Lawmakers agree to extend Amnesty Act

Thursday May 16 2013

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Legislators last evening agreed to extend the Amnesty Act for another two years but failed to reinstate “the amnesty window” which was repealed by the minister last year, citing gaps within the current law.

While Parliament had voted to restore Part II of the Amnesty Act in the parent law as recommended by the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, Deputy Attorney General Freddie Ruhindi advised that, technically, a mere resolution of Parliament cannot restore the amnesty window.

“When you repeal any section of the law, it ceases to exist. Therefore, Part II of the Amnesty Act was repealed by the Minister for Internal Affairs and it ceased to exist,” Mr Ruhindi said. “Even if the minister revokes his earlier instrument, we will still have legal challenges. The only way out is re-enactment by Parliament.”

Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah said the Amnesty Act, 2000 was due to expire on May 24, a move that would in effect dissolve the Amnesty Commission which was put in place to receive and resettle former rebels.

However, a group of concerned religious leaders from northern Uganda, where a two-decade insurgency was fought between the government and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, petitioned Parliament, demanding that the amnesty provision be reinstated to allow Ugandans in captivity and former rebels return home.
Mr Krispus Ayena (UPC, Oyam North) had warned government that if it felt extending amnesty is expensive, let them try insecurity.

Call for reconciliation
“Those of us who went to the bush and took the courage to go to the den of lion (LRA leader Joseph Kony) in Garamba to negotiate the peace process saw many people who were abducted, including women and children,” Mr Ayena said.

The MPs preached reconciliation and forgiveness and asked the government to expedite the drafting of a new law which the Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr Hilary Onek, said would address the concerns of the victims as well as punishing perpetrators of insurgencies. Mr Onek told parliament that within one year, a new law will be in place.

Separately, Busongora MP William Nzoghu questioned the logic of resettling former fighters at the expense of the victims.
But Defence and Internal Affairs Committee Chairperson Milton Muwuma (NRM, Kigulu South) and others reminded him that “forgiving should be an endless exercise.”

Since 2000 when the Amnesty Act came into effect, more than 26,000 people have benefited from the amnesty law.
However, due to financial constraints, only 5,000 have been resettled.

The MPs demanded that the new law spells out penalties for people who abandon and renounce rebellion but then go back to it after benefiting from the amnesty.