The International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court has acquitted former rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni of 15 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity out of the 93 counts he was slapped on in 2018.
The crime constitutes murder, willful killing, taking hostages, extensive destruction of property, murder, imprisonment, rape, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, enslavement, torture, pillaging, kidnapping with intent to murder, aggravated robbery, and attempted murder.
In a ruling delivered on Monday at the ICD sitting in Gulu High Court Circuit, Justice Michael Elubu noted that the 15 charges were dropped due to insufficient, or lack of evidence presented by the prosecution. They include procuration of unlawful carnal knowledge, kidnapping with intent to murder, Hostage-taking, and murder under The Penal Code Act, and War Crimes committed in violation of Article 3 common to The Geneva Conventions.
Justice Elubu however ruled that Kwoyelo has a case to answer concerning the remaining 78 charges and ordered him to put up a defence on the counts. Kwoyelo had appeared before the four-member panel of judges of the ICD for a ruling on whether he had a case to answer following a submission made by the defense lawyers earlier this year.
The other judges were Duncan Gaswaga, Stephen Mubiru, and alternate Judge Andrew Bashaija. The defense lawyers submitted that the prosecution has not established a prima facie case in all three categories of crimes in the indictment to warrant the accused person to be called to his defense. They also argued that in all instances, there was insufficient evidence to establish a link between the accused and the acts attributed to him, arguing that Kwoyelo never knew of or ordered the alleged attacks.
The judges however overruled the defence lawyer’s submission. “For the above discourse, the objection raised by counsel for the defense is accordingly overruled,” Justice Michael Elubu ruled. In his ruling, Justice Elubu notes that Kwoyelo has a case to answer in 78 charges related to War Crimes committed in violation of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, the Penal Code Act, and customary international law.
The crimes include enslavement, imprisonment, attempted murder, rape, torture, inhumane act, murder, outrages against personal dignity, violence to life and person, cruel treatment, and pillaging. Justice Elubu notes that while putting up his defense, Kwoyelo will have to choose the options he will use for making a defense.
He says Kwoyelo can choose to make his defence on oath which will attract cross-examination from the state decide to give evidence not on oath and escape cross-examination or also choose to remain silent. “Any one of these modes you chose, you are at liberty to call your witnesses,” says Justice Elubu. Kwoyelo’s defense lawyer, Caleb Alaka, prayed for an adjournment so that they take their client through the 78 charges and guide him on what he doesn’t remember and the testimonies of some state witnesses.
Alaka also notes that the defense intends to bring in between 15 to 20 witnesses who will cover the aspect of their client’s background, childhood, abduction, and issues surrounding his operation while in captivity. Justice Elubu consequently adjourned court to January 19 when Kwoyelo will return to court for mention in his case before a date for a defense hearing is fixed.
Evans Ochieng, the accused defence lawyer welcomed the ruling saying it’s a relief for their client. He says their client will now be able to offer a defence on the remaining charges adding that they are hopeful he will be exonerated of more charges.
Jacquelyn Okui, the Public Relations Officer in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) says they lost the 14 charges against Kwoyelo because the prosecutor encountered several challenges during the time of adducing evidence. She says some of the witnesses during the investigation were living in the Internally Displaced People’s Camp (IDP) but relocated while others developed memory loss, and some died.
Kwoyelo’s trial commenced in September 2018 and has been in custody at Luzira Maximum Prison since 2009 after being captured by the Ugandan Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in March same year. He is the first among the top LRA commanders facing a domestic court on crimes between 1992 and 2005 in Kilak county in present-day Amuru district.