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Uganda: Sex for Jobs, Forced Conversion in North PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 October 2007

source:  AllAfrica, 29 October 2007

Click here to read the complete report

Yasiin Mugerwa, Emmanuel Gyezaho & Samuel O. Egadu

WOMEN in northern Uganda are forced into sex and are often coaxed into joining the Born Again Christian faith by staff of high profile international aid agencies largely in exchange for jobs, a new human rights report has revealed.

The report also tells of a "divide and rule" policy allegedly employed by the largely foreign-run agencies over their Ugandan employees.

The shocking findings are contained in a report presented to Parliament by the Human Rights Focus titled; "Fostering the Transition in Acholiland: From War to Peace, from Camps to Home.

Assessing the working conditions of Ugandan employees working for international NGOs in northern Uganda, the report says the process of acquiring a job at the numerous NGOs in the region is unfair, exploitative and abusive.

"Personal or family connections, corruption and sexual exploitation were reported to frequently be part of the recruitment and hiring," the 55-page report reads in part. "There is a surplus of qualified potential INGO employees and it's not common to receive 100 applications for one INGO national staff position."

Although the report curiously does not name any of the aid agencies, its findings are largely based on witness accounts gathered between May and August 2007.

The new report comes five months after MPs from the Acholi sub-region launched investigations into INGO activities in the region. The MPs said many NGOs were using the plight of the people of northern Uganda to get wealthy and have engaged in various human rights' abuses.

Although it is still not clear how many NGOs are operating in northern Uganda, in Gulu alone, the hub of the region, there are 38 NGOs fully operational. But there are a total of 500 NGOs in northern Uganda, including the NGOs.

The report said half of the Ugandans working with the NGOs interviewed refused to have their names written down, insisting on confidentiality. But they were more than candid in their responses, as it turns out.

The report reveals that some evangelical Christian INGOs have reportedly gone so far to demand that employees get "'saved"- that is, convert to born-again Christianity- if they are to work there, and fire those who do not.

"There was even a case reported where one INGO demanded that their employees marry within the church to retain their jobs. Another demanded that employees regularly go for Christian fellowship meetings when not working," the report reads.

An anonymous staff employee quoted in the report added; "The whites do these things purposely so as to contain everything under their control and achieve their desires, and also to impose their authority and to leave the national staff confused."

The findings of this report have been corroborated by local authorities, especially in Gulu District who said they have received numerous complaints of reported abuse of employee's rights. "We have heard of cases of sexual harassment of female employees and homosexuality by their bosses in exchange for employment. However, people fear to report these cases for fear of losing their jobs," said Mr Richard Todwong, the special presidential assistant for northern Uganda.

Mr Todwong told Daily Monitor on Friday that most of these NGOs employ their family members. "As you are aware the government has been screening some of them who have been misappropriating funds they receive from donors," he said. "If they don't stop, we shall deregister them as simple as that. We can't allow the continued exploitation of our people."

However, some of the INGO's contested the findings of the report. "It might be true in other organizations, but for us in World Vision, we recruit people based on merit, whether someone is saved or not. I am a Catholic," said Mr Fortunate Sewankando the World Vision communication and advocacy officer.

Ms Jessica Huber of the Norwegian Refugee Council declined to comment saying she had no authorisation to do so. "My country director is out," Ms Huber said. Several other organizations that Daily Monitor approached to comment on the report declined saying they had not yet seen or received a copy of the report.

The report adds that with the opening of Gulu University in 2003, the number of graduates who expect to find work in the INGO sector has grown constantly, a fact that allows the INGOs to "fire employees with impunity, subject workers to harsh demands and poor conditions and remain impervious to work dissatisfaction since there is always another graduate eager to take up the job."

Quoting one INGO national employee, the report said foreigners tend to practice 'divide and rule' over their employees by bringing certain national staff close and favouring them, then using them to spy on other national staff.

"Some of the harshest criticism is reserved for that high ranking male national staff who uses their positions, especially during hiring, to demand for sexual favours from women and money from men.," the report said.

It adds: "Sexual abuse and corruption during the hiring process are widely remarked upon [mentioned] at the larger INGOs, religious and secular alike. Sexual harassment at the hands of the national male bosses is almost a necessary step females have to go through to get a job, especially as a volunteer."

Mr Michael Otim the executive director, INGO Forum Gulu District said his office had received and tried to mediate few cases where employers have abused the rights of their employees.

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