The trial of the former commander of the Lord’s resistance Army, Thomas Kwoyelo, resumed before the ICD at Gulu High Court from January 13th to January 15th, 2020. This hearing follows an adjournment on December 10th, 2019.
At the commencement of the hearing on day one, the Victims Counsel introduced two community members from Lamogi sub-county who had come to attend the Court hearings. Thereafter, the Court resumed with the testimony of Prosecution’s witnesses on camera. On the second day, the Prosecution team presented another witness and requested that the Court allow him to testify on camera. This request is in line with Rule 36 of the International Crimes Division’s (ICD) Rules of Procedure and Evidence which provides for witness protection measures. The Defence team objected, arguing that in the interest of justice, the hearing should be made public, and requested that the witness be protected using technology. However, the panel Judge overruled this objection without further explanation. The public was therefore requested to vacate the courtroom.
On the third day, the Prosecution team presented two more witnesses. Their counsel requested for a closed session on the grounds that they came from a neighboring village of the accused and that one of the witnesses had a linkage with the accused through clan intermarriage which, according to the prosecution, could put the witnesses at risk. The Defence team objected, arguing that the trial ought to be held in open court to allow the public to follow the proceedings. The objection, like in the two previous sessions, was overruled and the public was asked to leave the premises.
Important to note is that, while it had been precisely decided during the December 2019 hearing held in Kampala to hold further hearings in Gulu in order to bring the trial closer to the victims’ communities, the continuous holding of closed sessions defeats this purpose. Although witnesses must not be put at unnecessary risk, a right balance should be struck between witness protection and Article 28(1) of the Constitution of Uganda, which provides for trials to be held in public unless closed sessions are absolutely necessary for morality, public order or national security reasons. Those two imperatives could be easily reconciled by reinforcing the use of technology in the context of witness protection.
The hearing has been adjourned to March 6th, 2020.
The trial monitoring report was compiled in partnership with Foundation For Justice Development Initiative (FJDI), who observed the trial proceedings in Gulu.