Human Rights Watch today congratulated Angelina Acheng Atyam on her receipt of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.
UNICEF estimates that as many as 10,000 children have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in its attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government. Children as young as eight years old are forced to raid and loot villages, to fight in LRA front lines against the Ugandan army, and to fight against the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Sudan's civil war. Children are also forced to participate in the brutal killings of other children who are caught trying to escape. Recent reports indicate that the LRA may now be using children to fight in the Congo, on the government side.
After her own daughter Charlotte was abducted in October of 1996, Ms Atyam helped found the Concerned Parents Association, a group of Ugandan parents that has worked for the release of children in rebel captivity.
"Angelina has given voice to thousands of families whose children have been stolen," said Lois Whitman, executive director of the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "She has worked tirelessly to bring international attention to the devastating plight of these children. Now the international community must act to ensure that the abductions stop, and that the captive children are released."
Ms. Atyam has raised her concerns directly with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, representatives of the Sudan government, members of the U.S. Congress, and United Nations agencies. Her activism led to the passage in October of a U.S. congressional resolution, sponsored by Senator Paul Wellstone, urging U.S. support for efforts to end the abduction of Ugandan children, and to end the use of child soldiers worldwide. The resolution also calls on the U.S. administration to give up its opposition to international efforts to establish eighteen as the minimum age for participation in armed conflict.
In April the U.N. Human Rights Commission passed a resolution condemning the abductions and calling on member states to exert all possible pressure on the LRA to release captive children. The resolution also calls for an end to support or assistance, direct or indirect, which furthers the LRA's abduction and detention of children, and for the U.N. system to address this issue as a matter of priority.
"Child soldiers are often invisible," said Whitman. "To award the UN prize to one of their strongest advocates will help bring critical attention to this global problem." Experts estimate that more than 300,000 children under the age of eighteen are currently participating in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries.
The Prizes were awarded this morning by Secretary General Kofi Annan at special plenary meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ms. Atyam was nominated for the prize by Human Rights Watch and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.