Thursday, September 21, 1972, progressed as a normal working day in the judiciary. Then Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka had handled 10 cases in the day before retiring to his chambers.
Current Supreme Court judge Augustine Nshimye was at the time the High Court chief interpreter. Justice Kiwanuka, on what dramatically evolved into a fateful day, retained files of cases due for judgment and Justice Nshimye exited with the others.
As Justice Nshimye prepared to go home, he had a commotion in the direction of the Chief Justice’s office, but paid little attention. In any case, he left Kiwanuka removing his gown, robes and wig.
It was no ordinary turmoil. Armed men, suspected to be state operatives in Amin’s dreaded State Research Bureau intelligence outfit, had unexpectedly invaded the Chief Justice’s chambers and abducted him.
They dragged him on the ground as Kiwanuka kicked in the air in protest. The Chief Justice was bundled into a vehicle and it sped away, according to witnesses, toward the Nile mansions (Kampala Serena Hotel), which was dreaded as a torture and killings compartment.
Kiwanuka was never seen alive again. The narratives about his final moments --- being brutally killed in a military dungeon, buried in unmarked public cemetery and body eventually exhumed and destroyed in acid --- evoke fright and umbrage that haunts judicial officials and their work to-date.
The lingering question is: Will another chief justice or judicial officer again have to pay with their life for just doing their work?
Idi Amin’s regime collapsed 40 years ago and he is dead. But not threats to the Judiciary. Just two years after his burial in Saudi Arabia, where he died, armed men in black T-shirts and camouflage pants, and all wearing dark shades, on November 16, 2005 stormed the High Court premises.
It was the same court building from where Amin’s henchmen pulled out Chief Justice Kiwanuka.
The raid by the modern-era security outfit code-named Black Mamba, an urban hit squad, bore hallmarks of the September 21, 1972 military assault on the Temple of Justice, except the target this time was not the head of the Judiciary.
The attackers aimed to re-arrest suspected People’s Redemption Army (PRA) rebels after court granted them bail. They re-enacted their assault on the High Court again on March 1, 2007 and a similar attack happened in 2016, this time involving a civilian mob invading Makindye Chief Magistrate’s Court in protest over a case brought against then Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura.
The trail of these attacks, alongside the chilling killing of Kiwanuka by Amin’s government, have not cowed judicial officers or adversely influenced the way they administer justice, according to Chief Registrar Esta Nambayo.
“There is no relationship with the kidnap and eventual killing of Chief Justice Kiwanuka and the running and decision-making by judges of the current Judiciary,” she said yesterday.
Not everyone agrees. Mr Christopher Mbazira is an associate professor at Makerere University Law School, placing him in a pole position to observe justice administration of the country with an expert eye.
In an interview, he said Amin’s actions have since subdued the Judiciary and subjected it to military force and set a precedent that judicial power can be done away with by the Executive at will.
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