No traditional Justice on crimes against humanity, war crimes – Ugandan Court

Former Lords Resistance Army (LRA), Commander, the first to appear before ICD


The International Crimes Division (ICD), a special unit of the Ugandan High Court has ruled out the possibility of applying traditional justice systems in trying perpetrators of crimes against humanity and War crimes.

The ruling follows a plea by local leaders in Northern Uganda and relatives to rebels in the Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA who have been advocating for a traditional justice system instead of modern courts of law in the trial of the arrested LRA commanders.

The demand was in relation to the trial of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former LRA commander who first appeared before the International Crimes Division in 2011 and Dominic Ongwen who was committed to the International Criminal Court last year.

They face various charges for crimes committed at the height of the LRA insurgency in northern Uganda. These include crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and war crimes (murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging).

Although the constitutional court had earlier on ordered for Kwoyelo’s release and directed that he is granted amnesty, the Supreme Court recently ordered for the resumption of the case against Kwoyelo.

Justice Moses Mukiibi, the Head of International Crimes Division says persons who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot be judged by the traditional system. “ Uganda is now bound by international rules in handling such grave crimes hence the trial of Kwoyelo will only be handled by the international crimes division, “ he ruled.

Justice Elizabeth Ibanda Nahamya, the Deputy Head of the Division states that the traditional system has just come up under the restorative justice provisions when sentencing yet the formal justice system does not put this into consideration.

“There is a sentencing guideline for the court that allows it to consider restorative justice, but this does not apply to Thomas Kwoyelo especially because of the international crimes,” she said.

Ibanda also says Kwoyelo cannot get amnesty since amnesty is only for political crimes. Rwot Yusuf Adek, a traditional leader in Gulu and Advocate for transitional justice says that transitional justice mechanisms like the Mato Oput will be included in the reconciliation and forgiveness process especially in the complex case of the LRA where many of the perpetrators were abductees.

He states that this brings absolute Unity and healing in the region and among the victims compared to when someone like Thomas Kwoyelo and Dominic Ongwen is jailed for life. Just in March this year, many former rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA and former captives underwent the Acholi traditional ritual cleansing ceremony to usher them back into the community. They included women and children who were captured at the height of the two decades LRA insurgency in Northern Uganda.

The ex-combatants all received amnesty certificates, a confirmation that they will not be arrested for any crimes committed in relation to the LRA war. Four senior commanders including Ceaser Acellam, Okuti Nyeko Obur , Bosco Ojara and Alex Opoka were among the people who were cleansed and assured of protection.