A first in Uganda: Victims participate in criminal proceedings against a LRA warlord

Gulu, Uganda – On 21st September 2016 former LRA warlord T. Kwoyelo attended his second pre-trial hearing. After several procedural curbs, the trial might be on track. Most important, for the first time in Uganda, victims right to participate in a trial proceedings was recognized. This could be a very first step towards reparation for victims in Uganda. The pre-trial hearings of Thomas Kwoyelo in Uganda have been characterized by delays. The first pre-trial hearing took place in Kampala on April 4th 2016, during which a trial date was set for the 2nd of May. The trial has, however, not started yet and a date for its actual commencement remains to be set. However, on August 15th and September 21st 2016, T. Kwoyelo attended two further pre-trial hearings in Gulu (Northern Uganda) to discuss trial preparation. Three core elements marked these hearings. First, on the August 15th 2016, the Defence team for Kwoyelo did not show up, failure to be informed in a timely-fashion of this hearing. After further discussions with the accused, the Judge deemed it appropriate to appoint a new counsel for Mr. Kwoyelo on state brief who would represent him with or without his private Lawyers. Second, during the hearing, the Prosecution stated that they intended to introduce a new count on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) under Rule 13 of the Rules of Procedure. Such a statement was a major new development as the victims Lawyers strongly support the inclusion of such crimes in the charges against the accused. The defence was accordingly granted additional time to adequately prepare for the case. The pre-trial hearing was adjourned to September 21. Third, during the September 21st pre-trial hearing, the court ruled that victims would be allowed to participate in a manner similar to provisions of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. In addition, court directed that victims apply formally for participation to the ICD Registrar and that the Registrar should compile a list of all victims for purposes of formal recognition. She further stated that victims Lawyers are at liberty to provide evidence to the prosecution and defence and that the participation of victims at different stages of trial would be subject to determination by the trial chamber. The next pre-trial hearing will take place on October 31st 2016. “These developments in the T. Kwoleyo case are crucial for the ICD and more generally for the transitional justice process in Uganda”, explains P. Bako, Program Officer, International Justice Programme in Uganda at ASF. “This is the first time in Uganda that victims will be allowed to participate in trial proceedings against perpetrators of international crimes”, she adds. It is however crucial that the ICD soon make a determination on modalities of victim participation in order to preserve the rights of all parties at the trial and ensure a fair and expeditious trial. As recently recalled during an International Conference organized by ASF and REDRESS, it is crucial for the ICD to consider and regulate victims’ participation and their right to reparations from the outset. >> About this conference and further recommendations. >> For a full report on the pre-trial hearing. (more…)