Kwoyelo charges of intent to murder set a bad precedent for war crimes in Uganda

Why is Thomas Kwoyelo, a former LRA commander captured during the operation lightening thunder being tried for with the lesser offence of kidnap with intent to murder instead of war crimes. Well the answer lies in the fact that Uganda has been slow in enacting the ICC bill which would see formally war crimes and crimes against humanity be recognised by the Uganda local judicial system.

According to an article by Bill Oketch on IWPR, Thomas Kwoyelo’s trial will begin in August and that prosecution decided to try him for a lesser crime to speed up the legal process. Well this will have implications in the whole process of seeking justice for northern Uganda war victims. Kwoyelo will initially appear before the regional court in Gulu, but his case will be submitted to Kampala once initial investigations are over, according to local lawyers.

If Kwoyelo is not tried by the Uganda War crimes court to which president Museveni appointed 2 judges last year, it will be a failure on part of government to deal with LRA impunity.

There have been delays in the passing of the ICC law in Uganda and one of the controversial parts is the move by government to give immunity to a sitting president in case he’s accused of war crimes yet under the Rome Statute there’s no immunity for heads of state.

Thomas Kwoyelo getting off a plane at Entebbe Airport from Congo where he was capture. New Vision photo
Thomas Kwoyelo getting off a plane at Entebbe Airport from Congo where he was capture. New Vision photo

If the court is to be effective, police must be trained to investigate war crimes, continued the judge. Likewise, prosecutors and defense lawyers need to be trained on how to prosecute and defend the accused. But all this seems to be on hold. The judiciary is ready at least according to one of the judges of the court whom I spoke to but the law is not there.

But this hurriedly trial of Kwoyelo will have an impact on future trials of those accused of committing war crimes in northern Uganda in a two decade conflict.

Government especially Parliament are giving no choice to the Director of Public Prosecution. They must act soon.

Kwoyelo, 37, was captured in the Democratic Republic of Congo in March, following a gun battle between the Ugandan army and LRA soldiers.He faces 12 counts of kidnap with intent to murder relating to the disappearance of villagers from Atiak and Pabbo, sub-counties of Amuru and Gulu districts, who were allegedly seized by LRA soldiers. They were not seen again. And that’s it, a delay in enacting a law gives a mass murder a charge of intent to murder. How are we mindful of those who lost their lives, their limbs and their loved ones?