Lawyers in Uganda begin a three-day strike action Monday to protest what they call the Museveni government’s interference with the independence of the judicial system. The lawyers’ strike comes on the heel of a weeklong suspension of judicial activities by judges to protest the re-arrest by security forces of six suspects who had been granted bail by the court. Although the judges are expected to resume judicial business Monday, sources say their strike action could possibly cripple the judicial system.
Erias Lukwago is a practicing attorney and a member of parliament. He said the lawyers are beginning their strike to point out their displeasure with what he called government interference.
“Today we are starting the strike following the resolution that we passed last week at the emergency general assembly of the Uganda law society. It came on the heels of what transpired on the first day of March…which amounted to the question of the tamper of justice, which is a violation of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in particular,” he said.
Lukwago said the strike is also to demonstrate to all that the country’s lawyers would simply not be pushovers.
“We are starting the strike to demonstrate to the executive arm of government and to the public at large that we lawyers, as vanguards of the constitution and the rule of law and indeed the independence of the judiciary, we will not yield to these things,” Lukwago pointed out.
He said though the strike would have an effect on the judicial system, it is necessary.
“I do appreciate that our strike will paralyze the judicial work. But certainly it is inevitable considering what is going on. What would be the use of us appearing before court, carry out our statutory duties of representing our clients and we get remedies from the court and at the end of the day the executive branch rubbishes everything?” he asked.
Lukwago accused the Museveni government of disrespecting the judiciary.
“They don’t respect the judicial orders; they don’t respect the judges. They don’t respect the outcome of the decisions of these cases. So what would be the use of us going ahead with these kinds of litigation, which is futile? So the whole point is, it will definitely affect the work of the judiciary, but it is inevitable if we are to realize the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in our country,” Lukwago noted.
He claimed the government is behind what he called the gross disrespect of the judicial system by security forces.
“This is not the first time this is happening… remember a similar incident took place on the 16 of November 2005, we held an emergency general assembly; we resolved to have a dialogue with President Museveni; we made our petition to him as chief executive…but all those things could not call for the concern of the executive and no remedies were made,” he said.
Lukwago reiterated what he said were the frustrations of lawyers in the country.
“What we are saying right now is that, enough is enough. And that is not actually the only event. It has been a series of events. It’s now a trend that the executive arm of government is transgressing from the constitutional path,” he said.
Lukwago said the Uganda Law Society hopes this strike action would sound a warning to the international bodies, especially following on the heels of the judges’ strike last week.