In the end, the military demurred charging Kyadondo MP Robert Kyagulanyi with weapons charges in the Court Martial. A belated note written by the DPP to the Judge Advocate stated the civilian court was a more convenient forum to charge the MP with the other co-accused, who are facing treason charges. The offence of treason, which requires some intent to overthrow government by force of arms or harm or kill the person of the president, has already decomposed into allegations of throwing stones at one of the cars in the presidential motorcade at the conclusion of the highly charged Arua by-election.
Uganda’s Directors of Public Prosecutions have had a sharp edged aspect to their work since the days of the British colonialists acting as a principal tool to stamp government authority. The recent trail of DPPs in recent times includes some Peter Kabatsi, who later became Solicitor General, Alfred Nasaba, who was infamously replaced ahead of the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution, Richard Buteera, a Supreme Court Justice and now Judge Mike Chibita, a High Court Judge. There are a few notable deputies, the best known is Justice Byabakama Mugenyi, now chairman of the Electoral Commission.
While exercising sovereign prerogatives of the DPP is recognised as one of the perks of the job, the continued pattern of abusing them has continued to grow. In 2006, Kizza Besigye, President Museveni’s erstwhile opponent, was charged with rape in charges largely discredited by witness manipulation and were perhaps a flare-up of faulty government intelligence. Two beneficiaries of this travesty of justice were the Justice Byamukama and Elizabeth Kuteesa, former Head CID, who was later seconded to Interpol.
Justice Buteera’s long tenure in office, he served longest starting in 1995 for nearly two full 10-year terms, still took the staunchly pro-State view. His era was marked by institutional clashes, for example, with the IGG, an administrative agency that stepped into controversies like Chogm. During his tenure, the General Court Martial assumed a higher profile with new terrorism laws. When his tenure ended, he belongs to a cluster of very pro-government justices.
Judge Chibita rose to become DPP first by becoming a High Court Judge after serving for many years first as a State Attorney and later as Presidential Legal Secretary. He was appointed to the High Court from where he was appointed DPP. Chibita is one of the two law officers who enjoy an enhanced salary outside the normal government salary scales. Chibita at Shs35 million, earns one and a half times the salary of the Chief Justice, who makes Shs20 million.
As DPP, he seems an affable man, but his tenure starting in the days of the deposed IGP Kale Kayihura, has been marked by the soiling of the courts through draconian actions. Starting in 2006, government assumed the position through disgraced Gen David Sejusa in the raid on the High Court that courts rather than being sanctuaries, were legitimate targets of security actions.
During recent years, the Obote II entrenched practice of arresting people on court grounds has become more routine. Citizens are beaten up by security officers, some in civilian clothes during these rearrests, which have attracted nominal mention in court challenges. In these cases, the DPP routinely sanctions recharging suspects even after consenting to their release. This is a major fraudulent and deceptive practice that violates citizens’ rights to a fair hearing.
In a recent decision, Judge Margaret Oumo Oguli, laid a rare exception into the DPP chastising him for charging in court, persons on trumped-up charges, who had evidently been tortured. In 2014, famously the DPP took over and terminated a private prosecution initiated against the former IGP.
This time, the DPP ascended into the Arua mess, which is a political dispute, but where all past ingredients were present. Torture victims were brought to court, including a woman, who was incontinent and a man, who seems to have lost mobility in his lower limbs in a manner that has sparked global outrage at this expression of the highest level of callousness. This is not a moment to be proud of, whether in the Judiciary or at the bar.
Mr Ssemogerere is an attorney-at-Law
and an advocate. [email protected]