Refugee Law Project: Helping Uganda

Refugee Law Project kids“We envision a country that treats all people within its borders with the same standards of respect and social justice. We work to see that all people living in Uganda, as specified under national and international law, are treated with the fairness and consideration due fellow human beings.” – The Refugee Law Project

Larissa Russell NY, NY–For decades, refugees from several African countries have been forced to abandon their homes, jobs, friends – and in some cases, their families – in order to save their own lives and seek asylum elsewhere; namely, Uganda.  While several failed asylum seekers have been deported violently, those that remain in Uganda continue to exist in a sort of “legal limbo,” facing discrimination, cultural alienation and unemployment.

Ten years ago, Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond and Dr. Guglielmo Verdirame conducted a joint, three-year research project and came to the conclusion that the refugees who sought asylum in Uganda were too often denied basic human rights because of their legal status.  Out of their research came the Refugee Law Project (RLP), initially meant to provide aid to the refugees by tackling the legal nuances underlying their hardships.  According to director Chris Dolan, the RLP remains “the only civil society organization in Uganda providing legal aid specifically to forced migrants in Uganda.”

A community outreach endeavor of Makere University (Uganda) that also has an international focus, the RLP brings about internal change in the country by providing free legal assistance, language training and psychosocial counseling to refugees.  The company also advocates for domestic legislative changes with regard to refugee policy and universal human rights.

As the RLP has grown and developed, however, it has expanded its scope of interest far beyond refugees and asylum seekers.  “With global shifts in asylum policy and practice and a corresponding increase in the numbers of Internally Displaced persons,” writes Dolan, “the Refugee Law Project has increasingly found it necessary to confront issues of internal displacement alongside its ongoing work with those who have crossed international boundaries.”

The RLP is also dedicated to protecting the rights of refugee/forced migrant children within Uganda.  Currently, neither the Government of Uganda nor the UNHCR have a suitable procedure to care for lone children seeking asylum:  Some are placed under foster care, but their security and livelihood are not monitored effectively.  Others are left to fend for themselves, risking abuse from strangers.  For all forced migrant children, RLP advocates for a fast-track Refugee Status Determination process, a social support system, post-trauma counseling, and access to education and medical services.

The RLP is currently working on establishing a memorial to commemorate the “internally displaced” Ugandans – including the children – who made sacrifices as a result of the war in Northern Uganda.  Proudly, Shine Global has donated copies of War Dance and War Dance Returns to be presented at the memorial, helping to inspire change and raise awareness about child soldiers and their families who have been denied basic human rights for too long.

For more information about the Refugee Law Project, please visit

Attend the Emmy Awards With Us!

WarDance Emmys

Don’t miss out on the opportunity for you and a guest to attend the 31st Annual News and Documentary Emmy® Awards in New York City at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, located in the Time Warner Center. Visit to bid on this once in a life time experience!

Start out your special evening at the cocktail dinner reception before the Awards Ceremony, where you will mingle with media industry executives and talk with Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, the directors and Susan MacLaury and Albie Hecht, the producers of the documentary film War/Dance. The film has been nominated for two Emmy Awards for Best Documentary and Best Cinematography. War/Dance was nominated in 2008 for an Academy Award. Following the reception, you will join the filmmakers in orchestra seats for the Awards Ceremony.

War/Dance was Sean and Andrea’s directorial debut at Sundance. The husband and wife team has filmed in more than 30 countries to bring powerful human stories to the screen. They met while directing films for National Geographic and formed Fine Films in 2003. Honors include an Emmy, a Chris Award, and honorable mentions at the New York Film Festival and the Missoula Wildlife Film Festival. The Fines live in the Washington, D.C., area with their two-year-old son.

Albie Hecht oversaw production at Nickelodeon Movies, where he has produced films such as Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carey and Meryl Streep, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and The Rugrats Movie. Hecht was nominated for an Oscar in The Academy’s inaugural Best Animated Feature category, as the Producer of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which was a Golden Globe Nominee as well.

For television Hecht discovered and developed SpongeBob SquarePants, guiding the franchise into the multi-billion dollar cultural phenomenon it is today. For Nick Jr., he oversaw the production of breakthrough hits like Blue’s Clues and developed the successful Dora the Explorer franchise. Hecht is currently serving as Executive Producer of Shine Global’s second feature length documentary, THE HARVEST.

Susan MacLaury is a professor and the Executive Director of the non-profit film production company Shine Global and Hecht has spent over twenty years as a top film and television producer and network executive.

The Emmys will be attended by more than 1,000 television and news media industry executives, news and documentary producers and journalists. Emmy® Awards will be presented in 41 categories, including Breaking News, Investigative Reporting, Outstanding Interview, and Best Documentary, among others.

“From the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the struggling American economy, to the inauguration of Barack Obama, 2009 was a significant year for major news stories,” said Bill Small, Chairman of the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards. “The journalists and documentary filmmakers nominated this year have educated viewers in understanding some of the most compelling issues of our time, and we salute them for their efforts.”


A Former Cambodian Child Soldier Now Making Life Safer for Others

Cambodian Child SoldierSiem Reap, Cambodia (CNN) — Maneuvering slowly through grassy Cambodian terrain, a caravan of 20 men and women is on a search-and-rescue mission. Dressed in military fatigues, they are guided by a fearless leader who calculates every step and ensures the safest path for his comrades.

It takes just minutes for the unit to confront the first of many hidden targets: a muddied 20-year-old land mine buried a few inches beneath the ground.

“This is an active land mine made from Russia. [If] we step on [it] … it explodes and cuts the leg off,” says Aki Ra, leader of theCambodian Self Help Demining team. He and his group are working to make their country safer by clearing land mines — many of which Aki Ra planted himself years ago.

Aki Ra, a Cambodian native who does not recall his birth year, was a child soldier during the communist Khmer Rouge regime, a genocidal crusade responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians during the 1970s. He was raised by the army after being separated from his family during the internal conflict.

Around age 10, Aki Ra estimates, he was given a rifle that measured his own height. Soon after, he was taught to lay land mines.

For three years, Aki Ra worked as a mine layer for the Khmer Rouge. He then did the same job for the Vietnamese army that overthrew his village.

“I maybe planted 4,000 to 5,000 land mines in a [single] month,” said Aki Ra, who says he’s about 40 years old now. “We planted them all over the place.”

Watch a slideshow of the some young landmine victims whom Aki Ra has helped

According to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, an estimated 4 million to 6 million land mines were laid in Cambodia during three decades of conflict. The mines were planted to defend strategic military locations, target warring opponents and deny the use of roads.

“I had [bad] feelings, because sometimes we were fighting against our friends and relatives,” Aki Ra said. “I felt sad when I saw a lot of people were killed. A lot of people were suffering from land mines. [But] I did not know what to do, [because] we were under orders.”

Approximately 63,000 civilians and soldiers have been in accidents involving land mines and other explosive weapons, according to the Cambodian Mine Victim Information System. Nearly 19,000 of them were killed. Today, Cambodia reportedly has one amputee for every 290 people, one of the highest ratios in the world.

When the United Nations came in the early 1990s to help restore peace to Cambodia, Aki Ra saw an opportunity to begin undoing the damage he and others had done. He started training with the U.N. and helping them clear mines.

It was around this time he got the name he goes by today. He was born Eoun Yeak, but he was so skilled at clearing mines that his supervisors began comparing him to AKIRA, a heavy-duty appliance company in Japan. One reportedly commented, “He works just like an AKIRA.” The name stuck.

Aki Ra estimates that he and his group have cleared more than 50,000 land mines and unexploded weapons.

In 1993, one year after working with the U.N., Aki Ra decided to begin clearing mines alone.

“Some of the areas I was clearing were places where I used to plant mines before,” he said. “I didn’t have any equipment. … I clear by knife, by stick.”

For Aki Ra, this bare-hands technique “wasn’t dangerous. It was easy.”

But easy didn’t mean legal. The method was not in accordance with international standards, which requires protective gear and other professional equipment. So in 2005, he went to the United Kingdom to receive formal training and accreditation.

In 2008, Aki Ra formed his nonprofit demining organization. Comprised of native Cambodians, it includes former soldiers and war crime victims. One of the workers is an amputee who lost a leg to a land mine.

“[Our] goal is to clear land mines in rural villages for the people who need the land for building houses or farming or building schools,” Aki Ra said.

Aki Ra and his organization devote all of their donated funds to clearing Cambodia’s rural “low-priority” villages. These villages, populated primarily by poor farmers, do not always receive first dibs for minefield clearance projects because of their remoteness and limited traffic. At times, they’re completely overlooked.

“Villagers report land mines every day, and they ask us to destroy [them],” Aki Ra said. “The people are afraid of mines. Whether there are a lot of land mines or only a few, [we] still have to clear the area so that the people in the village can be safe.”

Kuot Visoth, chief of Prey Thom village, was relieved when the team arrived in early July to clear his village.

“I know the area around the school has a lot of land mines, and I am afraid that when the children come to school and play, they will step on them, or the villagers’ buffaloes grazing in the area would be killed,” Visoth said.

Aki Ra estimates that he and his group have cleared more than 50,000 land mines and unexploded war weapons such as bombs and grenades. The Cambodian government says there are 3 million to 5 million mines still undiscovered.

Many of Aki Ra’s recovered land mines and unexploded weapons are on display at a museum in Siem Reap. For $2, visitors can touch defused mines and bombs as well as AK-47 rifles and war uniforms.

“I had an idea to open a land mine museum to teach people to understand about war, land mines,” he said. “Even though the war [is] finished, [these explosives] still kill people, and the land cannot be used.”

Also at the museum is an orphanage that Aki Ra and his wife, Hourt, opened about a decade ago. Roughly 100 children, some injured by land mines, have been cared for over the years. The orphanage provides food and shelter for the children and sends them to public school.

“I brought them to the museum because I could provide them with [a] better situation,” Aki Ra said. “If I didn’t help them, they would have a very difficult life.”

The orphanage’s first resident, Sot “Tol” Visay, lost a leg to a mine. He was living on the street when Aki Ra was demining in his province. Aki Ra offered Visay a home, and Visay has spent the past seven years living there.

“This place has been very good to me,” said Visay, now 21. “Mr. Aki Ra does not want anything from me. Instead, he encourages all people here to study, to gain knowledge.”

Hourt died last year from a stroke, leaving Aki Ra to care for his three biological children and 27 orphans ages 10 to 20. Aki Ra is thankful to have caretakers, teachers, a chef and a driver who help look after the children during his demining missions, which can last up to 25 consecutive days every month.

“All the children living in my center I consider as my own children. They call me father,” said Aki Ra, whose efforts in Cambodia will be highlighted in an upcoming documentary, “A Perfect Soldier.” “I have told them about my personal life. They understand all about my history. I tell the children that they should study hard, do good acts and love each other.”

Want to get involved? Check out the Cambodian Self Help Demining website at and see how to help.

To See the original article visit:

LRA Conducts Massive Abduction Campaign

This 10-year-old boy was abducted by the LRA in northern DRC

This 10-year-old boy was abducted by the LRA in northern DRC

August 11, 2010

(Washington, DC) – The Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted more than 697 adults and children in a largely unreported campaign in the Central African Republic and the neighboring Bas Uele district of northern Democratic Republic of Congo over the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch said today. Nearly one-third of those abducted have been children, many of whom are being forced to serve as soldiers or are being used for sex by the group’s fighters.

During the abduction campaign, the LRA has brutally killed adults and children who tried to escape, walked too slowly, or were unable to bear the heavy loads they were forced to carry, Human Rights Watch found in its investigations in the region. The LRA has killed at least 255 adults and children, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. In dozens of cases, the LRA forced captive children to kill other children and adults.

“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign.”
Human Rights Watch called on the affected governments and their allies to strengthen their protection of civilians and to put greater emphasis on efforts to rescue the abducted children and others.

A month-long Human Rights Watch research mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Bas Uele district of northern Congo from July 12 to August 11, 2010, in which over 520 civilians were interviewed, including 90 former abductees, in individual and focus group interviews, found that the LRA’s abduction campaign was similar in both countries and is having a devastating impact on affected communities.

In southeastern CAR, the LRA began large-scale abductions on July 21, 2009, and to date has abducted 304 people, including many children. The LRA first attacked the villages surrounding Obo, before moving west toward Rafai, Guérékindo, Gouyanga, Kitessa and Mboki, along the Congolese border, and north toward Djema, Baroua, and Derbissaka. Most recently, on June 12 and 13, 2010, the LRA abducted 16 people in farms surrounding the town of Rafai, including a mother and her 2-year-old daughter, both of whom the rebels later killed.

A similar LRA abduction campaign is under way in the remote Bas Uele district of Congo. On March 15, 2009, the LRA attacked the town of Banda, abducting some 80 people. In the months that followed, the LRA progressed westward, conducting raids on the towns and villages of Dakwa, Bayule, Disolo, Esse, and further north in Digba, Sukadi, and Gwane, among others.

On May 27, 2010, the LRA attacked numerous villages near Ango, the territorial capital, abducting 23 people, including 16 children. Some abductees who later escaped told Human Rigths Watch that the LRA questioned them about the location of schools in Ango, indicating the rebels may have been seeking specifically to abduct children. The LRA advance was halted when they encountered Congolese soldiers less than 15 kilometers from Ango, forcing them to change direction.

During the LRA’s campaign in Bas Uele between March 2009 and June 2010, the rebels abducted at least 375 people, at least 127 of them children, most ages 10 to 15. More recent information indicates that there have been more LRA attacks.

There has been very little reporting of the LRA’s numerous abuses in the region because it is so remote and communications are so poor. Few humanitarian agencies are working there, and there is only a small United Nations presence.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the area. In southeastern CAR an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people have sought refuge in the main towns, leaving entire villages abandoned. In the last few months, the government has deployed about 200 troops to the area to help protect civilians, too few to provide adequate protection. The Ugandan army has made some troops available to help protect civilians in the area.

Civilian protection concerns in Bas Uele district are even greater. An estimated 54,000 civilians have been displaced in the district or have sought refuge across the border in CAR. The Congolese army has deployed an army battalion to the area, but it is ill-equipped and has little or no transportation and communications equipment.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, with 19,000 peacekeepers across the country, has only 1,000 in the LRA-affected areas of northeastern Congo – far too few for the scale and geographical breadth of the problem. No peacekeepers are based in Bas Uele district. In the past two months, the MONUSCO base in Dingila, Bas Uele district, was closed and new MONUSCO bases expected to open in Dakwa and Digba have not yet been established.

“The protection of civilians under LRA attack across central Africa is woefully inadequate, with some communities receiving no protection or humanitarian aid at all,” Van Woudenberg said. “National governments, the Ugandan army, and the UN need to take urgent steps to protect people from these LRA attacks.”

To Read More Please visit the Human Rights Watch report: