Judges in Uganda will meet again Friday to decide whether to call off or continue their strike which began nearly a week ago after police besieged the High Court in Kampala and re-arrested six suspects who had earlier been granted bail by the court. Earlier this week, the judges voted unanimously to continue their strike.
Justice James Ogoola is the principal judge of the Uganda High Court. He said the judges want certain assurances from President Museveni before they can end their strike.
“The justices had requested from the executive arm of state, firstly, to make an apology for what was happening – the siege of the court – and second for there to be an understanding and reassurance on the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law. And the statements were made by the president of the country to explain all of that. Another statement was made by the minister in charge of internal affairs, and the judges…were not quite satisfied with the two statements. And so they sent word back to the executive for these clarifications, and when the response to that comes, then in the course of today, Friday, they will be reassessing the situation,” he said.
Justice Ogoola said the judges are concerned about apparent contradictions between President Museveni’s statement and that of his minister of internal affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda, about the March 1 incident at the court.
“I cannot really go too much into the details of that. There are technical points. But suffice to say that, for instance, the judiciary was said to have done something, and in the statement, there is some sort of regrets, and then to say that the police were right; they did something professional. And all of these needed to be clarified,” Ogoola said.
He rejected accusations that the judges abdicated their constitutional responsibility by going on strike. In fact, Ogoola said the strike protects the constitutional rights of all Ugandans.
“It is very unfortunate that the people of Uganda are the actual sufferers from this unfortunate incident in the sense that they are the ones who are not having recourse to the courts as long as the justices are on suspension of this exercise. At the same time though, unless the conditions for justice are ensured, then the people would come to the courts and not find justice. So in a sense, the judges are fighting for the fundamentals that ensure that the people would have their constitutional rights,” he said.
Justice Ogoola said the judges did not protest strongly when security forces first laid siege to the court in November 2005 because he said the judges saw the first incident as an aberration or a glitch on the screen.
Now Ogoola said the judges want certain assurances from President Museveni if they are to end their strike.
“Let’s have reassurance that things like this will not happen again; let’s have reassurance that the rule of law will reign; let’s have reassurance that the independence of the judiciary as an institution and the independence of individual judges in the system is assured in this country,” Ogoola said.