Crime

FORMER LRA ABDUCTEE ASKS FOR WITNESS PROTECTION DURING KWOYELO’S TRIAL

By Christopher Nyeko

GULU: The former Lord’s Resistance Army {LRA} abductee has faulted the International Crimes Division from the Gulu High Court for failing to camouflage key witnesses involved in the trial against ex-rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo who is still on trial.

The hearing is being presided over by four judges of the high court including Micheal Elubu, Duncan Gaswaga, Stephen Mubiru and alternative judge Dr. Andrew Bashaija who is the head of the International Crime Division of the high court.

Stella Lanam, an activist, also a former LRA abductee who is the Director of Children Networking, a community-based organization in Gulu city, said the means that the court is currently using to protect the witnesses when giving testimonies is insufficiency enough arguing that it puts their lives at risk.

Lanam compared witness protection means implied in International Criminal Court {ICC} and the International Crime Division of the high court of Uganda as self-displaying the affected person to the public with their traumatizing story told openly.

When talking  to UGreports from Gulu High court premises on Monday, She observed that the prosecution witnesses were brought before court while only putting on headlocks and wearing the facemask to protect them from the corona virus but not to hide their identity from the public.

She however implored the court to embrace another technological means or properly camouflaging witnesses.

The activist who is the confidant to some of the prosecution witnesses became concerned following the feedback she received from some of prosecution witnesses who have already testified in June.

Lanam said some witnesses told her that their lives are being threatened by some members of the community because they were not fully protected during the court proceeding in June.

“The prosecution witnesses are brought before the courtroom while poorly camouflage, their real voices are heard making testimonies without any technological distortion and sometime they are required to show to the court some of their body part hurt during the insurgency this leave them prone to be known by the members following the proceeding,” she said.

In the previous hearing held in June this year the prosecution witnesses presented in the court were camouflaged with black dress and their eyes sealed with dark sunglasses.

However it was not the case on Monday as the prosecution witness appeared before court openly.

Charles Richard Kamuli, the head of prosecution team, said articles 36(9) a, b and c of the Court constitution deter any publication of the photos or any things exposing the protected prosecution witnesses in both print, electronic, broadcast or in the public for the public consumption. Citing the act may leave them prone to a security threat.

Kamuli said the court is adopting technology to protect the prosecution witnesses where they are kept in a separate room to testify using video technology.

“It has been very challenging due to the low level of technology sometimes, we are forced to bring them to testify from the courtroom where members of the public are all present,” he noted.

The head of the prosecution team also said another means of protecting a witness is by using pseudo names and hiding identity or facts about them.

Kimuli urged the prosecution witnesses to report any form of threat mounted on them by any person to the security agencies.
The International Crimes Division (ICD) is trying former Lord’s Resistance Army {LRA} rebel commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kwoyelo is facing 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in Pabbo Amuru District between 1995 and 2005.

Kwoyelo, 52, was captured in 2008, and first appeared before the ICD in 2011, making him the first LRA rebel commander to face trial in the country.  He has been in detention at Luzira Maximum Prison since 2009.

Meanwhile Evan Ochieng Kwoyello’s defence lawyer said his client has become the longest serving suspect in the history of prison.

“My client has served ten years in remand which has affected his mental health, as his solicitor we are labouring to explain to him because he does not know whether he (Kwoyelo) is still a suspect or has been sentenced,” Ochieng narrated.

The defence teams are hopeful that the accused will come out as a free man. Citing that the accounts from the prosecution witnesses do not hold water.

Ms Beatrice Stella Atingu, the court registrar said the court was delayed due to lack of funding and a corona virus outbreak.

She revealed the hearing is scheduled to last for three week because the other missed sessions in the last quarter are all combined in these three weeks and she is hopeful that the court will be accomplished in 2023.

Henry Komakech Kilama, the victim’s lawyer said they have arranged 64 witnesses to testify in the ongoing hearing happening from Gulu high court however they are hopeful of presenting 34 prosecution witnesses.

On Monday the two prosecution witnesses who testified all made appeals to the government to repatriate them by building them houses and paying for their children in school.

These female witnesses whose identity were kept anonymous because they are a victim told court that they lost their properties after their hut was burnt into ashes and they further demand for trauma treatment by the government.

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