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Court orders govt to compensate former LRA commander Kwoyelo

Former LRA rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo during a past court hearing. File photo.

An African court has ordered government to pay damages to former Lord Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo for violating his rights, including delayed trial.

The orders were made by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in its ruling held at its 62nd ordinary session in Banjul in Gambia last week.

According to the orders, Kwoyelo should be compensated basing on “international standards.”

“In view of the above, the commission hereby orders the government of Uganda to pay adequate compensation to the victim (Kwoyelo) for the violation of Articles 3 and 7 (1) (a) and (d) of the African Charter,” ruled the African Commission.

“In accessing the manner and mode of payment of the compensation, the government of Uganda shall consult the victim and his legal representatives and shall be guided by international norms and practices relating to payment of compensatory damages,” the court added.

The commission also ordered the government to report back on progress of Kwoyelo’s compensation within a period not less than 180 days (six months).

The commission castigated the Supreme Court of Uganda for its failure to provide reasons for its decision when it stayed the execution of consequential orders of the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court had in 2010 ruled that Kwoyelo was eligible for amnesty before ordering for his release but the State appealed to the Supreme Court, that halted his release and later ordered for his trial before the International Crimes Division.

“The commission further rules that the unjustified delay in the hearing of the appeal before the Supreme Court caused by lack of quoram, partially violated Article 7 (1) (d) of the Charter,” ruled the commission

The ruling was prompted by the filing of a complaint by Kwoyelo’s lawyers on October 19, 2012.

His lawyers had argued that their client applied for amnesty with the Amnesty Commission, which was granted but the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), refused to issue the certificate of amnesty on grounds that he was a suspected criminal.

The refusal was then brought to the attention of the Constitutional Court that ruled that the former LRA rebel was eligible to be given an amnesty certificate just like other rebels who had applied before and after his application.

Deciding on this issue of amnesty, the commission observed that the Amnesty Commission never declared any reporter ineligible for amnesty before issuing amnesty certificates to 24,000 former rebels and excluded Kwoyelo.

Two weeks ago, Kwoyelo’s trial was deferred to November 5 after his lawyers said he received a poorly translated copy of charges. He was returned to Luzira prison where he has been held for the last eight years.

Who is Kwoyelo
Thomas Kwoyelo was born in Pabbo, northern Uganda. He was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on his way to school in 1987. He remained in captivity and later became colonel.

In March 2009, Kwoyelo was injured during hostilities between the Ugandan army and the LRA in Ukwa, DRC. He was taken to Uganda for medical treatment and subsequently into custody.

In June 2009, Kwoyelo was charged with crimes under Uganda’s penal code. In addition, he was charged with grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, pursuant to Art.147 of Uganda’s 1964 Geneva Conventions Act in August 2010, including willful killing of civilians, taking of hostages, extensive destruction of property, causing serious injury to body or health and inhuman treatment.

In 2010 Kwoyelo applied for amnesty under the Amnesty Act, which was passed by Uganda’s government in 2000 and offers impunity for rebels who denounced rebellion. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Amnesty Commission did not act on the application.

On 11 July 2011 his trial opened before the Uganda’s International Crimes Division (ICD), a division of Uganda’s High Court. On 22 September 2011, the Constitutional Court of Uganda decided that Kwoyelo’s trial should stop as it found no reasonable grounds for the failure by the DPP and the Amnesty Commission to act on Kwoyelo’s application.

On 23 November 2011, Kwoyelo filed a complaint to the Ugandan High Court in Kampala requesting to be amnestied. Nevertheless, the DPP denied his request in February 2012.

On 8 April 2015, the Supreme Court decided that Kwoyelo “was properly indicted and charged before the International Crimes Division of the High Court” and allowed his trial to resume.

Kwoyelo appeared on 1 February 2017 before the court in the capital, Kampala, for the start of the preliminary hearings.

Kwoyelo is indicted on 93 counts, including murder, rape, defilement, destruction of crops and property, recruitment of child soldiers and other crimes against humanity. His trial became the first domestic war crimes case in Uganda, and the first LRA prosecution.

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