Amuru (UG): The International Crime Division of the High Court has started moving to update the communities in Amuru district where former Lord’s Resistance Army rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo allegedly committed atrocities.
The outreach is led by the deputy registrar of the ICD of the High Court, Her Worship Juliet Harty Hatanga. She said the outreach is part of the court’s activities to update the locals on the progress of the case.
“I ask you to be free and ask any question they want to know about the trial of Kwoyelo. I also want to encourage victims who have different views about the charges against Thomas Kwoyelo to come out and register them with my office in Gulu or Kampala. We will ensure that you are protected in case the information is confidential,” Her Worship Hatanga told locals.
Kwoyelo was charged with 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between January 1995 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. However, on December 18th, 2023, the trial chamber confirmed 78 counts the accused has to answer and dropped 15 counts for lack of evidence.
Kwoyelo is accused of murder as a crime against humanity, pillaging, violence to life, outrage against personal dignity, and cruel treatment, among other charges.
The team included two judges of ICD who are not among the trial judges: Justice Susan Okalany and Justice Richard Wabwire. They were explaining to the locals the process of the trial as well as responding to questions raised. The team also includes the accused defence legal team led by Caleb Alaka, Boris Anyuru, Charles Dalton Opwonya, and Evans Ochienge. Also present was the victims’ lawyer, Komakech Henry Kilama.
On Friday Morning before the outreach, Kwoyelo appeared before the deputy registrar of ICD of the High Court, Her Worship Hatanga Juliet for case mention. His defense legal team prayed to the Court to adjourn the case to give them time to interact with the defense witnesses.
“We are seeking adjournment by three weeks so that we can prepare our witnesses for trial. We submit that by January 31st, we will have our witnesses’ statement ready to enable us to disclose our witness statement to the Directorate of Public Prosecution and also to the victims’ counsels, and we intend that this process will be complete by February 4th.”
Barely a week ago, Kwoyelo revealed that he has 50 witnesses ready to defend him against the 78 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is facing at the ICD of the High Court.
During the outreach at Pabbo town council hall, many locals who turned up to attend the engagement demanded the ICD judges justify why the government of Uganda could not pardon Kwoyelo through amnesty like other rebel commanders who returned home and were given amnesty.
“Peacebuilding and recovery from the war go with forgiveness and reconciliation. If Kwoyelo cannot be forgiven, how about some of the commanders who might have committed more crimes than Kwoyelo?” asked, a participant identified as Kampbell Okech.
“At the time Kwoyelo was abducted as a child, who was responsible for protecting him from the rebels?” another participant, Evelyn Anena, demanded,
In response, Justice Susan Okalany explained that Kwoyelo equally applied for amnesty, but the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) rejected it.
“When Kwoyelo asked for amnesty, the DPP rejected it for the reason that the case of Kwoyelo is atrocious,” Okalany responded. She added that since the matter is in court, she would not want to jeopardise the process, and it is up to the defence team to use it in their submission during the hearing.
Okalany apologises to the victim community for the delay of the trial, which has lasted close to 15 years. “I apologise for the delay in the trial of Kwoyelo. It has affected Kwoyelo himself and the victims; this is due to resource constraints but we undertake to finish this case before mid-year,” said Okalany.
The hearing resumes on February 19th before the ICD of the High Court at Gulu Court Circuit. Meanwhile, the court-led outreaches will continue until Tuesday, 23rd, in various locations, including Pabbo sub-county, Lamogi sub-county, and Gulu City.
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