A Ugandan court’s decision to order the release of a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a huge setback in delivering justice to victims of human rights violations, Amnesty International said today.
Ending the country’s first war crimes trial, a five-judge panel ruled that Thomas Kwoyelo was entitled to amnesty for any crimes he committed during the conflict, in which 30,000 people died and some two million were displaced. Thomas Kwoyelo had been charged with 53 counts of murder and other crimes.
“The court’s decision is yet another nail in the coffin of the right to justice for the thousands who have suffered at the hands of the LRA,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.
“What we are witnessing here is simply pervasive impunity for serious crimes and human rights violations. It is high time Uganda carried out an independent investigation into all crimes committed during the 20-year conflict. Neither Thomas Kwoyelo, nor others accused of committing war crimes should be granted amnesty,” she said.
Thomas Kwoyelo was charged with murder, wilful killing, kidnap with intent to kill, aggravated robbery and destruction of property and other offences during an attack he allegedly commanded in northern Uganda’s Amuru district during the conflict that began in 1986. He has denied the charges.
Thousands of former LRA soldiers have benefited from Uganda’s Amnesty Act of 2000. The act itself goes against Uganda’s obligation not to grant amnesty to those suspected of crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International and other organisations have documented widespread human rights violations throughout the conflict in northern Uganda.
There have been only a handful of investigations and prosecutions of members of the armed forces for crimes against civilians. In most cases, these were conducted before a deeply flawed military justice system which violated the accused individuals’ right to a fair trial, and in a number of cases imposed the death penalty.