Dear Collegues,

We are glad to inform you that Isis-WICCE launched two research reports on 23rd August 2001. Below is an abstracts about the reports.

"Women’s Experiences of Armed Conflict Situations in Uganda: The case of Gulu District 1986-1999 "and "Medical Interventional Study of War Affected Gulu District, Uganda" are essentially two parts of the same report.

Part one recounts one of the longest civil conflicts in the history of Uganda and examines its effects on individuals especially women and girls, families and communities. The report notes that the economy of the region has collapsed while marriage and family formation patterns have been irreversibly altered.  Rebels did not only destroyed infrastructure but also tortured and abused members of the community. The government soldiers were not clean either. They systematically looted personal property and livestock. The report gives disconcerting detail, mostly reported verbatim by women of their abduction and rape, forced marriages and mutilation as well as transformation into an effective murder machinery by the Kony rebel commanders. The women who survived abduction by rebels reveal the cruelty of government soldiers in livid tales of individual and gang rapes, forced prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, harsh punishments and the life of extreme deprivation in internally displaced people’s camps or so called “protected villages”. The women and men’s tales of homosexual rapes (Tek Gungu) by government troops are as disconcerting as their stories of genital mutilation by Kony rebel child soldiers.

It is noteworthy that while the majority of men have failed to cope with the war trauma and many taken to heavy drinking out of frustration, women with the burden of trauma and fending for families have either individually or in groups organised self-help activities to support their families economically.

The major health problems faced by the survivors include; untreated fevers, reproductive health complications, STIs including HIV/AIDS, broken and severed limbs and a host of other ailments. Psychosocial problems were the most numerous.

Part Two: The outcome of the findings of the earlier documentation necessitated an intervention as a way of scientifically analysing the consequences of war especially to women and girls. A team of specialists from African Psycare Research Organisation (APRO), Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda (AOGU) and Department of Orthopaedics - Makerere University teamed-up in May 2001 with the district based counterparts in Gulu to undertake a one month data collection, which led to the medical intervention of emergency cases in the area of psychological, gynaecological and surgical.

This part of the report details a plethora of war related physical, mental and psychological malformations in just one of the over 30 Internally Displaced Peoples’ Camps of Gulu (Awer camp), that were serious to warrant specialised attention. The intervention was aimed at providing lessons to enable medical rehabilitation of particularly women, girls and coping with the physiological and psychiatric conditions imposed by war.

Nearly everybody interviewed has experienced at least one torture event. The commonly reported physical torture experiences included; beating and kicking, forced hard labour deprivation of food, water and medicine and tying Kandoya.

The government army (NRA/UPDF) accounted for a quarter of all torture cases, and the rebel army LRA (Kony) for 70%. Torture usually took place at home affecting significantly more females than males. Psychiatric disorders diagnosed included post-traumatic stress, depression, alcohol abuse, generalised anxiety, panic anxiety, Agoraphobia, social phobia, somatoform, and suicidal thoughts.  In addition impaired function was reported in work, family relationships and sexual function. 6% percent of the respondents had homicidal thoughts while 23% of the respondents had suicidal thoughts.

The gynaecological effects related to war ranged from vesico vaginal fistulae (VVF), infertility, chronic pelvic pain, sexually transmitted infections, vaginal tears and laxity. The study revealed that only a quarter of the women had accessed a qualified health worker for their problems. Sexual function was adversely affected, 22% had unstable or broken marriages and 32% were not able to work.

70.4% of the camp residents were found suffering from orthopaedic/surgical complaints especially recurrent and mechanical low back pain, septic arthritis, congenitally deformed limbs especially in the region of knee joint, soft tissue injuries such as cut wounds, bruises, skin lacerations at various sites on the body especially the limbs, face and trunk. Many of these injuries were a result of gunshots, beatings and cuts by sharp objects such as knives and machetes. Other surgery complaints included hernia, burn contractures, neglected or poorly treated fractures, TB of the spine and chronic pus-discharging sinuses from swollen limbs especially among children, were identified as cases that needed immediate assistance.

The authors came to the conclusion that the war has practically debilitated the whole population. People live in "protected" Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps where life is very difficult, health is poor and diseases are rampant. Men folk are few and decreasing in numbers. Women and children are overburdened with daily struggle to survive. This has caused numerous physical, psychological and social problems. The extreme conditions resulting from this war are compounded by severe gynaecological and orthopaedic complications. 88% had psychosocial problems.

The authors call on civil society in Uganda and the international community to bring pressure on the warring factions to ensure the war ends and hence pave the way for social, economic and medical rehabilitation of the tortured survivors. Ugandans have no other alternative but to forge for conflict resolution, peace building and co-existence since, there is no winner in any form of conflict.

 This report is a must read for NGOs, government planers, policy and decision-makers, the UN, humanitarian organizations, women and men, and all development workers as well as students undertaking peace studies. It provides an insight into the nearly forgotten war in the inter-lacustrine region of Africa where the population and particularly women have become pawns in a sinister civil/international war game whose motive defies common reason.

Copies are available in the Isis-WICCE resource centre at US$5 each and will online by end of September.