Judiciary in race against time to overcome financial barriers delaying former LRA commander's trial

Judiciary in race against time to overcome financial barriers delaying former LRA commander's trial
Dr Flavian Zeija, presiding over the launch of the Judicial Bench Book on the Criminal Adjudication of International Crimes in Uganda

The Judiciary is considering the allocation of funds specifically for the trial of former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Thomas Kwoyelo, as the case has stalled due to a lack of financial resources.

Kwoyelo was charged in 2010 with crimes against humanity, including willful killings, taking hostages, and destruction of property in northern Uganda, and brought to court to answer to these charges.

At the launch of the Judicial Bench Book on the Criminal Adjudication of International Crimes in Uganda, Dr. Flavian Zeija, the Principal Judge, shared details of the challenges faced in Kwoyelo's trial, including delays caused by his contesting the trial, which even reached the Supreme Court before being returned to the High Court International Division.

Dr. Zeija acknowledged the concerns raised by development partners such as the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Belgian Development Partners, Avocats Sans Frontieres, and Australian Development Cooperation, regarding the delays in concluding Kwoyelo's trial.

He expressed his commitment to allocating funds for the trial on a quarterly basis, but noted that unforeseen circumstances could impact the progress of the trial due to the potential diversion of funds for urgent matters.

“The delay is sometimes caused by financial issues, actually in many cases you will find out that the crimes allegedly committed transverse borders. Like now you see Jamil Mukulu was in Congo, then arrested in Tanzania. You will notice that in all that you need witnesses but also international translators,” he said.

He said the prosecution has presented evidence against Kwoyelo, and both parties are preparing submissions on whether he has a case to answer or should be acquitted.

Dr Zeija also told the Nile Post that Jamil Mukulu, the alleged leader of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces(ADF) will kick off in the next financial year

“We have actually taken a long step in Jamil Mululu’s case and this coming financial year we are going to start the hearing processes in full because we went through the pretrial process,” he said.

Dr Flavian Zeija, the principal Judge (middle) , Justice Mike Chibita (right)

The Chairperson of the Governing Council of the Judicial Training Institute, Justice Mike Chibita, has identified several reasons for delays in handling international crimes cases in Uganda, including uncooperative victims, unclear procedures, and corruption in the justice system.

“Talking of lack of clear practices and procedures, Kwoyelo’s case is case in point. Speaking for myself, that case started before I became director of public prosecution almost 10 years ago. I served almost a lifetime in that office. I left the case still ongoing. I am about to retire from the supreme court and the case is still going on,” he said.

Additionally, according to Dr. Andrew Bashaija, head of the International Crimes Division of the High Court, the lack of interest from lawyers in practicing in this area due to unique legal procedures is a challenge that the new judicial bench book hopes to address.

The Judicial Bench Book on the Criminal Adjudication of International Crimes in Uganda was collaboratively developed by the Judicial Training Institute, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, Avocats Sans Frontiers, and the late Retired Justice Elizabeth Ibanda Nahamya.

The book aims to enhance the capacity of legal practitioners and judicial officers in prosecuting international crimes. The book covers various topics, including victim participation, elements of international crimes, prosecution processes, trial sentencing, judgment, and witness protection.

In honor of the late Judge Elizabeth Nahamanya's legacy, her family is urging the judiciary to establish an initiative that motivates young girls to learn about international justice.

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