The High Court of Uganda, Kampala. Credit: Judiciary.go.ug
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Debate on amnesty in Uganda renewed

3 July 2017 - 17:07

A relentless debate has been sparked off on amnesty for alleged war perpetrators in Uganda. Ronnie Layoo presents some of the different arguments on the issue made by ICD judicial officials, prosecutors and civil society.

As the case against former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Thomas Kwoyelo comes for hearing at the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the Ugandan high court, the fate of ex-LRA combatants who have benefited from amnesty is coming under scrutiny once again.

Victims can still find justice

Hon. Justice Moses Mukiibi, the head of the ICD, while speaking recently at a consultative meeting in Gulu town said the amnesty law under which the ex-rebels were pardoned only tackles crimes such as treason, sedition and rebellion leaving out crimes against humanity, enslavement, torture, rape, sexual slavery, sexual violence, intentionally causing harm and war crimes.

Citing examples of people who committed crimes during World War II who still find themselves answering for crimes they committed then, the judge said the people who have been affected by the war between the LRA and the UPDF can still find justice saying that “cases do not rot” and that “anybody can still follow up on atrocities committed in the region so that the perpetrators can still be brought to book.”

“Nobody forgives those who mishandle civilians and made them targets,” he said at the meeting in Gulu this past May, adding that “commanders are responsible and bear responsibilities over the actions of their junior officers during armed struggles and if one mishandles civilians it’s the community’s responsibility to take action.”

Another Judge of the ICD, Justice Elisabeth Nahamya concurred with Mukiibi warning former commanders not to “put their heads in the sand” as international laws are very clear on war crimes.

No intention to revoke certificates

The principal state attorney in the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) Charles Kamuuli, however, stated that since commencement of issuance of amnesty to former rebels, the office of the DPP has no intention whatsoever to revoke the over 1,500 certificates the government has already issued to former rebels.

“Government has no intention of revoking the amnesty certificates because we are handling a dual policy of prosecution and reconciliation. The DPP has no intention to prosecute those given amnesty even though the Constitutional Court ruled that amnesty isn’t a bar that determines innocence,” says Kamuuli.

He however said that Kwoyelo’s case is special because he was a commander in the LRA.

Kwoyelo’s defence lawyer Charles Dalton Opwonya noted that amnesty was given by government to those they pursued politically and that when the government gives amnesty its does not remove rights of individuals to pursue those who violated their rights, and that if it does it would be infringement on the fundamental human rights.

“Government gave political amnesty but those who killed people can still be investigated,” counsel Opwonya stated.

How different is the Kwoyelo case?

Echoing concerns the communities have on the case against Kwoyelo which is before the ICD, the chairperson LCV of Gulu district, Ojara Martin Mapenduzi, questioned government’s interest in regard to the on-going criminal case against the former LRA commander yet other LRA commanders have benefited from amnesty

“So much has been going down in the minds of the locals about how different is the Kwoyelo case and what interest does the government have in the case as there are commanders who are more senior than Kwoyelo but are moving freely after being given amnesty?” said Mapenduzi.

The chairman also raised concern over the delay in the case stating that it has been six years since commencement of the case by the ICD yet the case up to now has not been concluded.

“The case of Kwoyelo is justice denied because it has been delayed because by now the ICD should ensure justice is delivered expeditiously.”

Debate on amnesty

By the end of Mapenduzi’s opening remarks, there was a heated debate among all stakeholders--prosecutors, judges and CSOs on whether perpetrators should or should not be given amnesty.

Justice, Law and Order Sector officer Magaret Ajok, who moderated the outreach urged all stake holders to be aware of the impact of their discussions, adding that it will contribute to reconciliation and peace process.

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