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Ex-LRA Commander Kwoyelo’s Defence Trial Begins in Gulu

Kwoyelo in court

By Tolit Ivan And Agency

The defence trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni kicked off Monday before the International Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda sitting at the Gulu High Court circuit.

Kwoyelo is facing 78 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed between 1992 and 2005 in Kilak County, then Gulu District now in Amuru District.

The four-panel Judges of the ICD comprising Justices Duncan Gaswaga, Michael Elubu, Stephen Mubiru, and alternate judge Andrew Byabashaija on December 18, 2023, ruled that Kwoyelo had a case to answer in 78 out of the 93 charges and was put on defence. Kwoyelo entered the dock at about 9:50 am to defend himself, more than five years since his trial commenced before the ICD in November 2018.

His defence lawyer Caleb Alaka told the court in his submission that Kwoyelo will give an unsworn statement in court in defence of the 78 charges against him.

Caleb, however, told the court that while there is virtually no role counsel plays, if a suspect chooses to give an unsworn statement, they intend to make an application for the rules to be bent to allow the defense to intervene in guiding Kwoyelo.

Caleb reasoned that the trial is peculiar involving a total of 78 counts with so many different incidences that have been ongoing over a considerable period that their client may not properly remember all the incidences without being reminded.

Evans Ocheng, Kwoyelo’s defence lawyer on the other hand argued that Kwoyelo’s charges span over 20 years which makes it difficult for their client to properly remember all the incidences and the witnesses who testified against him.

Ocheng also notes that there was limited time for the accused from the time of the court ruling in December last year to go through all the evidence of the state and the charges against him.

Prosecution however objected to the defense application arguing that the accused person was accorded all the necessary time to prepare for the defense trial.

The ICD judges in their ruling rejected the application made by Kwoyelo defense lawyers . Justice Duncan Gaswaga noted that since the accused has asserted the rights against self-incrimination by opting to give an unsworn statement, he loses the right to the assistance of the counsel although he gains the advantage of not being cross-examined.

“In this scenario, the accused cannot have it both ways. The accused has chosen to make an unsworn statement; he is restricted from seeking to be guided or assisted by the defence counsel. this is the mandatory requirement of the law,” ruled Justice Gaswaga.

He noted that the court also found no merit in the defence’s argument on limited time, arguing that firstly, the defence seems to have looked at only the time the prosecution closed its case.

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