Will justice be served in Uganda’s first trial of LRA war crimes?

28 April 2016 by Samuel Egadu Okiror, Gulu (Uganda)

Six years after the first proceedings were halted, Uganda’s International Crimes Division (ICD) will on Monday 2 May begin the controversial trial of Thomas 

Kwoyelo, former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But experts question whether justice will be served.

Thomas Kwoyelo (centre) and his lead counsel, Caleb Alaka, at the Internal Crimes Division (Photo: Samuel Egadu Okiror)
Image caption: 
Thomas Kwoyelo (centre) and his lead counsel, Caleb Alaka, at the Internal Crimes Division (Photo: Samuel Egadu Okiror)

Kwoyelo faces more than 50 counts of murder, destruction of property and abduction in relation to several atrocities in two northern Ugandan districts, in his capacity as a ‘middle level commander or Colonel’ in the LRA . The prosecution contends that he planned, commanded and or executed the attacks.

At least 113 witnesses have been lined up to testify against Kwoyelo in the northern town of Gulu. The trial will be the first of its kind using Uganda’s own domestic justice mechanisms to try a suspect for international crimes

Amnesty denied 

Kwoyelo’s trial follows an April 2015 Supreme Court ruling that denied him the amnesty which had applied to other former LRA members who had surrendered or been captured [IJT-180]. The case against Kwoyelo was re-instated, overruling the Constitutional Court’s ruling in 2011 that he was entitled to amnesty.

The drawn-out case highlights the continued lack of clarity about Uganda’s approach to prosecution or amnesty for former rebels – a debate which has many in northern Uganda complaining about injustice.

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