KAMPALA, Uganda, Aug 18 – Close to thirteen thousand rebels of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army have been pardoned under the country’s Amnesty Act.
But the Ugandan State Attorney says she wants to end impunity and continue the trial against Thomas Kwoyelo, the first LRA commander ever to be tried for his role in the conflict that ravaged Uganda up to 2006.
Surrounded by heavily armed officers Thomas Kwoyelo arrived in a small courtroom in Kampala on Tuesday morning. Kwoyelo was one of the commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that fought in Northern Uganda between 1986 and 2006 and continues to kill, mutilate and kidnap people in DR Congo, Republic of South Sudan and the Central-African Republic.
Kwoyelo shared a joke with his lawyer, Caleb Alaka and then proceeded to the dock. For the rest of the day, he stood there listening to a technical debate that looks set to shape the future of Uganda’s dealings with rebels. Kwoyelo, however, couldn’t follow a word of the proceedings because he can’t speak English.
On Tuesday’s hearing there was no mention of the crimes Mr Kwoyelo is accused of. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is one of Africa’s most brutal rebel movements, which keeps their ranks in full force by abducting young children who are sometimes forced to kill their parents in an effort to make sure they never dare to abandon the rebels. Underage girls are kept as ‘wives’ for the commanders.
Five top leaders of the rebel movement have been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, though none of them have ever been captured. Mr. Kwoyelo, who was arrested by the Ugandan army in the DR Congo two years ago, is facing 53 charges including murder and kidnapping.
This week’s hearing was handled by the Constitutional Court. Five of Uganda’s top judges were asked to delve into the amnesty debate. “My client was abducted at the age of 13 and tried to escape from the rebels several times,” said Kwoyelo’s lawyer Caleb Alaka in his plea for amnesty.
“Prosecuting my client instead of granting him amnesty like so many others is discriminative. He has renounced the rebellion and therefore fulfilled all requirements for it,” Alaka continues.
Patricia Mutesi, Uganda’s Principal State Attorney, holds a different view.
She asked the court to declare Uganda’s Amnesty Act, under which 12,906 LRA rebels have been granted amnesty since the year 2000, to be unconstitutional. This would mean that amnesty cannot be granted anymore from the day of the ruling but would uphold all previous cases.
“The Amnesty Act was supposed to be in place for only a few months, but has been extended all the time. Thomas Kwoyelo was caught in a battle with the Ugandan army. As long as all rebels can just get amnesty we have impunity in this country. That must stop.”
The court is expected to give a verdict on the Amnesty Act within several weeks.
This article was first published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide at http://www.rnw.nl/africa