. We have had pledges year in, year out from representatives of this land and elsewhere. By the time a person leaves this land they do not return…. Never be surprised one time, to hear that the people of Barlonyo have turned against visitors who come with the aim of benefiting from our own blood. Come to support and not to benefit. I have spoken with bitterness but these are not my words these are the voices of the victims from Barlonyo. …We have had about compensation issues from the government yet nothing has born a fruit. We people of Barlonyo are wondering how this is. For ten years since, 2004. The government kept promising to compensate the people of Barlonyo but now the people of Barlonyo came to a conclusion, and a resolution is to take the government of Uganda to courts of law. Due to the loss of our dear ones here in Barlonyo….the people here will keep standing against government unless our issues are addressed accordingly.”