18 October 2012

Uganda: Former Rebel Seeks Justice At African Commission

In spite a Constitutional court ruling that the former rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Thomas Kwoyelo, is entitled to amnesty under the Amnesty Act, he remains in jail.

His lawyers, Onyango and Company Advocates, have written to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, seeking a declaration that his continued detention is illegal and an order that he should be released. The International Crimes Division of the High court held that not granting Kwoyelo amnesty, as the state did to thousands of rebels before him, was a violation to his right to equal protection under the law.

The Constitutional court thus ordered that Kwoyelo be released immediately and that his prosecution at the International Crimes Division of the High court, formed specifically to try LRA rebels, cease forthwith. Shortly after the ruling, the prosecution successfully applied to the Supreme court to stay execution of the High court ruling. It is on this basis that Kwoyelo, captured in 2008, remains in custody.

In a letter addressed to the Secretary of the African Commission on Human and People's rights based in Banjul, the Gambia, Kwoyelo's lawyers argue that his continued detention has caused him psychological and physical torture. They are also doubtful that the Supreme court, headed by the Chief Justice -- also the head of the Justice Law and Order sector that was critical of the Kwoyelo High court decision -- will deliver justice.

"There is no indication or reasonable time period within which Mr Kwoyelo be brought to trial, as the Supreme court of Uganda presently lacks the requisite quorum," the communication states, adding that the Constitutional court did not give clear reasons why Kwoyelo's right to liberty should be curtailed.

The African Commission and the African Court on Human and People's Rights are avenues of last resort for human rights violations that complainants feel the state cannot justly remedy. In the wake of the Kwoyelo trial, critics opined that his prosecution was driven by political motive, with the government accused of bowing to international pressure to bring LRA rebels to book through formal rather than traditional justice means it had earlier preferred.

The state was placed in the awkward position of arguing that its very own Amnesty Act was unconstitutional, all in a bid to secure the trial of one man. The public was torn between viewing Kwoyelo as a hardened war criminal who ought to pay for his crimes, or an innocent child soldier who was forcefully indoctrinated into the rebel group.

"Uganda should have protected Mr Kwoyelo as a child and is now illegally detaining him indefinitely," the communication pleads.

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