Children around the world have a tireless advocate in Olara Otunnu. Officially, he is the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations for Children and Armed Conflict. To children in need, he is "Hope," as he uncovers the suffering caused by war and ignorance and then works for remedies. He acts as a moral conscience for all of
us who will listen and act to stop the atrocities against
children which are taking place around the world.
There is a large and growing number of children (in the
millions) who are still victims of war, as "its targets or
instruments." Every day, 800 children are killed or maimed by land
mines. Mr. Otunnu and his staff fear that there is a real danger
that the international community, once exposed to so much
violence and intolerance, may come to regard these atrocities
as a NORMAL phenomena. THIS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN!
Mr. Otunnu pushes for action. "WORDS ON PAPER CANNOT SAVE CHILDREN AT RISK." The UN must ensure the application of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Mr.
Otunnu believes that this can be done, "if the international
community is willing to use its considerable COLLECTIVE
influence to that end."
Over the last two years, Otunnu has
visited Rwanda, Burundi, the Sudan, Kosovo, refugees in
Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia,
Mozambique, Columbia and Sierra Leone.
In Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 people were massacred,
300,000 were children. Forty-five thousand households are headed by
children, 90 percent of whom are girls. Local law did not allow
girls to own agricultural land, essential for the
livelihood of their families. Mr. Otunnu urged the Rwandan
leaders to change the laws. Legislation was finally passed and is soon to be enacted that will allow girls to inherit farms and other properties. Mr. Otunnu will be watching to make sure it happens.
For Mr. Otunnu, this is just the beginning..."visiting Rwanda was
particularly difficult as the people need to cope with the
events of genocide and its aftermath...the people here need
much support from the international community."
In a meeting with the leaders of the Democratic Republic of
the Congo (RDC), Otunnu and his staff were able to negotiate a
temporary cease fire in order to immunize children against
polio and to feed malnourished children. The first round of
polio immunizations were conducted by UNICEF and WHO from
Aug. 13-15, 1999.
Mr. Otunnu also asked the RDC to stop its practice of
recruiting children for combat and asked them to help with
the investigations of civilian massacres. He asked the RDC
to refrain from the practice of using the radio and TV and
public rallies to incite ethnic and racial hatred.
In Burundi, where the Tutsi and Hutu communities had been at
war there is now an "imperfect peace." Mr. Otunnu is focusing on the needs of the large number of displaced people, and is trying to help the country restore health and educational facilities.
In the Sudan, Otunnu visited the areas under control of the
government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
In his meetings he secured commitments from the SPLM and the
Government of the Sudan not to use land mines. He told both
parties that bombing hospitals, burning villages and
abductions were entirely unacceptable. Everywhere in the
Sudan that the Special Representative visited, the message
from the people was loud and clear, "Go tell our leaders and
the outside world that we just want peace. And we want
education for our children." Otunnu is getting their words
Mr. Otunnu has visited Kosovo where children constituted
over 65% of those who were expelled from their homes. At the
end of his visit he put forward an agenda for action for the
children of Kosovo which included:
a. Ensure basic survival needs including food shelter, access to
clean water, and basic health services, especially
b. Renunciation of separated families. This
requires support from international agencies to help locate
and connect displaced family members.
c. Trauma counseling
In dealing with signs of severe trauma among refugee children, toys, games
and balls were among the most essential contributions to
help restore a measure of normalcy to the children's lives.
d. Schooling for refugees The capabilities
of local schools in host communities need to be expanded.
THE ACTION PLAN FOR CHILDREN OF KOSOVO is evolving as the people
return, resettle and rebuild. There are many issues to respond to:
1. Create a UN mission in Kosovo, with special attention to education and the development of curricula suitable for the different ethnic groups
and the organization of mixed classes.
2. Reconciliation between enemies - the intensity of hate engendered by
the recent conflicts has left deep scars in the minds of children,
requiring trauma counseling.
3. LAND MINES and UNEXPLODED ORDINANCE present a significant problem for
children and farmers.
4. VOICES OF CHILDREN TV and Radio projects devoted to children.
5. NEIGHBORHOOD INITIATIVE, focusing on cross-border issues of education, reconciliation, movement of children across borders, sexual exploitation of children and adolescents across borders and small arms
The children of the world can feel secure that their champion, Mr. Otunnu,
will fight for them. He hopes we will all join him, in whatever large or
small way we can.