Ugandan Supreme Court ruling fuels debate over double standards in war crimes prosecution

21 April 2015 by Samuel Egadu Okiror, Kampala (Uganda)

Five years after the trial was halted, the Ugandan Supreme Court delivered an eagerly awaited decision in the war crimes case against Thomas Kwoyelo [IJT-176]. But instead of providing clarity, the ruling to lift the former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander’s amnesty has been slammed by critics, calling it an example of double standards and selective prosecution.

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)

In all, over 26,000 ex-combatants, half of them LRA, have been granted amnesty under the 2000 Amnesty Act. That means the individuals cannot be prosecuted for “any crimes committed in the cause of war or armed rebellion”, as the legislation specifies.

In a unanimous decision on 8 April, a panel of seven Supreme Court judges, led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, overturned the September 2011 Constitutional Court ruling that Kwoyelo should be given amnesty. The court had ruled that although Kwoyelo did not voluntarily surrender, having been captured in the Central African Republic in 2009, he was still entitled to seek amnesty. At the time of the ruling, Kwoyelo was being prosecuted by Uganda’s special International Crimes Division (ICD). 

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