ICD outreach on Thomas Kwoyelo

Kwoyelo with Wardens

Kwoyelo arrives at the Gulu court building on Nov. 11, 2011

In April 2015, the Ugandan Supreme Court held that former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo could be tried at the International Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda (the ICD). On 27 May, Avocats Sans Frontières and judges from the ICD held an outreach session meeting with victim and civil society organisations in Gulu town followed by a community outreach session with Lukodi village on the 28th of May with people who suffered during the LRA massacre attack on Lukodi village on the 19th May 2004. The purpose of the outreach was to introduce the ICD court to the communities and to discuss the way forward for Thomas Kwoyelo’s case.

In Lukodi, the people present included orphans, widows and widowers among others. The four ICD judges that conducted the outreach included Justices Nahamwa and Mukizi Ezekiel and during the session, they informed participants about the background of the ICD, including when it was formed and the law applicable to its jurisdiction. Justice Mukizi also highlighted the work of the Justice, Law and Order Sector of the Government of Uganda (JLOS) and police in the contributions they make to the court and said that the ICD court is not the government but rather a small part of the government which was formed to address capital crimes to stop impunity.

According to the judge, the first objective of the court is to try the case and make sure that if enough evidence is presented to the court that an accused person such as Kwoyelo would be convicted. Objective two is aimed at taking into account the rights of the victims and giving them an opportunity to be heard, which he said would be unlike traditional courts and allow them to testify and give evidence of their experiences, be present in court and be provided for their suffering in terms of compensation or reparation. 

The judges pronounced that their duties are bound by the law and that they have international standards to follow when a person is brought to court for a fair trial. Kwoyelo, they said, is also entitled to a lawyer for representation and to be allowed witnesses to support his case. If enough evidence is found to support him, he would not be convicted. His trial will be referred to Gulu where all people would be welcome to participate. Judge Nahamwa said that he is encouraging victims to report crimes to the police and JLOS for investigation though they can either choose to report the crimes or not.

During the outreach, Justice Mukizi pointed out that while there has been a provision for amnesty for LRA returnees, there are some crimes, such as those alleged to have been committed by Kwoyelo, which the Supreme Court confirms that amnesty cannot be extended to because of the graveness of the offences alleged to have been committed. The judge mentioned that Kwoyelo is charged with 52 counts of crimes against humanity and if there are victims who suffered according to his acts, they are called upon to come up and offer evidence to the court. Any efforts, he said, will help to stop impunity so that the acts are punished.