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Cablegate: Human Rights Ngo Cries Foul; Accuses Ingos of Mistreating

VZCZCXRO1136
RR RUEHGI RUEHRN RUEHROV
DE RUEHKM #1785/01 3241314
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201314Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY KAMPALA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9658
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KAMPALA 001785

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL UG
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS NGO CRIES FOUL; ACCUSES INGOS OF MISTREATING
WORKERS IN NORTHERN UGANDA


1. (U) Summary: Human Rights Focus (HRF), a widely respected local
human rights organization, reported the dissatisfaction of some
Ugandans working for international non-governmental organizations
(INGOs) in northern Uganda. In the report released in September
2007, workers reportedly complained of mistreatment and intimidation
in the workplace and said that incidents of sexual and financial
exploitation in the hiring process were prevalent. The report,
however, does not specifically name individuals or organizations in
connection with the alleged abuse. Several respected human rights
advocates, international aid workers, and even one outspoken local
politician have questioned the report's lack of supporting evidence,
and cautioned against going after the INGOs. The GOU has remained
largely silent on the issue since the press reports broke on October
29. While we do not believe there to be a widespread problem with
workers' rights violations within the INGO community, the HRF stands
firmly behind the report. End Summary.

-------------------------
HRF Report Causes Ripples
-------------------------

2. (U) Human Rights Focus (HRF) surprised the international
non-governmental community (INGO) with allegations of worker and
civil rights violations by INGOs in Gulu, northern Uganda in a
September 2007 report. Local INGO workers interviewed for the
report complained of "unfair" and "abusive" hiring practices, citing
incidents of corruption, extortion, and sexual exploitation. The
55-page document, "Fostering the Transition in Acholiland: From War
to Peace, from Camps to Home," dedicated only a few pages to the
issue, but media coverage and discontent over the severity of the
allegations and the lack of specific examples has overshadowed the
report's primary focus.

3. (U) Local INGO employees told HRF that their foreign employers
were often disrespectful and dismissive. They complained of low
wages in comparison to their equally qualified foreign counterparts,
poor working conditions, and a failure to comply with Ugandan labor
laws. Attempts to raise concerns within the unnamed INGOs have been
met with warnings or even termination of employment, the report
alleged. The HRF noted, however, that unspecified steps were taken
by some INGOs to create a more inclusive and positive work
environment.

4. (U) The "most directly exploitive and abusive" were the
high-ranking Ugandan male INGO workers who often demand financial
and sexual favors as compensation for employment, the report
alleges. Personnel changes and informational campaigns, according
to the report, have helped to reduce the number of more egregious
cases. Some evangelical INGOs reportedly demanded that employees
alter their religious belief for employment.

5. (U) The report called for more local government involvement and
support, specifically urging Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao to
intervene. Greater support from local NGOs and the Gulu District
Forum was also mentioned as avenues for protecting INGO workers'
rights.

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Gulu District Chairman Seeks Clarification
------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Outspoken Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao admitted to
EmbOff on November 6 that he had not read the report, but noted that
he was aware of prior reports that some faith-based INGOs
implemented a "do what you are told" policy in the north. He said
that the report's lack of details had unfairly "demoralized" the
entire INGO community, and vowed to meet with the INGO community to
discuss the allegations. The NGOs must operate within the confines
of Ugandan law, Mao affirmed.

------------------------------------------
NGO Community Questions Validity of Report
------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The former Gulu-based coordinator for the United Nations
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA),
Esteban Saco, questioned the validity of the report in a November 13
meeting with Emboff. Saco said that the report was vague, and
lacked the statistical data needed to give scope to the alleged
problem. He dismissed the possibility of a widespread pattern of
abuse, adding that he had not heard of any major workers' rights
violations in the INGO community during his tenure in Gulu. Saco
said that INGO representatives in Gulu shared his concerns over the
report, but added that the GOU had not pushed the issue. Gulu
District Chairman Mao, however, had raised the issue and was
reportedly investigating the claims, he commented.

8. (SBU) Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Executive Director
Livingstone Ssewanyana called the report "biased" and "one-sided".

KAMPALA 00001785 002 OF 002


He said that it was not constructive, and that he had urged
policymakers to investigate the charge fully before taking action.
UNICEF Child Protection Office Chief Cornelius Williams, a Sierra
Leonean national with extensive experience in the north, agreed with
Ssewanyana. He expressed concern that the report might undermine
"legitimate" human rights work in the region. Williams said that
abuse was unlikely in the "larger more established" INGOs, but
suggested that such activity might have occurred in the lesser known
entities.

9. (SBU) Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic priest with 18-years
of experience in the north, was also concerned over the report's
lack of detail on specific incidents of abuse. He said that there
were a number of reliable INGOs working in the region, both
faith-based and secular, whose activities might be unfairly
scrutinized. Father Rodriguez noted, however, that some
organizations "take advantage" of the poor, and stressed the need
for a common ethical code of conduct within the NGO community.

------------------------
HRF Stands Behind Report
------------------------

10. (SBU) HRF Executive Director James Otto in a November 15 meeting
with EmbOff stood firmly behind the accusations made in the
September report. Otto expressed his disappointment that the INGO
criticism overshadowed the more important issue of getting northern
Ugandans home from IDP camps. He admitted that HRF struggled with
whether it would be prudent to include the criticism in the report,
but said that if HRF had not raised the issue, "who would?" Otto
did not give EmbOff the names of the organizations or individuals
believed to be involved in the alleged activity, but said that he
would help us to investigate further by talking directly to
individuals who had made the accusations. "You will be shocked by
some of the accounts of sexual and financial exploitation," Otto
affirmed.

-------
Comment
-------

11. (SBU) There is no indication of a widespread pattern of gross
civil and worker rights violations by INGOs operating in northern
Uganda. Though Otto would not share the names of his sources, his
credibility and dedication in the North lends weight to his
concerns, and merits our consideration. Meanwhile, the GOU has
remained largely silent on the HRF report, even though it has its
own concerns about INGOs and NGOs in the north. End Comment.
CHRITTON

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