News / Africa

    Rights Group Sees Problems in Uganda's First LRA Trial

    Thomas Kwoyelo, a former director of field operations in the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army is seen at a detention center in Kampala, November 10, 2011.
    Thomas Kwoyelo, a former director of field operations in the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army is seen at a detention center in Kampala, November 10, 2011.

    An international rights group is raising concerns about Uganda’s first trial of a former leader of the rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

    In a report released Monday, Human Rights Watch says that legal and organizational problems threaten to jeopardize the pursuit of justice in the trial of Thomas Kwoyelo.

    The defendant was taken into custody in 2009 after fighting for the LRA. The group is notorious for committing rights abuses during the two decade-long conflict in northern Uganda. Several of its leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court.

    But Kwoyelo is being tried by a Ugandan court known as the International Crimes Division, or ICD. His is the first case the ICD is handling.

    Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch said it is important that as many trials as possible be conducted on a national level instead of at the International Criminal Court.

    “Ideally, trials for all crimes, including the most serious crimes, should be conducted nationally. That is the best way to ensure that they have meaning with the communities most affected by the crimes, and that they can build respect for rule of law in the country. It is vital for national courts to ultimately be in the position to have these kinds of cases,” said Keppler.

    In Kwoyelo’s case, though, the international watchdog group points to several problems. One is Uganda’s Amnesty Act, which has been applied to some other LRA fighters. Keppler said no one should ever be granted amnesty for the types of crimes of which Kwoyelo is accused.

    “Uganda has, essentially, a blanket amnesty for those who renounce rebellion in Uganda. And of course, amnesties for the worst crimes - for crimes against humanity and genocide - are wholly inconsistent with international law," said Keppler. "This is obviously a huge challenge for the work of the International Crimes Division. How it can move forward with trying to pursue justice for the most serious crimes in the face of this domestic amnesty?”

    Stephen Oola, a lawyer with the Kampala-based Refugee Law Project, said that because the LRA is still active, there is little chance of changing the Amnesty Act at this time.

    “The politicians are in a Catch-22 situation. They don’t know exactly whether or not they can get the LRA bigwigs. If not, do they need to negotiate with them? If so, would tampering with the Amnesty Act take away that incentive to negotiate? No one would come back home if they know they are going to be prosecuted the next day,” said Oola.

    Human Right Watch says other problems for the trial include inadequate resources for the defense, a lack of witness protection programs, and insufficient outreach to explain the trial to the local community.

    The rights group says it also is important that the court be allowed to try members of the Ugandan Army, some of whom have been accused of serious crimes during the conflict in northern Uganda.

    Lawyer Oola agrees that trying army officers is important, to demonstrate a commitment to accountability. He said, however, that is unlikely to happen in Uganda under the current administration.

    “The only way you can gauge whether the government has the political will is if it allows the war crimes division to try its own agents. I don’t see that happening in this particular government. That kind of will is still lacking, and is not about to change,” said Oola.

    Although Kwoyelo is the first person to be tried by the ICD, Oola said many people in Uganda already have the impression that the court will be used only to prosecute those fighting against the government. National trials are indeed important, he said, but only under the right conditions.

    “If well managed, it would have a very powerful impact on the people, but if mismanaged the result is the opposite. Initially I thought there was a lot of enthusiasm about Kwoyelo’s trial, but I’m not sure that is the feeling now," said Oola. "Initially it was seen as some serious step towards accountability. Lately a lot of people think it’s basically the usual pattern of victor’s justice. That makes justice lose its meaning.”

    Spokesman for the Uganda judiciary, Erias Kisawuzi, said the Human Rights Watch report makes a number of valid points, and he welcomes its recommendations.

    “By and large the report is a reflection of what is on the ground, and it also has proposed quite a number of reforms, which I think are very timely. If they are addressed I think it will go a long way in having the suspect or any other person tried in a fair and impartial manner,” said Kisawuzi.

    Keppler of Human Rights Watch said it will take firm political backing from Uganda's government for justice to be served to Kwoyelo. She added that despite certain problems, the trial nonetheless offers important lessons to other countries considering prosecuting their own serious crimes.



    You May Like

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    Numerous national election surveys show former secretary of state defeating presumptive Republican nominee with tough talk to halt illegal immigration and temporarily block Muslims from entering country

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora