Uganda War Crimes Court set for its first LRA trial but what about crimes committed by the army?

The first War Crimes court set up in Uganda will soon start its first trial in Kampala after a lower court committed a former LRA commander. The court set up in 2008 after the failure of peace talks between government and LRA will have the Lord’s Resistance Army commander Thomas Kwoyelo as the first suspect to be arraigned. Kwoyelo is not one of the commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court.

The creation of the court was contained in the reconciliation and accountability annex to the peace agreement negotiated between 2006 and 2008 in Juba before the talks crumbled. The War Crimes court is just a division of the High Court.

You can say this is one of the few achievements that came out of the two year negotiations.

Kwoyelo is facing 12 counts of willful killing, taking hostages, extensive destruction of property and causing serious injury to people. Kwoyelo was captured by the Ugandan army last year in Garamba forest DRC and LRA continue to kill, kidnap and displace many in South Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic.

Despite President Museveni signing the ICC bill into law a few months ago but news reports indicate Kwoyelo was being tried under the Geneva Convention.

The court is supposed to address serious crimes and human rights violations of the past two decades in northern Uganda. This includes crimes allegedly committed by the Ugandan army as well as the LRA.

This trial could bring support to the court that has not been able to take off due to lack of funding and skilled investigators in war crimes but still the sticking point remains whether this court will ever be allowed to try Uganda Peoples Defense (UPDF) soldiers for crimes committed in the north.

Last year Amnesty International released a report that criticized the exclusion of Ugandan soldiers from the court’s jurisdiction. “The international crimes committed by armed forces shouldn’t be tried by the military courts since they took place during the conflict,” said the report. “You can’t try crimes committed parties in the conflict in different courts.”

Ugandan  soldiers have been accused of rape, forced displacement, murder and use of child soldiers. I spent most of the last three weeks moving across northern Uganda and specifically talking to women about their reproductive health needs. Many women tell of horror stories of rape by both soldiers and rebels. They are still living with fistula which the government healthcare system is unable to address. Many require about $200 to get reconstruction surgeries. Few organizations have been able to bring medical teams in the area to avail free surgeries to these women. Most of these crimes were never investigated. There are many stories of gang rapes involving soldiers but the army and government still insist that the military justice system has always disciplined the soldiers who commit any crimes including those during the war. But this is in total denial of the state in which crimes committed in the war are carriedout. The crimes happen at a time when the most important job is finish the enemy. So as much as the War Crimes court is in place, for it to earn the respect and to successfully address crimes against humanity committed in the north, it must look at both sides in the war.

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