GULU CITY-MONDAY, DECEMBER 19,2023.
Four judges of the International Crimes Division (ICD), Monday 18, December 2023 pinned Thomas Kwoyelo, the captured LRA operations commander on 78 charges and dropped 15 of them in a sparsely attended courtroom.
Thomas Kwoyelo was captured by the government forces in 2009 and has since then been waiting for the verdict against him. Kwoyelo was one of the most feared commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel outfit that have since shifted their operation areas from Uganda to Central African Republic and Sudan remaining fairly active there beyond 30 years of existence.
As he faced the charges, Kwoyelo donning a tonic blue suit, stood alone in Gulu High Court dock surrounded by a few Uganda Prison Officers. Without uttering a word, he listened attentively to the court ruling.
The Lead Judge, Michael Elubu who read the judgment said the 15 charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence presented by the prosecution.
According to Article 28 (7) of The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, no person may be charged with or convicted of a criminal offence which is founded on an act or omission that did not at the time it took place constitute a criminal offence. Similarly, except for contempt of court, no person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it prescribed by law (see Article 28 ). The principle helps to ensure that the state cannot simply create new offences retroactively to punish individuals for conduct that was not previously prohibited Those were some of the grounds that led the judges to drop some of the charges against Thomas Kwoyelo.
Others Judges that appeared to rule on Kwoyelo in Gulu High Court were Justice Duncan Gaswaga, Justice Stephen Mubiru, Justice Dr. Bashaija K. Andrew and Justicy Harty Hatanga.
Justice Michael Elubu added that in his ruling he considered that the elements or ingredients of the accusations should not be ambiguous or vague or too broad as to defy specific definition.
.Justice Elubu asked the defense counsels led by Charles Dalton Opwonya and his teams after the pretrial ruling that if they agree to consult in 30 minutes and answer to the pretrial ruling, but Opwonya and his colleague Caleb Alaka asked to be allowed more time.
Charles Dalton Opwonya pleaded to ICD judges that they will produce three categories of witnesses to bring to court, the witnesses who grew up with Kwoyelo from childhood, the witnesses who stayed with him during his school days, and the witnesses who served with him during his military duty.
Defense counsel Komakech Kilama asked court to give them time to go and talk to the victims at the grassroots to inform them about the court ruling of the ICD.
PHOTO CAPTION: Lawyers consult during Thomas Kwoyelo trial at Gulu High Court Circuit, December 18, 2023. Fourth left in blue suit is Thomas Kwoyelo