Muddy Notebook

February 21, 2008

Rebels, Kampala agree on national war crimes court

Filed under: northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 11:12 am

This agreement seems to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the peace talks taking place in Juba, South Sudan. It tries to strike a reasonable balance between pursuing peace and holding the major players in the Lord’s Resistance Army, especially its leader Joseph Kony, responsible for their acts. Rather than use the International Criminal Court, which really never should have taken this case anyhow, the pact calls for traditional justice for lower-level LRA members and a special Ugandan court venue for Kony and his top lieutenants. It would be unfair – and wrong – to ignore that the government gets to avoid scrutiny for its multiple misdeeds in this war. Still, peace is better than war and stolen childhoods.

Human rights groups, not to mention the ICC, are unhappy with the agreement since it would sidestep the International Criminal Court indictments against Kony and two others. As I mentioned, this case should not really have come before the ICC, which is supposed to become involved if the country where atrocities have occurred does not have a sufficient national justice system to deal with the perpetrators. Uganda does have a court, though it will require international monitoring to ensure transparent and proper proceedings take place. Postponing the ICC indictments does not mean there will be no justice, or even justice at the Hague. It simply means peace should come first. Then, we can see how justice is found. Still, there is a long way to go before that point.


February 14, 2008

Life in a refugee camp

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 3:12 am

A pretty good story came over the wires yesterday about life for Kenyans in a displaced person’s camp. (Okay, the writer mixed up the terms “refugee,” someone who flees to another country, and “displaced person,” someone who has moved within his or her borders. This happens all the time in journalism because it’s easier to use the shorter, less jargon-y “refugee,” even if the meaning is wrong according to international law. Still, let’s let that pass to look at the rest of the content.)

And the rest of the content is a realistic portrayal, one I saw when I managed a refugee camp in Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. There was crime in my 6,000-person camp, scuffling for supplies handed out, and attempts by good, decent people  to make a normal life for their family out of a most abnormal situation. In case you didn’t see it, here’s the Associated Press story.

By Katharine Houreld


ELDORET, Kenya — Since their home was torched six weeks ago, Peter Monderu’s six children sleep tangled like puppies on the cold ground.


His 9-year-old girl bears the scars of a horrific arson attack on a church that left 50 people dead, and his fearful wife startles awake at the least sound.


The Monderus are among 600,000 people driven from their homes by clashes sparked by a dispute over who won Kenya’s Dec. 27 presidential election, according to a U.N. report yesterday.


About half have taken refuge with family or friends. The rest are camping out — at prisons, churches, police stations and fairgrounds, such as such as the one where the Monderus found a haven in the western town of Eldoret.


Aid agencies fear the makeshift camps are creating new problems for the once stable East African country. The camps are breeding grounds for disease, violence and crime. And they sometimes fan the already heated ethnic tensions that forced Kenyans to flee in the first place, as the poorest of the poor in one group see the displaced of another group getting international aid.


Observers don’t see the camps emptying soon, after more than 1,000 people died in the fighting. Even if a political solution is found for the election dispute, some fear the settlements may mark a permanent shift in Kenya’s ethnic makeup.


Much of the postelection violence has pitted an array of ethnic groups against President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu people. In western Kenya, some areas have been emptied of Kikuyus. Kikuyus, in turn, have inflicted reprisals on opposition supporters.

No Kikuyus are left in the countryside surrounding Eldoret. In the enclave of Huruma, within the city limits, Kikuyu refugees are crammed five to a room. Some 15,000 are camping on Eldoret’s fairgrounds, and more arrive every day, with police riding guard on trucks piled with salvaged furniture.


According to preliminary U.N. reports, girls and women have been forced to trade sex for food and protection in camps.


Alexis Moens, emergency coordinator of the medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), said camp dwellers also suffer hygiene problems. The group is trying to monitor the camps for potential epidemics.


“Many of these people will see the rainy season in these camps,” Moens said, warning that the wet weather due in four weeks will worsen conditions.

Opportunities for reconciliation are few after the Balkanization of Kenyan communities that previously lived peacefully together.

Residents in city slums and poor farming communities watch jealously as displaced neighbors are given shiny new cooking pots, blankets and health care, forgetting the armed mobs and charred homes those people had to flee.


In the camps, meanwhile, memories of atrocities are swapped around campfires, leaping larger than the flames with each retelling.


“I can’t sleep,” Monderu said, clutching his stomach while telling of his anxieties.

He described seeing neighbors held at machete point while jeering attackers asked who wanted peace. Those who raised their hands were cut down, he said.


As Monderu spoke, children from neighboring tents gathered to listen, eyes wide.

“We have nowhere else to go because all the houses are destroyed and we have nothing to rebuild with,” Monderu said. “Even the clothes I am wearing are borrowed.”

February 10, 2008

Peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Lebanon

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 9:01 pm

Here is a thought I’ve long had: Why was it so possible to build a U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon after the Hizbollah-Israeli conflict than it has been to build one in Darfur? It seemed as though forces built up relatively quickly there, with the number standing at 13,264 military personnel as of last November, according to the U.N. The Darufr force is at about 8,200. And I don’t think the hostility and oppositional obstinence shown by the Sudanese government is solely the cause though of course Khartoum’s attitude is a big factor. There have been political moments when U.N. nations might have been able to dump in large numbers of personnel and equipment as soon as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had said he would support a hybrid U.N.-A.U. force. But they have moved in slow- and no-motion in giving such a mission personnel and equipment as basic as helicopters to transport people and supplies in to Darfur. I think it’s safe to say Sudan gets less attention because it, like most countries in Africa, are not perceived to be of as great as strategic importance as Lebanon and the Middle East. Thus has the lesson so quickly been lost that unstable nations not only pose a huge threat to the citizens suffering in them, but also to the world as a potential harbor for terrorism. It would be nice if helping the Darfuris were reason enough for Western nations to take speedier action. But it is only when a factor such as fighting terrorism is thrown into the factor that the West takes more notice.

February 8, 2008

The blogging begins

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 10:56 pm

I have been meaning to start a blog on humanitarian issues for years – literally. I can check one New Year’s resolution off my list now. The blogosphere is the perfect place to write on humanitarian situations, solutions and people these days. Unfortunately, newspapers are decreasingly interested in sending its own reporters and photographers to cover overseas events. I know – I’m a writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer, though I currently am doing a copyediting stint. The Inquirer actually has been terrific in allowing me to use up hundreds of inches of precious newspaper space to write on the war in northern Uganda. I also wrote for the Editorial Board on Darfur, Myanmar and other developing world issues. Newspapers always will, once in a while, cover these issues. But I want to act on my belief that these issues need constant attention – and that readers are more interested in them than most people think.

I presume I’ll be writing a bio for my blog, but let me just tell you a bit about myself. I’ve mainly been a newspaper journalist since graduating from Ohio State University in 1982. I was a Peace Corps dropout (early terminee is the technical term, which seems a bit over-dramatic to me). I’ve laced my newspaper career with stories done overseas on refugees and war zones, and outside of journalism in humanitarian work. I did human rights work in Cambodia, was a consultant to UNICEF in Rwanda, where I helped institute a child-rights monitoring program involving mayors, and was a refugee camp manager during the Kosovo crisis for the International Rescue Committee. I was, in fact, the longest-serving refugee camp manager during the Kosovo crisis – now that’s a claim for the resume.

Okay, not.

I’m a believer in the power of the published word to educate, motivate and entertain, and think college and high school studentsare increasingly interested in doing good works for horrendous situations overseas. I salute them, and hope to profile them as well periodically on this blog. I also encourage any activists to write in and join the discussion. My final comment in what I know is a long post, is to explain Muddy Notebook. That’s how my notebooks look when I’ve done reporting overseas. I’ve also estalbished a Web site,, where I eventually hope to move this blog. So, without even checking my spelling, I will hit the “save” button and join the world of blogging. Thanks for having me.

Blog at