Kwoyelo granted amnesty
Last week we posted about the newest developments in the Kwoyelo trial, and how Uganda’s state attorney was asking that the Uganda Amnesty Act of 2000 be ruled unconstitutional. We wrote about our fear that this would lead to costly repercussions, mainly through discouraging defections by other LRA fighters and thus extending the conflict.
As of yesterday, Thomas Kwoyelo has been granted amnesty. Since the Ugandan government had honored the Amnesty Act for nearly 13,000 LRA affiliates before him, the Constitutional Court decided that it would be discriminatory to deny amnesty to Kwoyelo.
From the AFP:
Uganda’s highest court ordered Thursday that a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion should be granted amnesty and released, ending the country’s first war crimes trial.
Thomas Kwoyelo was blamed for brutal civilian murders during a 20-year war in the north of the country, and was charged in July with 53 counts of willful killing, hostage taking, destruction of property and causing injury.
But he denied the charges and asked to be released on the grounds that other top LRA commanders had been granted amnesty.
“He is off the hook… The constitutional court has decided that he is supposed to be released because it was discriminatory not to grant him amnesty,” said defence lawyer Ben Ikilai.
While the prosecution is expected to appeal, we cautiously say this is a positive development in bringing an end to the conflict. You can be sure that many LRA combatants have been listening to radios and carefully following the progress of this case. With Kwoyelo granted amnesty, plus the constitutional stamp-of-approval, there is every hope for future defectors that they will also be able to return home without facing prosecution.
Like I mentioned in our last blog on the subject, it is beyond troubling to think of members of the LRA getting “off the hook” (to use Kwoyelo’s defense attorney’s phrase) after potentially committing the worst atrocities imaginable. Nonetheless, we remind ourselves that in many cases they were abducted, indoctrinated and forced to join the rebels. Many are victims in their own right. I suppose that is what you call extenuating circumstances. (Please excuse the link to Wikipedia, but who can explain it better?)
We continue to watch the case with interest, especially in the event of an appeal, but for now we hope that there will be an increase in defections as a result of this ruling.