Court confirms 78 charges against former LRA leader Kwoyelo

Former commander of the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA), Thomas Kwoyelo reacts in the dock at International Crimes Division of the High Court in Gulu District on December 18, 2023 after he was arraigned for a ruling on whether he had a case to answer. Photo/ Tobbias Jolly Owiny

What you need to know:

  • Among the charges, Kwoyelo is accused of murder as a crime against humanity, pillaging, violence to life, outrage against personal dignity and cruel treatment, among others.

The International Crimes Division of the High Court on Monday confirmed a total of 78 out of the 93 charges against former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Thomas Kwoyelo during a sitting in Gulu District.

However, the panel of four justices led by Michael Elubu, dropped 15 charges on grounds there was no sufficient evidence from among the 53 prosecution witnesses to validate the cases against Kwoyelo who has been on remand for nearly 14 years.

“…the accused has a case to answer in respect of the remaining 78 counts. The court orders that he shall be put to his defence on those counts,” Mr Elubu ruled.

“The Court hereby orders that in respect of Counts 4, 7, 9, 18, 19, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 38, 59 and 83 the accused has no case to answer and he is hereby acquitted on these particular counts.” Justice Elubu stated in his ruling.

Among the charges, Kwoyelo is accused of murder as a crime against humanity, pillaging, violence to life, outrage against personal dignity and cruel treatment, among others.

Among the dropped charges, the judges gave the example of counts 4 and 32 in which the accused was charged with the offence of hostage-taking in violation of Article 3(1)b common to the Geneva Conventions under customary international law.

Kwoyelo is accused of murdering Obalo Bicensio, Arop Jerimiah, Obol Vincent, Arop Daniel, and one Charles, all residents of Abera village, Parubanga parish, Pabbo sub-county in Gulu.

He is also alleged to have kidnapped Menya Odong, Ongom, Omoyo and Oryem Quirino with intent to murder.

In the ruling, Justice Elubu gave Kwoyelo three options for his defence including keeping quiet, making a sworn statement and undergoing cross-examination, and making an unsworn statement and not being cross-examined.

After consulting with his lawyers, Kwoyelo asked to be given between three weeks to a month to prepare his defence witnesses

Mr Caleb Alaka, one of the defence attorneys said, “We did confer with the accused as directed by the court, but we also reemphasised to him the options that the court gave to tender his defence. So the accused requested us to get the ruling copy, and copy of the charge sheet and sit down with him and go through those 78 charges and we also guided him on where he does not remember and what witnesses said.”

“We intend to tender in witnesses, between 15 and 20 of them, who will cover aspects of background, his childhood, activities where he was abducted, and to cover issues of operations,” Mr Alaka told court.

Judge Elubu agreed to the request and adjourned, fixing the case for mention on January 19, 2024, in Kampala.


The court ruling comes eight months after the prosecution closed the presentation of 53 witnesses in trying to make a case against Kwoyelo.

He is facing 93 counts of charges involving alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity related to sexual violence, murder, kidnap, robbery, pillaging and enslavement to torture in connection with the two-decade insurgency in northern Uganda that was led by Joseph Kony.

He was one of the commanders of the LRA and was captured by the army in Garamba National Park inside the Democratic Republic of Congo in March 2009.

Subsequently, he was brought back to Uganda and detained at Luzira Upper Prison.

While at Luzira on January 12, 2010, Kwoyelo made a declaration before the officer in charge of the prison, renouncing rebellion and seeking amnesty.

In 2022, the Constitutional Court ruled in Kwoyelo’s favour since he had renounced rebellion before ordering his release.

However, he was re-arrested with the Supreme Court overturning the Constitutional Court’s decision before ordering his trial before the High Court.