Former top Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel Thomas Kwoyelo yesterday walked to freedom following a landmark Constitutional Court ruling stating that he is entitled to receive amnesty just like others who renounced rebel activities and should not be tried in any court.
Five judges led by Amos Twinomujuni in a ruling read for them by the Assistant Registrar Court of Appeal, Mr Alex Ajiji, also ordered that Mr Kwoyelo's file be taken to the International Crimes Court in Gulu to immediately cease his trial that had commenced about a month ago.
"The applicant (Kwoyelo) acquired a legal right to be granted amnesty or pardon under the Amnesty Act just like everyone who renounced rebellion," ruled the judges.
Adding: "Indeed, in terms of Section 3(2) of the Act, Kwoyelo as a reporter shall also be deemed to be granted amnesty just like others... once he declared to the prison officers that he had denounced rebellion and had intentions of applying for amnesty."
Mr Kwoyelo was facing over 53 charges of murder, willful killing, kidnap with intent to kill, aggravated robbery and destruction of property, allegedly committed during the two-decade LRA insurgency in the northern part of the country, led by Joseph Kony.
Through his lawyers led by Caleb Alaka, he, however, contended that the Amnesty Commission and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions were being discriminative in granting amnesty under a law enacted to encourage rebels to abandon the bush, and as such were contravening the Constitution.
He said he had applied to be granted amnesty but nothing had materialised and yet other former rebels who were of even of a higher rank than him had been granted amnesty upon renouncing rebellion.
"The DPP did not give any objection and reasonable explanation why he did not sanction the application of Kwoyelo like others," the ruling said.
Shortly after the ruling, Mr Kwoyelo smiled in the dock before hugging one of his lawyers, Francis Onyango.
The judges in their ruling noted that the independence of the DPP on how to prosecute were not being interfered with as claimed during the hearing of the application recently.
"We do not think that the Act was enacted to whittle down the prosecutorial powers or to interfere with his independence," they ruled.
The court ruled that "the DPP can still prosecute persons who are declared ineligible for amnesty by the minister of internal affairs or those who refuse to renounce rebellion. The amnesty [under the Amnesty Act] unlike the South African Truth and Reconciliation Act did not immunise all wrongdoers"
The line minister in his amendment to the Act only excluded the top five LRA commanders, including Kony, from benefiting from amnesty following their indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the auspices of the Rome Statute.
According to Kwoyelo's lawyers, this amendment did not affect their client hence his eligibility to be granted amnesty.
Shortly after the ruling Mr Kwoyelo was handcuffed and his leg shackled before being driven back to Luzira Maximum Security Prison under tight security. It's from there that he will be taken back to the International Crimes Division of the High Court sitting in Gulu to formalise his release as ordered by the Constitutional Court.
Amnesty Commission's principal legal officer, Nathan Twinomugisha, who attended the ruling welcomed it, saying Kwoyelo was eligible for amnesty as he had applied to them early last year.
There were mixed reactions to the ruling in Acholi, Kwoyelo's homeland, where he allegedly committed the atrocities.
Whereas others welcomed it, others, especially those who lost relatives and property during the insurgency, said the Act shields criminals.