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Trial of ex-LRA commander Kwoyelo resumes 5 years later in Gulu

Thomas Kweyelo in the dock

Thomas Kweyelo in the dock

The defence trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni kicked off today Monday before the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High court sitting at the Gulu High court circuit.

Kwoyelo is facing 78 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed between 1992 and 2005 in Kilak county, then Gulu district now in Amuru district.

The four-panel judges of the ICD comprising justices Duncan Gaswaga, Michael Elubu, Stephen Mubiru, and alternate judge Andrew Byabashaija on December 18, 2023, ruled that Kwoyelo had a case to answer in 78 out of the 93 charges and was put on defence. Kwoyelo entered the dock at about 9:50 am to defend himself, more than five years since his trial commenced before the ICD in November 2018.

His defence lawyer Caleb Alaka told the court in his submission that Kwoyelo will give an unsworn statement in court in defence of the 78 charges against him.

“The accused was given options as it’s the practice on how he is going to give his defense. The accused intends to give an unsworn statement,” Alaka submitted.

Under the criminal trial, a suspect who chooses to give an unsworn statement may not be subjected to cross-examination. Alaka, however, told the court that while there is virtually no role a counsel plays, if a suspect chooses to give an unsworn statement, they intend to make an application for the rules to be bent to allow the defense to intervene in guiding Kwoyelo.

Alaka reasoned that the trial is peculiar involving a total of 78 counts with so many different incidences that have been ongoing over a considerable period that their client may not properly remember all the incidences without being reminded.

“We pray that the court allows the counsel for the accused to look at the record and guide the accused by reminding him of specific incidents on record and probably the specific allegations. After giving the accused that part of the records, he is left to give his defense without any question,” said Alaka.

Evans Ocheng, Kwoyelo’s defence lawyer on the other hand argued that Kwoyelo's charges span over 20 years which makes it difficult for their client to properly remember all the incidences and the witnesses who testified against him.

"The nature of the application, we waited asking court to bend that rule and put some questions to him. The reasons are so many. You heard our arguments in court, and chiefly among them is that the record is so big, 56 witnesses have testified in a space of over 5 years. We may not be able to recall for example what number 30 said. We may not even be able to recall what the incidents are. Remember the charges also spread for a period of over 20 years. It is not a one incident, so we're asking that if you just leave him to talk without minimal form of guidance, he may not be able to testify properly. So we're asking court to give us this latitude," said Ocheng.

Ocheng also notes that there was limited time for the accused from the time of the court ruling in December last year to go through all the evidence of the state and the charges against him. Prosecution however objected to the defense application arguing that the accused person was accorded all the necessary time to prepare for the defense trial.

William Byansi, state prosecutor told the court that the defence request is unclear arguing that while the defence lawyers pray only to remind the accused of the charges, they seemingly intend to lead the accused through the charges.

"The accused person has been accorded all the necessary facilitation to prepare his defence from the time this trial began. He has been present throughout, all proceedings have been interpreted to him, he has been given a copy of the indictment and a summary both in English and the local language...He has also enjoyed the services of the best criminal lawyer in the country and my lords when the prosecution closed, he asked for time which was given to him. We patiently waited for this day," said Byansi.

Byansi says since the accused has exercised his right to give an unsworn statement, he should play by the same rules without the involvement of the lawyers.

“He cannot have his cake and also eat it. If he has chosen to give unsworn testimony, he should go by the rules,” he told the court.


+2 #1 Lysol 2024-04-15 22:36
Will Uganda ever bring criminal charges to those who committed atrocities in Luwero?

Selective justice based on bias and hatred of a particular ethnic group is counterproductive. It will never heal the wounds of wars.
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+1 #2 kabayekka 2024-04-16 12:14
Lysol you have a point. In such a civil war in Luwero Gaddafi as a visitor to Uganda at that time 1986/90 emphasized the legal point of those who are victorious in brutal wars!

They are the most killers and murderous fighters! Now that those who sold these Africans the accessories to such wars are laughing all the way to their banks, African leadership continue to plan for more future brutal wars against their countrymen!
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+1 #3 kabayekka 2024-04-16 12:41
Such international African courts should not exist if they sit in such biased civil judgements.

It is unfortunate that the Kingdom State of Buganda continues to go along with such military human slaughter at a grand scale for many years and counting!

It does not sound good at all for the ancient but modern Kingdom state of Buganda to participate in such policies of misgoverning African communities that did recover their independence from brutal imperialism!
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