Uganda is incapable of trying Thomas Kwoyelo – Lawyer

Uganda is incapable of trying Kwoyelo - Lawyer
Suspected LRA (Lords Resistance Army) member Thomas Kwoyelo (R) talks with his lawyer Charles Dalton Opwonya (L) during a pre-trial session at the High Court in Kampala on February 1, 2017. Courtesy Photo

Uganda is incapable of trying Thomas Kweyelo, one of the former top commanders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), according to his lawyer, Charles Dalton Opwonya. He wants government to transfer the former LRA war lord to the Hague based International Criminal Court for trial.

Kwoyelo faces 67 unconfirmed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court. He is locked up in Luzira Maximum Prison since his capture by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) in 2008. His trial stagnated at the pre-trial stage due to objections by his legal team, arguing that he was entitled to amnesty and only moved forward after the Supreme Court dismissed his application.

However, it is not clear when his trial will start due to persistent delays in the confirmation of the charges in the pretrial conference. A series of pre-trial hearings flopped last year due to lack of funds. A scheduled confirmation hearing that was scheduled to take place on June 11th, 2018 flopped after Kwoyelo’s lawyer, Charles Dalton Opwonya informed court that the defense team wasn’t ready to proceed in the absence of their colleagues, Caleb Alaka and Evans Ochieng.

The two lawyers have reportedly missed the last three sessions without any communication. Earlier on, Human Rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo withdrew his interest from the case. The pretrial conference which was meant to work on Monday this week didn’t proceed due to lack of funds and was adjourned indefinitely. The pretrial session is being handled by Justice Susan Okalany of the International Crimes Division of High Court.

The Judiciary Senior Communications Spokesperson, Solomon Muyita, says the case can’t proceed due to lack of funds. He says although he doesn’t know the actual amount of money needed for the trial, the money is meant for among others the housing allowance for the pretrial judge, her body guards, fuel and lawyers representing the suspect on state briefs.

Now, Kwoyelo’s lawyer, Opwonya says Uganda is incapable of trying Kwoyelo due to lack of funds, saying the case requires billions, which government doesn’t have. He accuses the government of trying to deceive the International Criminal Court that it is capable of trying such bigger offenses such no political leaders are dragged to the ICC for trial.

He asked government to transfer Kwoyelo to the ICC where he will get justice. Opwonya said people like Dominic Ongwen, another LRA commander who is being tried before the ICC has got a chance to learn new languages like French. He accuses government of discriminating against Kwoyelo.

The Director of Public Prosecution, Justice Mike Chibita told this publication in a recent interview that the complexity of Kwoyelo’s case demands that it should be treated with utmost care, adding that the current delays are meant to generate a solid foundation of jurisprudence for the future domestic trial of international crimes.