Court rejects Kwoyelo plea to involve lawyers in his defence 

Former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo in the dock at the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Gulu City on April 15, 2024. PHOTO/TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

What you need to know:

  • Mr Caleb Alaka, one of four Kwoyelo’s defence lawyers, had asked the court to be allowed to guide Kwoyelo while he takes to the court dock to defend himself.

The International Crimes Division of the High Court has rejected the move by the jailed former rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Thomas Kwoyelo, to be guided by his lawyers as he commences his defence today.

In the ruling read by Justice Duncan Gaswaga, the court held that it was immoral for defence lawyers to guide Kwoyelo since he gave an unsworn statement.

“The accused, having chosen to make an unsworn statement, is equally omitted from seeking to be guided or assisted by counsel (his lawyers); this is a mandatory requirement of law. If an accused opts to give an unsworn statement, he loses the right to the assistance of counsel in making that statement,” Justice Gaswaga read the ruling on behalf of a panel of four justices.

Adding: “Owing to that, the court cannot involve its inherent jurisdiction where there is an express provision of the law covering the situation. He (Kwoyelo) also, however, gains the advantage of not being cross-examined by the prosecution. For those reasons, the application is disallowed.”

Kwoyelo’s defence was scheduled to start on April 15 but because of the application by his lawyers, the same starts today, April 16.

The other justices were Stephen Mubiru, Michael Elubu, and Andrew Bashaija.

Further in the ruling, Justice Gaswaga held that the court could not find any merit in the counsels’ excuse that Kwoyelo had not been given adequate time to prepare his defence, hence warranting their involvement.

“On the limited time to prepare his defence, counsel seemed only to look at the time the prosecution closed their case. However, preparation of defence does not start at the time the prosecution closes its case; this rules out the argument of limited time,” he ruled.

Mr Caleb Alaka, one of four Kwoyelo’s defence lawyers, had asked the court to be allowed to guide Kwoyelo while he takes to the court dock to defend himself.

Mr Alaka reasoned that Kwoyelo needed guidance from his lawyers given that his memory had faded regarding the alleged rebel activities he is accused of, coupled with huge volumes of court documents.

“This trial is a peculiar one, which has 78 counts. It is a trial that has been done over a considerable period and involves so many different incidents. He might not remember even the incidents; he might not recall them, and when he does not recall those incidents, he will be prejudiced, yet those incidents are on record,” Mr Alaka argued.

But Mr Alaka in counter submissions claimed the notes that his client used to take were only instructions to them.

“We don’t intend to lead him by giving specific questions and listing answers from him; we are not asking him any questions and suggesting he give answers to the questions; we are just acting like the notes he should have taken by reminding him of the incidents and playing a minimal role, which we believe will give him a reasonable opportunity but not give him an advantage over prosecution or the victims’ counsel,” he stated.

Nevertheless, Mr George William Byansi, the deputy director of public prosecutions, had asked the court to decline the request by Kwoyelo’s defence lawyers.

“The accused person has been accorded all the necessary facilitation to prepare his defence right from the time this trial began. He has gone through all the evidence against him; he was given access to all the records and proceedings, and we believe his way of presenting his defence was carefully selected,” Mr Byansi stated.

In December 2023, the court upheld a total of 78 out of the 93 charges against Kwoyelo.

He faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Pagak Internally Displaced People’s Camp (IDP) in Amuru District between 1993 and 2005 in connection with the two-decade insurgency in Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony.

He was one of the commanders of the LRA who was captured by Uganda People’s Defence Forces soldiers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March 2009.