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

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.
Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni in the dock at Gulu High Court during his appearance for defence trial on Monday April 15 2024

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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. “The accused was given options as it’s the practice on how he is going to give his defense. The accused intends to give an unsworn statement,” Alaka submitted. Under the criminal trial, a suspect who chooses to give an unsworn statement may not be subjected to cross-examination.

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.

“We pray that the court allows the counsel for the accused to look at the record and guide the accused by reminding him of specific incidents on record and probably the specific allegations. After giving the accused that part of the records, he is left to give his defense without any question,” said Caleb.

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.

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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.

William Byansi, the State prosecutor told the court that the defence request is unclear arguing that while the defence lawyers pray only to remind the accused of the charges, they seemingly intend to lead the accused through the charges.

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Byansi says since the accused has exercised his right to give an unsworn statement, he should play by the same rules without the involvement of the lawyers. “He cannot have his cake and also eat it. If he has chosen to give unsworn testimony, he should go by the rules,” he told the court.

The ICD judges are expected to deliver a ruling on the application made by Kwoyelo defense lawyers this afternoon.