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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid