In an affirming step in the fight against impunity, Uganda’s Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) refused a court’s request earlier this month to grant amnesty to former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo. Kwoyelo is facing 53 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court of Uganda; those accused of such crimes cannot be granted immunity from prosecution, the DPP contended.
This is the country’s first trial for war crimes committed by the LRA rebel movement, whose tactics are characterized by brutal attacks on civilians and the abduction of children. To further ICTJ’s special podcast series on complementarity, we sat down with Justice Dan Akiiki Kiiza, head of the ICD, to discuss the work of the High Court.
The ICD provides a case study of complementarity in practice: “the experience of those people who are already benefitting at the ICD, from the complementarity; where there are shortfalls, where there are strong points, what can be done to improve or eliminate other problems.”
The discussion highlights that one of the challenges faced by the court has been an ongoing debate between peace and justice; whether criminal procedures threaten the stability achieved by the Juba peace talks.
"People wanted peace instead of accountability," Akiiki Kiiza explains. "So there was one section who was saying 'now, since we have gotten the ceasefire and there's no more fighting, now why do you go to trying these people in court? When you take them to court, others may start fighting again.'"
But the popular response to the Kwoyelo trial has been overwhelmingly positive, he contends. “Crowds of people actually turned up at the court in Gulu to witness the opening of this trial… People were interested to see that at least in the long run, justice is being realized.”
Download | Duration: 09:44mins | File size: 5.57MB
The next podcast in this series explores the relationship between complementarity and development with Heidy Rombouts, project leader for the Social Justice, Reconciliation and National Cohesion Project of GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbei) in Kenya.
Photo: Residents bury victims of an LRA attack on Obiya village in northern Uganda, March 2005. Copyright Thomas W Morley/Exile Images.