The trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Thomas Kwoyelo took a new turn but did not conclusively end yesterday when the High Court of Uganda ordered that Kwoyelo be granted amnesty. This decision compelling the country’s Amnesty Commission and Directorate of Public Prosecutions, or DPP, to grant him amnesty affirms the previous ruling by the Ugandan Constitutional Court, despite claims by DPP that Kwoyelo faces other charges that make him ineligible for amnesty. It remains unclear what Kwoyelo’s fate will be, as an appeal filed to the Supreme Court in September is still pending.
The case against Kwoyelo centers on whether or not he should be granted amnesty under the Amnesty Act of 2000. Kwoyelo, a Ugandan national, was allegedly abducted by the LRA at the age of 13 in northern Uganda and rose through the ranks to become a mid-level commander. In February 2009, he was captured by the Ugandan army in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when he claims he was in the process of surrendering. Kwoyelo applied for amnesty under the Amnesty Act but has not been granted an amnesty certificate.
His case has significant implications for the future application of the act and efforts to encourage current LRA members to leave the group. The Amnesty Act, which authorizes amnesty for all rebels in Uganda who renounce and abandon rebellion, has been critical in encouraging LRA commanders and fighters to defect—and thus played a crucial role in efforts to end the LRA. Close to 13,000 former LRA have received amnesty under the act. Kwoyelo is the first former LRA member to be prosecuted for crimes committed during his time with the group, and the choice of Kwoyelo has been puzzling given the thousands of others who have been granted amnesty, including higher-ranking commanders, like Sam Kolo, Kenneth Banya, and Onen Kamdulu. Kwoyelo’s ongoing trial threatens to undermine past and future progress to decrease the size and strength of the LRA—including the efforts of the U.S. military advisors currently in the field—and to promote the recovery and rebuilding of northern Uganda and areas where the LRA still operates.
In the meantime, the case remains open and Kwoyelo’s future uncertain. An appeal challenging the Constitutional Court ruling in favor of amnesty is still pending in the Supreme Court, and it is unclear whether the DPP will appeal yesterday’s High Court decision.
Photo: Thomas Kwoyelo